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Naked (1993)
2/10
Don't waste your time
18 May 2013
An aimless, pointless, waste of time. Painfully overacted, especially by the nurse, but in general the endless speeches of David Thewlis reveal themselves to not be driving at anything in particular. The movie seems a self conscious attempt to show how much angst they can pack into a painfully slow two hours. If you can keep up with how fast Thewlis is talking you will realize that everything he says is only pseudo-intellectual trite word play. The fascination with rape and the scrawny posh psychopath are never shown to have any meaning, and there is hardly any plot to speak of. All of the female characters are an insult to women everywhere, as they fawn obsessively over a grimy tramp, and go on the occasional emotional tirade. The same melodramatic song is looped constantly. And if they were trying to send a nihilist message the millennial 'end is neigh' delusions only serve to remind us that Johnny is simply a nutter.
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Life of Pi (2012)
4/10
Simpleminded and Ambiguously Religious Propaganda
23 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The dialogue throughout Life of Pi essentially hits you over the head with its purpose from the start: I'm going to make you believe in God. The story does nothing of the sort, and its shallow and irrational protagonist was fairly annoying.

Life of Pi reinforces a pattern set by other western movies supposedly about Indians, promoting a hokey 'spiritualism' with patronizingly simpleminded characters and bright colors.

Pi's conversion to essentially all the major religions in India shows from the beginning that this movie is going to advocate a shallow and ambiguous spiritualism, and ask you to follow a painfully irrational character's actions. Pi is highly emotional and overacted throughout. Perhaps if there was a God to save Pi and help him survive, He wouldn't have caused the shipwreck and death of his entire family in the first place. But it quickly became clear that this was going to be thoughtless entertainment designed to reinforce the beliefs of believers. Bright colors, vivid CGI, and hokey music replaced a substantive plot and message. Instead we are unsubtly told to embrace blind faith, and look at pretty colors while we're at it.
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8/10
Solid, Hero-less, Unsentimental Crime Movie
17 December 2012
This movie was done in a style that was quite unique from your standard issue shoot 'em up or Scorsese gangster movie in a number of ways I found refreshing. It slowed down the pace of dialogue scenes to a relatable and believable level, made the violence far more realistic, and didn't overdo the music. Those who can't handle too much, or too realistic of violence won't like this movie.

Some might feel the dialogue makes the movie drag just a bit, but if you like realistic filmmaking, they've made it feel as if you're sitting in on actual conversations. The scenes and cuts are long but are livened up with the fairly constant scummy-ness of the characters. James Gandolfini seemed to prattle on a little too much but I suppose that was the point.

The violence can be summed up as unsentimental; much of it can be defined by the difficult achievement of not falling into played out Hollywood clichés. There are no heros in this movie as the director doesn't use cheap tricks, like voiceovers, disproportionate screen time, or happy music to convince you that one criminal is worth rooting for over the others. There is no glorification or demonization of violence, as it is depicted without the influence of music, and the audience can decide for themselves about what is being shown. There are no Schwartzenegger-style shoot outs, as the violence is usually sudden but brutal and loud. Every gunshot is closer to being as loud as real life, so you get a little jolt with every shot like being at a gun range.

The use of music is also played down and important in making both the violence and dialogue distinct. There is some music which gives the movie some energy, but overall far less than the average Hollywood film. This adds an element of suspense as the music doesn't give away what is about to happen in every scene (like a movie with ominous music when something bad is about to happen, etc.). The lack of music also allows the audience a semblance of neutrality in what they are observing; characters are allowed to be likable without being good.

This is the sort of movie you could expect if the hero was removed and you only had the villains and thugs left over--it is far less boring.
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2/10
Meandering plot, awkward directing and casting
23 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Probably the worst movie I've seen in a while on a number of fronts--camera work, casting, acting, scenery, etc--even with an earnest effort to give this movie a chance I hated it.

The camera never stops moving; it is constantly drifting, panning, wavering, and zooming in a manner that is highly distracting and contributes nothing to the scenes. Much of the time the camera is located outside a window looking in, or at a great distance, giving the scenes a voyeuristic feel which makes it difficult to feel as though we are actually immersed in the story. The sound of the movie is also a bit distracting, as even when the audience perspective is located at a distance the scene comes out just as clear as when we are close. The actors often mumble their lines in a way which may be intended as realistic, but I don't think anyone speaks in such an aimless manner in real life.

There are tons of elements that appear over and over but aren't connected to the plot and end up wasting time. From the security guard who does impersonations to the dog that constantly barks, half the time spent watching this movie is waiting for these things to either go away or prove to have some significance. The topless neighbors are especially pointless and seem to be a fairly cheap additive. I suspect all the pointless scenes are an attempt to make up for the lack of plot and fill up time. The scenes that Altman attempts to make mysterious often just seem out of place or convoluted. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, especially since the detective's one liners aren't even close to being funny. By the time of the supposed twist ending I was so bored I couldn't be shocked, and it only provided proof that nothing was accomplished by what we just watched.

Elliot Gould seems an odd choice for the detective role and he acted throughout the movie as if he was as bored as I was, at times barely muttering his lines. The gangster character was probably the most annoying character I have seen in a movie this year; he rants on and on, essentially telling everyone his life story where a couple sentences would be perfectly adequate. His attack on his girlfriend was totally out of place and didn't mark him so much as a lose cannon so much as it just seemed like sloppy story writing. It made me angry to see, yet it contributed NOTHING to the progression of the story.

One could argue that Altman attempted to a naturalistic style, as most things in real life don't all come together into one neat storyline, but he truly managed to show things that just weren't worth filming. Because so many events were out of place and without any clear motivation, instead of seeming realistic it seems aimless and meandering. I'm not sure what compelled me to even finish it.
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J. Edgar (2011)
6/10
A Missed Opportunity
27 May 2012
When I first walked out of the theater, I believed that Hoover was dishonest but well intentioned and haunted by his secrets. Eastwood and DiCaprio essentially humanized him and emphasized his gangster era accomplishments at the beginnings of the FBI. It seemed as if Eastwood chose to show him at arrests and such events where he had never been simply to make the life of a bureaucrat seem more exciting, yet this Hollywood trick proved unnecessary. Hoover was constantly engaged in enough blackmail and corruption that actual focus of the film on his homosexuality and exciting cases he wasn't involved in lowered the film to the most tabloid subject matter and ignored substantive events that more Americans should know about.

I originally thought that the fact that I left the movie wanting to know more was a sign that it was interesting, yet after reading a biography on his life I've realized how scant the film's coverage of his invasions of privacy, illegal operations, and corruption really was.

The current political atmosphere indicates that a person's effectiveness in their position should matter more than their sexuality. In light of this, while "outing" Hoover may have tabloid interest, it isn't really relevant to his impact on America, and he had committed enough horrible, life-ruining acts to others that his orientation is almost a mundane detail by comparison.

I realize that Eastwood's greatest difficulty was probably in trying to sum up Hoover's 40+ year career into a movie shorter than 3 hours, yet I was disappointed by his choice in emphasis. As it progresses towards his later career, his major actions increasingly seem like 2 minute footnotes within the film in order to make room for unnecessary elements of drama.

DiCaprio had a convincing performance, yet frankly isn't ugly or fat enough to play Hoover. The actor who played Tolson had ridiculous and unconvincing makeup at the end, yet again probably too youthful looking for the role. This is Hoover's life with a heavy Hollywood treatment; a braver attempt would have less glamorous actors, less violence, and more demonstrations of his duplicity and reactionary behavior.
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2/10
Ostentatious and Lacks a Plot
22 June 2011
It didn't take long for me to realize I wasn't going to like this movie. Basically it had no plot, a vague meaning, and seemed to be consciously attempting to be artsy. I suspect that Cannes critics praised it out of fear that they were the only ones who didn't understand it, somewhat of a 'king's new clothes' scenario. Most movie viewers free of pretension and who don't go for its overtly religious message (the movie is constantly overlaid with whispers to God) will quickly grow bored with its ostentatious imagery which leads nowhere.

One aspect of the movie was decent, the cinematography. Many of the shots of this movie, of nature, dinosaurs, the sun, light, etc., would make for beautiful stills. Despite this the movement of the camera was often jarring and constant during the 50's set scenes, so even some of the otherwise beautiful visuals became annoying. Not to mention the fact that they are part of a ham-handed attempt to relate the emotional outpourings of this Texas family to the creation of the universe within a religious framework.

The religious narration of the movie, seeming to be directed towards God, is aimless. It is made up of phrases which seem contrived to sound profound while remaining vague enough to elude actual interpretation. The narration is also annoying, as it is done entirely in harsh whispers which sound like the speaker has their face too close to the microphone.

The vague and histrionic religious message of the movie will likely only appeal to theologically non-specific, moderate, cross-denominational Protestants who like to self-identify as 'spiritual' and evangelicals of a particularly emotional and 'nature represents God' bent. It will probably be unappealing to non-believers of all stripes and believers who maintain theological specificity and coherence. This movie doesn't seem to set out to change anyone's mind or make a case for itself; it seems geared towards people who are already set in these beliefs and, if you'll excuse the language, will function as a circle-jerk revival for this crowd. The meaning has an overtly religious intention but fails to convey anything specific, conclusive, or challenging.

The greatest disaster of this movie is its lack of plot. It begins with a family tragedy which is only alluded to and an emotional outpouring that comes off as indulgent on the director's part to a viewer who has only been introduced to the characters and hasn't yet seen the dead character on-screen. Once the movie settles down to its 50's childhood setting it becomes mildly promising, but without a climatic buildup or any sense of direction it begins to drag. This would be forgivable or even true to form if Malick was attempting to make a realist film, but as the beginning and end sequences of nature images indicate, this is emphatically not an attempt at realism.

Unfortunately to add to all this, the movie was constantly overlaid with melodramatic music. I usually feel that music should reinforce what's occurring on screen, if it is included at all, rather than forcing the viewer to adopt a certain mood towards a scene which wouldn't otherwise inspire that kind of emotion. In a number of scenes Malick would have failed to convey the intended emotional force of a scene through pure storytelling and instead used background music as a crutch.

Many of the images were attractive, but if this is what I was looking for I could have watched a nature show instead. The child actors were also unusually convincing, while Brad Pitt was convincing as usual. Because of these factors I have given it 2 out of 10 stars.
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5/10
Worse than the first
10 April 2011
Both Killer Instinct (Part I) and Public Enemy No. 1 (Part II) seem to be intended as action films; you see them to be entertained rather than to find meaning. Despite this, Killer Instinct still managed to maintain a somewhat believable tone that this part quickly lost.

The music throughout is painfully generic and overblown. In the final scene, action music races while Mesrine and his girlfriend are walking on the sidewalk and then stuck in traffic for a solid five minutes. Elsewhere generic action scores grow tiresome as the violence also grows repetitive.

A number of characters overact in Public Enemy No. 1, particularly the policemen in the last scene. It seems the director tried to force an extra ten minutes in of showing Mesrine inconsequentially strolling around, which the viewer knows won't lead to anything as we've already been shown the conclusion to this scene, while the police watching him panic and pant. I found Vincent Cassel's acting to be much better in part one than part two as well, not to say it was particularly exceptional in Killer Instinct in the first place. He fell into some of the overacting utilized by some of the more minor actors. He was better in La Haine. Mathieu Almaric and Ludivine Sagnier were better.

The writing in this film becomes overindulgent of Mesrine's self justifications. One would think that his rantings aren't meant to be taken seriously but for the fact that they are played up as dramatic monologues in scenes such as the interview. If this was intended to come off as misguided self-righteousness rather than a serious social critique, the director failed to convey that.

On a basic level Public Enemy No. 1 was also much less exciting than the first. As far as part II's plot goes, Mesrine is pretty much riding out the hype that he built up in part I. The action sequences are fewer in number and on a smaller scale.

Overall, it did the job in that it was mildly entertaining. Despite this, the action of this half of the story line wasn't as much so as in Killer Instinct, and as a result the director seems to have used cheap techniques such as an overblown music score and overacting to compensate.
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SLC Punk! (1998)
6/10
Entertaining, but not the quintessential 80's punk movie it sets out to be
24 July 2010
On initially watching this movie I wanted to give it a higher rating, because all in all it was fast-paced and entertaining. The dialog was good enough and there was plenty of humor and action. One stylistic criticism is that Stevo's voice-over was poorly utilized. In movies where the method works, such as Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange, the voice-over was used moderately so as to represent the narrator's perspective through comments where it would otherwise be unclear rather than summarize things that could have been shown instead of told or were already happening on screen. Overall, it seemed to be a low-budget attempt to emulate Trainspotting's style.

On further reflection, however, it's clear that this movie is geared towards 90's hipsters who don't know anything about punk rock and only recognize it for its fashionistas and punk bands that were slow and poppy enough to make it to the mainstream. Disappointingly, there seemed to be more classical music in its soundtrack than genuine 80's hardcore songs. Despite Stevo's railings against 'posers,' he and his friends seemed to be trying too hard with their image to take any of his 'anarchist' rhetoric seriously. Nor is anarchism even close to being the only ideology which identifies with punk. Contrary to this movie's attempt to portray punks as being to the 80's what hippies were to the 60's, the genre is far too diverse and divergent to make the point stick. Along with druggies there were straight edgers, along with anarchists there were fascists, and along with all of them there were people who just didn't care one way or the other. SLC Punk attempted to use broad generalizations to display a small subsection within punk rock as being wholly representative for its target audience of outsiders. Within 80's hardcore, a shaved head, plain tee, and boots were far more common than a blue mohawk with tight leather pants.

SLC Punk never truly felt as though it was about the music or even the broader social scene so much as it was about a specific character, his specific problems, and his specific viewpoint.

The amorphous plot had been satisfactory until its ending, which had conclusions which were too black-and-white and didn't translate smoothly enough from the protagonist to his broader social situation. This could have been forgiven however, if not for the display of some of the most horrible and clichéd acting I've seen within memory from the two kids playing the flashback versions of Stevo and Bob. The amateurishness and total lack of quality in this scene speaks for itself.

I would only recommend this movie to someone with nothing else to do and who can take its portrayal of punk with more than a grain of salt.
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