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Cold Mountain (2003)
Excellent film in all the hugeness of its scope
This was a terrific movie. It was dramatic, exciting, and at times, even funny (Rene Zellwegger). I guess movies of this time of year, around the oscar season, are all a little bit of everything. This one comes disguised as a romance, but more of a drama than anything else. Yes, there are two stories going on at once. That seems to be another common theme of films of this season. The House of Sand and Fog is two stories, 21 Grams is 3. Cold Mountain is two, and since there is a romance there, it seems to be a little wierd that the members of the couple are split up for the film. It's not half as wierd as it might seem. This is because both stories are very, very good. You'd expect that Nicole Kidman staying at home, learning to take care of her farm would be boring. It isn't. She gets Zellwegger helping her out, sparking up life every time she opens her mouth, and she also gets a band of southern hunters who terrorize them and their neighbors. Meanwhile, we got Jude Law, as Inman, trying to make his way home and being detained at stop after stop. His story reminded me of one of those journey movies like Easy Rider or The Last Detail, where each stop is a story unto itself. One of his better stops involves Natalie Portman as a young mother and a bunch of Northern troops who terrorize her. So, you see how what has the seeds of a romance actually surprises everyone by springing up into a drama with occasional action. The movie might be long, but it doesn't feel it. That's because every frame is edge of your seat compelling. Anthony Minghella knows that his English Patient was boring. Yes it was beautiful and won the best picture oscar, but the general consensus is that it was boring, and he's been trying to make it up to us ever since.
At a certain point, Christmas movies started getting dumb. They just ran out of ideas and we started getting films like Jingle All The Way. Elf is the first movie since Bill Murray's Scrooged to do some good for the holdiay's cinematic potential. It's made by smart people and this is an obvious fact that shows itself in every scene. Yes, the plot looks silly and uncreative. An elf is really a human and has to go find his real Dad. It looks dumb. Part of the fun of this movie is how big a surprise it is that it turns out to be great. It's not about plot. It's about humor. Every role is perfectly cast, every scene is designed in terms of achieving maximum comic potential, and Will Ferrell, who is ussually more annoying than not, has finally found the perfect role for his style of humor. This movie uses Christmas right and keeps us laughing so often that it's almost impossible to walk away unsatisfied.
Ying xiong (2002)
one of the best action movies ever made
Theres no question that hong kong has the action market cornered when it comes to the greatest action ever put on film. Hard Boiled is, for my money, the greatest action picture ever made, but one has to consider that there are different kinds of action films. There are gun movies (Hard Boiled) and then there are more traditional, sword movies, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hero is in the later group. It is better than Crouching Tiger, has far more action and does cooler things. Both movies look amazing with the most beautiful scenery, and both have fantastic action choreography, but Hero just goes a little further. Take, for example, all of the scenes where herds of arrows are launched into the air. Or the two scenes where Jet Li shows off his skills without fighting any opponents (one involves splitting stacks, the other splitting an arrow). The Rashomon-like story is a little like Basic, which is to say that its not particulary easy to follow, but who cares. Its the action that counts in a movie like this, and the action in this movie is out of control. Hard Boiled has the gun movies beat and Hero has the sword movies looking up to it.
Creative and Raw
There aren't many movies that both aren't afraid and also strive for intelligence with every move. Happiness was one. Trainspotting is another. It combines an intense desire to not hold anything back with an amazing world of characters who have analyzed life and chosen not to live it. The plot might be as simple, in the abstract, as a character continually trying to kick his heroin habit, but this movie draws that out with tons of humourous scenes and lively characters. Ewan McGregor stars as Marc Renton, the only character who is half rational. We need someone like that to bring us into this world and his voice over which runs throughout the film is a big help to understanding how he feels at various moments. The direction by John Hodge is gutsy and creative. There's one scene, for example, where Renton gets so high, he sinks into the rug and stays there, even when he's in the street, the car, and at the hospital. He doesn't come out of the rug until he comes off of the drugs. This movie does not make drugs look good at all, but at the same time it isn't filled with depression. How can you make a movie about the horrors of drug addiction and not make it sad? It has something to do with throwing intelligent humor into the mix as often as possible. This movie is a masterpiece. It takes so many chances and rocks every one of them.
Anne B. Real (2003)
a smarter and more intense 8 Mile
Anne B Real takes the foundation of an artist with a gift for rhyming lyrics and it expands on it. It uses the Diary of Anne Frank for inspiration, citing passages through voice over, and explores a number of realistic problems. These problems include the fact that the main character is a female rapper in an idustry that is dominated by males. They include her troubled family members and a world where even family will sell you out if the price is right. The movie works so well because of both the intensity of the conflicts and also the emotion behind each character. Every part has been perfectly cast so that not one character is forgetable. They take a strong story and they fill it with energy. 8 Mile was good, but it only had one note and one idea. This movie does what 8 Mile wanted to do. It really explores the lives of the characters in this world and lets the audience feel like they are a part of it.
Blood Work (2002)
better than most, because its smarter than most
When you've seen as many cop movies as I have, they become pointless. Sure, there are exceptional ones, like LA Confidential, but most end up being more like The Bone Collector, which is to say, the same old thing. Few of them try to really be mysteries, which means have real clues and require looking at situations from different angles. This movie has those things. Like every other film, it is about a detective trying to catch a killer, only this one is smart about it. Clint Eastwood is the detective, and he's a cool actor to watch, but this movie is not about acting. It is not about characters or dialogue or atmosphere or anything other than the mystery. Luckily that mystery is superb. Very Very smart twists and ways of figuring things out make this a clever little film. Much better than anything I've seen Eastwood in in a long while. It's all about the writing.
Blue Crush (2002)
exactly what you would expect
Saying that Blue Crush is exactly what you would expect is saying that it is neither particularly good nor bad. I guess its better than you would expect, then, since it could so easily be a stupid, cliched film. In many ways it is, but it is not so cliched that you don't enjoy watching it. The plot about the girl who has this big match at the end and meets a guy and starts dating is all a cliche. It doesnt matter. The surfing scenes, including when they just go out surfing to have fun, as opposed to only when they are competing, are fun. The romance might be cliched, but it is still okay. It bothered me that the two friends weren't given real characters of their own, but nobody will accuse this movie of being a smart film. It's brainless fun. If you want something smart, dealing with teenagers, and attractive ladies, check out Risky Business. Blue Crush is more of something that you watch to not have to think about. If youre in that kind of a mood, then this is perfect.
Minority Report (2002)
good, but not as original as it looks
This was a good movie loaded with ideas and it's a shame that they weren't all original. So much of this was creative, that it really bugged me when the writing spoiled it by ripping off LA Confidential with a surprise death scene, and also the fugitive, and even snake eyes, (that overhead shot was a DePalma move, even if nobody saw it). Despite these cheap attempts to hide the lack of originality, there is still a ton going for this movie. The PreCrime system is really clever. The plot and what one has to do in this situation, considering the workings of precrime, is also extremely smart. And the atmosphere and bleached look of the film is out of this world. This is the best Spielberg movie I've seen in a while. AI was stupid (when it wasn't Kubrick behind the scene), and Catch Me If You Can was corny as hell. Here, with Minority Report, Spielberg almost hits a home run. I could have got past the DePalma move, but they shouldnt have touched LA Confidential. Oh, well. It's still a good, cool film, even if it didnt do it all on its own.
Brilliant writing makes for an excellent film
This is one of the greatest mysteries of the past decade. It is, no question, the kind of movie that Hitchcock would be making today. Yes, there are flaws in some of the details, but nothing too major. The plot is still brilliant, the pacing perfect, and the characters lively. Especially Alec Baldwin who give the movie its spark, playing an egocentric doctor with a god complex. The best thing about this movie is the way that it unleashes a mystery, little by little, and lets it unfold into something tremendous. Intelligence is all over this script. Everything is done for a reason and great writing here, (by the screenwriter who wrote A Few Good Men), makes for a terrific movie.
Risky Business (1983)
fun, funny, and smart
Most funny comedies aren't very smart. They're funny because of individual jokes that play by themselves, without relying on the overall plot. Risky Business is an exception and the reason why it works so well, is because it tells a simple story that could really happen and would also be a lot of fun. Youre a high school kid, your parents go on vacation for a week, leaving you the whole house to yourself. That's the setup. A friend calls up a call girl, she shows up, and the entertainment begins. This movie is smart enough to know what kids think about at that age, sex, and it holds nothing back. It is very clever at times and has a strong character in Joel, played by a young, energetic Tom Cruise. Another thing that this movie understands is mood and tempo. Everything hits the right beat. Smart and funny is an ideal combination and this movie achieves it.
Mamet's worst, a terrible picture
This movie was so bad that it is hard to believe David Mamet wrote and directed it. the dialogue feels like Mamet with some intriguing one-liners, but that's the only decent thing about the film. The plot is awful. It's one heist after another after another. And that's it. There's nothing in between and nothing before or after. It's all heists. How much fun can that be? Not much. There are so many twists that you stop caring. Not just that, you stop trusting and believing. If you don't believe something then you are not going to be surprised when it turns out to be a lie. That's the way this movie makes you feel. I loved Wild Things because it caught you off gaurd with its twists. This movie tries to catch you off gaurd but doesnt even come close. You have your guard on, knowing that the twists are going to come. My big complaint was that the story had no emotion. Nobody to trust or to care about. Nobody who cared about anyone else. It was like watching total emptiness. How did Mamet, a genious who made Glengarry Glenn Ross and The Spanish Prisoner, make this crap?
The Limey (1999)
You hear about mythology throughout your life, and yet most movies that touch on it end up ruining their themes by overdoing them. The bad guy is really bad, and the hero always has quick one liners. Like the mummy type of stuff. Well, The Limey pushes all of those movies aside and shows them how to do it. It uses experienced and aging actors like Peter Fonda, Leslie Ann Warren, and Terrence Stamp and they all represent experienced people in the real world. One is a record producer who lived in the sixties and made his fortune there. Another is a vengeful father who spent his life in prison and has now gotten out. These guys take what they are doing seriously. No corny one liners, but real moments of excitement and feeling. It doesn't hurt that it's directed by the great Steven Soderbergh (Another great one is Out of Sight, and still another is Sex, Lies, and Video Tape). This movie has everything going for it. Great acting, writing, and filmimg. Even the use of music is right on target.
Training Day (2001)
Intense as it can get
This was a real good movie because it was gripping and hardcore and totally rocked out with intensity. The first half wasnt slow, it just wasnt half as fast as the movie became. The plot is pretty cool and the action is real nice. There's adrenaline pumping through this one like nothing we've seen in a long while. I'm not the biggest ethan hawke fan, but he really is perfect for this role. And Washington, that man is amazing in this one. It's a good, well written character and he completely embodies it and makes it feel completely real. This movie is the best thing I've seen in a long time.
Night on Earth (1991)
Funny as hell
It's not that this movie is non stop laughs, but just that it is so smart and such intelligent humor. It's got a clever premise about five short stories involving cab rides in different cities, but it's the specific situations that will crack you up. One after another, they are all hilarious. Roberto Benini's scene had me laughing out loud, and that never happens. The only sketch that wasnt so great was the opening one with Winona Ryder. Everything that followed it rocked and impressed the hell out of me. A smart comedy. not too many of those.
Joy Ride (2001)
When I go to the movies I look for original material. This is not it. If you've seen Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or any of the millions of movies that copied them, then there's no point in seeing this one. I'm not saying that just because they share a genre, there cant be anything new about it. I did like Urban Legends. But Joy Ride is just the same old thing. The killer is a truck driver who uses his voice on the radio to scare us. Real creative. The only thing good about this movie is Steve Zahn doing some really funny comedy. He's great, but the movie just doesn't cut it as a thriller. And the director is such a master that this is a giant disappointment for him. John Dahl, the dude behind Rounders, Red Rock West, and The Last Seduction. With this movie it looks like he's starting to go down the Robert Altman route of a total sell-out. Well, this one should be avoided if you're smart.
The Big Sleep (1946)
it's entertaining, but dont even think about understanding it
Wow, was this movie confusing or what? I think it's probably harder to understand than Mission Impossible. But its still an alright film. I mean, sure plot is important, but you can get the gist of whats going on without knowing everybodys name. There are plenty of cool scenes and captivating action moments. This detective-film noir classic has more action than most do, and its a good thing because it needs it. This is no Double Indemnity or Out of The Past. Plot is its weakest point. The way things are filmed is its strongest. And both Bogart and Bacall are very very good here. So it's worth seeing, because its kind of fun, but i think i might have to see it five more times to understand it. God, there were a lot of names to remember.
Along Came a Spider (2001)
it's a good, gripping film
Alright, look, this isn't revolutionary or anything and it probably will be forgotten by the end of the year, but it is good. It's about ten times better than Kiss The Girls, it's predessor, and that movie was alright. Along Came A Spider portrays a really clever story with some nice twists and a great character in Alex Cross. So many mysteries have the cop figure something out without ever explaining how. This movie is clear about every last detail. I read the book about a year ago and my biggest concern going into this one was that it wouldn't do the book justice. Now, like all movies, it was not as good as the book. You can't beat an original. However, it made the necessarry changes and with exception to a few flat conversations, everything was done right. So I was not disasppointed by the way the book was represented at all. Infact, it is impressive that I enjoyed this movie as much as I did considering that I knew the whole plot ahead of time. Imagine if I didn't know it. It's a good movie and I know it hasn't been getting good reviews, but I'm glad I didn't let that stop me from seeing it. Critics are idiots. This movie is far from fantastic, but it's good and worth the evening. If nothing more, it definitely keeps one entertained.
This movie was fun in its most basic way. It was a visual trip presenting a three girl rock band and what comes across their path in the middle of LA. It's the seventies and anything and everything goes. Sex, drugs, violence. This movie makes it all look good. The basic stuff applies to a plot that always remains simple and true to itself. I'd much prefer that to a movie that treads on repeated ground or puts together a terrible plot just so it has something. Valley doesn't need a plot, it's that creative. It includes some very cool scenes and fun moments. I recently took a trip to LA and observed that it is a city devoted to partying. So imagine what it was like in the seventies. Or just rent the movie. it's worth it. And as far as the plot, the second half actually does start to tell a cool story. Even the music in this movie is great and while the film is not fantastic, its good because its simple and fun. you don't have to think about it, but on the same note its far from unintelligent.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I'm sure nobody needs me to tell them why this movie is so good. That's because Jones has become a classic superhero. He's a guy who defies death constantly and surrounds himself with crazy people, many of them villains. He's basically James Bond, only as an archaeologist. He goes after treasures and so his adventures take him all around the world. This movie in particular is good because it has a cool plot that really moves. The opening classic sequence is amazing, but it doesn't stop there. Four fifths of this movie are really great. Then there's a stupid, fake looking, climactic scene, but so what. You subtract that and you have a perfect movie and nobody's perfect right? So it makes one mistake. That's a lot less than most movies. It's still terrific.
Foxy Brown (1974)
very cool blaxpoitation flick
I love blaxpoitation. Why? Because it's honest. It doesn't claim it's going to be action and then show only PG-13 material. If you see a Blaxpoitaton movie you know it's going to be all out. Cursing, nudity, sex, and violence. But all that doesn't make a movie, it just helps. It's details. The plot is what counts and most (not all: Dolemite) of these films know that. That's why they construct an interesting plot that surrounds crime and allows for these details to fit the story. Shaft was a great action movie, but they got better from there. Coffy, Superfly, and now Foxy Brown, all great movies in a similar way. They are fun. Foxy Brown is possibly the best of all of them because it has the best plot. It's similar to Coffy but not so similar that you only have to see one. Foxy Brown takes Coffy and goes even further. It has a nice, complex story involving gangs, ranches, murders, and betrayal. All the good things that contemporary action movies leave out. Sometimes you have to go back to the classics to get a rush. This movie is one of those classics.
The Mexican (2001)
decent, but nothing special
We've all seen romantic comedies where the couple has a big fight that lasts the whole movie and then make up. This movie throws in a subplot about Brad Pitt on a mission to retrieve a gun that is less than entertaining. Julia Roberts is real cute and a good choice for the role, but it's hardly the most intelligent script. The only thing that stands out is James Gandolfini. When movie stars break out, they take roles that they were meant to play. Then they start going for what they consider "creative" moves which are really ridiculous. That's why DeNiro ended up in Rocky and Bullwinkle and Christopher Walken in Blast From The Past. Well, one day Gandolfini will be making those movies and people will say, "Why can't he go back to playing a gangster which he does so well?" Well, this is one of those movies that they will be speaking about. True Romance is another one. Go see this movie not for Pitt or Roberts, but for Gandolfini who is right now at his prime.
Okay, but far from great
I don't quite understand why everyone loves this movie. It's way too long and doesn't have any new revelations in plot. The simple story is about three men who all want the same thing: a buried treasure. That's it. Two of the men team up and the third guy is the villain who pursues them. So it's nothing new, but the background imagery goes all out and that's why this movie is so well known. It puts scenes like one of them crossing a bridge, right smack in the middle of the civil war. It's elaborate in settings, but anything but elaborate in plot. The characters are for the most part just okay. Then there's the ugly guy who is funny as all hell. If he wasn't a part of this movie I would have certainly disliked the film because there isn't that much great about it. That one character makes the movie and sets the tone. So this is an okay movie, not what you'd expect based on word of mouth, but not bad either.
Pitch Black (2000)
not half as good as it looks
This movie could have been so much better. It's got cool ideas that are played out terribly. The dialogue and acting are real awful and it hurts the movie a great deal. It looked like it could have been more than just the latest "Deep Rising" and for a few minutes it seemed like it would be. Those minutes were when the visual atmosphere was shown with brilliant lighting and cool camera work. That's, unfortunately, the only thing this movie has going for it. Vin Diesel has a cool look to him, but even he can't handle such terrible dialogue and rework it. The creatures are nothing special at all and the plot really sucks. So the movie looks cool at first, but it grows old and there's nothing else there to back it up. Definately a lousy, disappointing film. A much cooler creature movie was Anaconda.
State of Grace (1990)
Wow, absolutley terrific
I'm a film major and if I had to figure out a genre that I know better than any other, it would be gangster movies. I've seen just about every gangster movie, even the real old stuff like Paul Muni's Scarface (1932). Well, despite knowing the genre and cliches by heart, this movie still thrilled me. It has so many excellent ideas that you could have put a cast of the worst actors imaginable in it and it would have still been alright. But it has great actors in it. Sean Penn is very talented and here he is good as is Ed Harris, but realistically the show belongs to one man: Gary Oldman. This is his movie. I never thought I'd see him give a better performance than he did as the villain in The Professional, but he does it here. I don't want to say too much about the plot because it is one surprise after the next and the slightest detail could give something important away. Alright, I'll say this: As if plot and acting and cool scenes weren't enough, this movie has one of the best gun battles ever (after Hard Boiled and The Killer, ofcoarse).
Marathon Man (1976)
exciting and fun
I'm not going to go raving about how original this movie is because the fact is I've seen a bunch of movies like it. but how many of them were better? Probably not many. It's about a guy who gets caught up in some spy business that he doesn't know anything about. Suddenly he's the guy who everyone's after and he doesn't have a clue why. This is the basic storyline for so many of Alfered Hitchcock's movies like North By Northwest. Marathon Man focuses more on the action than those movies do and it works out real well. The movie is divided up nicely so that the first half is all about the setup and the second half is about the action. That second half is a nice payoff. Even though this movie felt familiar, it was still very enjoyable.