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TOP 50 FILMS:
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
4. City Lights (1931)
5. Vertigo (1958)
6. Metropolis (1927)
7. M (1931)
8. Casablanca (1942)
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
10. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
11. Seven Samurai (1954)
12. The General (1927)
13. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
14. Goodfellas (1990)
15. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
16. Psycho (1960)
17. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
18. The Dark Knight (2008)
19. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
20. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
21. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003
22. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
23. Back to the Future (1985))
24. Braveheart (1995)
25. The Gold Rush (1925)
26. Star Wars (1977)
27. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
28. Paths of Glory (1957)
29. North by Northwest (1959)
30. Modern Times (1936)
31. Sherlock Jr. (1924)
32. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
33. L.A. Confidential (1997)
34. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
35. The Lives of Others (2006)
36. 12 Angry Men (1957)
37. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
38. Forbidden Planet (1956)
39. Apocalypse Now (1979)
40. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
41. The Deer Hunter (1978)
42. On the Waterfront (1954)
43. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
44. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
45. Jaws (1975)
46. Pulp Fiction (1994)
47. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
48. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
49. Ben-Hur (1959)
50. Fargo (1996)
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Død snø (2009)
Lots of gore, little else
Your enjoyment of Dead Snow hinges on your desire to see creative ways of displaying gore. Judging by the reaction of a college audience, most people enjoyed it.
Following a brief intro sequence that gives a hint of what to expect later, Dead Snow starts off like any standard horror film. It briefly introduces the characters and has them set off to a secluded location. Of course it's not really a horror film; it's one of many recent comedy-horror hybrids. I never imagined that comedy-horror films would be so popular, but they seem to be working. The characters are mostly interesting and the plot is unpredictable. There seems to be an attempt at a story early on, but most of the second half involves action. Basically all of the realism and consistency goes away at that point. The characters seem to die in a random pattern.
There isn't much innovation in Dead Snow except for one thing: the way that zombies or humans are killed and gore is displayed. I found myself laughing at some of the bizarre connections that were made. There was one death that appeared to be a reference to Tyrell's death in Blade Runner. Another one that had me laughing was when a character used soccer skills to kick a zombie head into the trees. However, I think that the gore was overdone and got into the way of any potential that the story had. In fact, the beginning of Dead Snow showed some promise over other similar horror films, mostly because of the cinematography. Overall, the audience clapped several times and was very involved with the film.
The film gave nothing for me to take away from it, except for wonderment of how such a violent and gory film could be a comedy. There are unpleasant and disturbing visuals, but somehow everyone was able to not take it seriously. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing, but it does show that the film succeeds on some level.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fascinating epic by Tarantino
Inglourious Basterds is an alternate history World War II war epic. Unlike other war epics, it is completely fictional, using Nazi occupied France as a setting but hardly taking into account any other historical information. The film is stylistically similar to Quentin Tarantino's other films, such as Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills. There is a lot of exaggerated violence, quirky characters, and dialog.
There are several scenes of extended dialog between characters. Sometimes I criticize this in Tarantino's other films, but it works very well here to introduce the characters and develop them. It even helps demonstrate Hans Landa's fluency in multiple language. Since most of the conservations are only loosely connected to the plot, this may draw some people off. However, these scenes usually conclude with some important plot development or action.
The cast is very strong, although not perfect. Tarantino does not give us as much information about the characters as we would want. He always leaves mysteries open and does not have a single figure take up much of the film's time. In particular, Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz gave commendable performances. The other actors all fit reasonably well.
The plot is secondary to the characters, but is generally good. Split into five chapters, not much happens in the first four parts except for character and plot development, mixed in a few surprising moments. By far the most significant part is the fifth chapter, which is an astounding finale. It is shocking and exaggerated in typical Tarantino fashion.
It is arguable about how much of a point the film has, but for most people it should be entertaining. If you enjoyed Tarantino's previous works, then you would find this one equally worthy.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Blue Velvet is marked by the traits of David Lynch's other successful films: abstract visuals, strange characters, unpredictability, and plots that require imagination. In order to like this, you will likely need to have patience with understanding what is happening in the film. Of course, this is a murder mystery, so the answers are expected to be hidden until the end. However, with Lynch the answers remain hidden even after that! With enough thought, you could come up with satisfying interpretations, but you just have to accept these things when you view the film.
One of the most striking parts of Blue Velvet is the characterization. Frank (played by Dennis Hopper) is one of the most remarkable villains I have ever known. The Yellow Man and Ben are mysterious characters that do not have much screen time, but are performed perfectly during those scenes. And don't forget Dorothy, who gives an effective performance as their victim. In contrast to these ludicrous gangsters, the other characters are caricatures of average people. Jeffrey is the ambitious young man returning home and searching for adventure, Sandy is the typical girl companion, and Detective Williams is her protective father.
I think that the reason that Blue Velvet works for me is because the premise is simple, but the way that it is presented introduces ambiguity. There are layers of loosely connected themes and motifs, which makes it perfect for repeated viewings and analysis. Different people will see different things in it. From my experience, Blue Velvet gets a strong recommendation. If you like artistic and intriguing films, especially ones with memorable characters, then don't miss this one.
The Pianist (2002)
A touching film about one man's extraordinary experiences
The Pianist is a dramatic Holocaust film about Wladyslaw Szpilman's experiences during World War II. A brilliant Jewish pianist played by Adrien Brody, he quickly gains the audience's sympathy after being a victim of the horrific, methodic actions of the Third Reich. It appears that the film never strays far from the truth, which in turn makes the it all the more emotional.
There are some very chilling moments, but I think the most powerful parts of the film are where kindness is shown by people who you don't expect it from. Szpilman's life is saved several times by strangers that provide shelter and food, and even by a couple individuals employed by the Nazis. I felt that those things give the film an optimistic tone.
Brody's acting is great and he deserved his Oscar. Since the entire film revolves around his performance, this was an important aspect for its success. Other performances are effective as well. The directing by Roman Polansky is solid and shows no considerable error.
I would not find The Pianist to be an overly disturbing film at all, despite the fact that several characters close to Szpilman are killed. The full scale of the Holocaust is hidden from the scope of the film, which is due to Szpilman's luck at escaping. A wide range of emotions are displayed throughout the film, but what you are left with is an admiration of Szpilman's life.
District 9 (2009)
Excellent premise but mixed execution
District 9 has a fresh science fiction premise: an alien mothership arrives to Earth and inertly levitates in the sky over Johannesburg, South Africa. Once humans find their way inside, they find a famished alien worker population. There is no value in them except for their advanced weaponry that is rendered inoperable to humans. Like any great science fiction story, there are plenty of things left as a mystery.
It is clear that Peter Jackson's role as a producer has benefited the film in many ways. There are excellent special effects and environments. The alien design is beautiful, although I'm sure that not everyone will agree with me. Their culture, language, and eating habits were reasonably believable. The attention to detail is fantastic, especially in implementing features such as the "For Humans Only" signs.
The beginning of the film takes advantage of a documentary style. The story is told through interviews and news footage to retell history as it happened. Soon afterwards, the film follows events through the perspective of Wikus van der Merwe, a field operative played by Sharlto Copley. Although he is one of the more sensitive humans around, he still suffers from arrogance and selfishness. In fact, one of the things that might have hurt the film is the lack of any admirable characters in the cast. I found the alien leader and his son to be the only respectable characters.
If the first half of District 9 is science fiction, the second half is action. Generally I enjoy action, but it was not very compelling here. I was disappointed to find that there was essentially no insight after the halfway mark. No plot surprises, no deep character interactions, and no creative uses of technology. The film simply deteriorated into unbelievable action and illogical consequences. The main characters dodge hundreds of bullets, blow up things (including lots of humans, which effectively burst in a spray of guts when hit by alien weapon projectiles), and manage to survive despite countless mistakes. The ending was strange, but does leave plenty of room open for a sequel (in 3 years?).
District 9 opened fine, but slowly lost its appeal for me as it progressed. It felt like the writers wanted to send a message, but then worried that the audience would lose their attention so they threw in lots of action to try to make an exciting finale. That might be fine for most people, but it diminished my appreciation for the interesting parts.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Judgment has been made
Judgment at Nuremberg is a standard court-case drama that focuses on the trial of four Nazi judges in Nuremberg following World War II. The importance of the trials from the Allied viewpoint remains contested throughout the film; most people are indicated to have little interest in it since the political and military figures have already been tried, while the actual people involved in this case strongly believe that justice must be achieved. On the other hand, the German people see this as the last chance to retain some dignity. As might be anticipated, Judgment at Nuremberg delves deep into the moral questions regarding the German citizens under the Third Reich.
The acting is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Spencer Tracy makes a sympathetic aged Chief Judge Haywood, who pursues the morally correct verdict by closely considering both sides. Richard Widmark is an admirable but shortsighted American colonel who carries out the prosecution. Burt Lancaster is Dr. Ernst Janning, an enigmatic Nazi judge on trial, who appears to be the only one that realizes the extent of the crimes. Judy Garland also deserves some praise in her role as a witness to the central case. The role that impressed me the most was Maximilian Schell as Hans Rolfe, a formidable and proud German defense attorney. He has such a commanding voice and vivid personality that makes him perfect for the role. A small role that pleasantly surprised me (being a Star Trek fan) was a young William Shatner as Capain Harrison Byers, Haywood's aide. You must admit, he fits right in!
The plot is very interesting. There are several moments that will sway your opinion of what is right and wrong. The real message seems to be that we cannot know for certain what the proper verdict is, although the film hints that in the future we will be able to look back and decide. The ending was perfectly executed, and the last scene was somewhat of a surprise. The historical text at the end indicates the irony of the matter.
The only significant flaws of the film were that it was a little overlong (even if I hate using that as a criticism) and didn't seem to have much to offer in terms of a second viewing (although I might be wrong). Occasionally it repeated ideas, but never to the point where it got repetitive.
Overall, Judgment at Nuremberg appears to be one of the best American court-case dramas, right up there with 12 Angry Men. The themes it deals with are still relevant today. The point of the film is basic, even if it has some complicated consequences, but oftentimes people tend forget these things. If you are looking for some trial action or a loose historical film, then this should be near the top of your list.
Cult film highlighted by excellent martial arts
Bloodsport is a martial arts film about Frank W. Dux, an American who travels to Hong Kong to participate in an underground martial arts tournament known as the Kumite. Although it's based on real events, it's clear that Bloodsport isn't very accurate in that measure. The fighting styles are authentic though.
Jean Claude Van Damme plays the role of Frank. He definitely gives the appearance of someone who could win the tournament, but otherwise his acting is poor. Bobo Yeung plays the bad guy and manages to equal Van Damme's quality in acting. The rest of the acting is terrible, with the lone exception of Donald Gibb as Ray Jackson, another Kumite participant who becomes close friends with Frank during the tournament.
The directing is mediocre. It was especially bad during the beginning (the flashback sequence was completely unconvincing), but improved as the Kumite became the focus of the film. There are very few artistic moments, perhaps the alleyway scene going to the tournament being the most effective one.
The redeeming element is the fighting. Every tournament battle is unique and offers contrasting martial arts styles. Van Damme is especially impressive in his technique. I also liked the fact that each Kumite participant had a distinct personality.
As it stands, I could see Bloodsport being entertaining for most people, but I could only seriously recommend for people who love martial arts. It succeeds in bringing tournament action, but fails at building any drama.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Blazing Saddles is a classic American comedy directed by Mel Brooks. It makes a good companion to Young Frankenstein, also made by Brooks later in the same year. It satirizes American western films and racism.
The plot is wild and has many (intentional) holes. The comedy takes priority over the plot, which isn't a bad thing. A frontier town is raided by bandits and the sheriff is slain in a hilarious sequence with custom vocal music. The government appoints a replacement, the black sheriff Bart. Bart believes that he was sent to protect the town, but in reality the government chose him (being black) to scare away the townspeople to clear the area for a railroad. The town hesitantly accepts him. Bart and his assistant Jim (the Waco Kid) then protect the town from the government's ploys. It culminates in an epic brawl.
The acting is good, although most of the characters are simply caricatures. Gene Wilder (as Jim) and Harvey Korman (as the government official Hedley Lamarr, mastermind behind the railroad plans) give the best performances. The small roles by Mel Brooks himself are much appreciated as well.
Blazing Saddles is one of the best comedies of its decade. I enjoyed Young Frankenstein a little more, but together they make a brilliant combo from Mel Brooks. If you like comedies, don't miss this classic.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Thrilling political adventure
The best way to learn about the history and government of the United States is to visit Washington, D.C.; Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington invites viewers to experience this through film.
The plot is interesting, if not a little absurd. When a senator from a state dies in office, a Boy Ranger head, Jefferson Smith, is appointed to replace him. Mr. Smith has no experience whatsoever with politics. Needless to say, there are greater minds at play. Mr. Smith's enthusiasm for his position is evident from his trip to Washington: immediately after leaving the train, he is captivated by the Capitol dome and takes a tour of the city. The scenes where he stands next to Lincoln's statue are immortal. The plot from there is quite unbelievable (especially the filibuster sequence), but nonetheless inspiring and educational. I don't think it was meant to be taken too seriously; it pokes fun at the nuances of the government.
The acting is excellent. James Stewart was ingenious as Mr. Smith. Claude Rains is effective as Senator Paine. Jean Arthur's portrayal of Smith's secretary Saunders is underrated. The direction from Frank Capra is great. He produces very clean cuts and cinematography. This is especially evident in the montage scene when Mr. Smith first tours Washington. The scenery, including historical monuments and the interior of the Capitol, is fascinating.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an American classic. Its themes on democracy and government are timeless. Likewise, James Stewart's performance remains as fresh as ever. It is easy to forget that the film is so old. Perhaps the most important thing that it reveals is that the past is not so different than the present.
Dracula 2000 (2000)
Poorly planned and poorly executed
Dracula 2000 is a modern installment of the immortal horror franchise spawned by Bram Stoker's 1897 Dracula novel. The world's most popular vampire has had numerous appearances in film. Only Sherlock Holmes has appeared more times as a major character in the history of film. In Dracula 2000, the familiar Victorian England and Transylvanian settings are replaced by modern day London and New Orleans. I suppose this is an attempt to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, the transition fails.
Some major characters from the novel make an appearance. Obviously, Dracula is the main villain. Gerard Butler plays the role. His appearance is more romantic than frightening. I can't say that he acted bad, but he failed to carry the weight that we expect from the character. Van Helsing, the hero, reflects most of the features that we expect, but fails to be memorable in any way. In fact, he doesn't even play too pivotal of a role. The other characters, including Helsing's assistant Simon and Helsing's daughter Mary, are uninspired. In general, acting was mediocre.
The plot is structured after the novel, with a few major changes made to fit the new time period. This transition is flawed. The new story spawns several plot holes and odd ideas. If you ignore dissecting the plot, then you might enjoy some of it just for the horror elements. But as soon as you start to think about it, it breaks down.
The one thing that I did find interesting was the conclusion. It has sloppy editing and questionable stylistic choices in an attempt to give the illusion of fast paced action. I found it entertaining, but this is probably because it is so bad that it becomes good.
The concept of Dracula 2000 has some serious setbacks. Although I admit that I would like to see a good modern adaptation of Dracula, this is not the way to go. The execution suffers even more. Most people will go into Dracula 2000 expecting nothing more than it is. At the bare level, it can be enjoyed. But I like having more meat in my movies.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Thrilling conspiracy film
The Manchurian Candidate is one of the first modern political thrillers. It explores the possibility of brainwashing and hypnotizing people to carry out their plots. Specifically, Communist agents attempt to seize the White House by manipulating Sergeant Raymond Shaw, a Medal of Honor recipient.
The acting is excellent. Frank Sinatra is solid as the "good guy" Major Bennet Marco. Laurence Harvey pulls off the tough role of Raymond Shaw, an unlikable but sympathetic tool. Angela Lansbury is menacing as his Communist mother, Mrs. Iselin. She was everything that a villain should be. Her husband, Senator John Yerkes Iselin, is the buffoon who threatens to take the Presidency. He fits nicely as a comedic but foolish companion.
The plot had me confused at first. It took about half an hour for the story to start making sense. After that, it was exciting to see the questions slowly answered. The conclusion is very suspenseful, with a shocking surprise ending.
The film finds an effective balance between many different moods. There is comedy with Senator Iselin, the apartment Karate fight, and Shaw's relationship with his girlfriend. There is dark political drama with brainwashing, Communism, and assassinations. There is emotional tension with Shaw's hypnotism and disturbing family relationship.
The Manchurian Candidate is an impressive achievement for its time and continues to have value today. Although the Communist threat might be over, politics are more important than ever.
A glorious war story
Glory is truly an effective war film. Set in the American Civil War, it recounts the history of an all-black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Obviously a controversial idea at the time, the regiment defies all expectations to play a pivotal role in the war.
The characters are a strong point of the film. The cast includes Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. The biggest (pleasant) surprise was Matthew Broderick, who does a fantastic job as Colonel Robert Shaw, the commander of the regiment. His personality and style suits the character perfectly. Generally, the cast's actions and dispositions feel historically believable.
The plot is fine, although in retrospect it might have been a little too straightforward. Roughly the first half consists of developing and training the regiment. Here we see the racial injustices of the period. The officers have good intentions but are unsure of how to treat the blacks. They slowly gain an understanding of each other. Then they are off to fight together against the Confederates. They see more injustice, but also the opportunity to make a difference. There are only two major battle scenes, but both of them go the distance. The last one is especially well executed, with beautiful special effects and cinematography. The iconic music theme adds a lot to the emotional impact of the film.
Glory is a powerful war film. It allows us to accurately experience a tumultuous period in American history. It also reminds us of the crimes of prejudice. It has a clear goal and doesn't wander out of focus like some other war films do.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The ultimate adventure film
Like many people, I grew up with Indiana Jones. The series was shown repeatedly on television and I could never resist watching it. For a casual viewer, few films are more entertaining. It has been several years since then and I have finally seen Raiders of the Lost Ark again. This time I was able to make some observations about what makes it so great.
The acting is flawless. I'm tempted to say that Indiana Jones was Harrison Ford's career defining role. He is incredibly charismatic, honest, and iconic. There is not a single scene where he feels out of character. His heroic appearances always draw me straight into the film. His witty comments add a lot to the character. The rest of the cast almost matches Ford's quality. Marion Ravenwood (played by Karen Allen) makes a realistic and lively companion, often in extreme contrast to Indy's style. This makes for some intriguing development between them. Sallah (played by John Rhys-Davies) makes another good companion, although he is a bit one-dimensional. The villains are some of the most creative around. Dr. Rene Belloq (played by Paul Freeman) serves as the perfect nemesis. Although he claims to have a lot in common with Indy, some key characteristics are reversed (such as his ignorance of others). In addition, Major Arnold Toht is another unforgettable villain.
The plot is very good. There are relatively few plot holes compared to other films that try to do as much. The events are unpredictable for the first time watching (well, except for Indy always escaping safely). The film alternates between riveting action sequences and slower plot development parts. This leads to some interesting pacing, which in my opinion is a success. The music score is varied enough to cover the entire range of situations while staying true to the adventure theme.
The action is amazing. Everything is timed perfectly and executed with minimal inconsistencies. The film avoids simple punching or shooting action. Instead, it explores creative ways to maximize use of the surrounding environment. The climactic truck-chase scene is one of the best action sequences ever filmed.
There are definitely some (but not many) better films, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most accessible classics around. You don't need to understand symbolism, art, history, or filming technique to appreciate it. I can't think of a more complete adventure film. It also ranks among the best action films. It has a place in my personal top 10 favorite films. If you haven't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark yet, then find some friends and check it out. You are in need of a true adventure.
The 11th Hour (2007)
An inspiring documentary with an important cautionary message
I went into The 11th Hour expecting a straightforward, didactic documentary summarizing the current threats from global warming. If not for a momentary interest on the subject, I would have probably passed it up altogether. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was extremely nuanced, being an insightful and scientific investigation on mankind's role in global warming.
Rather than spurting out random facts and events (like most documentaries), The 11th Hour uses a wide range of viewpoints to build a conceptual foundation that explains the general scientific impression of global warming. Some of the ideas may end up being wrong, but all of them are at least plausible. The different speakers include Paul Hawken, Wangari Maathai, Mikhail Gorbachev, and (my favorite) Stephen Hawking. There are many different ideas communicated, but they are all based on the same underlying principle. The structure of the documentary is very dialog heavy, which can feel overwhelming at times but is guaranteed to bring forth new knowledge to viewers.
The main ideas are nothing new for most people educated on environmental news, but the speakers submit some profound new ways of looking at them. A common theme was relating Earth's existence to the human civilization's existence. If we continue to progress global warming, the planet might be able to heal itself eventually, but only once humans are gone. One thing I found especially interesting was the consideration of the economic value of nature, which ended up being roughly two times greater than the world's industrial wealth.
My only significant complaint is that the film is often rough in style, organization, and editing. The images sometimes feel out of place or even distracting from the message. Occasionally, the images rapidly jump between completely different environments, which can be hard to process. To be sure, most of the cinematography was excellent, but it just wasn't put together in the best way. Overall, it could have been more focused.
The 11th Hour is an insightful and inspiring documentary on one of the most important topics to date. It provides a balanced and comprehensive conceptual overview on the human role in global warming, but also expects viewers to take this knowledge out of the theater and implement it into their own lives. It is extremely educational experience.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Beautiful masterpiece centered on a dark personality
There Will Be Blood is a riveting drama film centering on Daniel Plainview: an ambitious and egocentric oil prospector who develops a wealthy business by manipulating his competitors, employees, friends, and family. Three phases of his life are chronicled: his first oil deposit discovery, his consolidation of power by transforming a ranching community to a drilling field, and his personal struggles later in his life.
Daniel Plainview is one of the most profoundly complex characters in film. There is ample truth in his character: selfishness, greediness, and ambition are traits that we are all familiar with. His character might be expected to be one dimensional from these traits, but this is not the case. Occasionally, we might sense remorse or sympathy from him (for example, when he holds the son from a killed worker), but it always turns out to be based on a selfish goal. The essence of his beliefs is summarized in an enticing dialog midway through the film, where he states that "I see the worst in people". Despite his unrelenting flaws, it is impossible not to pity him. Daniel Day-Lewis does a phenomenal performance as Plainview, which will certainly be remembered as one of his career highlights.
The supporting characters are also well acted (although they don't stand out as much as Day-Lewis). Paul Dano does an interesting take as the preacher Eli, who serves as one of Plainview's opponents. Plainview and Eli parallel an industry versus religion struggle, which adds an important element to the film's main theme.
Another strong point of the film was the music. There is no powerful theme or melody. Instead, it consists of disjointed and convoluted sounds. Occasionally, the tone of a melody may be heard, but its rather unconventional. I liked this type of music and felt that matched perfectly with the film's atmosphere. The music and visuals (primarily of the desert environment) were adhesive complements. An example of this is a scene where the drilling tower catches fire. The contrast of dark and bright colors with the thumping music in the background creates a vibrant sensation.
There Will Be Blood is now my favorite movie of the year (with a close, but discernible second of No Country for Old Men). The direction was beautiful, the acting was incredible, and the plot was engrossing. The themes were important and it left a strong aftertaste. If those are the things you look for in a film, then you can't go wrong with There Will Be Blood.
Beautifully crafted film that excels where it matters
Although Witness is labeled as a crime drama, it spends more time showing us the Amish culture than doing any dirty work. The intriguing contrast between mainstream American society and the elusive Amish culture is the main thing that differentiates Witness from other films. The story involves a police captain named John Book. He obtains a child witness for the homicide of a police officer, but then discovers that other officers were involved in the crime. After being attacked and suffering a bullet wound, he flees into the countryside and submerges into the Amish community.
Harrison Ford does a great job as John Book. He has a charismatic and likable personality that suits him perfectly for the role. The Amish characters all look very natural and authentic. I felt that the grandfather made an especially powerful character. The rival officers (acted by Josef Sommer and Danny Glover) take a back seat for most of the film, but are solid characters as well.
The cinematography of the film is excellent. An example of good filming easily comes to mind: the segment where the Amish people construct a building. This part made me understand their ambitions. The steady camera pans of the countryside (with a good musical score) are also effective. It really felt like the images pulled me into their world.
Witness succeeds where it matters: in creating another world that we rarely imagine throughout our own lives, and allowing us to experience this world as if we were part of it. The crime drama aspect took a back seat and served more as a contrast than anything else. A worthy view for audiences of any kind.
Legendary silent classic
I had been itching to see Metropolis for a very long time. I finally did it; it was everything I hoped for and more. Its now my favorite silent film (ahead of other classics like The General and Battleship Potemkin). Its a shame that several parts have been lost, but the newest restoration is still very coherent.
The special effects and set designs are the most obvious strength. They are still impressive today. There is not a single moment of unconvincing or misplaced special effects. Many of the scenes left me in awe. The city models are incredible: huge skyscrapers, a complex network of streets, grueling machinery. Everything was well thought out. To imagine that these designs were conceived 80 years ago and remain realistic is mind blowing.
I also found the characters to be a strong point. Each one had a distinct personality and beliefs. Freder makes a good hero, Rotwang makes a good villain, Joh Frederson makes a believable city head, and Maria is a perfect woman. I grew attached to each of the characters, even the minor ones.
The plot is also strong, even though the message seems disconnected from today's society. It still has a timeless theme that should be remembered. The story has many twists and turns, but manages to develop smoothly.
Metropolis is the ultimate silent science fiction movie. Practically anyone will be impressed by the special effects and theme, if nothing else.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Science fiction classic
I wish they made more films like this. Planet of the Apes is one of the all-time science fiction greats. It is an allegorical masterpiece that investigates a hypothetical world where apes dominate while humans live in savagery. We see the events from the perspective of a space explorer from our own era. As he criticizes the ape society, it turns out that the problems of his own human society become evident.
The film suffers from a short list of problems. The special effects (mainly during the introduction segment) are dated, there are occasional plot issues, and some parts are cheesy. As far as complaints, thats all. The rest is only praise.
Planet of the Apes is plain strange at first. The costume design and stage setup is eerily convincing. As we explore the world, things steadily get weirder. The reversal of society seems a bit out of place, but don't let it fool you. There is a hint of an explanation for the entire scenario, but it does not come until the very end.
The characters are interesting, to say the least. George Taylor, the main human explorer, usually comes off as arrogant and short sighted. Nevertheless, we can relate to his emotions and he serves as an accurate icon. The friendly apes are wonderful characters, if not a bit unrealistic. At the end, I found myself most impacted by Dr. Zaius. I did not feel for him at all until the end, where my opinion completely reversed.
It is interesting that two of the greatest science fiction movies of all time (this and 2001: A Space Odyssey) came out in the same year. They are both incredible experiences and leave an enduring aftertaste. If you like science fiction and haven't seen this yet, shame on you. Watch it now.
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Casual fun despite lost potential
I'll say it right off the bat: Ghosts of Mars is a bad movie. But that doesn't mean one can't enjoy it. The acting is horrible, with the single exception of Ice Cube. The dialog and writing is laughable. The science has many holes. The ghosts act illogically. The list goes on and on... but what does it amount to? A heck of a good time.
The plot revolves around a futuristic colonized Mars. A team of police is sent to a remote mining outpost to transfer a criminal, but they discover that it is deserted. They are then attacked by zombie-like blade-wielding self-cutting colonists contaminated by Martian ghosts. Apparently the ghosts were released from a "centuries old" (thats relatively recent!) alien structure that was buried beneath the Martian surface.
Although labeled as a horror film, Ghosts of Mars is not scary by any stretch. Its hard to take it seriously after the action starts. The action itself isn't horrible, but its very basic stuff. I laughed many times from the special effects; the severing of appendages and pointless explosions were plain silly. The sequence with a balloon crashing especially comes to mind. The camera technique was okay, but I don't think I liked the constant fade cut effect. A strong point of the film is the narrative technique: most of the movie is shown through a flashback. Several events are shown through different perspectives, but they all come together nicely.
I would say that Ghosts of Mars starts off as science fiction, but then disintegrates into a mindless action flick. I think the material was not presented in the best way, and therefore lost potential that could have made it a rather good film. As much as the movie failed on a technical level, it retained my interest for the entire time. If your not expecting anything special, then this could make for a good time.
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Average by all standards
The Heartbreak Kid is a romantic comedy directed by the Farrelly brothers and starring Ben Stiller. It describes a man named Eddie who has trouble building a relationship with women. With some encourage from his father, Eddie decides to date a woman he meets on the street. Soon after, they get married and go on a honeymoon to Mexico. During this time, Eddie realizes that she isn't the wife he envisioned.
It is a rather standard recipe, but manages to throw a few interesting twists anyway. The acting is decent but unspectacular. Ben Stiller retains his style from previous films to the point that he feels like the same character. Malin Akerman does a solid job as the wife, although I admit I ended up hating her character. The dialog and writing is somewhat dull but works good enough (for most people).
If there is any strong point, its probably the plot; but even this hardly satisfying. I liked the steady buildup towards the climax. It came together nicely at that point, throwing many of the old concepts around. The ending was interesting.
The amount you will enjoy The Heartbreak Kid depends largely on your tastes. If you enjoy comedies, then you will probably think its okay. It gave some good laughs, but did not bring in any fresh ideas. Anyone who is looking for more than a simple comedy will be disappointed. The film is completely forgettable; I already had trouble remembering the details by the end of the day. I imagine that it will have left me entirely within a week. An average comedy, but nothing more.
A musical I actually enjoyed
I'm not particularly fond of musicals. In fact, I think its safe to say I hate musicals. Once proves that there are always exceptions. It is an Irish film about two struggling musicians that cross paths. They find a common interest in music, which allows them to help each other out with their personal difficulties. I could have easily imagined this film going a little too far and losing its meaning, but it shows incredible composure and consistency in its themes.
The acting is excellent from both significant and minor roles. The two main characters are acted by real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. They are simply known as "Guy" and "Girl" rather than having actual names, which I think was a great decision. You can feel a relationship form between them, but at the same time that relationship is a practical impossibility. Their performances are extremely believable.
The key part of any musical is a good music selection. Once certainly satisfies in this category; "Falling Slowly" deserves its Oscar and most of the other songs are nearly as beautiful. The film avoided cheesy or silly editing for the music segments, which I felt made it multitudes easier to watch than most other musicals.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Once. I came in skeptical, but at some point (not exactly sure when) it won me over. I must add that the ending sequence is flawless, especially the last camera pan. I genuinely cared for the characters. You will not regret watching Once at least once.
Into the Wild (2007)
Solid film, but fell short of my expectations
Into the Wild is a road-trip/biography film based on a true story about an adventurer named Christopher McCandless. After college graduation, he decides to give away all his possessions and hide from society. He adopts the name Alex Supertramp and travels across the United States, making money from small jobs. At the same time, he finds time to experience the beauty of nature. Eventually, he decides to journey into the Alaskan wilderness alone.
Emile Hirsch does a good job acting as Alex. Although I can't say I was entirely impressed his performance, I respect him because of the difficulty of the role. The fact that he was believable was one of the main things that made the film work.
The plot is somewhat convoluted, alternating between his adventure in Alaska and his previous experiences around continental United States. For much of the film, I did not feel like I was connecting with the events or emotions that Alex was experiencing. The pacing was rather slow as well. There were some things, such as the problems with Alex's parents, that were unclear. Toward the end, it did get better. The final scene was simply beautiful. Despite this, its difficult not to label the film as overlong.
Into the Wild holds high standards in direction and editing. The environmental scenes are a clear contrast to the bland city or slum segments. They are beautifully shot and panned. There are some neat effects, such as slow motion or stylistic blurring, that add a nice touch.
The film fell short of the expectations that I built up from significant critical praise. Some parts were very well done, but as a whole it was too idle. But I did find value in it, even though I disagreed with several of the main messages. All in all, it was a solid but unspectacular adventure.
Pasqualino Settebellezze (1975)
Unsettling but effective experience
For most films that I praise, I would jump at the opportunity for another viewing. Not so with Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties). It explores extremely disturbing and sickening ideas that I hate to think about. Unfortunately, I feel that watching it is necessary.
It is an Italian film about a man named Pasqualino Frafuso. A soldier for fascist Italy in World War II, he is a despicable but complicated character. I hated him for practically the entire film, although I noticed a hint of sympathy towards the end. Thats not to say he was a bad character; Giancarlo Giannini does an amazing performance as Pasqualino. His postures, expressions, and mood were perfect. After he does something horrible, you can sense regret in his character as he develops. Highly imperfect characters are usually a gamble, but it worked out well in this case.
The plot alternates between two phases of Pasqualino's life. The first begins with Pasqualino deserting his army train during combat. After wandering into a forest, he and a friend get captured by Germans and sent to a concentration camp. The recreation of the concentration camp is eerily spot-on. At this point, Pasqualino vows to find a way out of the camp. He faces a grueling trial to gain the affection of a physically and mentally unattractive female Nazi commandant. The second plot line reviews Pasqualino's life as a young man with seven sisters. We see the destructive flaws in his character. All of the crimes he commits as a young man return to haunt him when he is in the camp.
The film does not hold back on political or social messages. Pasqualino is revealed as a character who does not think beyond self preservation and reputation, making him the perfect tool. He endorses Mussolini's beliefs just to make life easier for himself. When people with real political ruminations talk to him, he rubs off their ideas without a second thought. He begins to understand his mistakes toward the conclusion of the film, but is forced into tough circumstances.
Pasqualino Settebellezze does not fear to explore the boundaries of society that many people choose to ignore. If you are going to watch this, be prepared.
Charlie Bartlett (2007)
A superbly acted and highly absorbing comedy film
Charlie Bartlett is a comedy film about Charlie, a rich kid who drops out of a private high school and experiences culture shock after enrolling into a public school. After being an outcast for a few days, he gains popularity by setting up a dubious enterprise that distributes medical drugs around the school. At the same time, he discovers that he has an ability to counsel and give advice to other students. Their problems include substance abuse, depression, and identity crisis. It turns out that the adults also have problems of their own. Charlie soon learns that things are not as simple as he originally expected.
The acting is the best aspect of the film. Anton Yelchin fits perfectly as Charlie. He has the ideal attitude and personality for the role. The gestures and facial expressions are spot on. This makes for an extremely likable and charismatic main character. For most of the film, Principal Gardner serves as Charlie's opposition. Robert Downy Jr. does a terrific job as Gardner, conveying a wide range of emotions that makes you truly sympathize him. The rest of the cast (mostly other students in the school) are likable in their own ways. Despite their personal flaws, you can see a change in most (although not all) of them throughout the film.
The plot has some good ideas in it. It carries some great messages about our personal and social lives. I would have liked to see some of the plot lines carried further. For example, the story surrounding Charlie's father is very artificial and felt like it was tagged on simply to make Charlie look more imperfect. With a little imagination, a whole lot more could have been done with it. Also, it felt like the conclusion did not implement all the ideas together.
The dialog and writing was a mixed result. Generally, it was good and even excelled at some moments. But there were other parts that seemed too over the top or plain silly. Granted, it was walking a thin line between comedy and drama, but it could have felt more realistic.
I hope I don't sound too critical, because I enjoyed Charlie Bartlett and would definitely watch it again. The characters were good and the plot was interesting. It has more substance than the usual comedy. If IMDb's voting scales were more incremented, it would perfectly fit in as a 7.5/10. A good comedy to start the year off, don't hesitate to check it out.
Super Size Me (2004)
A bold experiment
Practically everyone knows that fast food is unhealthy. But often we are unable to put it into scope for a big picture. Super Size Me is a documentary about fast food, namely the McDonalds franchise. The director, Morgan Spurlock, dedicates himself to discover the truth about a fast food diet by carrying out an experiment. He vows to only eat things off the McDonalds menu for a month. He sure has guts.
Spurlock also travels throughout the country to carry out interviews about food, lifestyles, and business. There are loads of horrific details that I never bothered to think about before. It is sad to see the trash that most school cafeterias around the United States feed students (even I could relate to some of this at my University). Occasionally, some optimistic counter movements are revealed. For the previous case, an Appleton, Wisconsin school is shown serving healthy food based on a different program. But overall, it comes down to the question: why do we do this to ourselves?
Numerous facts are thrown around, most of them simply astounding. While there is plenty of interesting material about the general fast food industry, I think the most fascinating results came from Spurlock's personal experiment. The change in his body is more than significant. How he was able to get through it beats me (although Don Gorske, record holder of most Big Macs eaten, still tops it).
The experiment was not complete, as there are some unrealistic factors. But it gave a clear result that made me feel a little sick. Sadly, there are some people who have a lifestyle comparable to this. Not everyone can be blamed for their physical state, but the vast majority of people should know better.
The fact that fast food was unhealthy is by no means a surprise, but the documentary was able to put things into perspective. It succeeds both on an individual and national scale. As much as it left me disgusted, I enjoyed watching it and learned a lot.