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The American (2010)
A Taut and Suspenseful Character Study of An Assassin
8 January 2011
"The American" is a psychological character study with a taut, gripping plot. The films opening scene is brutal, unforgiving and never flinching. A cold, dark opening that is completely unpredictable sets the table for the rest of the film. The open sequence is one of the most daring character introductions in recent film. It may, moments in, shock audiences and loose their empathy or capacity to care for the main character, Jack, played wonderfully by George Clooney.

This is an almost muted performance from Clooney that was sparsely written and incredibly demanding. Clooney, however, brings maybe his top acting performance to date as "The American" exemplifies a gradually maturing body of work. Clooney is asked to convey paranoia, fear, desire, solitude, love, affection, passion and longing through, mostly, just his eyes and facial expressions. Director, Anton Corbijn, handles this slow, brooding paced film with a confidence and maturity of a veteran director. He doesn't force dialogue in places it's not needed in fear of losing audiences. When Jack does speak, he speaks clearly, efficiently and doesn't mix words. There's a great deal of power and truth behind the few words he does utter, which make them all the more impacting.

"The American" will be a very hard watch for most people. There are no grand action sequences, there is little dialogue and there is very little character development, especially from side characters. The film is directed like a film from the early 70s. Corbijn gives his characters room to breath without giving much detail on who they are, gives the plot room to unfold naturally and effortlessly, which in turn creates for an edge-of-your sit thriller. His direction is subtle, but extremely effective. There is a pay off to "The American." There is an empathic character in Jack that we do wish to change and gain some sort of redemption, which he begins to seek as a desperate alternative for living. Corbijn does a phenomenal job of showing how Jack's past haunts his present day and how Jack goes from no longer allowing himself just to forget the past, but to come clean and change. By the end of the film Jack is no longer living just to stay alive, but he's living to escape his profession, which he is very good at, and to find love or some semblance of peace and happiness.

Most of the film we see Jack on the brink of maintaining sanity and fighting his paranoia's at every waking second. Each and every person he runs into, he sees as his potential murderer. The tension that this creates and the unpredictability of all the surrounding characters, who are even more vague and unknowable than Jack, made for a very thrilling and suspenseful film. We don't know these people, what they're capable of or what they're thinking. And neither does Jack. We find ourselves in his paranoid state.

The film ends abruptly, although not unexpectedly, and without any mercy for Jack. Just as we started with guns blazing, bodies falling, people dying quickly and without mercy, we leave this world the same way we came in. It's a hard and difficult world to live in and one that can wear on the conscience of the most callous of men. "The American" is one of the very best films of 2010 and George Clooney gives an intuitive performance reminiscent of Gene Hackman in "The Conversation."
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The Town (2010)
Entertaining Heist Film
6 January 2011
"The Town" is an excellent film that does have its flaws. It is, however, one of the best films made of 2010 (maybe the best film of th year). Ben Affleck really proves himself as a serious filmmaker with his follow up to "Gone Baby Gone," which was among the best films of 2007. The direction is amazing and Affleck really impresses me here, far more than the aforementioned "Gone Baby Gone," which was standard fare that is the exact opposite of "The Town." "Gone Baby Gone" relied more on story, dialogue and acting whereas "The Town" relies on great execution of a rather unoriginal script. If there is a major negative aspect of the film is it's complete unoriginality. It's a remake of "Heat." Plain and simple. Thats what it is.

The shootouts are phenomenal and they're the best since "Heat," which are, pretty much, the best ever. It's a great little crime movie that yes, we've seen done before, but the performances and the craftsmanship are impeccable. That's really what makes it quite good. Its an extremely entertaining film, and for people who gravitate towards the genre (such as myself), should really enjoy it (unless they have some hatred towards Ben Affleck).

Jeremy Renner, who plays a Joe Pesci spawned stereotype, is truly amazing. He takes a blandly written character and makes him a really intense, nearly unpredictable person. He steals scene after scene he's in. It's the one true standout performance of the film. Affleck, the actor, is much better than expected, but not completely convincing as the leader of the Charlestown heist team.

You can enjoy it for what it is: a well done crime film with heavy action and good acting, or you can pick it apart for being unoriginal, which it is. If you sit and think about all the flaws of the film you can convince yourself it's an average to terrible movie. When I sit and watch it, I'm drawn in and entertained from start to finish.

The robbery sequences are gripping thanks to top notch directing, editing and sound mixing. The suspense is amazing. The ensemble cast is terrific. It's the kind of movie so entertaining that it will constantly bring me back to it. It's a magnificent achievement that does everything it sets out to do. It's one of the best films I've seen all year.
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Citizen Kane (1941)
Gaudy Reputation, But a Dull Film
11 August 2010
I really can't find anything in "Citizen Kane" worth liking. Do I see what the big fuss is about? Sure. And it is one of the best looking and most well made film of the 40s (from what I've seen. I admittedly don't watch many films from the 40s, because of bad experiences with "great" films such as this). "Citizen Kane" is a monumental achievement because of some of the technical aspects. I have no reason to watch "Citizen Kane" ever again though. I don't particularly like any of the acting, and the story is just dull to me. I don't watch movies for editing, camera work, lighting or technical achievements. Those aspects of filmmaking certainly can greatly help or hurt a film, but without a good script, and without good acting, you just have a good-looking movie. That's the case with "Citizen Kane." Supremely directed and extremely well crafted for its time, but I just didn't care for the man or the exposition of most scenes.

A lot of directors can make a good-looking film, and a lot have. The remake of "All the King's Men" is wonderfully shot, but the movie is a complete mess that is just butchered by the director (most noticeably the atrocious casting and the shampoo commercial-esque editing). "All the King's Men" does have a good performance from Penn, but that's about it. Other than that? It is a terrible movie. "Citizen Kane" is not that bad and Welles' direction is far better, but I think it's a similar case were two movies look a lot better than anything that's happening between the characters, or within the story. The characters might be exquisitely framed, but I just didn't care what they had to say.

It is masterfully made for its time and it is a greatly influential film. That's what it is remembered for and what it was always be remembered for. Rosebud comes second. If you rate a movie purely on direction, then you probably give it a high score. If you don't, then your taste will dictate how effective it was. For me, "Citizen Kane" is another major disappointment to add to the heap of "disappointing classics."
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A World of Confusion
24 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Martin Scorsese has set out to make a film in a genre he's never attempted with "Shutter Island." As usual, the greatest director to ever live brings new life into the psychology thriller genre. "Shutter Island" is essential Scorsese. At the heart of the movie is Andrew Leadis. Leadis is brought to us by US Marshall, Teddy Daniels. Scorsese takes "American Psycho" to a whole new level of insanity by depicting the film through the eyes of a delusional man. It is an unrelenting character study and one of Scorsese's finest. One cannot review the film without talking about the second act, which means there are going to be spoilers.

Scorsese depicts "Shutter Island" through the eyes and the lens of its protagonist. Every scene, every shot is a world most people have never seen, but one that haunts Teddy Daniels. This is a film you experience. You experience what its like to be a man so full of delusions that he literally has no idea the people he's talking to might not exist. Daniels is a man obsessed with finding the man who killed his wife (played perfectly by Michelle Williams). What Daniels doesn't know is that he is looking for himself. "Shutter Island" does not rely on a twist ending that is supposed to shock and awe audiences. "Shutter Island" is told through the eyes of Daniels and we as an audiences go along for the ride. We play along as Teddy Daniels vigorously attempts to find the killer that is somewhere in Shutter Island.

We see how Teddy is haunted by his past through his dreams. He does everything he can to suppress those dreams, but his subconscious refuses to let go of the past that Andrew so dearly wishes never existed. Like Teddy, we suppress the fact that he is a patient there because we simply don't want to believe it to be true. We believe there is something more going on. We believe that the hospital is there to repress thoughts of its patients despite all the hints by doctors and partners and patients alike that Teddy is actually Andrew. Teddy refuses to see those hints, but we as an outsider pick up on it, and I suspect that Teddy does as well.

"Shutter Island" does something that has never been done before. It takes a delusional man and shows how he exists in a world of delusions and confusion. Most films, "American Psycho" the most prominent, have snippets of characters going in and out of a delusional state of mind. Patrick Batemen becomes increasingly more and more delusional as the film progresses. That shows the decent into habitual delusions while "Shutter Island" shows the constant state of mind that Teddy Daniels is in. From the storm not actually existing to Teddy's dreams, we are completely and totally submerged into this mans mind and the maze he has created for himself. Andrew has created a persona named Teddy who is a good man who is attempting to solve the murder of his wife. Andrew at the same time creates a person for the man who actually did kill his wife... a scarred man that killed his wife in a house fire, he's a monster and that's how Andrew sees himself. Two persona's of Andrew Leadis at two different times in his life. Teddy is the good Marshall that he believed he once was. Andrew is the monster that killed his wife after she drowned their three children.

All that I didn't even get to the performances, which are all first rate, the score, the cinematography and the haunting tone and tension created by the set and costume designs. This is a film that takes you into the mind of a man that has gone insane. It takes you and puts you in his shoes, and surprisingly, as a sane person, you seem to think just like the man that is insane, which brings up some interesting ideas. "Shutter Island" is a complex and layered film that is full of ambiguity. It has haunted me and stuck with me long after seeing it.
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District 9 (2009)
"The Fly" meets "Schindler's List," but with Aliens
6 January 2010
"District 9" is one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen. The trailers and previews make you think you're going into an alien war with the human race, but very quickly "District 9" is more about humans controlling aliens and not so much about war, well, for the first half at least. The film opens with a great mockumentary style approach explaining this epic event that took place in 1982 where an Alien aircraft stopped and hovered over a city for three months without moving. What ensues is pretty innovative stuff. Interspecies prostitution, humans understanding the language of the Aliens and vice versa, racial discrimination (Aliens are treated similar to African-Americans in American History) and the sales / trading of illegal weapons.

The Aliens (which might be an offensive term) are put into concentration camps similar to actual historical events. We are brought in and around District 9 by the main character, Wikus, who just got a promotion at MNU and has to notify the prawns (the aliens) that they are getting evicted. This has to be done legal, you understand, and they need the prawns signature. It's hard to wrap your head around this liberal government trying to treat these aliens like humans, or at the very least, equals, while humans treat them like the Nazi' treated the Jews or whites treated the blacks during a time of segregation. Once you do that you're left with the main character getting sprayed in the face and making a Seth Brundle ("The Fly") like metamorphosis, and then betraying his country and joining forces with aliens. Pretty corny, pretty cheesy and pretty dull.

The first half of the film is mildly good, with an incredible opening sequence, but gradually turns into a dull movie about people you never care for and Aliens you can't possibly care for. "District 9" goes from innovative to heavily influenced to a standard, brainless shoot 'em up action flick, but with aliens. As I sat and watched the final third of the film (I became very impatient with the film) thinking, "I don't care. I don't care about anyone. I don't care how this thing turns out. I just don't care." I was surprised by my reaction because I was mildly blown away by the opening ten minutes of the film.
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Flaws Galore, but a Visceral Experience with Great Suspense
24 August 2009
Even though "War of the Worlds" isn't a great film, after the first thirty minutes, the film is so damn tense and suspenseful I can't help but give this a solid recommendation even though it has quite a bit of flaws. The images and CGI are simply incredible and as good as special effects film-making can get. "War of the Worlds" really is nothing more than a purely survival narrative with little character development, which isn't too much of problem for me given the setting and everything that's going on. The ending was meh... a little pretentious and quite abrupt, but some of the scenes work so well, especially the scenes where Cruise and Fanning are stuck in the basement and the aliens are probing the area and there's this very long, prolonged search of the area, which takes this film to an extremely high level of film-making. It had me on the edge of my seat. The last ten minutes of the film is excessively rushed and quite bad, especially in comparison to previous hour and half, which is near perfection. The family waiting at the steps? They looked like they just had their morning tea and facial. Not a scratch or misplaced hair on their head. Just perms and smiles. I did recognize a bunch of head scratchers... like video cameras working, but nothing else, not even a wrist watch... people stopping and starring when something completely monstrous is coming out of the ground and ripping up the road underneath them, and a slew of others I wont mention so I don't ruin my own experience thinking about all the problematic areas of the film instead avoiding all the great aspects.

The one glaring problem I have with it is the fact that everyone you think is going to live does. It tries to be too much of a crowd pleaser instead of the dark attack on the world it supposedly wants to be. It's way too optimistic with too much of a perfect little ending. "War of the Worlds" wasn't nearly dark enough for me in the final moments. Sci-fi is not my genre, but I really enjoyed so much of it that I can ignore some of the corny coincidences and generally forgettable acting from Cruise. The more you inspect the film, the more problems you'll find, but they're mostly in the opening and the ending moments. The majority of the film is taut and masterful film-making. As usual, a technically brilliant film from Spielberg, if nothing else.
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A Visceral and Devastatingly Dark Action Film With a Glimmer of Hope
20 August 2009
"Running Scared" is a frantic, frenetic, energetic, high octane, non-stop action film that dives deeper and deeper into evilness buried within a city and within humanity. Paul Walker stars as a low level gangster within the mafia, and after an excellent shoot-out in the opening moments is asked to get rid of a gun used to kill a dirty cop in order to get rid of any evidence. This gun will come into possession of his sons best friend, who lives next door, which will take Joey (Walker) and Oleg (Cameron Bright) on a night long odyssey as Joey runs from his past while trying to avoid his future demise. Paul Walker has had a career similar to a typical Hollywood female actress. He's gotten roles based solely on his good looks. The scripts and films he's been apart of are, for lack of a better word, garbage; where his characters go through no arc, have no back-story and create no emotion. Here he's given a character where he does have a dark past, which haunts his conscience and he's caught up in the middle of something that has him on the brink of death, and all he wants is to get away and be with his wife (Vera Farmiga) and son (Sound corny?). He does have his moments where he overacts and some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy and clichéd, but for the most part, Paul Walker is on top of his game (not that you would know he had game in the first place). Vera Farmiga gives her career launching performance here. She's fantastic. She's eventually caught up in this chase for the gun that changes hands more times than one can possibly imagine, and she's dragged into this underworld of sex, drugs, power, abuse and violence. She's a well-intention and good natured person, but she's eventually brought face-to-face with two pedophiles, Dez and Edele played disgustingly wonderful by both Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell, and her morals are put to a test that few can imagine. These are just a few of the characters that gives "Running Scared" the kind of demonic and evil darkness that sets the film apart from virtually every other film before and, probably, after it. Altman and Mitchell will leave audiences in shock and these are two faces audiences wont be able to get out of their heads as we see them with wide smiles and calm, soothing voices, then we see what they have in their closest. These are two of the most haunting and sadistic characters ever created, and we have the misfortune of seeing them through the eyes of a child, which makes it all the more terrifying.

Kramer directs this film with a brilliance rarely seen, especially from a director who's only made one other feature length film - "The Cooler." The lighting, shot design, blocking, shot set-ups, and editing are simply phenomenal. All these touches give the film a tone, texture and mood that makes it all its own. This is not a film that is based upon realism, but surrealism and imagination. Kramer does a phenomenal job in capturing the the tone and attitude of his characters and how we perceive them. Lester "the Pimp" is a cartoon. He's the exact model of how we perceive stereotypical pimps. He talks black, he dresses in a flamboyant manner, he beats women, he's open to any kind of violence and he's completely ruthless. Oleg comes across a homeless man, who looks exactly like the homeless man behind the store in "Mulholland Dr." The two pedophiles are seen through opaque glass looking like something straight out of "Nosferatu." Kramer has no intention in making these characters real, set in a real city or actual time. The city is so dark and filled with so much evil, that it's unworldly. The majority of these supporting characters are different kinds of evil, and you basically have one family trapped inside an underworld that they simply don't belong- Hell. They are running scared. Kramer creates a dream world that explores the kind of evil we have in every city. These evil characters come in all colors, shapes and sizes. They also come with smiles, masking their true identities. Something you notice in watching the movie is just how little you know about your neighbor. We see characters who see a neighbor one way, then we break that barrier and enter their domain, and there is a sense of shock in what we encounter, because we know the neighbors have no idea what kind of people live just next door. It might make you look at your neighbor with a little more skeptic and curiosity.

Joey and Oleg share a scene as they start to grow into a father-son relationship late in the film where Joey constantly tells Oleg that he was born in America, so he's American. "You're American. You were born here. You're an American." Even in the midst of the evil they encounter, they still see this country as something sacred. As bad as it is or how ugly the surface may seem, it's still America and there is hope. There is a pride factor Paul Walker exposes in his country that sums of the film as good as any other scene in the movie. Amongst the chaos, paranoia and fear, there's this calming sense of unity, loyalty and respect shared between the two. "Running Scared" is more than just a shoot-em- up action film, it bevels its way into the inner darkness of the world that we inhabit and it explores both the good and evil within a person, and sometimes there is no good. Sometimes there is no evil, but at the end of the day there is hope for the fairytale life.
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Chopper (2000)
The Art of Story Telling
3 August 2009
Andrew Dominik writes and directs his film debut of Australian crime legend turned best selling author, Mark "Chopper" Read (who can't even spell and claims to be nearly illiterate as he spouts a big mocking laugh right in the faces of everyone). Bana in the title role completely owns this character and goes through a gaudy transformation, producing one of the most fascinating performances you will ever find. A performance that should be as legendary as the real life character in which it based on, is sadly overlooked and missed by many. A movie this low budget and this relatively unknown hinders the level of praise it will receive from fans and critics alike, but it's one that should be sought out by anyone with the least bit of interest because it doesn't disappoint. Bana gives the performance of the year and one of the best the decade has to offer. He truly captures the charisma of Read. He's also convincing when he puts a bullet in someone's knee or head, or stabs them to death and leaves them in a pool of their own blood. Completely driven by paranoia, jealousy and speed, Chopper corners himself into a room and finds a nice cozy spot all by himself. He's pitted against anyone and everyone, which is beautifully captured in the films final moments. Out of fear he's forced to kill or be killed. He has no friends, and the friends he does have attempt to kill him because of the dire circumstances he puts himself in. He has a sense of charm and infectious attitude that attract people to him when he's sober. He's seemingly incapable of murder, until he's struck the wrong way at the wrong time, then anything is possible. Whether it be the guards in the prison, the media, or the people of Australia, Mark "Chopper" Read is as fascinating as they come.

Dominik really has shown to be extremely interested and captivated by the art of storytelling, and how fact and fiction can become blurred or distorted. We see multiple scenes where an event will unfold, then we'll hear "Chopper" tell the story of what happened, then we'll hear someone else tell the story in a completely different manner. One thing Chopper loved to do was tell a story. He loved to fascinate and make people laugh. Sometimes he had to bend the truth and make certain events a little more entertaining, or more intense, because that's what storytelling is: Bending the truth and amplifying certain facts while downgrading, or disregarding others. This is way when "Chopper" tells Read's story the audience feels all the emotions he felt during that time. Dominik captures this beautifully. One great scene portrays Chopper getting stabbed by his own friend, and the pure shock that he felt by getting stabbed by his friend is illustrated in a way that's incredibly unusual and surprisingly hilarious. Like Chopper, we can find humor in some of the most odd and unexpected places. "Chopper" is one of the best films of the year, and Bana gives the performance of a lifetime.
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Match Point (2005)
Forced Thriller That Doesn't Quite Work
2 March 2009
Woody Allen's "Match Point" is one of his most forced efforts to date. Allen tries to reinvent himself with a thriller that twists and turns for shock and awe. The biggest problem I had with with the film is the ridiculous turn it takes two-thirds of the way through. Allen tries to set the surprise up by making his main characters struggle over his involvement in a love-triangle seem so pressing on his conscience that he's forced to do the unthinkable. I didn't believe Chris Wilton's (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) change. Not for a second. It was baffling to witness. The entire time, as I'm watching his actions build up towards an inevitable climax, I'm thinking, "Don't do it, Woody. Don't do it." The twist just felt so forced that I laughed at the execution of the film, and, not to mention, the twist is foreseeable and not that shocking. You may shocked that Allen decided to make the turn down this road. Maybe Jonathan Rhys Meyers is just way over of his head. Maybe he's the demise of the film since the films turn rests solely on his shoulders to make the audience believe such a turn is believable.

I really never got into any part of this film. I wasn't engaged with these actors and their relationships at all. I didn't care about Chloe's (Emily Mortimer) obsession with getting pregnant, and actually found her terribly annoying and repulsive. Emily Mortimer is usually prime for a solid to great performance, but here she has a character that's just incredibly annoying that you find it odd how Chris can like her and how he wouldn't go after the more appealing Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Midway through the film, we kinda get bogged down in repeated scenes of Chris's inability to tell his wife that he's having an affair with another women, and we get the same argument between Chris and Nola multiple times. The film just comes to a stop. It might even lose some audiences and test their patience.

Matthew Goode is exceptional and stands out from the entire cast. He's really one of the few bright spots in the film. The relationship between Chris and Nola felt very fake and came off as very flat. I didn't really care about Chloe since she was written so poorly. I didn't find Chris's internal struggle interesting, engaging, or authentic. I found his actions to be forced in order to move the plot along, making the film a bit contrived and a little too neat. This isn't an effective romance or love-triangle, nor is it an effective thriller or character study. "Match Point" fails in the writing and the acting. This could have been good with a lead actor capable of handling such heavy material, but Jonathan Meyers is just unable to support such a dramatic turn. Very few actors can handle this kind of dramatic turn that borders unbelievability.
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Hell Ride (2008)
One of the Worst Movies Ever Made
25 February 2009
Larry Bishop writes, directs and stars in this soft-core porn; a plot less biker movie about nothing to do with anything. This is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I actually felt sorry for the girls in this movie (who probably thought they were in the making of a feature film). In all reality they're making a porno. They walk on set, spend three or four days there, say some sexually themed lines to a bunch of old men - thirty years older than them - then they take off their cloths and run around naked. I can only assume this was Larry Bishops only way of getting laid. You see shot after shot directly on girls asses. Shot after shot of Bishop walking up to some random chick and grabbing her by her crotch, as if he were shaking her hand. How this crap was even funded is beyond me.

There isn't one redeeming quality, or one moment in the movie that creates any kind of reaction, or shows any inclination that these people had any idea of what they were doing. If you don't see naked women all that often, then I guess this movie would be for you. If you're eleven-years-old, you might like it. The acting is awful, the writing is awful, the production is awful, and the direction is awful. It's not even worth your time renting it just so you can say you witnessed the car crash. You shouldn't even be reading these reviews. I shouldn't even be writing one.
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Feel-Good Comedy that Breaks All the Rules
22 February 2009
"My Cousin Vinny" isn't the great court room drama because it's filled with things that are simply against the rules of court, but since the film is told in such tongue-and-check fashion, it simply adds to the great on-screen chemistry of the actors involved and themes of the film. People may argue that's its contrived, ridiculous, and all that garbage, but this film isn't to be taken seriously. It's a comedy. It's a feel-good-story of believing in someone, and it is incredibly effective.

"My Cousin Vinny" delivers a ton of laughs, some great acting from Pesci, Tomei, and Fred Gwynne. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei have a ton of fun with this role and really do a great job acting off one another. We become so invested in this story and so invested with their determination that we're sucked into these characters. A smile is brought to your face just listening to them talk. The court room scenes are dynamite. "My Cousin Vinny" is a classic feel- good comedy that's enjoyable from start to finish.
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Stunning Performance from Cotillard
13 January 2009
With any biopic, the film will either be successful or it wont based solely on the quality of the lead performance. It will either be good or bad just on the acting alone. How great it is depends on other aspects, but "La Vie en Rose" is a showcasing of one of the most powerful female performances ever seen. Marion Cotillard is dazzling, heartbreaking, full of life, hate, self destruction and many other things. Cotillard gives as good a physical performance as she does an emotional one. She doesn't try to make this flawed human being likable. At some points in the film, I couldn't stand her. I couldn't believe the way she treated people. The way she acted. But, by the end, I was in love with her voice. Her regrets. Her accomplishments. Her flaws. She wasn't perfect. Her upbringing was painful. But her life... extraordinary. Cotillard gives the performance of a life time. This truly is one of the most impressive performance ever given, male or female.
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Gran Torino (2008)
Contrived, Stereotypical, Coincidence-Ridden Tragedy
2 January 2009
"Gran Torino" is one of the worst racial bound films I've ever seen. I thought "Crash" and its heavy-handed symbolism and enormous cast was bad, but "Gran Torino," shockingly enough, makes "Crash" look like a masterpiece. Both have plots that rely on contrived coincidence after contrived coincidence. Both play on stereotypes to nauseating levels. Both have characters overcoming their bigotry to make happy endings.

Where "Torino" truly separates itself from another kind of awful is in the acting and the writing departments. The writer (whose name I wont even look up) has no real views on the different races brought up in the film. He or she simply goes off of all the stereotypes he or she is aware of. It's so bad that we get racial slurs dominating prolonged statements from the cast members-- mostly coming from Eastwood. I don't know how many times I heard the term, "Zipperhead." The problem with "Crash" is that you had people talking in politically correct racism. They didn't bother to use racial slurs, which made the authenticity of the characters bigotry feel artificial. Those actors felt very restricted. Almost as if they didn't want to be too racist-- it didn't help that the writer / director was preachy and overbearing. Eastwoods character, however, uses so many slurs, so often, that is makes his characters bigotry also seem fake and artificial. It became laughable. And just to make sure they weren't picking on just the "Spook's" and *beep* they also slurred the "Mick's," "Polak's" and "Dago's" I'm sure the writer didn't want to come off as too racist, so he threw everyone under the bus. All these characters, with the lone exception of Walt (Eastwood), are cookie cut-outs that have no depth and provide no cultural impact to the film (even though one character explains the actions and the values of her ancestry).

The ensemble cast is amongst the worst in film history. The casting director should be shot in the face. The acting from pretty much every supporting role is bordering on horrendous if not well beyond horrendous. These actors are just inexperienced and way over their heads. Some of these young actors can't even say their routine lines with any sense of rhythm, then you ask them to have an emotional breakdown? Not happening.

Eastwood is bad. Don't buy into the hype. Much like De Niro and Pacino playing cops in "Rghteous Kill," Eastwood is just twenty-five to thirty years too old to play this part. His constant scowling and groaning under his breath becomes tiresome and it feels lazy. This is one of his worst performances of his career, and the guy has never been much of an actor to begin with. I felt his character had absolutely no depth to speak of. His character is actually the only thing that's fairly well written, but Eastwood leaves his performance on the page. He shows no range with this character. He never does anything in the movie but scowl and then put someone down. Well, he has a few bright spots with the young kid. This was a big missed opportunity for an actor in their 50s that fit the part to give a truly great performance. The two brights spots, Christopher Carley (the Father) and Brian Haley (Mitch), give the two best performances.

The films premise actually makes for, what-could-have-been, a solid film. It has a great story with an excellent arc in the hero and a great ending. The ending is very good, and is the only thing in the film getting this any stars or credit. The ending is the reason why this film is getting praised by critics and completely overblown. I have no idea why they're calling Eastwood good, because he's embarrassingly bad. The Dirty Harry days are over. It just goes to show that people still love redemptive endings no matter how awful the rest of the film is.
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Metaphorical Dark Comedy of a Family in Crisis
16 August 2008
"The Whether Man" is a personal favorite much in the mold of "American Beauty." Where the similarities lie are within the story as both Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and Dave Spritz (Nicholas Cage) are both witnessing their lives meeting a cross roads during a midlife crisis. We watch both men deal with their own ways of handling their troublesome lives that are very ordinary and very relatable as they tackle typical family situations. "American Beauty" comes off more unrealistic. That film puts Burnham in weird situations that are funny and quirky as he tries to get the most out of life. He reverts back to his teenage days. He fights his midlife crisis with the simple solution of turning into a child. Dave Spritz has a dying father, an overweight daughter, a son that is getting into drugs and finding himself in adult situations and an ex-wife that he wants to get back together with. His ex-wife finds a new boyfriend that is starting to take over the father role that Spritz has title to. Spritz is a man that ignored his family for years and is now paying the consequences. There is a growing distance between he and his family. He finds himself in a depressing state as he starts to hate his job.

His father, Robert (Michael Cain), is dying of cancer. Dave does everything he can to fix things. He wants to fix things before his father dies, but nothing goes right for him. He is up for a weatherman job that pays well at "Hello America". That will give him enough money to make things right with his family and his wife, and more importantly, receiving the recognition from his father. He wants to fix everything, but cant find the right solution. He assumes a higher paying job would do the trick.

The film has very good acting performances ranging from Nicholas Cage in the lead to Michael Cain supporting, as well Hope Davis (Spritz' ex-wife, Noreen). The style of the film is perfect and often a mirror image of Cage and his personality. The direction by Gore Verbinski is what sets the film apart from most. He flawlessly moves from scene to scene; developing all of the characters of the film, and really bringing out numerous metaphors for Dave Spritz. Spritz is well developed and well thought out. Cage has great moments of humor and self examination. Ultimately, "The Whether Man," is a film about the boundaries one person has and his recognition of who he is and his acceptance of of his past mistakes. Spritz has to look in the mirror and realize his limits. He has to accept his capabilities and realize that he can't change everyone. He can't make everyone happy and everyone like him. He can only be the whether man.
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Overwritten Script Takes Away from What Could-Have-Been
16 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The sequel to "The Godfather," at times, was just as impressive, and sometimes even more impressive than the original. Overall, though the film struggles with it's flashbacks to an early New York as we watch a young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), rise to power. "The Godfather II," wants to be both a prequel and sequel at the same time. When we're in the present time watching Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) fight off Senators that are trying to squeeze him, or when we're watching his house get shot up on an assassination attempt that involved someone very close to the family we always find our self in amazement. When we jump back in time, you get a feeling of intrusion. The script is to blame because its too bloated, and wants to accomplish so much in it's near three hour run time. When we're in the early 1920s we see things that are entertaining and gratifying, but ultimately not even close to being on par with the present day status of the Corleone family. Its good to know and see how the godfather started out, but there's too much to say and not enough time to say it. The bloated section of the film becomes underwritten. We don't really learn anything about Vito Corleone that we didn't already know. We don't really see how he gains his power. He kills "The Black Hand," and one day, through rumors, he becomes the Don of the city. Just like that. Just like that? Really? Then we come back and he's all of a sudden in the Olive Oil business. We don't know how he got there or anything, he's just there. De Niro gives it his best, but he's just not working with anything to give any kind of performance that's remotely on the same level as Brando did in the previous film. I found it painful to watch De Niro try to imitate Brando.

When we see the city, it does have a good look to it, and its convincing as the set and costumes designs, along with the art direction, are very good. We never see big wide shots of the city block. We see a lot of people and grocery stores go by the quickly moving camera. Coppola does an excellent job of not pulling back too far (Probably didn't have the budget to make a huge set of the city), but we get a claustrophobic sensation. The kind of claustrophobic sensation where a guy right next door, in the next building, is close enough to stick his head out the window, call for you, and hand you a sack full of guns. Coppola encapsulates the city, and the time very well. There are some great moments in the flashbacks, but I could have lived without it entirely, and probably would have watched a much better film (Possibly better than the original).

When Michael finds that his own brother, Fredo (John Cazel), knew about the assassination attempt on his life, and that he was involved and that he never told Michael about his connection with Hymen Roth and Johnny Ola, it infuriates Michael to the point of no return. He feels as though he loses his family. When he confronts Fredo, he doesn't say much; he's sick of him; Fredo's too stupid to have around, and he can't even look at him. Coppola' direction here is magnificent. Even though its dark and you can't see the reactions of both of the men, they're both in the picture with the light shinning through the windows creating silhouettes of the men that were, and we see their body language, and the body language tells us everything we need to know.

Cazel gives a great performance throughout the entire film, and we wish we got to see more from his character. He's so good in this one scene that it stands as one of the best scenes in film history, and a huge part of that is due to him. The words that come out of his mouth are on par with Marlon Brando' speech in, "On the Waterfront." All this frustration, years of it, just boil over to point of pity. He's pleading with his brother. We watch him spill his guts on the table, and admit that he's well aware of being stupid and feeding into that stereotype as he watches his younger brother give him orders we feel his pain and frustration for not living up to the coldness and callousness of his family. He feels like an outsider, a coward, and a loser. All the while, Michael sits in front of the window looking at the boathouse. He doesn't care what Fredo has to say, which makes it all that more painful to watch for the both of them. Michael wants information from him, and that's it. One feels like an outsider, and one is an outsider. Neither of them fit in this lifestyle, but it ruins both of their lives. Fredo wants respect and power. Michael has the power, but no respect, and finds out that he loses everything that he ever cared about: his family. Its one of the most powerful scenes in cinematic history.
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Pulp Fiction (1994)
Violence and Redemption Underscore "Pulp Fiction"
16 August 2008
"Pulp Fiction" is considered Quentin Tarantino' masterpiece; both as a writer and director. Although it's not a perfect film and has a couple flaws, "Pulp Fiction" has one of the greatest scripts that changed the way films were made. The film opens with a conversation between "Pumpkin" and "Honey Bunny" as they chat about their new plans to rob restaurants instead of banks and liquor stores. Eventually this scene will end the film as it doubles back on itself. Often times- and we're seeing the case more and more with Tarantino- he'll drive a film on dialogue instead of plot and substitute plot for senseless dialogue. That happens here, but it works most of the time. Lately it hasn't been working on the level of "Pulp Fiction."

Uma Thurman plays Marcellus Wallace's (Ving Rhames) wife, Mia, and her only importance to film is to be entertained by Vincent Vega (John Travolta) on a date that's not quite a date. I feel as if these scenes are supposed to entertain us since it has nothing to do with the plot that is extremely thin compared to its run time (154 minutes). Travolta, for me, is the real stand out. When he's on screen his scenes, whether Jackson is next to him or not, are full of energy and pulp. He does a lot of listening, some dancing, a lot of arguing and/or debating, and offers up a lot of great comedic moments. His best scenes are with Uma Thurman when they go to Jackrabbit Slims. This little date, where they talk about nothing of much importance as far plot is concerned, is funny, engrossing and entertaining. I don't know why it never gets old, but it doesn't. The acting between the two is great and both were worthy of their Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively. This section of the film is one of the strongest of the three along with "The Bonnie Situation." The writing and acting is superb in both sections. This date leads to an overdose as Mia takes a line of Vincent's heroine. The direction here is much in the mold of a graphic Hitchcock film. To add to the suspense the owner of the house counts to three (Something that happens quite a bit in the film). As he slowly counts to three we see all the nervously waiting faces in the entire room. We get a close-up shot on the needle that's cocked back and ready to strike. We get a close-up on the red dot where the needle needs to hit. It slowly builds the scene and the suspense. Tarantino handles this scene and all the others with a ton of precision and a lot of confidence.

Tarantino makes huge strides as a director since his previous film, "Reservoir Dogs," and a lot has to do with his confidence as a director. The older Tarantino is too confident in his abilities. The majority of "Pulp Fiction" has a lot of energy and snap to it. If you watch closely to the opening scene in "Reservoir Dogs" you won't see that same kind of crisp, confident direction from Tarantino. There are a lot of pauses throughout that conversation and it doesn't quite flow like a Tarantino film that we've become used to. To his credit he was working with some B-list (Some C or D-list) actors. He's not working with much more here, but the majority of his major role players are all acted out terrifically with the exception of one: Bruce Willis- through not fault of Tarantino; Bruce is just a bad actor.

The section of the film that really drags, and is noticeably behind compared to the other two sections, is "The Gold Watch" section. This section is incapable of greatness since Bruce Willis single handedly ruins it with his "Die Hard" facial expressions, especially when they're not needed. The writing here is also the worst and, at times, puts the actors in very difficult situations. This section becomes annoying as we hear Bruce Willis call his girlfriend- that we won't care at all about- Lemon Pie, Sugar Pie, and retard. When he calls her a retard it's pretty funny, but other than that this lacks the punch that Travolta and Thurman provided minutes earlier. This section is bloated with dialogue, bad acting, and uninteresting characters. "The Gold Watch" has its moments and definitely picks up when we meet the gimp and the crazy world that we fall into. It just takes too long getting there. Christopher Walken provides a very interesting and hilarious story of the watch that has been passed down anally from generation to generation of the Coolidge family.

"The Bonnie Situation" may very well be the strongest section of the film. This is where we meet "The Wolf" (Harvey Keitel) as he cleans up a mess made by Vincent Vega in a hilarious scene where he accidentally "shot Marvin the face." "The Bonnie Situation" offers up quite a bit of laughs, some great acting, and a very strong ending. The film ends where it started with Jules (Jackson) talking about changing his life around as he "walks the earth." Thankfully Gods interventionist-like hand, that saved him hours earlier, doesn't make him walk too far as He has sent him a weak person for the transitional Jules to save. The film ends on Jules changing or turning against everything he has ever done or known. Instead of being a bad - and killing "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth), he gives him some money, out of his own wallet, for a chance to start fresh and redeem himself. This might actually be "Pumpkin" and "Honey Bunny's" last heist, and they have Jules to thank for the chance at redemption and changing their ways.
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Terribly Miscast and Horrifically Butchered by Zaillian.
16 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Sean Penn is the biggest name of the star studded cast of the remake "All The Kings Men." The lead really is played by Jude Law. Jack Burden (Law) is one of the kings men and the story is told through his perspective as he works for Willie Stark (Sean Penn) as Stark's thirst for power gradually drifts from "a man of the people" to a power driven Governor looking for bigger and better things. He's willing to take from the wealthy and give to the poor, and he's willing to cross moral lines to justify his actions. Sean Penn is over the top and some may not like that, but he's hardly over the top when he's not on stage preaching to the people. This is a powerful performance and one that isn't explored enough through the course of the film with Stark's interesting downfall. We really never know how corrupt he gets, which would make for a more interesting story film. The complexities of the film and the greatness of the source material gives this film a lot to work with, and ultimately, too much to work with. Willie Stark is the most interesting aspect of the film, and Penn delivers an Oscar worthy performance. Combine that with the fantastic art direction, and the incredible style and look of the film along with the cinematography and you'll be scratching your head as to why this turned out to be such a horrible disappointment. The costumes, the sets, the beautiful score, and the cinematography are all on Oscar nomination worthy levels. The source material screams of a Best Picture nomination, but the main issue, and all the blame for it's failures, can be blamed solely on the shoulders of director Steve Zaillian. The best parts of the film go ignored and substituted for the back-story between Jack Burden and the people that were close to him. His story doesn't go into enough detail of Willie Stark's demise and their relationship.

Virtually every decision made by Zaillian is the wrong decision. The casting is among the worst I've ever seen in any motion picture. James Gandolfini plays Tiny Duffy, and the moment this Jersey born Italian -- which is just about the furthest thing from a deep southerner you can get -- talks is laughable. I felt pain watching Gandolfini attempt to play a part that he just can't pull off. He doesn't have the proper look. Zaillian wanted a big man, and I guess Gandolfini was the most marketable fat guy he could find, so he fit his bill. This film gets very British instead of southern. Jude Law and Mark Ruffalo are both horrible actors to begin with, but man, these two are beyond horrible. They both look so lazy. They think if they stare off into space for five minutes that it will look like they are deep in thought. The real lead actor, Law, brings nothing to the table. He doesn't have an emotional bone in his body and he mopes around, from scene to scene, without blinking as he does nothing with his complex character. His acting is all on the surface. He seems incapable of digging deeper, and all we see is a rubber expressionless face. Ruffalo is in the same boat, but not nearly as bad. Anthony Hopkins has created great characters in the past and put together an impressive resume, but once again, he doesn't fit the part, nor does he even attempt to fit it. He keeps his thick British accent. It was, however, a relief watching him compared to Law or Ruffalo, because he brings an energy to the screen that those two boring actors couldn't even think of doing. The only supporting performance that was any good was by Jackie Earl Haley, and he doesn't say more than two lines in the entire film, but he's always popping up, and by films end, he finds himself in the middle of all the chaos. His mannerisms in the final scene -- along with the look in his eyes -- is better acting than Law and Ruffalo put together for the entire film.

The greatest downfall comes with Zaillian's overall direction of the film. He really has no clue where he wants the film to go from scene to scene. He doesn't even know how he wants to start the film as it starts in the middle of the film before going five years into the past with a worthless scene. He seems more worried about shot selection and set up than storytelling. The opening scene is an eye catcher, and got my hopes up even though its shot like a shampoo commercial. That scene is over-directed and every scene after that is over- directed. Zaillian directs this as if he's ready to garner a Best Director Oscar. He shows off and draws attention to himself, but forgets about the story line that meanders around, instead, he we focus on a sub plot between Jack Burden and Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet) that we really don't care about. The film is confusing because the direction is so bad. Zaillian has his moments, and you can see moments of greatness peek through, but he tries to go for too much, and ultimately falls off the tracks. He tries too hard in professing ideals through reoccurring voice-over and flashbacks. The ending is interesting and abrupt, but loaded with symbolism as we see two good men slain as they succumb to the evils that go along with wealth and power.

Zaillian creates an incredible disappointment filled with interesting philosophical ideals and some great symbolism thanks to the source material, but the flow of the film is confusing and the choice in actors are beyond repair. We see moments of sheer brilliance from the great art direction to the powerful lead performance (Penn), but Zaillian has his hands all over this and makes too many irreconcilable decisions.
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Collateral (2004)
A Coyote and a Shepherd
11 August 2008
Michael Mann's, "Collateral," is similar in many ways to his crime classic, "Heat." "Heat" is a much better film overall because of the way Mann handles his two leads. Pacino and De Niro play the cop versus the bad guy. That's a great character study of a protagonist and an antagonist. He sets both men on opposite sides of the law and shows how similar they are and how different they are, and one wonders if their up bringing influenced their career paths. They both look and act as if they could switch places and be great at each others jobs. Mann keeps the two titans separated for the majority of the film with only two scenes shared together. "Collateral" brings these two guys, one good and one bad, together from the get- go. This is the driving force of the film and this is a necessity, but it also brings in several plot devices, coincidences, and moments were you might find yourself baffled by some of the reckless or stupid decisions made. Some audiences members will be tested to look past those moments for the moments of suspense, thrills and symbolism.

Mann always does a great job of getting exceptional performances from multiple actors in his films and here is no different. Tom Cruise gives a nomination worthy performance. Mark Ruffalo gives the best performance of his less-than-stellar career. Javier Bardem has one scene and he hits it out of the park. Jamie Foxx is a personal favorite of Mann's, but he was miscast for this role. He was average in this role, and in order to make him look the part, they stuck some nerdy glasses on his face, and poof... he's a cab driver. Didn't quite work. He has his moments, but when he's on screen, Tom Cruise is on screen; Javier Bardem is on screen, and those two just hit their performances out of the park and he becomes a body taking up space. Cruise is excellent and surprisingly intense. Michael Mann seems to make films with great dialogue, but its the moments where he goes in close and uses extended shots of his actors eyes as they witness something powerful. Mann will set a scene in the quite or with growing background music, and let the actors emotions pour through their eyes and not a word will be said. The moment in "Collateral" comes when two coyotes run across the street. Vincent (Cruise) just gets done telling Max (Foxx) how his father died and how he would be beat him after he got drunk. This scene signifies Vincent's loneliness and the coyotes that travel in pairs hunt for other beings. Vincent is the coyote and he's looking for a partner to hunt to with. Since he has no one, he uses cab driver's. He attempts to connect with Max and profess his ideals on life, which changes Max' outlook on life. This is the changing moment of the film. This scene will lead to Max' change. He will then become the shepherd.

Even though Mann uses plot devices and relies on coincidences, its the moments of symbolism and suspense and the thrilling nature of man hunting man that spark some moments that will make you think, or put you on the edge of your seat. Mann does an incredible job of building suspense. He does a great job of developing his characters. "Collateral" offers up some humor; some great acting; a great thriller, and a great lead performance. This is a flawed film and relies on things that can throw reality out of the window, which lessens Mann's direction, but his film accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's an exceptional film that gets better upon repeat viewings.
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Incredible Look; Incredible Plot
11 August 2008
"L.A. Confidential" is the kind of film that will make you laugh; make you gaze in amazement at its appeal, and become immersed in a murder mystery with so many twists and tangles that it could make your head spin. With one of the strongest plots I've ever seen, which is executed masterfully by Curtis Hanson, also has eye candy and sex appeal. The direction really is wonderful. The art direction is fantastic and brings you right back into the 50s. The acting is very good even if it comes off as 50s styled acting proving that todays actors are far superior than the actors of the 50s. "L. A. Confidential" even goes as far as poking fun at the sensationalized way films were made in that time period with a hilarious sequence where a cop on a show called, "Badge of Honor," interrupts a women giving him details about some crime, and he says, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."

The tangled and twisted plot is engrossing and filled with seduction, cons, lies, betrayal, killings, and corruption. The acting is terrific from a slew of great actors including Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Walter Cromwell plays one of the great villains I've ever seen. All of these guys have a lot of fun with their roles, and do an excellent job. Kim Basinger plays a prostitute who tries to look like a movie a star so that her pimp, Pierce Patchett (David Stratharin), can reap the benefits since everyone wants to be with a celebrity. "L. A. Confidential" is as much a look at the culture of the 50s, both commercially through television and the dirty business of police officers exposed, as it is being a stylized homage piece. This is a film that's done exceptionally well with some great lines, great performances, and a plot that will force you to watch it again and again. It hardly misses a beat. This is one of the few films that can recreate the 50s with its acting and style and still hold up with todays society. It works well as a film and exceptionally well as an homage piece.
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The Godfather (1972)
An Epic, Masterful Look into the Underground World
29 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The Godfather" simply put, is one of the greatest films of all time. The script is thee best I've ever read. The direction is flawless. The acting may very well have the best ensemble cast in any movie I've ever seen or will ever see. It's also one of the most precise and intricate films I've ever come across as writer, Mario Puzo brings out some of the most hidden and guarded secrets of the underground world ever captured on film. Watching "The Godfather," is like watching cinematic art. Francis Ford Coppola's direction is what brings this film, that's so ambitious and so grand, down to earth with precision direction as he handles each and every scene with such care. The film starts with a black screen and an opening monologue from an undertaker. As the man starts talking about honor, family, respect, and justice we are pulled right in on his luminous eyes as he stands in near darkness. He begs for justice since the American system has failed him. He goes to Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) for justice. Don Vito is the man of power. He's the one who pulls all the strings and watches his puppets dance from behind the stage and out of sight; untouchable, or so we think. Some of the greatest moments in the film- and very intentional to show the distinguishable difference between Michael and Vito- are of Vito crying over his son, Sonny's (James Caan), death. When Michael learns of the news, he has little reaction. Two of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the film are from the cause of a loved one that has died long before he should have, and they come from Brando. As Vito stands over the body of his son he nearly breaks down. There is clash of feelings between the two men that are never conflicting, but compared.

The film opens during the wedding of Don Vito' daughter, Connie (Talia Shire), and we see just how strong the bond of family really is. You have the family dancing with each other, drinking, laughing, and sitting next to each other to show how close they are, then we see some of the outsiders such as the Barzini family, and surprisingly Michael (Al Pacino) along with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) on the outskirts without much interaction. Michael seems almost out of place as if he is the adopted son and Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is more apart of the family than he is. His opening words are to Kay, and they include, "That's my family, Kay. That's not me."

We get the feeling that Michael's nearly ashamed of the stigma that goes along with his last name: This is what makes Al Pacino' role- significantly- the hardest performance in the entire film to portray. He's the one doing all the heavy lifting as he has to go from outsider and completely against the family's actions and businesses to, by films end, head of the family. Brando has the teary eyed moments that actors live for, but Michael is too cold for that. Never for a second as he gradually comes to power do we think this turn is ridiculous or laughable, and in lesser hands it very easily could have been.

The final act of the film is loaded with plot points as decisions are made left and right as the film becomes visually and emotionally captivating. As the film draws to an end, Michael has gained half of the power of the family and makes most of the decisions. He's treated, not with respect, but as an outsider, too high ranking for his experience. The Corleone family is on the brink of disaster and losing everything, yet we never get that feeling. We see the two leader's confidence and we keep our confidence in them, even if the other family members doubt their decisions. Michael goes to Las Vegas and makes Moe Greene an offer he can't refuse. Then he refuses. This is Pacino' shinning moment in the film. There's no screaming or the hoopla that goes along with his name. After he treats Moe Greene like utter garbage, Fredo (John Cazale) get's upset and starts barking at him. Coppola is perfectly on his game here, too, as we watch from Fredo's height, looking down on Michael who sits in a chair as he coldly looks up with his radiating eyes, that have so much going on behind them, and simply says, "Fredo, don't ever take sides with anyone against family again. Ever."

That's some serious foreshadowing for the second film, and only after watching the second film can you go back and appreciate what Pacino and Coppola pulled off in this scene; Cazale too. We have no idea how serious Michael is. These are some of the stepping stones that make Michael's change believable. He's not quite his father- Vito has a soft spot for his children (admittedly so)- as he's capable of turning on anyone and using the line, "It's strictly business" when it comes to family issues. Michael's sister, Connie, calls him a "cold hearted bastard" at the end of the film. It's hard to find better superlatives than that, yet we still love him. The interesting thing about Pacino' performance is that he doesn't sugarcoat it. He doesn't try to make the audience love him. He plays the character as the character should be played. That's the sign of great writing; great acting; and great directing since we could have very easily seen someone try to make him likable. This crew just presents the character with all his flaws and let's us decide if we love him or hate him. Its films like "The Godfather," that made me wish I had amnesia, so I could feel the same heart pounding moments over and over again.
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Taxi Driver (1976)
A Descent Into Madness
25 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Taxi Driver" starts off with a beautiful and perfectly fitting score from composer, Bernard Hermann, as we see the blurred city of New York as the fast paced lights from cars and signs are distorted and put into slow motion. "Taxi Driver" is one of Martin Scorsese' finest achievements as he teams up with Robert De Niro. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is the title character. The acting as a whole is exceptional. Harvey Keitel has an extremely small part as a pimp named Sport, and he brings a forgettable character to center stage. Keitel is so good in this you wish you would get to see more from his character. Jodie Foster plays the prostitute under Sports rule. Iris, is 12 years old, and for a 14 year old actress (at the time), Foster deals with some heavy and extremely adult material, and she handles it incredibly well. Keitel and Foster have a scene together where Sport holds her and slowly dances with her as he whispers into her ear about how lucky he is to have a woman like her. It's an utterly repulsive scene. The look on his face mixed with the calm and safe look on the face of Iris, is pretty disgusting. It's extremely well acted even though it's a pretty quick and minor scene. In this one scene we see the type of control Sport has over the young, impressionable child that he abuses and takes advantage of. These are the kinds of things that set Travis Bickle off. The film is a classic that dissects the fallout of one mans loneliness and his thirst for acceptance, recognition and notice. The editing is very good, the direction is great, but it's carried by a magnificent script from Paul Schrader and a great lead performance. This probably stands as De Niro's second best work to "Raging Bull," and among the finest acting performances of all time.

Travis Bickle is the self proclaimed, "God's lonely man." Bickle walks amongst the people on the filthy, crowded streets of New York City. Wherever he goes, he goes unnoticed; like a ghost meandering through life's morbid boredom of repetitiveness as each day endlessly runs into the next. Bickle suffers from an inability to sleep so he goes to the porno theaters after 12 hour shifts. His mind is constantly racing as he takes various forms of pills and abuses alcohol. The former Vietnam Veteran has a damaged psyche that continues to get worse and worse as the disgust for the lowlifes of New York eat away at his consciences. The first act of the films starts with a normal looking man, with a regular hair cut and regular job in an irregular city. We watch Bickle go through everyday routines and his work habit is the main focus to derive attention away from his bloodlust. We don't see much wrong with him other than some signs of frustration and restlessness. He decides that his body needs some fine tuning as he reverts back to his days as a Marine. He meets up with a gun dealer and buys three pistols and a .44 magnum. He's ready for war, and the table is set.

The ending of the film is controversial for its vagueness and its inability to state a clear purpose of reality or fantasy. The film strongly suggests a dream-like state as we watch with a long running overhead shot (possibly signifying Bickle's departure from the world?) of the carnage left in Bickle's wake. Then there's the music of a dream inducing state at the end of the scene, which is the strongest hint towards a dream like state. What we do know is that Travis Bickle takes the lives of lowlifes, degenerates, and the scum of the earth. He's treated as the hero and glorified by the media for his actions. This is a slap in the face to the media for finding that a vigilante did the right thing because it was for a good cause: Kill 5 scumbags, save 1. The final scene of the film is also controversial. We see Betsy for the first time since their big fight and she's no longer disgusted with Travis. Now the media has changed her opinion of him too. Travis has reverted back to the same look he spouted in the first act of the film. He's quiet, reserved and humble. He looks harmless. As the ride home goes along we find out that Palantine has won the nomination. After, Travis drops Betsy off, he leaves without taking her money and with a smile on his face he gives her a simple, "So long." As Travis drives off, he menacingly looks back into the mirror, representing a problem still exists, then we fade back to the start of the film. With the symbolic scenes throughout the film depicting Bickle's brooding, boiling, rage within; symbolizing the fact that nothing has changed. The near death experience doesn't cure him. The accolades from the media and the recognition from everyday people doesn't make it any better. He's still ready for war.
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Heavy-Handed Liberal Propaganda; The Worst Part is Acting like it's in the Middle
13 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Tom Cruise, plays an ambitious Senator, looking to make a big splash by using the current War and the current situation to get his name on the map by taking out the enemy, AT ALL COSTS. I thought it was some incredible acting and some great propaganda. That last line may sound very awkward and it should, but the film recognizes the Senators mumbo jumbo talk as he avoids questions and disregards the past because it's not very important. And we know what happens when we don't pay attention to the past. It's sending the message that he's a buffoon, not that he's right. They use the propaganda very effectively. One second you like what he's saying then the next you're questioning his motives as he obviously has no plan for failure since he insists on his intelligence and assumes victory. The Senator is repeating the same "colossal mistakes" we made in the past as he chants, "Whatever it takes." I thought it was an incredibly ugly portrayal of the side of Senators and politicians that we don't see. We watch Cruise press upon his version of the story so that the people can believe in his strategy that will end the war on terror. It was very sugar coated as well, much like watching a senator talk, which made it incredibly realistic. We think we have an understanding of their policies, but there are so many politicians with their own agendas that winning a war on terror doesn't necessarily mean they cares if we win. This senator just wants the word "win," next to his name for a future campaign slogan for President. I thought that was easily the best part of the film. It also shouldn't be surprising the Senator is a Republican and the reporter a liberal Democrat being bullied around by the faulty Republican. In the conversation we see that the Republican has no clue what he's talking about and the Democrat knows everything and questions everything and when she asks about the estimated death toll of the invasion she doesn't get an answer. Here we see the powerful bully the media. If you have no interest in politics once so ever (Redford may come to your house and kick your @ss), you probably hated it and found it very boring. It's very political and we see this stuff everyday. Off the top of my head, I'd say this was Cruise' best performance since, "Magnolia," that performance being his best.

Now the tedious part, for me, was the student and teacher (Redford) going back and forth- some of the most forgettable stuff I've ever seen in film history. It gets so boring it's almost unwatchable. Near the end of their conversation, Redford has this monologue, and basically looks right into the camera and tells every person watching to quit your day job and try to become a politician. If you don't have the brains and wealth for that, then vote you lazy, good for nothing, American. That was straight force feeding propaganda. That's very bad which ends up making the film hypocritical and this, along with the pointless story with the student and teacher, a pretty bad film overall. In competition for the worst part of the film is the actual war sequence as we follow the lives of two soldiers who left for the war against the teacher's wishes after doing a class project. It's clichéd out the rear end. Some of the stuff they did is so old and so unoriginal that they were copying films as far back as "Dr. Strangelove." And more recently with "Behind Enemy Lines," which was an average war film, but much more effective, and "Black Hawk Down." It seemed to drag and actually get in the way of everything else just to make us feel bad as they put these two men in the worst position possible as the writer was almost nervous all the other crap going on would put us off and not care. So they try to make us care. The one soldier who jumps out of the plane to save his friend is basically the same cliché as the soldier going out to the middle of the road to pick up another dead soldier as he too is shot down or when one soldier jumps on a grenade to save his friends. If it's not based on true events, then it strictly Hollywood and this is a Hollywood type war, especially with all the CGI. Then they land 10 feet apart when he jumps about 30 seconds later… AND THEY BOTH STILL LIVE!!!! Easily some of the worst war footage I've ever seen in any film. It just dragged and dragged. The worst part of the war sequence is the death sequence that get's extremely heavy-handed. The soldiers die together. With broken legs, they both stand up, facing an army of Afghans. Facing certain death these two men don't cry for home or momma, they stand up like Lions as the Senator gets the bad news from the other side of the world like a Lamb in a grassy field as these Lions die for their country. I don't know what was worse: Robert Redford calling me a bum (assuming that I'm a bum in the first place) or 40 year old clichés. I don't know.

"Lions for Lambs" has some promise and great writing between the senator and journalist, but after that it's a bleak film that preaches the same messages over and over: Our government is run by a bunch of lambs and we, the lions, have to do something because they won't.
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In Bruges (2008)
Fear and Loathing In Bruges
12 June 2008
Martin McDonagh, in his first feature film, has created one hell of an introduction. The movie is not complex, at first, as two hit men are sent to Bruges to wait for their orders after a hit goes terribly wrong. Bruges is in Belgium, by the way. It's a beautiful medieval city that lifts off the screen with gorgeous cinematography. It's hard to imagine a city so aesthetically pleasing with its towers, canals, and scenery that most would cherish.

One of the hit men is Ray (Colin Farrell) and the other is Ken (Brenden Gleeson). Ray finds Bruges to be old and boring while Ken admires the architecture with wondrous eyes. As they wait for their orders we have a lot of comedic banter with a setting Quentin Tarantino could write dialogue for days with. It takes about twenty minutes into the film when the action and the plot start to pull all the strings together with a hit; in a church of all places. This is Ray's first hit. The scene starts, through a flashback, with Ray confessing to a murder that will take place in the not so distant feature. He tells the priest, "I've murdered someone." The priest asks, "Who did you murder?" Ray responds with, "You, Father." As the bullets start to fly a life is taken. More importantly an innocent life - a young boy's life. The boy is on his knees as he just finished writing his confession for all the bad things he did.

This sets into place a string of events involving characters recognizing their own absurdity in certain situations (they call them principles). The humor is dark and extremely effective, mostly coming from Ray. At some point in the film, I was laughing so hard I missed the next lines. It truly is laugh-out-loud funny. Farrell is perfect with his childish delivery, batting eyebrows and high pitched squeaking sounds to emphasize certain words. Farrell does an excellent job as and makes you feel for his characters pain immensely as he agonizes over the little boy's death. Both of these actors work exceptionally well off one another and both give heart felt performances.

Do hit men such as these have moral boundaries? Do they cross them? Do they stand by their word, and more importantly, do they do what they say they would do when the gun is put to their own head? Ethics would never come into play with hit men in most films, but these men have boundaries and their word means something to them.

Henry (Ralph Fiennes) is the leader of these two hit men and he sent both to Bruges to wait for his orders after the tragic hit in the church. For the first 2/3 of the film we only hear him over the phone and he brings dark humor into the picture as well. The writing is fantastic as certain characters constantly repeat themselves and say the same thing multiple times. It sounds musical and so rhythmic with the delivery and the repetition. Fiennes is terrific. He and Ken have a couple of great scenes together in the final act. It's acting at its finest.

The direction overall is extremely well done. After the film settles in it takes off and most of that is due in large part by the gorgeous cinematography and the great score lifting the film to the heights that it will stay at for the rest of the film. As the film progresses it gets better and better and better. You'll find yourself gradually becoming more and more involved with the outcome of the characters. "In Bruges" is a dark and funny film that's engaging till the end with an engrossing plot and characters. The best movie of 2008.
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A Been-There-Done-That War Film
6 June 2008
Kubrick may be best known for his visuals, style, and creativity. "Full Metal Jacket" isn't all that great to look at it, and doesn't have any great stylistic flare worth noting, and is the same old recycled and clichéd settings and scenes that we've seen over and over. "Full Metal Jacket" is a kind of disjointed film told through a boot camp setting in the first half and a war setting in second half. The basic training elements of the film have been done numerous times, but nothing like this. This is "Full Metal Jacket'" strongest element as we see some great film-making of things we've seen done numerous times before, but here; Kubrick brings us one of the most memorable characters in film history with Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey). Ermey is fantastic and plays the part as if he's been through it all and seen it all before (That's because he has). The basic training is brutal and if you think the Marine Corps is brutal; "Full Metal Jacket" raises the bar and heightens reality to unprecedented levels. The first half of the film is done to near masterful levels. There were only two real issues: The inconsistent acting from Vincent D'Onofrio who plays Gomer Pyle and the never ending shellacking that Hartman rains down on his young men. D'Onofrio is great in one scene and absolutely over-the-top in the next-- over-the-top in a campy sense. Private Pyle is a "fat-body," and a screw up. He manages to screw everything up to the point were he hides a jelly donut in his footlocker. We see scene after scene of Pyle screwing up as D'Onofrio goes so far over-the-top that at times he puts this look on his face as if he's trying to imitate a person with Down Syndrome- it gets that bad. In most scenes his face works to eerie perfection. Hartman, then tells his men that they need to motive Pyle because he has failed, thus the corps failed him because they have not helped him motivate Pyle. So they beat him one night as he sleeps with bars of soap wrapped in towels and everything changes. Pyle starts talking to his gun. He becomes an excellent shot and a marksman and starts looking more and more like a soldier ready for combat except we get the not-so- subtle feeling that Pyle is going to go AWOL, and, of course, he does. None of the characters seem to know, but we sure do. This will bring us to the best scene in the entire film, which takes place half way through the film. Pyle becomes the second best character, only to Hartman, but once we leave the basic training scenes we're thrown into a war we've seen before and a war we've seen captured on film much better. "Full Metal Jacket" offers a lot of laughs in the first half of the film and actually goes for too many laughs with Hartman in the opening scene as Kubrick and company just go for the next joke about their sexual orientation. It's funny and Hartman has some great one-liners, but for a drill instructor it gets to the point where he becomes the comedian instead of the drill instructor. After so much it got the point where I was thinking, "When is he going to get back to his speech and stop calling these guys fags and queers 15,000 different ways?"

"Full Metal Jacket" shows how dehumanizing war can be as we see "born to kill" written on the helmet of Joker (Mathew Modine) with a peace sign on his chest that represent the "duality of man" (as we're told). Basically this is questioning the idea that war will solve the world's issues- killing people will create peace. The problem with the film is that we get all of what Kubrick tries to sell us about the effects of war in the first half of the film, when, interesting enough, doesn't even take place during a war. Maybe that's why it made it so strong, but the final half is the same exact theme and message, but now we're actually in the war and it doesn't have as big an impact. The action sequences and the fight sequences are clichéd and stupid and look amateurish with the slow motion shots of blood spattering everywhere, and echoing cries of pain are heard from afar. This is supposed to strike a cord in you, that's why Kubrick elongates the pain. In "Saving Private Ryan," a film done over ten years later, in a very similar situation, Spielberg doesn't use any camera tricks or slow motion shots to make us feel a certain way. He just shows it as it would happen: Realistically. This creates a much stronger reaction than having a guy slowly fall and flop around as we're being told how to feel. It comes off as an unnatural and unrealistic force feeding because Kubrick is almost afraid his audience won't care for these guys, so he tries to make us care. "Full Metal Jacket," ultimately doesn't have much direction or anything new to say on the subject. It's a film about the soldiers, but the soldiers are all clichés. They're all the same exact people who are represented as nothing but barbaric animals. I don't know if his intention was to glorify veterans and troops, but this film is insulting to the men and woman who protect and serve.
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I'm Not There (2007)
A Chaotic Masterpiece Embodying Bob Dylan
25 May 2008
Todd Haynes has created a biopic so different than the norm that it's assuredly going to be bashed for not meeting the everyday standards of the everyday movies with the everyday formulaic narratives. Like Bob Dylan, Haynes never once backs away from what he tries to accomplish- change, chaos, and ambiguity. This film is Bob Dylan. The themes, settings, look, pacing, characters, chaos, ambiguity, contradictions, and for the fact that this never once tries to explain who Dylan is or why he is the way he was is so fitting it's hard to imagine a biopic on Dylan done any differently. This is a bold film done in a fresh and unique way. This isn't the usual "Walk The Line" or "Ray" type singer-biopic (Which are excellent films in their own right) where you have one great performance surrounded by the life and times, the highs and lows, and then the conquering of life's obstacles. When you watch those films, you know where we start and how we finish before the movie even starts. You just enjoy the journey. "I'm Not There" baffles, confuses, lies, contradicts, and makes you question everything. We never know where we're going, who we're going to meet, or what time and person we'll end up with. Haynes doesn't have one person recreate Dylan as Dylan was. He relies on six actors and actresses to play parts of the enigma that we know as Bob Dylan.

Haynes style is magnificent; the music is engrossing; the acting is on point from every actor in the film with award worthy performances scattered throughout; the cinematography was excellent; the writing superior to most of this decade and the editing was excellent. We never once feel we're at one place with one character for too long, or we jump into one life unexpectedly where it feels forced. Gere's part seems out of left field and it completely is, but when we're there we learn just as much about Dylan than we have with any character. Blanchett, Ledger, and Bale are the three standouts. Blanchett will get most of the praise because she embodies Dylan's psychedelic, far out trips, flamboyant behavior, and his eagerness to rebel, question, and change. Ledger gives one of his best performances during a marriage that is falling apart due to infidelity and long lasting time away as he plays Robbie Clark- a young, up and coming actor. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins. When Rollins pops up it's through a documentary like form. We're watching a movie within a movie about one of the characters. Not only is that unique, but Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) plays Jack Rollins is a movie called "Grain of Sand." During the in-movie documentary on the life of Jack Rollins we learn about his past experiences and how he came to become an evangelical preacher. All three actors have the most intriguing parts of the film that just suck you in and stay with you long after you see them. Blanchett deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She's fantastic and gives one of her best performances as she's quickly building a resume that most actresses can't touch, but Bale and Ledger are both equally impressive.

The intertwining stories are done so well and stay so true to the man that Dylan was makes "I'm Not There" one of the best films of the year. The constantly changing themes, looks and colors of the film embody Dylan's appearances to perfection. The six characters embody Dylan's schizophrenic like changing of personalities. The historical backdrops used in the film are important and relevant to the times and characters as they add depth and perception to the character's lives. Todd Haynes has created a work that should only get better and more revered as time goes by because we just don't come across films such as this in any time period. Haynes has created a gem to be proud of and a gem that Dylan should be proud of.
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