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While it's good to see a female-driven comedy written by women (though produced and directed by men), it would be nice if the movie had some actual humor in it. Most of the characters are consistently petty, shallow, dishonest, selfish, and have rather ridiculous motivations for nearly everything they do. The pace is slow, the jokes fall flat, and the dramatic conflicts are oversimplified to the point of making the characters look incredibly stupid for not easily avoiding them. It is beyond my understanding how someone might consider any part of this movie to be a realistic or recognizable representation of "real" women, or of anyone.
Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000)
This is why you don't improvise an entire movie
What a complete and utter mess. Yes, there are interesting characters. Yes, there are good performances. Yes, there are scenes which are compelling in and of themselves. To make the movie equally good and interesting and compelling requires some type of thematic element, a storyline, that will tie everything together. There is none here.
There are scenes with characters behaving in precisely the opposite manner of their previous scene. There are moments and concepts that have nothing to do with anything yet keep popping up and going nowhere. There are ancillary characters who come and go without doing anything or adding to the scenes they show up in. Lousy storytelling.
If the trivia is accurate, and there are enough alternate takes to create ten vastly different movies out of all the footage...how awful must the alternative possibilities be if this is the best one they could come up with? Congratulations, though, on having so many well-known actresses naked in the same movie. That's quite an achievement.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
3/4 great, 1/4 awful
This movie has received nothing but the most positive, glowing reviews through all the major news outlets. It came highly recommended to me by more than one fellow film student. I'm a big fan of the Coen brothers when they're on their game (Fargo, The Big Lebowski); not so much when they're off (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers). Sometimes they're brilliant, and sometimes they're simply doing something different. Who knows what that might be; it's whatever they feel like at the time. This film shows both sides. Unfortunately, the brilliance takes place in the first 3/4 of the movie, while the entire third act is so close to pointless that it completely ruins the experience.
So let's talk about the bulk of the movie first: it's incredible to watch, and especially to hear. The use of sound is really, truly wonderful. What you hear, how you hear it, and many times, what you don't hear...it all brings you right into the story, and they make it seem effortless. The performances are solid all around, with the notable exception of Javier Bardem - he is absolutely terrifying. Part of it is what the Coens have him say and do, but much of it comes from his eyes, his voice, his facial expression or lack thereof...his body language. It's quite amazing to see, and very unnerving.
The story is typically Coen-esquire; regular guy Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds two million dollars and a bunch of dead guys out in the middle of nowhere. He takes the money, but goes back later with a gallon of water to see if he can't help one of the guys who wasn't quite dead. I give the writing credit here for having Moss tell his wife that he's going out to do something "dumber than hell, but I'm doin' it anyway." That gets the script off the hook for the rest of the plot hinging on a character's bad decision. He admits it's a bad idea, so for the story's sake, it works. Naturally, the bad guys find him and come after him, and he's got to be smart enough to stay alive.
At the point in the story when it seems as though a number of these various characters, good and bad, will come together in the form of some type of confrontation...well, nothing else really happens. I can't go into detail without giving away everything that actually does happen, but...the Coens dropped the ball. They just stop telling the story here. What happens to this character? Where is another character at this point? What about that plot point? All dropped. None of these questions are answered. We are left to guess or assume at the outcome of events. I don't know about the rest of you, but when I'm being told a story, I like to actually be told the story. I don't want to guess or assume. I can, but what's the point? It's their story; they should tell it. If I want to tell a story, I will, but that's my own screenplay. I'm watching their movie; I expect them to show me what happens. And they don't.
Some people have argued that it works because it defies convention. Yes, it defies convention; the Coens tend to do that. No, it doesn't work, not simply because it's different. It has to be different and good, not different and wrong. There's nothing wrong with leading an audience to believe events will resolve in a particular manner, then turn it around and do it in a surprising way. But you still have to resolve the story you created, and they don't do that here. It doesn't have to be a "happy" ending. It can be anti-climactic. You don't have to end the movie with a big explosion; you can end the movie with a tired old man describing his dream of his father. Subvert expectations; play the downside. I'm all for that. But don't fail to continue the story. Don't leave too many things open to assumption. Tell the story. Show me what happens.
What's so crazy about this is how well they were telling the story, up to the point at which they stopped. It was so good, and so compelling, and so powerful...then it stops. I don't want to say what is happening at the point at which it stops, because I don't want to ruin anything, but I will say this...there is a brief conversation, between a major character and one not seen before, that appears to be meaningless and out of place, and before any meaning of this conversation becomes apparent, the screen fades to black, and I believe that's the first time there's a fade out. After that...well, be prepared not to have any more questions answered from that point on.
The sad thing is, during that scene, and its fade out, I thought to myself: "Gee, this seems rather pointless, but it's a Coen brothers film, so there's probably some meaning in it that will become clear later." But it never did. Not much after that was made clear at all. And I'm a big believer in filmmakers making things clear to the audience. They shouldn't spell everything out, but they should make things clear. There's a difference. At the end of Citizen Kane, showing the sled in the fire...that's making it clear. If a guy had seen the sled and told another person "Rosebud, that's what he said when he died, I guess he wished he'd had a simple happy life instead of the way he grew up and lived..." That's spelling it out. And nobody wants that. No Country For Old Men could have been truly great, had they only finished the story they began.
The Last Shot (2004)
quality movie about movies
I believe there's an inherent inequality in a movie about the movies, about making a movie, not getting a theatrical release. I remember seeing ads for The Last Shot on TV, I remember hearing of a limited release for about a week, and I remember its sudden disappearance from any form of media. It eventually came out on DVD, and that's the end of the story. Which is too bad, because if this movie deserves anything, it's a movie audience.
Is it a great film? No...but it's funny. Is it filled with insight into the creative process, the miasmic crossroads of art and commerce? No...but it has a sense of truth and experience. Is there any reason a theater full of people would not be glad they had paid to see this movie? None that I can see. A cruel irony of this is the opening credits, which are mainly played against a background of items and events in an actual movie theater. Though I should correct myself and say opening titles; as one character points out, credits are at the end, titles at the beginning. It's a movie-savvy group of people, y'understand.
Even if you're not a big fan of Alec Baldwin or Matthew Broderick, it's worth seeing for the supporting cast. Joan Cusack, Toni Collette, and Tony Shalhoub each steal the few short scenes they're in. And for anyone who is a screenwriter (like me!), wants to be a screenwriter, or thinks they know what it means to be a screenwriter...the quick montage of Baldwin's character hearing pitches on the street from everyone he sees is so brilliant and funny and true, it's a lesson in humility we could all use from time to time.
I think the story is hampered by the idea that Baldwin's character, FBI man-undercover-as-Hollywood producer, would choose a script set in the desert of Arizona (even titled Arizona) when he needs to shoot in Rhode Island so he can set up the local mob boss there. Seems a little pointless, but, this appears to be one of the based-on-actual-events aspects of the story that really happened. The real FBI man did find a script, written for the desert, and convinced the filmmakers to shoot in New England, even though he knew, and they didn't, they'd never shoot a frame. And I can't help thinking, about Broderick's character or the real guys with the script...way to sell out! And I just don't completely buy it as a story element. Not that I don't believe people sell out; they sure as hell do, but with all the scripts out there, seems like he could have found one that fit the location. Sometimes what's true is too stupid to actually work in a movie.
Speaking of a script, Jeff Nathanson, who has done some decent work in the past, most notably for Steven Spielberg, probably could have rewritten this a bit more, but does a very good job as a first time director. It's really a shame the movie was never released properly and couldn't turn a profit. That's got to be heartbreaking, at least for a little while. But in the end, he has a good movie and a quality DVD. If you want to sit down and for an hour and half and enjoy what you see, give it a look. It isn't perfect, but what is? As long as a movie is fun to sit through, instead of a chore, I'd call it a great success.
Awful look, but still decent
I found this listing while looking through the films of sound designer Randy Thom, and, reading in a comment that it was available for viewing on AtomFilms, I went and checked it out. The sound is great, is in fact the best thing about the short. The music overdoes it a bit, but in a short with no dialogue, I kind of expect that, and so was able to ignore it most of the time, at least when there was some action taking place for which sounds were created. When there's little action, and therefore little sound, the music takes over, and it's a bit much.
It's not a bad story, though a bit predictable, and the camera work does a great job of telling the story visually and putting a viewer inside the world of the character. But the look of the animation is terrible. I mean, it just looks terrible. This is not the result of a poor monitor or slow connection; I have neither. It's clearly the intent of the director to give it this degraded feel. While I am able to appreciate a picture not quite as sharp and crisp as a big animation studio like Pixar can create, it doesn't have to look like poorly processed film just for the sake of not having the most fabulous clarity. I think a better look could have been created if they hadn't put so much effort into degrading the image.
Still, it's worth a look for any film/animation student, and it's free at AtomFilms.com, so check it out.
Decent But Disappointing
In the fifties, I hadn't been born yet, so I have no idea what they were really like. But I have seen a lot of movies made during the fifties, or set in the fifties but made since. Hollywoodland is a very studied impression of all those movies. The music, the tone, the attitude...the movie plays like it might if the real people involved had made a movie about themselves in the style of the movies made about the fifties. Odd, I know, but that's how it comes across. I'm not saying it's bad; I'm only saying it doesn't give me a new way of looking at it.
Hollywoodland's biggest strengths are the performances, all top notch, and the story structure, which hops back and forth from George Reeves' Superman years to Adrian Brody's detective Louie Simo as he investigates Reeves' death. It may sound like a gimmick, but it isn't. Without this rearranged narrative, we'd have a pair of hour-long movies, both supremely dull. Shuffle them together, and they compliment each other. They tell the same story, at the same time, but different sides of it. On one side we see Ben Affleck as Reeves, and the difficulties of what turned out to be his last few years, and in the Brody half, we see what everyone felt and thought about Reeves; at least, what they claim to have felt. This structure is a new way of looking at a more or less biographical story, and for that I admire the film.
In the way of performance, Brody is solid as always, Robin Tunney is exceptional, Diane Lane steals the show, and Affleck does exactly what he needs to, which, oddly enough, turns out to be more than simply adequate and indeed a genuinely good performance. Let me explain: George Reeves always thought he was a better actor than he was ever allowed to be. He was poised for stardom but never made it, because he became Superman first. Back in those days, in the studio system, actors were typecast in a way thankfully unheard of in the present. Once the Superman show was a hit, Reeves never had a chance to be anything else. It wasn't just a general opinion; it was supported by the studio. They didn't want him to do anything else, because they didn't believe anyone would take him seriously in any other role. And they were basically right.
Even his friends, his agent, his biggest supporters, didn't see much else happening for him as an actor. And the truth of the matter is, he may not have been good enough to do anything else. So, watching Ben Affleck's performance, you see Reeves' personal charm, his ease in front of the camera, but Affleck brings out even more: the sense that Reeves was no superstar, and no leading man, and that everybody knew it except him. I've heard some people say Affleck is bland in this movie - that's the point. Reeves was a bland actor. Try playing someone who isn't as good as he thinks he is; it ain't easy.
The weakness in the movie is the part of Simo's life that's not connected to the Reeves investigation. His separation from his wife, his tentative relationship with their son...I've seen it all before, and it's not that strong here. I know it's generally considered important to show the growth of a main character, but...it wasn't necessary. It could have been touched on without delving into it, and that wouldn't have sacrificed any of the story. Its very existence in the film brings about the movie's end in a very simple, empty way, and left me feeling like they could have covered more ground with fewer scenes.
I liked the movie, it kept me interested in the circumstances of Reeves' death without being falsely mysterious, and all the actors show what they're made of without going over the top, something they could easily have done. The film as a whole does a good job of not going too far and turning something decent into something dumb. It fails to be excellent, but if you like movies with strong acting, compelling story, and no explosions, I'd certainly recommend it.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Boy is this movie dumb
Putting aside any religious reference and only looking at the movie, nothing had anything to do with anything. Langdon is supposedly an expert on religious symbols, but that hardly comes into play. He spends most of the movie following other character's leads and looking sedated. I like Tom Hanks but what was he doing? Didn't seem like he was acting as much as simply being on camera.
We've got a psychopathic masochistic killer albino monk. That's three adjectives too many for one character. It doesn't give him depth; it gives him too many scenes without plot relevance. There are flashes of flashbacks for him and for others that only serve to show parts of the characters the rest of the story couldn't figure out how to get across.
They're chased on suspicion of murder without evidence. They have intimate knowledge of every obscure religious reference they happen to need. Despite making it incredibly easy to find or entrap them, they always get away. There are clues that could mean anything but always happen to mean exactly what they think it does, except when they guess wrong the first time and realize it later. It's just dumb storytelling. They also never eat or change their clothes or use the bathroom, but one can't fault the movie too much for that. A lot of movies are the same way.
Then there's the supposed religious aspect to the story. That made less sense than anything else. How anyone would find this blasphemous instead of ludicrous is beyond me. The controversy seems to be about the idea Christ was not what the church claimed. I think they would find it much more offensive that the church, as depicted in the movie, has spent centuries killing anyone who tries to disprove that divinity. Because what sense would that make? The church doesn't want anyone to know their belief is a lie? Why? So they'll keep donating to the church? And if you don't we'll kill you? That's the stupidest thing I've heard this week!
I could understand a religious organization's objection to any attempt to sway the beliefs of its followers. However, if the attempt is to show proof, of which said organization is aware, that those beliefs are false...I don't get it. We know we're wrong but we'll kill anyone who tries to prove it? That doesn't make any sense. If there was actually proof they were wrong, they'd find another way to claim they were right, and deny the credibility of the evidence. They wouldn't spend two millennia killing everyone who came in contact with the proof.
And as for the proof, within the logic of the movie, there really isn't any. There's a lot of information and conjecture and assumption, but no proof. Even if they prove the one thing they're trying to, that still doesn't discount the initial religious claims. It just tells a different story.
I can't be more specific without giving things away, but there's no point. A lot of little moments in the trailer tell you all sorts of things you're not supposed to have figured out. And whenever someone or something turned out not to be what they or it appeared, it was fairly obvious, but it still didn't matter because even though I knew who was supposed to be good or bad, I couldn't tell why. I had no idea why anyone was doing anything they did or had others do for them. Totally unmotivated. Some things are explained in a throw-away manner, but that's simplistic motivation, not explanatory. "I did this because of this." It's a reason but it's not defined.
A stupid movie with nothing of interest or any moment of solid entertainment. One guy in the theater snored through most of Ian McKellen's big scene with The Last Supper, which was actually pretty dull and wholly uninformative, not to mention meaningless. No I wasn't the guy snoring. I do snore occasionally, but I don't sleep through movies.
DaVinci hardly has anything to do with this movie. It's called his code but there was almost nothing shown of his works that came from him with the purpose of mystery or hidden truth. Slightly more was done by someone else in reference to his work, but only as a point of reference. I can say that, without giving anything away, somebody leaves something for someone else behind one of his paintings, and writes in blood on the floor and the window in front of the Mona Lisa. Just a location. DaVinci himself did almost nothing to contribute to the mystery. It has nothing to do with him. If you want a fun movie about the intricate mystery of DaVinci's work and inventions, go rent Hudson Hawk. It's a lot more entertaining. It's even more realistic, and if you've seen Hudson Hawk...it ain't realistic. But it is funny.
The only truly enjoyable part of the movie was that Audrey Tautou always looked cute. I don't mean to sound like a dumb guy in saying that, but seriously...I didn't like the photography, the music annoyed me, none of the actors looked all that thrilled to be there...even she didn't seem interested in the story. But she still looked cute. For whatever that's worth.
The financial success of the movie, however ridiculous that is, probably means we'll see another Dan Brown adaptation within a couple years. Having read a pair of his paperbacks before DaVinci first hit the shelves, I can honestly say I am not looking forward the promotion of another crapfest.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
In some ways, this movie is the best of the three starring and produced by Tom Cruise. In other ways, it's not. It depends on one's point of view, and those do tend to vary. There are things that I personally enjoyed about all three. Some things in the first two I hated. I hated nothing in this one, so that would make it my favorite of the three.
Here's what works: the story here is by far the most compelling of the three. The first one had Ethan Hunt's team killed off in the opening sequence, and the rest of IMF in danger of discovery. So what; I didn't know them, and I don't care. I honestly don't remember what the second one was about, but there were bad people who had to be stopped, and only Ethan Hunt could stop them.
Now, the danger is more compelling. His life is being invaded by his work. Bad guys kidnap his wife and protégé. Everything he does is to protect something personal to him. It's much more accessible, and it brings you into the story. Some people might think it's less interesting because they prefer to see Tom Cruise save the world at large from destruction and chaos. I see that as kind of a vague concept, and I've seen enough of it for a while. I'd rather feel what he's fighting for instead of just watching it.
The stunts are fun, the action never falters, and the movie rarely slows down to take a break. This is what I expect of the franchise, of an early summer movie, and it delivered.
There are a number of little things along the way that are kind of silly, in the sense that characters who should know better do something easily avoidable, but these failures never impact the big picture and are easily dismissed. For example, Ethan jumps from a building and parachutes to the ground with a stolen item, yet it didn't occur to him to secure this item somehow and he drops it, then has to chase it through speeding traffic. It's dumb that he didn't secure it, but he picks it up and gets away. It's a little thing that shouldn't have happened because it's out of character, but it doesn't make a big difference so I'm not terribly bothered by it. If someone's pet monkey had picked it up and Ethan had to chase the monkey...well, thankfully that's a different movie.
Another drawback is that director JJ Abrams is not an experienced filmmaker. He's worked a lot in television but the big screen is a bit different. Basically, he can't touch John Woo's visual style, and his storytelling pace feels perfectly tailored to commercial breaks. Again, this doesn't have a big impact on the movie. It's fun to watch. It's an easy thrill. It's worth paying for and sitting through.
If you liked anything about the other two you'll like this one. If you enjoy sitting down to be entertained, go see it. If you want to spend a couple hours not taking anything seriously, it's perfect for you. It's not breaking any new ground, but it doesn't have to. Eight stars of ten.
The Sentinel (2006)
Starts with promise, ends with silliness
In a movie with a central mystery, things are not supposed to add up at first. There's confusion, unanswered questions, and we're not sure whom to trust. As the movie progresses, more things become clear, and we're supposed to feel a sense of satisfaction. The Sentinel does this upside down, and I don't think it was intentional, because it makes the movie less and less interesting as it goes on.
There are no spoilers in this review. Any specific information I provide is in the first third of the movie. That being said, I really liked the first third of the movie. Here's the rundown: Michael Douglas is Pete Garrison, a veteran Secret Service agent. Kiefer Sutherland is Pete's former partner David Breckenridge, who believes Pete had an affair with Mrs. B, which we quickly learn isn't true but David still believes it is. Eva Longoria is Jill Marin, David's rookie recruit who learned from Pete at the academy. Kim Basinger is the first lady, and she IS having an affair with Pete, which some mysterious person is using to blackmail him. Pete fails a lie detector and shows up in the middle of another investigation due to the affair and blackmail, which was only used to frame him for the assassination plot. So everyone thinks he's working for a drug cartel and plotting to kill the president, then he goes on the run to find who's framing him.
I really enjoyed everything up to this point. It puts Pete in a tight spot, and he can't get out of trouble for one thing without putting himself in jeopardy for something else. The relationships between the characters are clear, they're motivated, they make sense, and I can feel the tension building. Once he goes on the run, the strength of the connection between characters wasn't held up. People make assumptions, they act without thinking, they do stupid things to get themselves caught or killed put in danger. I found myself waiting for them to reach the point of having something concrete on which to act so we could get back to a story direction that makes sense.
As the movie went on and more truths were revealed, more and more things happen that make progressively less sense. No one seems to act in a way consistent with their character, good or bad. People forget to do things, or don't think of things any fool would consider, but these are supposed to be trained professionals, and they stumble around making dumb mistakes and assumptions. Their actions serve the plot and not much else. Any moment where some real emotional tension could be achieved is generally filled with people simply shooting at each other. The movie starts with a lot of promise, reaches its peak early and runs downhill the rest of the way.
The performances are good but not great, entertaining but not exciting. Some people may bring up similarities to Kiefer Sutherland's role here and in 24, but there really are none. Honestly, he doesn't have much to do here. Eva Longoria does a good job looking knowledgeable and inexperienced, but there isn't much for her to do either. Overall the movie is competent without being compelling. It's worth watching, but not worth remembering. 7 out of 10.
Krippendorf's Tribe (1998)
Unbearable Even For Insomniacs
It's 2:30 am, I'm lying in bed, and I can't sleep. Flipping through channels, I see a company logo indicating a movie is about to start. Whenever this happens, I am mentally and physically unable to change the channel until I know what the movie is. Seeing that it stars Richard Dreyfuss and Jenna Elfman, I know immediately it is Krippendorf's Tribe, which I remember being advertised but never saw. Not having anything else to do, I keep watching.
That was my first mistake.
The second thing I did wrong was to continue watching past the first commercial break, and on to the end credits. I was completely fascinated by how utterly terrible this movie is. I don't think I've ever seen a movie this awful with so many recognizable, decent actors taking part. Dreyfuss, Elfman, Lily Tomlin, David Ogden Stiers, Stephen Root, Natasha Lyonne, Siobhan Fallon, Elaine Stritch, Tom Poston, Susan Ruttan...all names I know, all actors I've seen before, never in anything this ridiculous and pointless.
During the opening credits, we see Professor Krippendorf and his family in New Guinea, hanging out with a local tribe. Next we see the Professor on his couch two years later watching his video of this trip. It is soon revealed his wife has died, and apparently he has been on this couch ever since, because Jenna Elfman shows up at his door to remind him he has a presentation that night about the lost tribe of New Guinea. She's supposed to be his former student, now fellow professor of anthropology, but she spends the entirety of the movie acting as agent between Krippendorf and a cable network. Sounds like the writer really paid a lot of attention to this character.
So he sits at McDonalds with his unruly children and tries to write a speech for his presentation, but comes up with nothing. When he arrives at the lecture hall, hundreds of people wait for his groundbreaking research to be revealed. Of course, he doesn't have any research. Whatever this lost tribe is, he never found it. So it's still lost. But I'm asking myself, what lost tribe? I just saw the video footage of him with a tribe in New Guinea! Is that not them? If not, who are they? Why are all these people at the lecture hall expecting something of him? If he didn't find anything, why don't they already know that? Where did they get their expectations? Why can't he just say "I didn't find that tribe, and my wife died, and I've been kind of depressed"? Why didn't he tell them that when he got home from New Guinea?
Other stupid questions: Why did he buy a big screen TV with the grant money? Why didn't he use the grant money to pay his mortgage and his bills instead of allowing his home to near foreclosure? Why is he so close to losing his house if he's still on staff at the university? If he has an office and friends there, why don't they have any idea what's been going on with him professionally for the last two years?
I realize a supposedly screwball comedy requires there to be a great deception during the first act, which must then be supported through the third act until all is revealed. That's fine, but as far as the story being told, there is no reason for them to expect anything, so there is no reason to lie. It's my understanding he'd have this presentation to tell them what he found. If he didn't find anything, why can't he say so? Why do they expect something amazing? Who told them something amazing had happened? And why is this business of a "lost tribe" being brought up as if I knew what they were talking about? Is that why he went to New Guinea? To find a lost tribe? Why has this exposition not been supplied to me? All I know is, the movie opened with him talking to members of a tribe, and now he's saying he lost the lost tribe. That makes no sense. None of the first part of the movie makes any sense.
That's only the beginning. The rest of movie is filled with jokes that are either totally inappropriate or just plain fall flat. Jokes about circumcision? Is this the funniest thing they could think of? One of his kids puts on some kind of show and tell about a native girl's first menstruation. Why? The only good thing about this scene is the one-line role of a young Mila Kunis as his classmate playing the native girl. He's even unwrapping a bloody cloth in the next scene. I just don't see the point, or the humor.
Nothing in this movie is funny. Everything plays like a bad old sitcom at best. Three minor positive notes: One - the aforementioned Mila Kunis, who has a spectacular voice, though as I said she only has one line, but it was nice to see her. Two - Jenna Elfman's butt. In her underwear. Not exactly a reason to see a movie, but if you are watching the movie, it's there in a pair of brief scenes; yes that pun was intended. Three - cinematographer Dean Cundey, always a pro with the pretty pictures. Why he chose to work on this movie, I'm sure I'll never know. I hope they paid him handsomely.
DVD - awesome. Movie - not so much
I'm a big fan of Tony Scott, but I think he really missed the mark on Domino. Maybe the fact he met the real Domino twelve years ago and has been trying to make this movie ever since somehow blinded him to the shortcomings of the script.
The story goes in ten different directions, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and it doesn't really show you much of who Domino was. Half the time the visual style is annoying, the other half it's brilliantly beautiful. If the story made more sense and held more interest, the visuals would never be annoying. But, when there's not enough story to support them, they fall apart.
The digital format of a DVD really brings out both the harsh reality and freakish surrealism of Tony Scott's lighting and filming techniques, plus a blisteringly precise dts sound mix. If the movie itself were any good I'd have bought it immediately.
The disc does include some good extra features, including a short piece detailing some of the processes used to create the visual design, and a feature commentary track which is not really a commentary but snippets of recorded meetings and discussions.
Anyone interested in the development of a script into an actual movie should be fascinated by this track, because this is how it happens - people sit down together and figure out the details. I can't help thinking they could have used a couple more opinions. Normally I wouldn't say that, but I'm not as pleased with the results as those people on the commentary.
Five out of ten for the great look and sound, plus the interesting features. All it's missing is a strong story.
I expected more; now I'm not sure why
Samuel L Jackson was on with Charlie Rose a few nights ago, and mentioned how he'd turned down the script for Freedomland several times over several years. Eventually, screenwriter Richard Price created a character Jackson felt he could sink his teeth into. And they succeeded: Jackson gives a great performance; Lorenzo is a strong character with clear motivations. Unfortunately, he's the only one for whom I can say this.
Whatever Price did throughout his many drafts to provide Jackson with this opportunity, he forgot to support the story. The whole thing plays like a long episode of CSI without the zooming close-ups and smirking caricatures of real cops: nothing anybody does makes any sense. Perhaps in real life, which is a phrase I abhor but I must use it here, people do stupid things that make no sense and can't be explained. I accept that. But in a movie, people can't be that stupid. It's simply no fun to sit there and say "Why would they do that?" every ten minutes. I won't go into detail because it would spoil the convolutions of the plot, but since the movie isn't any fun to watch, it can hardly be spoiled.
I like Julianne Moore, and she's a terrific actress, but there's no reason for her character to do or say any of the things she does and says. It might have played better if she'd simply died right in the beginning. At least the sense of mystery the movie goes for would have some basis in logic.
On a side note, the always entertaining Ron Eldard plays a cop and the uncle of the missing kid. He gets in everyone's face for a while, then drops out of the story halfway through. This kind of thing tends to happen in movies that have been seriously re-edited long after all footage has been shot. Oh, and William Forsythe fans (I know you're out there) will be pleased with his large presence in a relatively small role.
I thought this movie was going to be an interesting drama with solid acting. The acting was there, but it's all a bunch of separate pieces. None of them fit together. I'd like to say this is the result of a former producer and studio head trying to become a director, but what do I know? I'm just a fan of good movies. Four stars out of ten for the individual performers and the wonderful photography of Anastas Michos.
The Matador (2005)
Fits and Starts
When I see a movie with a plot that turns itself upside down and inside out every fifteen minutes, I get annoyed. When I watch a film in which nothing seems to happen for two hours then it's over, I shake my head and sigh. The Matador manages to drop itself somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. It can't seem to decide which way to go, and this indecision leaves me disappointed overall.
Pierce Brosnan appears to have a lot of fun playing Julian Noble, a hit man on the working side of a burnout. He's in a different country every week but still needs a vacation. Greg Kinnear is Danny Wright, a hapless salesman and everyman in Mexico City on business. They're staying in the same hotel, they strike up a conversation, Julian tells Danny what he does, Danny is fascinated but freaks out when Julian asks for his help with a job. Six months later Julian shows up at Danny's house in Denver, once again in need of help. These plot points sound like a first act to me, then I'd expect the story to really get going when they meet in Denver. But the truth is, the movie's nearly over here. I'm simplifying a bit, but that about covers it.
I don't appreciate a movie that feels like it has to have a dozen plot twists to keep you guessing. I don't need be kept guessing; I need to be kept interested. And I also have a problem with movies that spend too much time trying to involve me in the lives of the characters instead of getting on with their story. What I like about The Matador are its interesting characters; what I dislike is that once these characters are established and developed, the movie continues to establish them. The story doesn't move forward when it should. When something new finally happens, the film gets stuck in that moment while the characters continue to reveal more of the same. The plot develops too slowly, then quickly throws in a little twist, then sits back to let the characters talk. The talking goes on to the point where something else should have happened already, then finally, something abruptly changes.
The plot moves along in fits and starts, lurching forward and settling back. I prefer a story with a nice solid forward momentum. The Matador is not a bad movie, and there are no bad moments in it, but in the end it's a rather forgettable experience. Six stars out of ten for the good actors, including Hope Davis in a fun but small role as Danny's wife, and the moments that made me chuckle.
The Interpreter (2005)
Open to Interpretation
There's a major problem with most movies trying to be thrillers but attempting to ground themselves in fact - they're movies. The Interpreter plays as if it could have happened, but there are so many points along the way that defy both logic and reality that all we're left with is a movie, and a shaky one at that.
Nicole Kidman plays U.N. interpreter Silvia Broome, a white African (sad how this should be deemed a necessary distinction) who overhears what may or may not be a plot to assassinate the visiting president/dictator of her native country. Sean Penn is Tobin Keller, the Secret Service agent assigned to investigate her claim but not protect her. Once bad guys start following her and hang out on her fire escape, more is done to ensure her safety. Naturally! It's deliberately made unclear, for a while, whether Silvia is in on the assassination, made it up, or is telling the truth. By the end of the movie - and this is not a spoiler - all three situations are more or less correct. If that sounds confusing, don't worry. It's not that you won't get it; it's just that illogical. At first, we're not sure if Tobin's wife has left him or if she's dead. For no apparent reason, Tobin tells Silvia all about it: she left him and she died. This has nothing to do with the plot but it does give Sean Penn a lot of room to create moods for his character, which he does quite well. During their first meeting, Silvia asks many a question to receive only a bland, gloomy expression in response. Now that's a characterization I can appreciate.
Nicole Kidman is always nice to look at, and manages to remain compelling even though Silvia's motivations seem to change from scene to scene. However, I've never been impressed with her abilities as an actress, and this is no exception. The two of them together, along with a number of decently written scenes, are able to provide an emotional and dramatic resonance that holds the best parts of the film together. Unfortunately, this is a plot-driven movie, so their efforts are often set aside for the plot as it barrels its way through the two hour running time.
The story simply doesn't stick together. This failure to create a cohesive plot is mainly due, I'm certain, to the fact they were shooting every day without a complete script. It's difficult to point out faults in logic and not give away spoilers, but if you've seen the ads or trailers, you've seen the bus explosion. Here's how it comes together, or more accurately, where it falls apart - Silvia has one of Tobin's agents drive her to Brooklyn so she can board the bus and talk to a political leader named Kuman who's been exiled from their home country. Never mind that this agent, who is supposed to stay with her, watches her board the bus and then drives after it down the street. Silvia knows Kuman will be there because the newspaper ran a story providing the precise location, day, and time he gets on the bus, now that he's opted to forego his limo. Apparently no one in the Secret Service reads this paper because they're all wondering why Silvia's there, and I suppose Kuman doesn't read it either because he only has one unarmed escort for security. Another agent follows a suspected bomber right onto the bus, and lets him walk away because the agent is afraid the bomber will figure out he's being followed. Silvia gets out and the bus blows up. Coulda happened to anyone, right?
They shot all the U.N. scenes on location in the actual building, and the movie is indeed better for it, but the story is so mixed up it really doesn't matter how good it looks. There are so many things that don't add up or ring true it creates the impression of a script that hasn't seen enough revision. After watching the DVD extras, I learned this was precisely the case. The story is there, but the details are in disarray. I would recommend this to fans of Sean Penn, a true actor who really puts himself inside the demeanor of a man who does his job well even though his heart isn't in it. For Nicole Kidman fans, well...I don't know what you see in her, but she's doing it here. So, enjoy.
The DVD includes a sparse selection of alternate/deleted scenes, a few featurettes starring director Sydney Pollack, and his commentary track, to which I have not yet listened. I may not bother; I'm not sure there's any more I desire to learn about this movie, especially if the commentary turns out to be one of those "everybody did a great job" love-fests which are becoming more and more deplorable to me.
Six stars out of ten for the strong characters, the solid emotion, the drama they create, and a classy production.
Socially and Politically Irresponsible (spoilers)
Things this movie taught me, an American citizen:
It's okay to shoot down Russian jets over their own country if you think they would have shot you first, just for being there, even though you shouldn't be there.
It's also okay to shoot North Koreans on your way to the border after you crash your billion dollar plane into their land, which you shouldn't have been flying over in the first place.
There's nothing wrong with destroying nuclear bombs a few miles from thousands of innocent farmers, as long as you feel bad about it.
It's appalling. These next things are just stupid movie garbage: Even the best pilots in the world occasionally crash into mountains. Well, not occasionally; they tend not to crash more than once.
It's okay for members of the military to disobey direct orders as long as they've established a reputation for rule-breaking.
A commanding officer who shows sincere concern for the well-being of his pilots when they're not in any danger can easily shift gears into active abandonment and assassination at the first sign of trouble. And he will always choose suicide over lying his way out of it, which should be easy since he lied his way into it and there's no hard evidence against him. He'll also be left alone with a loaded weapon instead of arrested in order to make his suicide less complicated.
Intelligent machines who start out good and then turn bad are likely to start "feeling" and turn good again before nobly sacrificing themselves for the human heroes.
The baddest bad guy will always get hurt, but not badly enough to keep him from showing up right when the heroes are most vulnerable, and in the end, the good guy will win because he has the RBG (really big gun).
Good-looking white people in life-threatening situations always end up in love.
This movie plays like it was first written twenty years ago, which wouldn't surprise me; W.D. Richter hasn't had his name in the credits of anything for a decade. I would have been happy to see an empty-headed summer movie with bigger explosions every ten minutes, but this story crossed the line into some kind of xenophobic shooting gallery. It's offensive and unappealing.
I hate to think of all the people cheering when the North Korean sniper was killed. What if Jessica Biel were the sniper and some North Korean crashed his plane in Arizona? Would you cheer if he killed her on his way to Mexico?
Movies like this should not be made. They should be rewritten until they make sense, until people aren't being killed for little or no reason. Except for those dirty foreigners; no one minds if we kill them. In fact, the full name of the movie might as well be Stealth: Dirty Foreigners Must Die!
Shame on Rob Cohen. He could have made a really cool, silly movie. Instead he made a horrible statement about American humanity, or more precisely, the lack of it, with some cool scenes of stuff going fast and blowing up. Sometimes both. Nice going, triple X.
Kevin Bacon steals this movie
You could see it and enjoy it for no other reason than to watch Kevin Bacon as an actor preparing for a role. The man knows how to play parody. Even in a small (and uncredited) appearance he does amazing things.
The rest of the movie is not bad, but predictable and unexciting. Steve Martin does a good job taking on a different kind of comedic role, less broad, and with a darker edge, but the movie doesn't support him. It takes itself too seriously to really laugh at, and it's too silly to take it seriously.
Without giving anything away, the initial plot devices that get the story moving do not seem motivated by the characters. In particular, Steve Martin's character's actions early on are not behaviors I can really believe, but once it's done, the plot is underway, and you have no choice but to accept it or immediately take the movie out of the machine and return it to the video store.
Scott Caan fans will also appreciate his presence. He was good.
Daddy Day Care (2003)
this movie more tasteless than veggie-o's
It tells you right up front what kind of 90 minutes you're in for - the over-used, aged, and annoying song "Walkin' on Sunshine" plays over the opening, and PAUSES so we can clearly hear a four year old boy peeing, then flush the toilet. Then the song resumes. This is the focus of the story from this point, and they're just making it clear up front. Partway through there is a pointless flashback, used only to show how a man doesn't like changing diapers. What brilliant screenwriting. What's really funny about this movie is if you take out the jokes about peeing, pooping, farting, falling, kicks to the crotch or other sensitive areas, and change the kids from gremlins who do nothing but run around screaming into more realistic children, it might actually be humorous, but of course it would only be twenty minutes long.
There is not one original sentiment. One of the few times I laughed was when Jeff Garlin's character, in response to how unimpressive their child care license certificate is, says "that's gonna be laminated." Of course, the filmmakers ruin it by having him yell out "LAMINATED" as he leaves that room, making it no longer funny. Steve Zahn does the best he can with an underwritten part, though brilliant comic actor that he is, even he can't do much to rescue this garbage. Eddie Murphy should probably start reading scripts again, because I'm pretty sure he didn't read this one. He saw a potential for comedy and signed up based on that. Unfortunately, no one else bothered to follow through. I recognized this movie for what it was when it came out, and would never have bothered to see it, except someone loaned it to friend of mine and there was nothing else to do that night.
Chuck & Buck (2000)
nothing like The Good Girl
My first mistake was believing my video store, which categorized this as a comedy. My second mistake was the notion that the writer director team of The Good Girl, which I think is brilliant, would have done a similarly excellent job a couple years earlier. I was wrong. Apparently they simply improved since then, and seeing The Good Girl first only served to spoil me. Chuck & Buck is not a comedy in a funny way. It's funny in that it's odd, but it's an odd drama. There are funny moments throughout but they never made me laugh. The characters are superbly drawn but their interaction holds no interest.
I will say that one thing in this movie deserves a lot of attention: the costume design. I'm no fan of the Oscars, though I can't help but watch and come to my own conclusions regarding the deserving and the undeserving. Year after year, the one thing that angers me the most is the costume design category. Each of the five nominees, each and every year, is a period piece, or something out of the norm of everyday life. Futuristic science fiction wear or old time extravagance. Always COSTUMES, not clothing. This is wrong. The idea behind this award, and all these awards is to recognize the work of someone whose contribution adds to the excellence of the film. Someone whose decisions give you a better picture of the world in which the film takes place. This does not have to be some fantastic and complex work of art. Sometimes a period movie does have great costumes, but just because someone had to design and make them doesn't make it all so wonderful. In Chuck & Buck, Buck's clothes are a large part of his character. He doesn't have to say or do anything but stand in front of a wall in his clothes and you know exactly what kind of character he is. That's the kind of thing that deserves awards.
Beyond sufficient, therefore disappointing
I rented this not really knowing what anyone else, critics or friends, thought of the movie. I didn't know if it was considered fabulous or trashy, tremendously entertaining or downright boring. I found it to be somewhere in between.
All of the actors and performers did an excellent job with the roles and the stunts offered to them. I put the blame for mediocrity solely on the shoulders of writer/director Mark Steven Johnson. Don't get me wrong; the film looks fantastic. The costumes, sets, and lighting all work to great effect, and I was definitely impressed. The look was the most enjoyable part of the movie, because the story was just...there. Johnson took all the ideas from the comic book and put them on the screen, but they don't take on a life of their own. He makes it corny, and silly, because it takes itself so seriously. You can't have a comic book movie take itself seriously yet play it so over the top. One way or the other would work, but not both. This combination gives you a snarling Colin Farrell with almost nothing to do. In his first scene he shows off his skill in a bar, then he's on a plane to New York, then he disappears for the next twenty minutes of screen time.
Often throughout the picture, actors are replaced with animation. This would be fine if it weren't so obvious. I don't mean obvious because it looks animated, I mean obvious because the animation is used the way one would make a cartoon, not a theatrical feature. It's one thing to show physical feats in movies that are slightly beyond possibility; that's what movies are for. But every five minutes, a computer generated DareDevil is leaping from one building to another all the way across the street, or falling thirty stories to land on suspended platforms, or any number of impossible feats. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief only so far, and this movie asked me to go to ridiculous lengths. I might have put up with it had it not been so serious the rest of the time. You can't have both.
There is too much obvious wire-work, too much pointless cgi, and too much movie-speak to make this movie as good as its look. Some of the effects were eerie, beautiful, and intriguing, while others were simply laughable. I also have a problem with "see what cool stuff a blind guy can do" kind of bits in movies with blind characters, and this movie is full of them. Overlooking all the superhero superpowers, there are still a number of things that are just too cute, and every movie with blind people does this, showing how they can hear stuff or smell things that us sighted folk never pay attention to. It's not like that.
The movie is entertaining in a purely comic book fashion, and I agree with another user comment I read on here: if you don't go in expecting much, you'll be satisfied.
Reign of Fire (2002)
Reign of mediocre action
I hate to review one movie by comparing it to another, but in this case it clearly is called for. This movie is similar to Roland Emmerich's Godzilla in that it's a monster movie that spends much of its running time having people talk about the monster, instead of the movie showing the monster. I don't believe it would have been necessary for dragons to be onscreen every single minute, because there has to be a short reprieve once or twice, just to let the story breathe, but the dragons MUST be more of a presence. Otherwise it's just a bunch of dirty people sitting around talking about how scary the dragons are. I was expecting to see ninety minutes of desperate humans in tanks and helicopters battling to kick some scaly dragon butt. That only happened a couple times, and most of the time they were just running away. This movie tries to take time to develop its characters, but it's not necessary. Their character would come out while they're fighting dragons. That's how it really works; the way people truly are will always emerge in stressful situations. This movies goes on for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, trying to be some kind of drama about surrogate fatherhood, then a dragon flies by and scares everybody except the audience, then it compares natural leadership to acquired leadership to forced leadership, then they go out to find a dragon, then a bunch of other stuff happens until there's another dragon. I watched the DVD a second time and programmed it to skip all the boring chapters. It turned into a twenty-five minute movie about fighting dragons, and I liked it that way. The other way was too dull to hold my attention, and my attention is easily held with a good story, no matter what the effects are like, and the effects were good, but not good enough to make up for what's missing.
40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)
Story should be cartoon porn
The major problem with this movie is the script, written with a twelve year-old's perspective on sex, in the basic formula of a sitcom. Most of the jokes don't work because the setup is telegraphed. The only reason a script like this gets produced is because the studios believe it similar enough to the American Pie type of teen sex comedy, which it is, but those movies are also puerile and unfunny. All of the characters surrounding Josh Hartnett are put there to represent one basic conflict or another, and it's just not natural enough to make it interesting. He's a horndog who tries to give up sex, and his brother is a priest! What luck! He meets a girl he can't have sex with because of his vow, and it just so happens she works for CyberNanny and looks at web porn all day! Oh no! Then he has dinner with his parents and all his dad talks about is sex with his mom. Whose family is this? What was the point of that scene? Is it supposed to be funny that people are talking about sex everywhere he goes, even his parents? He can't escape it? That's not a joke, it's just a setup, and the whole movie is done that way. It's half sitcom and half porno. Not the good half, either.
The Recruit (2003)
enjoyable yet disappointing
I will state right off the bat this comment has no spoilers. I have long been a fan of Pacino's and Roger Donaldson's, and the contributions each gave to the film was nothing short of my expectations. In fact, it was precisely matched to my expectations, and that's part of the problem.
Let me start off by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was a decent movie-going experience. Bridget Moynahan played her part well, although I could have gone for more interaction between her character and Colin Farrell's, and the most popular casting choice of the past year continues to garner my interest in his performances. The role of Walter Burke must have been written for Al Pacino, or altered once he came on board, because it was perfect for him. And that again was part of the problem, because his being cast does, unfortunately, give you some idea of his character's motives and behavior, hidden or in plain view.
The major disappointment I had in this story, without giving anything away, is that there were not enough surprises to keep me...well, surprised. The mantra "nothing is what it seems" is spoken throughout the movie, yet there were many things that were exactly as they seemed. I was expecting more things to eventually prove to be something else, especially regarding Colin Farrell's character. Perhaps the writers thought that would be too difficult for an audience to follow, or to accept, and chose not to do it that way, and if this is the case I'd like to see the alternate ending and deleted scenes on the DVD release. Or maybe they just didn't think of it. But every supposed twist that came along was not a shock to me, because I didn't have any difficulty discerning the truth from the pretending. Maybe I think too much and anyone who reads this will be blown away by each truth revealed. I thought there would be more to the ending, and that's all I'm going to say about the ending. Once the big surprise hits, it's all cliche from there, and even more of a cliche if it wasn't a big surprise to you. But I'd certainly recommend it, especially if you're a fan of the two male leads. They won't let you down.