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Maybe I'm old-fashioned...
...but I don't need a film to have a proper beginning, middle and end...with all the subplots wrapped up...
And maybe it's because I love stories for the sake of stories - and music, simply for its ability to tell its own stories - but I loved Elizabethtown, and struggled to understand why so many people disliked it.
I see the movie's flaws, certainly, mainly with editing - many subplots weren't properly developed. And I personally don't think Orlando Bloom is the world's best actor. But really, this film is about people, and stories about people.
Which is interesting, because in its imperfections, Elizabethtown says more about itself than it could. People are imperfect.
Things like the video the kids watch - I think that sums up Elizabethtown. The video had nothing to do with the plot. It was just there because it was interesting.
The climax (arguably, both of them, but specifically the memorial) was great - aside from the somewhat annoying comedy/dance sequence from Susan Sarandon. I loved the bird, and fire, the music.
And the road-trip, which almost seems tacked-on...but it was a vital, beautiful part of the film. It dripped with Crowe's love for his country, and love for his music.
It comes back to two things - the characters, and the music, I think. You don't have to love the songs in the film. I didn't know half of them. But I loved them when I heard them. And you don't have to like the characters - but you feel for them, want them to be OK.
The Upside of Anger (2005)
flawed people are much more interesting
Joan Allen is in superb form here, abandoned by her husband, angry, and left to deal with four teenage girls although they deal with her just as much.
It's a little long all her girls go through various troubles but her relationship with Kevin Costner (a retired alcoholic baseball player) is fascinating, as both characters are flawed and intriguing. The acting is brilliant...Allen could be up for an Oscar nomination she's so good, and this is Costner's best performance since 'A Perfect World'.
Writer/director Mike Binder's movie is populated by real and flawed people. It's an honest look how anger can effect people; admittedly, he needs someone to edit his own performances a bit, and there are plot holes, but this is still a good movie.
The Island (2005)
Bay's the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time
Michael Bay is so, so, SO incredibly frustrating. He's able to present outrageous and breath-taking action sequences, but give the guy a script with plot and the need for thought and he's got no chance of making a good movie.
Honestly, he reminds me of a teenage boy he's only got one setting.
I think I enjoyed all his movies until Bad Boys II - which was just violent for violence's sake.
The premise of the Island is fantastic (although not entirely new), the look and set design is amazing I loved where they lived, the look of the city in the future - just as crappy, but obviously moving forward with technology.
But Michael Bay simply can't make a movie without blowing something up every couple of minutes. What begins as a fascinating sci-fi film ends up an action movie, which essentially ruins it.
While great chunks of The Island are fantastic, and McGregor and Johansson act it well, Bay was the wrong choice as director.
And what THE HELL was with all the product placement? I couldn't believe how obvious it was - at one point, Tom Lincoln picks up a bottle of water and takes a deep, obviously refreshing drink. A very expensive advert.
Overly-long, plagued by an uneven script and relying too much on fantastic special effects, Constantine also suffers from Keanu Reeves' acting maybe his worst ever.
Reeves is a sort of supernatural detective, who goes about pulling demons out of little girls. Teaming up with Rachel Weisz to try and save her hell-bound twin-sister, he ends up needing to save the world from Satan's son. Yep, you read it right.
Constantine is nicely dark, and full of action...it starts strongly, and occasionally has some nice set design, but quickly flops into a mire of CGI. That looks great, but it's pretty obvious the producers saw the rushes and decided to try and blow the audience away with special effects, to distract from, and make up for, the awful acting and script.
Oh, and why try to be 'unusual' or clever when depicting Satan? His appearance was possibly the worst part of the movie. No, wait - that was Reeves' acting. My mistake.
While flawed, a fascinating movie
This a biopic of Martin Luther (played by Joseph Fiennes), is certainly flawed in structure and jumpy (the editor seems to have given the job to his 11-year-old niece about half way through the film), but it's still an intriguing look at the person and history behind one of the most defining stances in history.
Yes, there are issues with the direction, which seems at times either trying too hard or not trying at all, and Fiennes doesn't seem to have been directed at all.
Brilliantly supported by Peter Ustinov, Fiennes is occasionally out of his depth but history buffs and Christians will find this eminently watchable and fascinating.
Puerto Vallarta Squeeze (2004)
Harvey seems bored
An OK flick, set in Mexico, about a hit-man (Scott Glenn) who hitches a ride with struggling American writer and his Mexican girlfriend after a hit. He pays them to take him to the border but things get out of hand.
It starts well enough, but quickly struggles and dies.
The eventual relationship twist is badly set up and difficult to believe. An absence of passion, and essentially no reasoning behind her leaving one man for the other, made it ridiculous - and the ending was predictable and dull.
Harvey Keitel is the US agent on the hit-man's trail, but he seems a little confused as to how boring and slow the script is...
Clever and intricate
A clever little thriller/black comedy, which holds interest. 11:14 tells the inter-connected stories of a group of people, all revolving around a tragic car-accident. We see the accident, which occurs at 11:14pm, from different perspectives, as the puzzle slowly comes together.
Sure, the story works a lot on coincidence, but it's still a great build up and interesting ending, despite it being somewhat of a let-down.
The very black humour includes two sections which might just be some of the most cringing moments for men in cinema history one of them in particular had me cowering fear.
Good performances from Patrick Swayze and Hilary Swank make this a good cinematic treat.
Non ti muovere (2004)
A minor masterpiece
A minor masterpiece, Don't Move is the story of Timoteo, a surgeon (played by Sergio Castellitto, also directing), and his affair with Italia (Penelope Cruz), a troubled, lower-class woman.
Told in flashback, we slowly learn about how the affair began, and how it grew as Timoteo's only daughter lies on an operating table, after falling off her bike. The use of flashback often annoys me, but here's it's just beautiful. We get enough of the story to understand why what's happening in the present is important, and the movie's flow is in the past. However, the past is so important to the present.
So while the script isn't overly original, it is fascinating as Timoteo tries to break up the affair and fails. What makes the script come alive is the brilliant acting. It's truly captivating. Cruz and Castellitto are stunning as troubled people from different backgrounds who seem to fall in love Cruz in particular, disregarding her usual glamorous on-screen persona, is almost unrecognisable.
I think Italia was slightly under-written, and a little obvious in her troubled past - but Timoteo is an intricate character, a brilliant description of a torn man - torn by sex, love, and a desire for simple happiness.
A moving, stunning study of love, wonderfully written and acted.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Trust Spielburg to get it right
would you look at that
it's actually pretty good. Trust Steven Spielburg to get it right.
Everyone knows the story of H.G. Wells' classic alien-invaders story. Spielburg has changed characters around for his version, and created a mixture of terror, humanity, war, fear and sci-fi.
Tom Cruise is a not-so-good divorced Dad who's got the kids for the weekend. Pretty quickly, the alien Tripods erupt out of the ground and start killing.
That stunning sequence, shot with unsteady,hand-held camera, is brilliant, seen through the panicked reaction of hundreds of extras surrounding Tom Cruise. In fact, through out WOTW, Spielburg bounces his film off Cruise rather then place the superstar, with his too-familiar face, in the middle of the action.
Yes, it's frightening. Yes, it's terribly tragic. Yes, many people die. But Spielburg manages the horror by presenting a drop-beat Dad in the midst of death, trying to do his best.
The acting is surprisingly good. As Cruise's daughter, Dakota Fanning proves yet again she's got a true talent. A scene where she sees hundreds of bodies floating downstream is horrific and incredible her acting plays right into Spielburg's story-telling ability to present tragic disaster with dignity.
Some sections drag an extended segment in a cellar as Cruise, Fanning and Tom Robbins hide from the aliens doesn't have the suspense it should've contained...but I appreciated the looseness of the ending.
On the whole, this is a fantastic movie. Placed in context post September 11 and post the Asian Tsunami it's even more compelling. One line, from Dakota Fanning, stands out days after viewing running from the aliens, she tearfully begs to know: "is it the terrorists?"
After repeated viewings, I think I've changed my mind a bit...
After the first time, I remember walking out the cinema, feeling close to how I felt after I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time. That feeling being touched by the story, exhilarated...sad it was over, wanting to see it again. It wasn't exactly the same feeling, but it was close.
Ep 3 is still great, but I now I see the flaws in Lucas' direction.
I think I love Ep 3 purely for nostalgic reasons. It's only great because it finally comes around to the characters - and storyline - that I loved originally. Everything it catching up on the Jedis. Their time is ending. That rushed, dark, malevolence, that feeling that something evil is hanging over the universe - that was a cool feeling.
And it's those loose ends that George (sort of) ties up, that's what makes me love it. OK, there's a few he misses, sure.
The start of Ep 3 is great though, isn't it? I think I sat transfixed for the first 20 mins or so, unlike Ep 1 and 2.
I still think he should've got someone else to direct it.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
CGI has helped battle scenes so much
Master director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) sure loves his battle epics. Like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven pushes a plot with the epic battle scenes. But unlike Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven's plot seems slightly weak maybe because it doesn't have an actor the ilk of Russ Crowe to propel that plot along. Sorry to say it, but Orlando Bloom just doesn't cut it here. He tries, sure, and looks like he's trying the whole film. Trying hard.
It's good he's well-supported (Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud) because otherwise, this would be a much lesser film.
Kingdom of Heaven is indeed wonderfully cast, and the battle scenes are almost unique Scott captures the confusion and sheer brutality of battle brilliantly, with grainy film and swirling camera techniques. As all those arrows rain down, you wonder how the hell they ever made effective battle scenes without CGI.
One overhead shot of the two armies fighting head-to-head on the broken walls of Jerusalem says more than any anti-war message could. It's also gory at times; although Scott doesn't dwell on blood, but on the stupidity of war.
KOH is also very PC, probably too much so. Scott does present the two sides as people, which is refreshing. Neither the Muslims nor those inside Jerusalem are painted as bad or good, no one is to blame...but there are war-like people on both sides.
But he may have taken PC too far - there are moments which seem odd, such as Saladin stopping to place the gold crucifix back on the altar...is that credible?
However, in the end, there's little doubt Scott is one of the best film-makers today, whether he's fighting the alien, con men, Romans or war itself.
Someone has taken their love of old movies far too far.
Probably the worst movie you should avoid this year, Sky Captain is not only utterly lacking in any sort of story originality, star chemistry, or interesting characters, it's plain and simply boring.
Sure, it looks fantastic, and Kerry Conran has also successfully imitated the style of 30s and 40s black and white adventure film shot selection, soft tones and shadows, dialogue, it's all very much a throwback.
Unfortunately, as soon as you get over the, 'oh, it looks like an old movie', and as soon as you realise, 'oh, it looks really cool', the movie utterly falls apart.
There is no chemistry whatsoever between Law and Paltrow. Is it their fault? Surely some of blame must land with the script, because the characters are completely wooden. By the halfway point, the film moved too slowly. It's an effort to watch the whole thing.
One extra note there is nothing original in the story. Everything has been stolen from old-school movies Star Wars to War of the Worlds, even the look of the robots is ripped off.
I honestly expected to love this movie. But now I want my two hours back.
Big Fish (2003)
Movies don't get better than this.
Essentially a love story (both romantic and father to son), Big Fish is a wonderful, imaginative fairy-tale, regaling the viewer with story after story. Any fans of strong cinema or fans of good story telling will love this movie.
Director Tim Burton (Batman, Sleepy Hollow) is a talented, original film-maker, and was a strong choice to direct. He often makes fairy-stories, and here he has left behind much of his trademark gothic darkness, replacing it instead with light and cheer and simple imagination.
(Big Fish is also a return to form after Planet of the Apes - but let's not go there)
Billy Crudup plays Will Bloom, who returns home when his father Ed (Albert Finney) has cancer. He feels as though he doesn't know his father, who only tells tall tales embellished stories to entertain.
Based on the book by Daniel Wallace, the inventive and clever plot revolves around the story of Ed Bloom's life (Ewan McGregor plays the younger Ed Bloom), and his love for his wife Sandra. It's almost like Forrest Gump, in that Ed enjoys a rich and exciting life which may never have really happened. Midgets, cars in trees, picture-perfect towns, big fish and giants all meld together with remarkable fun.
Albert Finney and Jessica Lange portray their characters with realism, and sitting that style of acting against a fanciful plot works cleverly. The acting and the plot offset and compound each other, making the movie stronger.
This is sheer genius movie-making, and interestingly, works without violence or the need to shock or scare. Brilliant work.
Gettin' Square (2003)
David Wenham needs a shower
A solid example of an Aussie crime/comedy caper - but more than that, it's a brilliant display by David Wenham, who deserves much applause (and a good shower) for his portrayal of Johnny 'Spit' Spiteri.
Many things come together to make this a great Aussie film. The cinematography is clever and fresh, the script is, and the acting is superb.
Sam Worthington is Barry, recently out of prison, who lands a job as a chef in a struggling restaurant, run by Darren (the wonderful Timothy Spall), an ex-con trying to stay straight. When Darren runs into trouble with a suspect $200,000, and Barry's friend Spit runs afoul of the local gangster (Gary Sweet), they team up for a double-cross - but it's much more complicated than that.
The script is smart and devilish, but while it twists and turns, it never approaches ridiculousness. Written by prominent criminal lawyer Chris Nyst, you wonder who much is fact and how much is fiction - something here seems plausible.
That might be just the superb acting. Worthington is solid and believable, but Wenham utterly steals the show as the hapless, mullet-wearing Spit. One scene where Spit goes before a court hearing is one of the highlights of Aussie cinema of the last decade. It's stunningly scripted, brilliantly acted - and very funny.
'Gettin Square' isn't as good as 'Two Hands' - it's uneven at times, slightly plodding early on, and takes 40 minutes to really get into the script - but it's still well worth the entry price.
25th Hour (2002)
Oh, the colours.
Director Spike Lee displays stunning style and subtle finesse in 'The 25th Hour', the story of Monty's (Ed Norton) last day before heading off to prison for seven years. He wanders and talks to friends and family, searches his soul and looks for the person that turned him in to the cops. It's not just about Monty though-it's also the story of his friends, all struggling with life.
Set against the extraordinarily multi-cultural boiling-pot backdrop of New York City and the effect of 9/11, Lee uses light and colour in a wonderful and glorious way. Not a New Yorker, and since I've never been, I'd love to know how New Yorkers view this film.
Almost every scene is a visual work of art. He allows his scenes to run without quick cuts, which gives his actors the chance to flesh out solid characters. The acting is almost a guilty pleasure.
Don't be fooled, 'The 25th Hour' is no gritty crime drama, but a conversation character piece on friendship dressed as a crime movie. Excellently conceived and executed, this is great night in.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
One big reason to see it--but thousands not to.
From the outset, this is Tarantino's movie--although Uma Thurman almost wrests it away.
Uma's a bride seeking revenge on a group of assassins who killed her entire wedding party at the altar. Pretty much, she just hunts them down and with sword fights and severed limbs, tries to kill them all. What's staggering is Thurman manages to inject a resigned frailty into what's essentially the role of a cold-blooded killer. Somehow, amid the fountains of blood, this is Oscar contender acting.
It is extraordinarily violent, possibly one of the most violent Western movies of all times. The blood gushes and heads roll, and while in the earlier parts of the movie, Tarantino merely hints at the violence, he shows it all in living colour and black and white (and Japanese animation) toward the end. He's not making a point. He's saluting the just-as-violent Hong Kong and Japan movies many 'whities' have never seen.
Kill Bill is brilliantly made. There are thousands of reasons not to see this movie, but only one to see it. It's very difficult to take in the sheer amount of lightning-quick Tarantino touches, such as Daryl Hannah's eye-patch. This needs to be seen more then three or four times. You may be tempted to either go home in disgust or watch it again right then. The direction is amazing--the music, mistakes and jumps in film, costumes and colours, the fight scenes, it's all made brilliantly, albeit without a trace subtlety. But Tarantino is hardly known for that.
And if anyone wants to claim he stole wire-fight ideas from the Matrix.just remember, the Matrix stole it from Japan first.