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The Confession (2010)
You can trust the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to introduce you to some very worthwhile short filmmaking with their nominees each year, films that would have otherwise never reached an audience outside of the festival circuit. This one is a particularly outstanding choice, among the very best the short film categories at the Oscars have offered in recent years.
The 26-minute picture, which looks and sounds as good or better than many a costly feature production, begins as one would expect from conventional short film fare: Two kids in a whimsical situation. As anyone raised in the Catholic faith could testify, not knowing quite what to say during your first confession is a dilemma equally absurd and real. But expectations are turned on their heads by what the script spins out of this idea. A few minutes in, the viewer realizes he has committed a sin himself by summarily throwing the film in with all those others which content themselves with milking their singular observation for merely the humor and cuteness of it, especially when there are child actors involved. Not so here, as soon enough "The Confession" turns into a chilling, compelling drama that ultimately leaves one with questions about what faith can lead people to do. In the best short film tradition, the film gets there with surprising storytelling and a resonating message.
Extraordinary acting from the leads, elegant and sober directing, exquisite cinematography. Highest recommendation.
We've seen better versions of this
Far less original than it thinks it is, this is a very solid action film that sadly doesn't go far enough in its meditations on dream vs. reality or the ethical implications of mind manipulation, but instead opts for complex machinations that occasionally dazzle, but often just confuse, visually and narratively. This is now the third Christopher Nolan film in a row in which action sequences (not to mention the labyrinthine plot) are hard to follow due to overly frantic editing and unclear directing. It appears as though despite his apparent flavor for it, action is not his strong suit as a director.
Much of the film's appeal depends upon the premise of mind invasion and dream manipulation, yet as these ideas are presented here, one gets a feeling of déja vu - literally - as many of these conceits have been played out in many a Star Trek episode, not to mention "The Matrix" etc., often to better effect. Was Nolan afraid of creating a unique visual style like that film before him because it might become too similar to what the 1999 SF masterpiece had looked like? Maybe so, but "Inception" suffers from a distinct lack of memorable visuals, aside from what the trailer already showed. With that veneer of originality gone, however, the film ultimately tells the tried-and-true story of the broken hero looking for redemption through a final mission. DiCaprio does a good enough job in that role, but Marion Cotillard is the scene-stealer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page show that they can do more than what they're usually booked for.
In summary, an entertaining summer flick, but far, far, far from the groundbreaking experience many moviegoers have made this out to be. And as such, a huge disappointment as well.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Powerful and disturbing, but second to "Dancer In The Dark"
For quite a long time, I didn't care much about watching any of Lars von Trier's movies, being irritated by their visual style (what you knew from clips). Only after I watched Thomas Vinterberg's amazing "The Celebration", I got into that "Dogma 95" approach to film-making. And when recently I watched, or more appropriately witnessed, the power of von Trier's latest offering, "Dancer In The Dark", I made it a point to review all his previous films, starting with this, "Breaking The Waves", which I heard was supposed to be similar to "Dancer".
And it is. At the heart of it is the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching portrayal of a saint-like woman who goes through a living hell for the sake of her loved ones, in this case Bess McNeill, as amazingly played by Emily Watson, and in this case, the character's husband (Stellan Skarsgard).
"Breaking The Waves" is a lot more silent than the rather eventful "Dancer", but also a tad less powerful. But that is simply because the situation the character's in is never as desperate as "Dancer"'s Selma's plight, which accounts for a lesser degree of credibility in the character's behavior. Compared to von Trier's latest, here it seems more as if Watson's character could end her suffering immediately if she just stopped and reconsidered. The difference is that, in "Dancer", the object of the main Character's affection is her child, a connection stronger, I figure, than Bess's relation to her (not always so lovable) husband.
That nit aside, it's still a disturbing and moving film that's worth the attention it got, especially in the rather weak movie year 1996. Just as with "Dancer", top credit goes to the fabulous lead actress who effortlessly carries a story that's sometimes a bit hard to swallow.
8 out of 10.
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Tragic and beautiful masterpiece
The Sweet Hereafter is as tragic, sad and matter-of-fact as movies get, but it's still so very beautiful that it becomes a film that's virtually impossible to forget.
The story makes no secret of the fact what terrible tragedy will happen, right from the outset. A lesser filmmaker than Atom Egoyan would've jumped at the chance to shock the audience with the freak accident that robs the town of Sam Dent of nearly all their children, by telling the story in a linear fashion. Not Egoyan. The story is fragmented, thus enhancing the true point: This is not about the overwhelming power of loss, it is about the overwhelming power of survivor's guilt (nicely represented in Browning's poem The Pied Piper Of Hamelin, which is referred to in the movie). It's all about people who grieve not only for the ones they've lost, but also for themselves, how empty their lives have become because of their tragedies. In focussing on that point, the film refrains from manipulative sentiment (which so many others don't), and presents true and unintrusive emotion, that, in the end, despite all the terror, shines a light of hope, for the sweet hereafter is not only the peaceful afterlife, it's also the peaceful future, the continuation of life...
The performances speak for themselves. Ian Holm and Sarah Polley shine in particular, through nicely subdued and subtle acting. Polley also excels as a fantastic singer-songwriter. The songs in the movie were written and performed all by herself.
Egoyan's direction is simply masterful in its beauty, elegance and evocation.
One of the best films of the 1990s.
10 out of 10.
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Grand, yet underrated conclusion to a magnificent saga
You might call this film redundant, after what the second part showed us in the end, but then, I guess, you'd also have to call the second part redundant, because the developments in "The Godfather Part II" were already alluded to at the end of the original. Therefore, Part III isn't bad at all.
It's not quite as successful as the first two, but that's simply because, throughout the movie, we get a sense of déja vu: "I've seen that before!" And you did, alright... But it still works, that formula of blood and gore, family traditions, shady meetings behind closed doors, politics and business... you know the routine. It's captivating, thrilling and suspenseful throughout, especially the opera sequence at the end, which can definitely measure up to the legendary baptism scene in the original. This is as good as directing gets. Period.
Sure, there are a few weak points in this film, one of which is Sofia Coppola, who simply can't carry the weight of the part she's given. But well, that's what happens when you cast your daughter (who happens to be a mediocre actress) in your movies. Ask Aaron Spelling!
Al Pacino shines as always in the part of his life, as does Diane Keaton, and several others. I would've wished for someone else than Andy Garcia, who's nothing like Pacino in the original, to play Vincent, but it's an OK choice, though.
Especially beautiful about this third part is that now the whole Corleone saga comes full circle with Michael's realization that crime just isn't the way to protect a family. The same thing his father realized before he chose Michael, his calmest, most considerate son, as his successor. Both learned their lesson the hard way and entrusted their empire to someone who'll most likely destroy it in the long run. Even Michael's final scene mirrors Vito's exit in the original.
Overall, a very fine film that, although not exactly in the league of its predecessors, is severely underrated and makes for a satisfying conclusion to the saga.
9 out of 10.
Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000)
Tykwer's "make-or-break" is a "make", but an uneasy one.
Only a fool would expect this to be a second Run Lola Run. But unfortunately, there will be a lot of fools out there: This won't be the hit that Tykwer's former film was. And, just to say that: Run Lola Run still plays in a higher league.
But that's, of course, not to say that The Princess And The Warrior is a bad movie. Quite the contrary: there should be more films like this one. It's slow at times, yes, but to the ones with keen eyes it's meditative. It's metaphysical, in the end even surreal, it's down-to-earth, but at the same time very outlandish, it's a love story, but without the usual assets: there's no kissing, let alone sex; yes, even holding hands just occurs for a second. It's about a spiritual love, something epic, as the title suggests.
Many people won't like it; far too few people will love it. And I'm somewhere in between: It's a bold movie to make, especially in the dull (to be polite) movie scene of Germany, and a good one, too. Something refreshingly different (and wonderfully written, directed, shot and acted, I might add...). But somehow, you can't help feeling just a little disappointed after the milestone of modern film making that Tom Tykwer released two years ago.
8 out of 10.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Emotionally overwhelming film.
As I just came from the theater, seeing this brilliant masterpiece, I am still a bit shaken, this being an emotionally overwhelming piece of filmmaking, so I'll just state my thoughts as they occur, without order.
1. Björk is fantastic as Selma. From her music videos, I'd never have guessed that she's such an extraordinary acting talent. She makes this character almost frighteningly real. For a large part, it was her performance that pulled me so much into this film.
Kudos to Lars von Trier for making such a bold casting decision. I bet many Hollywood name actresses would've killed for this part. And who would've guessed that Björk, singer-songwriter Björk, was the one to portray the character this perfectly?
2. Not since Schindler's List has any film overwhelmed me so much. I certainly don't measure the quality of a film by how hard it makes me cry, but since in this case (which by the way was the first time I ever cried in a movie theater) the emotions aren't manipulative, but instead sincere as hell, I make it a point to say that Dancer In The Dark, being an emotionally stirring movie, succeeds on all fronts.
3. Beautiful songs (plus the extraordinary overture that plays, so unlike Hollywood, over a black screen) that enhance the respective plot points very well. Look for the enormously touching satisfaction and aching happiness in the song "I've Seen It All"...
4. As in films like "The Celebration", the video cinematography is dizzying and irritating at first, but soon I came to realize that this is the only way that we can see this movie as Selma sees her world: blurred, hazed, shaky... Note that it is just in the musical sequences that the picture is clear and fully colored.
There's much more to Dancer In The Dark than this, but suffice it to say: I agree with another user who commented earlier that this is, I quote, a "hardcore horror movie", in the best sense. A haunting film that the Academy shouldn't ignore at next year's Oscars- if they don't want to lose all the credibility that's left. Björk will be next year's best actress. Remember my words.
10 out of 10 (and then some...)
The Green Mile (1999)
Of mice and men... and murderers.
That it should've been, at least.
But let's start at the beginning, which is, I might add, terribly slow. A lot of time passes before something actually happens. King & Darabont use this time to carefully put their chess pieces in place before making their move in the last 60 minutes or so. There's a host of details during the first 2/3s that later become significant. And since I'm not one of those who need to see fireworks of action and suspense from the first instant of a movie, that's fine with me. After all, the pace increases considerably during the course of the movie.
Some of these aforementioned details are so predictable that I could guess the next turn of events half an hour in advance. And that's never a good thing.
The last hour, however, makes up for a lot of the film's former trappings. There's no arguing that the solution is quite touching.
So finally, a movie worth watching, but there were still a few things that bugged me. First, I would've liked to know more about the inmates as murderers, which I guess they were supposed to be. (You never notice, though.) In the way they're portrayed, these are good, righteous people that are good friends with the wardens, love a cute mouse and are generally lovable. So- why are they in death row anyway? I understand the novel shed some light on this, and the film could've certainly needed some of this other side of the story to avoid some of the schmaltz.
Second, isn't this prison just lovely? I mean, it seems like a camping tour at some points. If death row is like that, I want to be in it!
If The Green Mile was supposed to make any statement about the right or wrong of the death sentence, you'd better watch Dead Man Walking to form your own opinion instead of being manipulated into believing that all killers ultimately become nice people once they're in Our Favorite Death Row. It works for tearjerking, but not for discussion of that subject.
But, mind you, I couldn't help being manipulated myself- and it worked. I was genuinely moved at the end and, despite the occasional predictability, the story had its clever moments.
So, it was an OK movie, at times even a bit more, but it sure didn't deserve its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, and it sure can't hold a candle to King's and Darabont's first joint venture, the brilliant The Shawshank Redemption. 7 out of 10.
Saving Grace (2000)
The bright spot in this dull movie season
Which pretty much summarizes it...
Saving Grace is simply the best comedy I've seen in a very long time. It doesn't surprise me at all it's a British film. As with those horrible US "comedies" of the last two years or so, and the German comedies not much better actually, it is refreshing to see a film with so much heart and brains again.
You could see from its premise that this would be a very original movie, but it was really so much more. Brenda Blethyn, one of my favorites since Secrets & Lies, shines again, the supporting cast does no less. The scenery is simply gorgeous (and that I say as anything but a fan of the cold, rough climate and landscape of Cornwall...), the writing's spot-on, there's not a single gag in the movie that doesn't work; suffice it to say: the rest just falls into place.
Kudos to everyone involved. I can't wait to see more gems like that in this (so far) dull movie season 2000. 10 out of 10.
Would be better as a TV series.
X-Men was entertaining, yes. But the one thing that was claimed made it into more than the average comic adaptation was the character development that, in my opinion, doesn't exist. There are simply too many potentially interesting characters here to explore them all in 95 minutes. Hence, except for Hugh Jackman's and Anna Paquin's characters, all others get short shrift.
As opposed to many other (made from comic) movies, the characters here leave you stunningly detached. No wonder- with this little time, one might say. But that also seemed to be the case with the actors. None of them seems to take great interest in differentiating their roles through their portrayal. But how could they? The narrative squanders aimlessly, the dialogue is probably as bad as it gets, and a little irony towards the material (as displayed in the Superman features) would have gone a long way towards preventing "X-Men" from total cheesiness. Well, it's not cheesy throughout, mind you, but at least once too often.
Besides, as I expected, the film is nowhere near as clever or important as it has often been claimed: the message of tolerance is a good one as a concept, but because of the script (which is less than stellar, I might add. Couldn't Christopher McQuarrie have done it?) and foremost the sheer haste with which Bryan Singer sweeps through the story and past any REAL drama, the film ultimately sabotages its own point. The heroes are heroes. The villains are villains. Good is good. Bad is bad. But please, live together peacefully! Any shades of gray get lost somewhere between the ten or so main characters. Pity. This really could have had a point to make.
That said, I must, however, admit, that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. As popcorn entertainment, it's great, and certainly more worthwhile than any of the latest Bruckheimer action flicks. And I'd personally embrace any movie featuring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin altogether. But somehow, it all left me a bit disappointed considering the hype about how different from other comic adaptations this was supposed to be. As a result, X-Men might have been a lot better as a TV series pilot. With that cast, those FX, and that huge pool of characters and story possibilities, don't you think it'd do great on a weekly basis? I sure do.
Love, Death, & Cars (1999)
Pleasantly bittersweet romance
For a short film, Love, Death & Cars delivers a surprisingly high amount of emotion and depth of character. It also recommends itself highly by evading any of the usual story clichés of gay-themed movies. Instead, the film presents a subtle and poetic display of deep friendship that, excluding all physical aspects, is the deepest and most honest love of all.
New Testament (1998)
A bit obvious as a satire, but successful though
Notable production values. This is clever in a way, although the theme (religion & advertising) may be a bit obvious as the issue of a satire. Nonetheless, a good laugh, and quite a catchy theme song: "New Testament is a really great wine cooler..."
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Too important for some people to appreciate
I must have seen this movie about four or five times already, and it gets better with each viewing. Suffice it to say: This is the best film I've ever seen. And I think I've seen a lot.
But I've always wondered why this film got so shunned in some reviews or ratings. For example, take the IMDb Top 250. Why does it rank only at #216 (as of today)? Surely, the answer's not in the film itself (because that is nothing but flawless), but in its reception. The film caused controversy in its portrayal of compassion for a convicted murderer and its anti-death penalty attitude. And so, obviously, the more conservative-minded user probably didn't like the film (as you can see from some of the other comments). So DEAD MAN WALKING gets a ranking that's nothing but ridiculous in relation to its quality. Those people didn't understand what the film wanted to say, and maybe they didn't WANT to understand, being pro death penalty. So now I get it: It's all political. You're pro death penalty- you don't like (and therefore don't want to hear) what the film has to say.
I'm truly sorry there are still so many people out there who simply tune out when a new perspective questions their beliefs.
Mr. Robbins, your movie's issue split people's opinions. Some reconsidered their point-of-view, some simply didn't listen, but you made a very important point. Your movie will probably never show up on any "TOP 100 MOVIES OF ALL TIME"-list, but it'll be remembered, long after films like Braveheart or Babe or Apollo 13 (all of which were unjustly preferred over your film at the Oscars 1996) are forgotten. Congratulations, Mr. Robbins, and thank you for this important piece of filmmaking.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Excellent movie, but the screenplay's even better.
NOTE: This comment does NOT include spoilers for the MOVIE Being John Malkovich. It does, however, contain spoilers for the SCREENPLAY Being John Malkovich, which is available on the internet. These spoilers do NOT give away details of this movie as it can be seen in theaters. In this comment, I don't want to talk much about the movie itself. It is, as you can see from my one-line summary above, excellent. I'm a big fan of the Theater of the Absurd (Beckett, Ionesco etc.) and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is the cinematic Theater of the Absurd. Great, funny and remarkably clever in every second. But to come to my point: I read the screenplay (not the filmed version, as I found out now) in advance. It literally had me rolling on the floor laughing- and afterwards it had me considering the genius of Mr. Charlie Kaufman- in utter admiration of his talents. So now, having seen the movie, I am a bit disappointed to see that the FANTASTIC original ending (which had the Malkovichians take control of the entire planet and turn it into an Orwell-like dystopia. Lotte (Diaz), who in the beginning, was probably the most bizarre character in the story, becomes the only remaining (recognizable) human being on Earth, who wants to stage a revolution against the terror regime of the Malkovichians, while Craig (Cusack) becomes a puppet himself in the hands of Evil. Oh, and by the way, Lotte marries the monkey!) was replaced by a less favorable ending. But I guess budget considerations were the reason for this decision. Pity. Nonetheless, this film is maybe the most mind-wrenching, funny and clever comedy ever to grace the screens. I think Cameron Diaz is the heart and soul of it in her best performance yet. She should have been the one getting an Oscar nomination. But, still, if you ever have the chance to catch the screenplay on the net: read it! It will enhance your appreciation for this masterpiece even more- and you'll see what a shame it is that such great projects like this one don't get enough money to transport the writer's vision to the screen as it was meant to. I give this movie a straight 10 points.
La vita è bella (1997)
If comedy and drama are to be mixed, not that way please!
I'll stay brief on this, because I think this is an annoying movie. Not that I don't like its idea, because that's the only thing this film is bold in- what got me angry is the way it was done. The first half of it is comedy Leslie- Nielsen- style, read: nonsense. Entertaining?- yes; intelligent?- no. And worse, the second half is a terrible tearjerker. I wasn't at all moved by it as everybody told me I would. These two halves don't flow naturally into one another and you get the feeling you switched channels to watch a whole different and not even better film. The characters felt like in a comic-book and I do believe Benigni's character should have been more tragic than he was.