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Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Random Thoughts on Alice in Wonderland
Now here's a Disney film unlike any other. Singing walruses, vanishing cats, lunatics in the woods, a psychotic queen, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, warbling flowers, psychotropic food and drink...this actually sounds like an Andy Warhol film to me. But no, it's Disney. What's interesting about this film, to me, is that the more charming the various critters are, the creepier they become. Look at Tweedle-Dee and -Dum. My girlfriend doesn't even like to think about them. There's something indefinably distasteful about the two of them gamboling in the dark forest, waiting for a new playmate. Or the queen, with her unnatural delight in decapitation.
I take it back: it doesn't sound like Andy Warhol. It sounds like David Lynch with cute songs.
Random Thoughts on "Aladdin"
Just watched this recently, on the new-and-improved DVD which features a restored print, and it looks spectacular. The story is slightly shallower than the best of Disney's films, but this is balanced by the sheer lunacy of Robin Williams' bad, blue Genie. Whoever first thought of putting Robin Williams in a Disney flick should get a Pulitzer, or a Nobel, or something. The comic timing of his riffs combined with the comic timing of the animators transform the Genie from a "Deus Ex Machina" into the soul of "Aladdin."
I have a tiny issue with the fact that the most recent VHS and DVD prints of the movie have bowed to pressure from activist groups and altered a line in the opening song. The original line was, "...where they cut if your ear if they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." The revised line reads, "...where the land is immense and the heat is intense/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." Protesters claimed the original line perpetuated a negative stereotype of Arab countries and peoples. But...but...but marketplaces and cities in Arabian countries still cut the hands off convicted thieves. And there's even a scene in the film which threatens to relieve the princess of an appendage. They're not being negative; they're being accurate. And, oh yeah, IT'S A CARTOON. But that's just my opinion.
Random Thoughts on "Airplane!"
I first saw this movie when I was nine years old. It was funny to me as a kid, and it's still funny now, 25 years later. What's most amazing to me is the raunchiness of this film, which got away with a PG rating back then. There's a brief flash of female breasts. There's a hilarious gag involving apparent fellatio on an inflatable doll. There's a risqué line about sitting on someone's face. The list goes on, and this movie only got a PG. Amazing.
As you can see, this movie is hard to comment on without resorting to a list of your favorite moments. It's a brilliant parody of the disaster movies from the 1970s, all played out with deadly seriousness, which of course makes it deadly funny. You have to see it to understand; words are pretty near useless.
Random Thoughts on "8 1/2"
This is one of those movies where, intellectually, I know it's a great film. Here's a film about a director with a creative block who retreats into his memories and imagination to escape the harried world of movie-making...directed by a director who had a creative block and decided to make a movie about it. It coils back on itself like the screenplay for "Adaptation." However, at an emotional level, my gut reaction on watching this film the first time was one of near-boredom. I thought it was a little pretentious and self-serving, but I loved some of the visuals. Especially the opening dream sequence in the smoke-filled car. And yet I was still not captivated by it. Perhaps this movie was not designed to wholly captivate someone, the way a movie like, say, "E.T." or "Harry Potter" is said to captivate the viewer. Perhaps this movie is like an entertaining research paper, discussing an esoteric subject in layman's terms so anybody can watch. Entertaining? Sort of. I had to watch it a few more times before completely understanding how self-reflexive the movie was, and how revealing it was about Fellini himself. For that it gets a seven. But it's not something to just pop in to pass the time. The movie demands attention, and without it, you're just looking at pretty pictures waiting for the closing credits.
The 39 Steps (1935)
Random Thoughts on "The 39 Steps"
I must admit, I seem to have missed the boat with this Hitchcock classic, but I will acknowledge its place in cinematic history as one of the first films to fully showcase Hithcock's sense of story, style, and pacing. Also, one of my favorite visual gags of all time occurs in this film, during the scene in the small bed-and-breakfast when the leads are still cuffed together. She wants to remove her stockings, but in doing so his hand is forced to rest on her knee, so she says "Here, hold this," and hands him a sandwich. Brilliant.
Having said that, I still like Hitchcock's later films much better, particularly "Psycho" and "Rear Window." The ending of "39 Steps" left me wanting a bit more to "punch it up", or something like that. I guess it just ended too quickly. I guess what happened is that I saw his later films before seeing his early films, and it just doesn't match up to them, in my opinion. But it's still light-years ahead of "Full Frontal." That's random, but true.
...and justice for all. (1979)
Random Thoughts on "...And Justice for All"
Pacino doesn't often play lawyers. Have you noticed that? I don't know if producers think he's too volatile for a courtroom or what, but he's usually a on the side of Order rather than Law.
Now that's out of the way. What about the movie? Great! I had a tiny problem with a few scenes involving Pacino's grandfather, but I concede they're necessary to set up his love of the law and why he's a lawyer in the first place. Other than that, this is one of the great courtroom dramas. Great story and great dialogue. It teeters between real comedy and dark comedy for the entire movie, culminating in the famous scenery-chewing monologue from Pacino that features the immortal lines, "YOU'RE out of order! YOU'RE out of order!" Great stuff. (Don't forget the quirky performance by Jack Warden as the gun-toting judge with a death wish.)
Angels in America (2003)
You Must See "Angels in America" Before You Die
If you are a movie lover, and you have not seen "Angels in America", you are missing out on one of the most powerful experiences in film or television or any other medium. I'm not as literate as a lot of these other posters, obviously. It's hard for me to try to go on about the theory and underlying postulates of the political agenda of the playwright, or whatever. I approach movies almost exclusively from an emotional standpoint, first and foremost. My critical thinking happens behind the scenes, and is often hard to verbalize, especially with something this involving. That's the key to this program's success, actually. It involves you in the emotional lives of each and every character. I felt pain and joy and sorrow along with each person, man or woman, gay or straight.
It's simply impossible for me to describe accurately how compelling this program is. It is light-years beyond any drama I've ever seen on cable, and I've seen "Band of Brothers." If you have the time and the inclination, I would encourage you to sit and watch the whole thing all the way through uninterrupted. It is wholly engrossing and hypnotic. It encourages discussion, controversy, and sometimes an argument or three. It is not something you will soon forget, and you will be talking about it one way or the other the next day. I'm telling you. It's that challenging. Don't cheat yourself. I beg you, watch this film. You won't regret it.
Random Thoughts on Wings of Honneamise
It's been a while since I've watched this film, but it holds a place in my collection because of the stellar ending, as pointed out by a fellow poster child. Visually fabulous with an evocative score by one of the composers of the music for "The Last Emperor." This film is definitely of another culture, though. The pacing is completely different from American animation: stately, deliberate, observant. I was distracted by the slow pacing. Didn't care for it. Almost made the movie too much of an effort to stay awake for. But wow, what a finale. The viewer is treated to carefully edited shots of the giant spacecraft lifting off the launch pad amid a land-air battle between two warring factions. Just stunning.
The Terminal (2004)
Spielberg and silliness
I don't ask for much in a movie. All I want is to care about the characters and what happens to them. That's all. Not every movie can do that, no matter how hard it tries. People wept while watching "Big Fish"; I thought, "If I were stuck next to Albert Finney's character on a train, I'd weep, too." That is to say, I didn't care. Maybe I'm a hardcase, or maybe not; I wept at the end of "Edward Scissorhands." Go figure.
Now here is "The Terminal" with Tom Hanks in his most likable role, in my opinion, since Forrest Gump. Some have said he's TOO likable. "The movie is too formulaic." "Too silly." "Sappy." "Too sweet." "Not up to Spielberg's best." You know what? Not all of Spielberg's movies can be "Schindler's List." Or "E.T." What you have here is a movie that made me remember what it was like to have a good time at the movies and leave feeling good about the world in general. This movie was literally a breath of fresh air amid the noxious fumes of hate and war and fear that pervade our society nowadays. Too silly? What's wrong with a silly movie every now and then, AS LONG IT MAKES YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS? I don't mean "Scooby-Doo" silly; I'm talking "Say Anything..." silly.
I found myself caught up in Viktor's world and the friends he made in the terminal. I was moved when he explained to Amelia why he carries that damn peanut can around. I was moved again when Gupta selflessly provides a (possible) way for Viktor to leave the terminal. I found myself physically rooting for Viktor when he arranges a private dinner date for Amelia on the "terrace." What else can you wish for in a film? I have but one complaint. As moved as I was by his romance with Amelia, I didn't think it was absolutely necessary. The story was involving enough without throwing a love story into the mix. But Spielberg makes it work well enough that I didn't care too much.
All of this is to say: Do yourself a favor and rent "The Terminal." Unless you're an incurable humbug who thinks Spielberg should stick to war movies and nothing else, in which case this movie will do nothing for you. For everyone else, check it out. Come on. It'll be fun. Remember fun?
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Here's a thought...
After reading through the most recent comments posted for this film, I was amazed at how many viewers were appalled at Mookie's actions when he tossed the trash can through Sal's window. They even go so far as to say how wrong Mookie was to do something that destructive over a matter as trivial as pictures on a wall. These people need to watch the movie again. Mookie did not throw the can because of pictures; during the film, he couldn't care LESS about the pictures. Mookie tosses the trash can because he just watched one of his friends get murdered in cold blood by New York's finest.
Suppose you're at a 7-11, and one of YOUR best friends is involved in an altercation with the manager. You're there watching, yelling at them to break it up. The cops arrive. They drag your friend to his feet, then proceed to strangle him to death, right there in front of you. They dump your best friend's body in a squad car and take off down the street. You're standing there in front of this 7-11 with the manager. There's a brick by the front window of the store. What would you do? Would it be the right thing? Tell me with a straight face that you would so something different. Make me believe you.
On the Criterion DVD of this film, Spike Lee states that he has been asked many times whether or not Mookie did the right thing. He also states that NOT ONE PERSON OF COLOR has EVER asked that question, because from where they stand, there IS no question. A pizzeria is not worth a human life.
The Contender (2000)
Modern Political Masterpiece
I cannot for the life of me understand why people see fit to bash this movie for its political viewpoints. "It's biased!" Well, surprise, surprise...Do you seriously expect a realistic depiction of American politics to show us an UNBIASED Capitol Hill? By decrying the bias in the film, you are marking yourself as someone who is biased yourself. And guess what...you're entitled. And if YOU'RE entitled, so is the movie. This is no reason to trash a movie that is the smartest political thriller in nearly thirty years. Give your political sensibilities a rest and let's concentrate on the message of the film, which is to stand by your principles.
In fact, by claiming the film is biased, and by speaking your mind (Democratic OR Republican), you're actually demonstrating the message of the film. Good job!
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
When I was fourteen...
This movie came out when I was fourteen years old. Quite simply, it blew my mind. By today's standards, the special effects (have no doubt, this is an effects-showcase-film) are merely passable, but in the mid-eighties, they were astounding. The stained-glass knight, the pastry army, the little flying gargoyles, even the bizarre flying machine -- this was the pinnacle of what movies were capable of. I recently watched it again with the benefit of hindsight, and marveled at how manipulative it was and how weak the screenplay was. Then I remembered how amazed I was as a kid, and tried to recapture that feeling. I almost did. And the movie was awesome.
All About Eve (1950)
I will avoid summarizing the plot, but there may be some PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD, so be warned.
I've been doing community theatre for about seven years, and I've been a movie fan for most of my life. "All About Eve" is the best backstage drama I've ever seen. It's biting, funny, sharp, and satirical all at the same time. It's hard for me to just call it a drama; it's like calling "American Beauty" a drama -- there's more to it than that. For anyone who's ever been involved in theatre, this is a must-see movie. The way Margo dismantles people verbally is one of the many highlights. And don't forget the cameo by a struggling young actress named Monroe, along with the rest of that party scene during that bumpy night. Backstabbing, betrayal, double-crosses...the best movie of its kind before "Dangerous Liaisons" showed up. Check it out!
Being There (1979)
Run, Chance, run!
A mentally slow man of humble origins is mistaken for a genius and is quickly whisked through the corridors of power where he charms the dickens out of everyone he meets.
QUICK! Did I just describe "Forrest Gump" or "Being There?"
Both, actually. "Being There" predates "Gump" by fourteen years, but their stories are alarmingly similar. Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener gives the performance of his career by doing as little as possible. Words can't do it justice; find a copy of this film and see for yourself.
SPOILER WARNING! Some friends of mine did not like the enigmatic ending. I have a simple theory. Chance was not an angel, or any kind of spiritual being. This movie is a fable above all, much like "Life is Beautiful." Being a fable, certain liberties can be taken. Chance walked on water simply because he didn't KNOW he couldn't walk on water. His child-like mentality simply couldn't comprehend that this was impossible, so he did it. There's a lesson in there somewhere...
Gimme Shelter (1970)
I am not a fan of the sixties or seventies. I am a child of Reagan and Walkmen. It is impossible for me to identify with flower power, hippies, and Timothy Leary. I do not like the Monkees or Jimi Hendrix. So it was with some misgivings that I sat down and popped in Criterion's new DVD release of "Gimme Shelter." The box promised I was about to see "the greatest rock film ever made." I figured, I've never seen a rock film at all in thirty-one years; why not start with the "greatest?"
I was totally unprepared for what I saw. I was riveted. Here was a clash of societies that I'd never seen before. On one hand is the logic of "If it doesn't hurt anyone, do it." On the other hand is the logic of "If I don't get hurt, I'm gonna do it." I don't know if that clearly explains what I saw, but I have to say I was riveted, disturbed, and amazed that something like this actually happened.
I am 31 years old and I had never heard of the Altamont concert until about a year ago. What's wrong with this picture? This is a cultural event as significant as Kennedy, Woodstock, or Vietnam. Find this DVD at your local store and get it if you want to see something that will really amaze you. I'm telling you. It's spellbinding.
American Beauty (1999)
A Meandering Viewpoint
THIS WILL PROBABLY CONTAIN SPOILERS, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM, GO AWAY.
"American Beauty" has the capacity to move and amaze. To watch this film and not be astonished and freaked out (to a degree) is to be partially dead inside. Talking about ALL the great things in the movie would take days. Instead, allow me to expound on the ending.
SECOND SPOILER WARNING. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM, BEGONE, SCAT, FLEE, RUN, RETREAT, RUN AWAY.
Friends of mine have said the ending is a downer. Far from it. Think about what happens. Lester is shot dead, and after a short shot of Caroline reacting, we get a series of shots with Lester's voice-over, explaining what went through his mind as he died. Pictures from the past fill the screen, and he fondly recalls the memories that mattered the most. Then he talks about becoming calm and relaxing and allowing the beauty of the world to pass freely through you until you become so full of beauty that you're about to burst. Does this make sense? "Don't worry," he assures us, "it will."
This humble fan found this ending sequence to be almost unbearably beautiful. It reminded me that, where Lester's life is over, mine is stretched out in front of me. How many chances will I squander before I come to his realization? ("IT'S JUST...A...COUCH!!!") How many opportunities will escape before I remember to reach out and grasp them? How many years will it take? One? Two? Thirty? Better do it soon. The one year you decide to make the most of life might be your last.
I could go on. But I'm not going to. If you've read this far, you know how I feel. Take a moment. Go outside. Find something beautiful. It's out there. You just have to know how to look for it. It's all around you. Within you. Look closer.
(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. BE YE WARNED.)
I double dog dare you to find another movie as imaginative or fantastic as this one. Let me read off some of the improbable visuals contained in Gilliam's fantasy epic:
A hot-air balloon made entirely of women's knickers. The King of the Moon racing around trying to catch his runaway, cantankerous head. A man riding a cannonball while outracing Death himself. A three-headed mechanical bird named Sybil. A perilous climb to the very tip of the crescent moon while celestial constellations fly, gallop, and swim around the night sky. An appearance by a semi-nude Venus Herself...on the half-shell, no less.
I have a difficult time talking about this movie because I don't want to dog it, but I can't really recommend it to anyone except fans of Gilliam's work. It is SO bizarre, its humor SO dry and, at times, absurd, that even I don't like it. But it takes so many chances and is so DIFFERENT from everything else that it deserves a chance to be seen. Fans of fantasy -- not dragons and swords, but real fantasy -- should give this film at least a look-see.
The Cell (2000)
DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! YOU WON'T LIKE IT!
This movie is perfect. I'm not talking about the dialogue, I'm not talking about the acting, I'm not even really talking about the stunning visuals. I'm talking about the amount of discussion it generates. You either love this movie or you hate this movie. I think that's MARVELLOUS. It's like "Fight Club"; plenty of people hated it, plenty of people marvelled at it. Because a movie is capable of creating such dissention among movie fans, I think that ranks it with the best masterpieces of the past like "Dr. Strangelove", "Taxi Driver", and "2001", to name a few.
Also, a quick history lesson, which I'm sure many of the more literary readers will already know. Igor Stravinsky composed one of the finest pieces of "modern" music in the early 1900's, "The Rite of Spring" ballet. It is today considered a classic. However, when it premiered in Paris, the audience not only booed...they rioted. They threw rocks at the orchestra and the dancers in hopes they would discontinue; fights broke out, not only in the performance hall, but on the streets outside.
People very often fear what they do not understand, and the least of these people react in a very violent manner...either physically OR verbally. Think about that. Then go watch this film again. If you STILL don't like it, more power to you. All I ask is you give it a chance...because mark my words:
This film will be remembered long after the curtain has fallen on our lives.
(PLEASE respond to this review if you have any thoughts at all; I welcome the opportunity to defend my argument.)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
A benchmark of 21st-century cinema
...a bold statement, to be sure, especially coming from someone whose only credentials are the fact that he is a movie fanatic. I am not a scholar. I am not a professor, or an analyst, or an insider. I talk about a movie's power to me personally, not to a demographic. And I am here to tell you this film is brilliant. It is inventive. It is smart. It is sharp. It is bizarre and dark and mesmerizing in a few places. It is truly unique and ingenius.
And I am truly, deeply saddened by the many viewer comments that seem to overlook these qualities and instead comment on how they saw the film as murky or complex or insignificant. I was especially depressed at how one user commented that Malkovich's performance in "Con Air" was superior to his performance in THIS film. Comparing this film with "Con Air" is like comparing "Alien" with "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" and saying "Killer Tomatoes" was a better monster movie.
Please, I am eager to defend my views on this film; it is a masterpiece that will be remembered as a watershed for the film industry. If you dissent, whether personally or professionally, I welcome the opportunity to try to change your opinion.
Breathes there the man with soul so dead that he has never seen Tim Burton's "Batman"? Who has not been drawn to this pop-culture phenomenon, even if by no more than raw curiosity? Who has not heard of Nicholson's startling performance as the Joker, a performance that should have been Oscar-nominated? Who has not heard the lines quoted by geeks and buffs galore? Where does he get those wonderful toys?
If you're reading this, and you HAVEN'T seen this movie, do yourself a favor: stop reading this right now, turn OFF your computer, and pick up a copy at the rental place. Better yet, buy your own copy. Even the DVD is down to $14.99 at stores everywhere.
You don't need me to tell you more about how groundbreaking this film was, do you? Told completely in a comic-book world, it was the genesis of the genre. Skewed angles, dark interiors, a city seen almost exclusively at night, garish colors, and, above all, gothic architecture. Looking for realism? Look somewhere else. Looking for escapism? Fantasy in a nightmare world? Visuals heretofore unseen? Check this flick out. Countless others have attempted to duplicate its style and have succeeded only in imitating it. A true original.
But you don't need me to tell you that. Do you?
Ah, words. To paraphrase Henry Higgins, they are the pillars of society. Language is the means by which emotions are expressed, wars and love affairs are started and ended, and friendships are struck -- and melted down. "Becket" is a movie in love with words, their eloquence and, in some cases, majesty. It's a movie about friendship and loyalty, God and country, and the dynamics that occur when one tries to mix them together. I cannot think of movie so in love with words in recent memory; the only one that comes close (perhaps even superseding it) is "A Man for All Seasons." This is the proverbial film to sink your mental teeth into. It is cerebral, challenging, controversial, and tragic. If you've ever had a friend grow more and more distant no matter how hard you tried to keep things right -- this is for you.
And that is all I have to say about that...
A letter for Shadow...
So few comments for this film! A film about which its viewers have wildly different views! (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD, SO BE YE ADVISED; HERE ENDETH THE WARNING.)
Me, personally, I enjoyed it at the theatre, but I thought the ending was way too neat and tidy. The plot was already a little far-fetched anyway, stretching credibility to the breaking point. Would a fireman, someone devoted to saving lives and keeping people from harm...would a fireman really turn to assassination as a method of revenge? Not just assassination, but incredibly elaborate assassinations; these murders required incredibly intricate planning and exquisite timing. How did he manage it? Did he have a detailed appointment schedule for these men? How did he know exactly when they would show up at the right place? How did he get into their homes without attracting any attention? (Okay, that one's not so hard to swallow.)
Not to mention the fact that, darn it, I wanted to see more of the firefighting action and less of the subplot. I didn't care about the corrupt mayor or any of that. I wanted fire. I love fire. I want to burn the world! Everything should burn! BURN IT ALL!
The Last Word.
In a movie so concerned with showing how plausible its plot is...in a movie that goes out of its way to show scenes explaining in scientific detail what needs to be done and what is happening...in a movie with amazingly intricate special effects work...WHY DID THEY SHOW A FIRE BURNING IN THE VACUUM OF SPACE. Whatever good points this movie may have had up to that point, the filmmakers lost me at that PRECISE instant. Those of you who have seen it multiple times (you know who you are), you know the moment I'm talking about. It's at some point after one of the shuttles crash-landed and the camera wanders over the wreckage...there's the flames and SMOKE. C**p. C**p, c**p, c**p. That's all I have to say about that.
To My Own Self be True
Okay. It's spiders, spiders, and more spiders. There are the obligatory scenes establishing various characters, trying to generate sympathy for the different victims. Yes, it's boring getting through most of it. Yes, that is Mimi from "The Drew Carey Show" playing the coroner's wife. But I must be honest and true to my own self, popular opinion be damned.
This movie featured plenty of jump-out-of-the-bushes scares to satisfy me. Sure, it's manipulative and sometimes even unimaginative, but they WORKED for me. Perhaps it's because I'm naive, perhaps I'm just above a turnip on an IQ scale. I don't care. I am not afraid of spiders, and I got a couple of genuine frights from this flick. Sure, I can analyze it and find fault with its tedious plot exposition and several annoying plotholes. But I had too much of a good time waiting for the next scare.
Of course, I also liked "The Blair Witch Project." What do I know, right?
Apollo 13 (1995)
Do you really need ME to tell YOU this?
Well...um...where to start?
Tom Hanks, looking like he was shooting for a three-peat, three years in a row being nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, didn't get it. Did he deserve it? If Mel Gibson had only waited a year before releasing "Braveheart", he would have been a lock. Also, this is, above all, an ensemble picture. But you don't need me to tell YOU that, you already KNOW that. Right? So...next.
The special effects. If you don't already know, many of the zero-gravity shots in this flick were accomplished by constructing a set of the space capsule inside what's known as the "Vomit Comet", a modified jet aircraft designed to simulate weightlessness for astronaut training. What it does is simple: it flies up to a high altitude very fast, then gradually turns earthward at just enough speed to make whatever is inside of the jet "float" off the ground, thus creating a weightless effect. Not too impressive, right? Except the actors, directors and other crew members made between 500 and 600 individual flights on the "Vomit Comet" to get all the required shots. But you already know THAT. Don't you?
The story. It's kinda like watching "Titanic." You KNOW the boat sinks, you just wanna see how it's DONE. Same here. Ron Howard, director extraordinaire, tightens the story and ratchets up the tension so we are prepared to either bawl our eyes out or stand up and cheer at the end...and either way would be equally as satisfying.
But you don't need ME to tell YOU this...do you?