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Definitely unique among Westerns
On screen I find Kirk Douglas to be without peer, but I have come to admire him as much if not more for his real-life advocacy of some highly unorthodox, yet worthy projects.
If this movie doesn't rank among his very best, it is still remarkable for how unapologetically it goes against the grain and makes a very bold personal statement (one that was not so popular at the time but resonates to this day). All the while he is producing and directing himself in what proves to be a rather unflattering role. I can't think of anyone else who would have the real-life grit to do such a thing - Kirk Douglas has done so repeatedly with aplomb.
Funny and thought-provoking - creators vs. destroyers.
The title: Heckler might lead one to believe that the whole film is about standup comedians and their drunken, attention-starved arch-rivals. The gaze shifts quickly to film critics, both established and the legions of self-appointed online experts (like me... hey, wait a minute!!!). Apparently producer Jamie Kennedy has a bone to pick after the thrashing he got for his role in Son Of The Mask. (I sense he might not have been as motivated for this project if he'd just won the Oscar.) But it's not just him - he pulls up a virtual who's who of comedy and just about everyone seems traumatized and disillusioned to some extent.
Getting dozens of great comic talents like Harland Williams and Bill Maher to speak candidly for any length of time on any topic is a sure-fire way to guarantee some entertainment value. Ironically, this approach got more laughs out of me than most feature film screenplays.
Oh, there I go. I keep forgetting I'm part of this problem.
I was surprised to see the extent and the intensity of the online vitriol. A lot of what gets said does seem excessively mean and uncalled-for. Apparently morbid, extreme insults are a cheap way to gain notoriety and generate lots of web hits. (Just like shouting "YOU SUCK" is a quick and dirty way to gain attention from everyone in the auditorium.)
This picture clearly distinguishes doers from I-could-do-betters and the latter group doesn't fare very well under scrutiny. They showed a clip from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, screenplay by Roger Ebert, that makes makes Malibu's Most Wanted look worthy of the Palme D'or by comparison. And when 4 internet critics accept director Uwe Boll's challenge to a boxing match, well... let's just say they won't be lambasting his fight the way they did his films. (He pretty much knocks them all out, back to back, without even breaking a sweat.)
So as a documentary, I found Heckler to be very enlightening and provokative. (What am I doing here, picking apart other people's movies? Why don't I get off my ass and try making one?)
Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)
Rock solid classic Western.
This movie took me by surprise as one of the more effective revenge capers I've seen in quite awhile. It's really much more than a simple revenge movie, but it opens with an offense so outrageous, one could never rest without seeing the scoundrel put to justice. That seems like a very unlikely prospect for most of the film's running length.
The central theme is the classic Western notion of one man representing pure good stubbornly standing fast against overwhelming odds. Last Train combines the brainy suspense of 3:10 to Yuma and the provocative paranoia of High Noon, with a healthy serving of melodrama.
Kirk Douglas may not be as prominent as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood but his work here equals their best. He is extremely grim and convincing as the mightily offended protagonist. Anthony Quinn maintains his usual formidable presence as the heavyweight opponent.
If you're exploring the great Westerns or just looking for a good suspense thriller, this one is excellent.
Le Mans (1971)
Superb plot and character development... oh who am I kidding?
There's not much story here but there isn't much pretense, either. It's a racing movie and a damn good one at that. I'm not particularly devoted to the genre, but I found the footage to be very realistic and exciting. The script is there just barely enough to keep this from being a documentary. It does contain a tiny bit of insight, when a deceased racer's widow asks McQueen why is it worth risking one's life just to drive really fast. (I thought he had a pretty good answer.)
This movie is a well-rendered insider's view of a spectacular event from a bygone era. If this sounds like it might have some appeal to you, by all means, check this title out.
The Mist (2007)
Quality horror - what a concept!
Let me start by saying I think The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both vastly overrated. They're solid competent films, definitely a 7 out of 10, but the greatest ever made? No way!! So now you how I feel about this writer/director combination, going in to this film.
My expectations were modest, and they were greatly exceeded. This is one of the best horror films I've seen in a long time! I would rank it up with Misery and The Shining as the best of the Stephen King adaptations.
I found myself very much drawn in to the story, very uncertain and fascinated by what would happen to the protagonists. The obviously-computer-generated monsters didn't spoil things too much because ultimately their menace proves to be secondary. Director Frank Darabont has the good sense to allow strong writing and acting to trump the slightly-above-average special effects.
Thomas Jane is well-cast in the lead. I don't quite buy him as an artist, but he is very effective as the slightly vulnerable alpha male, trying to get himself and his young son out of a nasty predicament. Marcia Gay Harden plays one of the most odious villains you will ever see on screen, every bit as loathsome as Kathy Bates in Misery.
For the two hours this movie ran, time was suspended for me. What more can you ask from a film of this type? I won't spoil the ending, but I do need to thank Frank Darabont for not ruining the tone of the piece, the way they do with so many other films.
Hauntingly beautiful, subtle and engrossing.
This is one of those rare movies that takes on a life of it's own. The cinematography & direction transcend average competence to blend seamlessly with the script, adding textures and moods as rich as any novelist's prose.
The cast is excellent. Brad Pitt is in familiar territory as the charismatic but treacherous Jesse James. Casey Affleck delivers a very complex and courageous performance in the not so flattering part of the coward Robert Ford. Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner round out a rock-solid lineup.
An action thriller this is not. The plot is very unhurried, but with a bit of patience, you will be rewarded with a complex and fascinating tale. This is one of the most sumptuous-looking, natural-feeling movies I have ever seen.
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
I thought I'd seen most of Clint Eastwood's stuff. This title of his is more obscure and after watching it, I can see why.
Clint doesn't stand out very well in this ensemble cast. They don't give him so much as a single devastating one-liner - just flat dialog. Everyone else steals his thunder. If you look at this as a Telly Savalas / Don Rickles / Carroll O'Connor / Donald Sutherland vehicle, your expectations may be better served. The above mentioned names are all great talents in their own right and they make the comic relief suitably potent. This would be the film's greatest asset.
This film does boast some impressive action sequences, rendered almost too realistically for what is supposed to be a screwball comedy.
My biggest gripe might be the soundtrack. Could the song they use for the opening and closing sequence possibly be more corny?? It's hard to get in a WWII frame of mind when the audio is SCREAMING "late '60's". (All those expensive locations, props and costumes, ruined by some idiot with a guitar...)
Overall, it's not that bad, but it's certainly nothing great. The modern remake Three Kings is funnier, more exciting and even manages to sport a conscience without spoiling the rest of the package. And, very much unlike this flick, the stars are all utilized to their greatest potential.
An earnest but engaging contemporary political drama/thriller.
You occasionally see a news piece about covert overseas detention facilities and it usually doesn't make much of an impression. Rendition gives the issue a face, providing a first-hand look at what it might be like to get abducted, whisked halfway across the globe and interrogated in the most brutal fashion.
This film tries for awhile to be multi-faceted, to cover all possible points of view. As the shady CIA boss, Meryl Streep gets a few lines in edgewise in defense of what she does. The script teases us with notions of the abducted's guilt or innocence. Ultimately, the movie takes a pretty unambiguous stand against the Rendition policy. After viewing the plight of the victim's wife and kids, and witnessing the proceedings in the torture cell, this position seems more than understandable.
The movie is beautifully shot, and it features some very strong performances, particularly by Omar Metwally and Reece Witherspoon as the involuntarily-separated couple at the center of it all.
I found the overall package to be perhaps a tad earnest, but I still felt very much drawn-in. Rendition may not be a classic for all time, but it is vivid, engaging and provocative.
Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
One of Steve McQueen's best roles.
The commentary track for The Longest Day turned me on to this film. Steve McQueen, directed by Don Siegel? Can't miss that!
Made the same year as it's more grandiose cousin, Hell Is For Heroes is an entirely different war movie experience. If movies reflect the period in which they're shot, this seems to reflect the paranoia and nihilistic uncertainty of the post-Korea Cold War.
Laconic, antisocial and bitter, you've seen Steve McQueen play this role before but never so intensely! His Private Reese is very unsettling to watch.
Hell Is For Heroes was obviously shot on a shoestring, but what it lacks in epic settings and lavish production, it makes up for with quality storytelling. The sharp black and white matches the stark situation the protagonists are confronted with.
It's a very good film, not quite in the league of Platoon, Apocalypse Now or Thin Red Line. But fans of the genre, the director and/or the star should definitely check this one out.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
More subtle than Volume 1 (what isn't?) yet almost as much fun.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 is by far my favorite movie in recent memory. I've seen it 4 times and I still love every second. I love it for its outstanding boldness and relentless intensity.
Volume 2 is quite different from volume 1 that should be a given. Originally conceived as a single movie, one shouldn't expect the second half to mirror the first, especially when it's written and directed by Tarrantino. Don't expect another sassy knife fight or Kung-Fu bloodbath expect the unexpected.
This pertains especially to the pacing. Volume 1 was fast and furious but Volume 2 is more contemplative. There's more word play than sword play and all the characters get ample room to blossom... before they are killed.
Everyone is colorful and amusing. Tarrantino has a way of simultaneously building fondness and contempt for the players, such that when one heavy back-stabs another, you feel a mix of elation and annoyance. Go ahead and like someone, but don't get too attached
Kill Bill is brimming with great performances, any one of which would single-handedly carry an average movie. Michael Madsen is Budd, Bill's estranged brother. (The two have a complicated relationship.) Although he appears to have gone tender, Budd is not to be under-estimated! Larry Bishop is hilarious as the sleazeball boss of the strip club where Budd is slumming as a bouncer. Darryl Hannah plays Ellie Driver, a truly bitchy villain you'll love to hate.
David Carradine is the charismatic Bill. (aka: The Snake Charmer) In the opening sequence of Volume 1, we saw him at his very worst but most of the time he is surprisingly pleasant to be around. But by his own admission he is a murdering bastard and he seems to have a knack for royally pissing people off. We see this with his former mentor Hattori Hanzo, his brother Buddy, and most especially the film's protagonist, The Bride (played of course by Uma Thurman).
Uma continues to dazzle as she did in the first volume. Seldom has a heroine been cast in so many different lights. Depending on the scene, she can look plain or glamorous, confident or vulnerable, exuberant or despondent. Her moods go all over the map but they're always convincing.
There's a few very cool dual roles. Gordon Liu played the "Crazy 88" commander from Vol. 1 and in real life he's the fight choreographer. In Vol. 2, he plays Pai Mei, a lonesome hermit who is the high priest of all martial arts. (Apparently Tarrantino dubbed the voice in Cantonese!) It's highly amusing to watch him put Uma through her paces. (This sequence also helps to illustrate how Uma's character became the deadliest woman in the world and is able to prevail in one particularly hopeless situation.) You won't even recognize Michael Parks, who was the Texas Ranger in Vol. 1.
Volume 2 relies heavily on dialog. This has always been an exceptionally strong point for Tarrantino and he comes through as strong as ever in this picture. It takes some strain, however, to reconcile the more cerebral high of Volume 2 with the sensational absence of subtlety in Volume 1. You have to shift mental gears to appreciate the entire package. It's well worth the effort.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Let me just get one thing out there: this movie kicks ass!!! That thought repeated through my head many times as I leaned back in my seat, eyebrows raised, and took in the film for the first time.
There is little in the way of emotional attachment. That might be for the best. While you can certainly empathize at times, Uma Therman's character "The Bride" (a.k.a. Black Mamba) seems mighty grim as she pursues a quest of revenge against her former colleagues.
The plot, like the title, is laughable. Black Mamba gets ambushed on her wedding day. She survives, drafts a hit list 5 names long and sets out to get her revenge.
So how could such a simple storyline with limited emotional involvement turn into 3 hours worth of sheer movie bliss? Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed it, that's how! The genius is in the details. There's an abundance of nasty surprises that will challenge your tolerance and keep you wide awake. The slower interludes are loaded with tension, intrigue and humor.
No one's lovable, but everyone is memorable. Uma Thurman is terrific in the lead. You see her character from a few different aspects. Usually she's nasty and pitiless. Occasionally she's cute. At one point she has an outburst of grief that's pretty riveting. Lucy Liu is great as O-ren Ishi, the boss of the Tokyo underworld. While obviously lethal, she somehow maintains this beautifully elegant, almost fragile presence, all decked out in her kimono. Her henchmen are colorful and imposing, like the earlier James Bond heavies. Bill (David Carradine) is genuinely mysterious, all the more so because they haven't shown his face yet.
And then there's the action. The combat is phenomenal in its execution and mind-numbing in its scope. Just when you think that has GOT to be it, they keep piling it on. One sequence is the new Mt. Everest of Kung Fu. Seriously. That alone is more than enough to keep this film on the map. Be warned: it's not harmless Jackie Chan-style slapstick combat. The blood and gore is overwhelming.
As you would expect, the music selections are devastatingly cool, and they come from all over the map. There's '70s funk. Pan flute w/ orchestra. Tex Mex. A Japanese schoolgirl power trio. You name it
It's not just the music that's eclectic. Kill Bill is a very vivid fusion of American, Chinese and Japanese genres. (At least these are the most visible elements bear in mind that Tarantino seems to have seen every movie ever made anywhere.) The Japanese settings are stunning, and there's an entire segment beautifully done in a Japanese animation style called anime. This degree of savvy and reverence for the region is extremely rare among Western filmmakers.
All these elements are combined with great virtuosity to form a supremely entertaining movie thrill ride. You never know what's going to hit next, but whatever it is, it is likely to saturate the senses and challenge the brain. I didn't want for it to end, but I must admit: that level of intensity for 3 whole hours would be a bit much. So I can understand why they split it into two installments. Some people bitch about the severance, but I enjoyed volume 1 enough to see it twice and I can't wait to go shell out more dough and see volume 2.
Most American action films indulge in their gratuitous carnage behind a veil of contrived morality. This has come to irritate me enough to turn me off the genre. One thing I find very refreshing in Kill Bill is the absence of such pretense. It's all thrills and spills; no apologies, no disguises, no lectures.
Critics who object to this film seem to do so because it fails to pander to their various expectations. Here's a little news flash, people: it's Quentin Tarantino. If you go in expecting a repetition of his previous work or a movie that is in any way conventional and/or predictable, you're going to be disappointed and you deserve to be. I went expecting something bold, exciting and original, with plenty of violence and a few surprises. I couldn't have been more delighted.
Some of the best writing you will ever see.
Writer/director Todd Solondz last rocked my world with Happiness, which was the sharpest, most unflinching black comedy I'd ever seen. He does it again with Storytelling, keeping his impeccable edge while exploring some intriguing new turf. No doubt wary after his previous ventures, Solondz attempts to circumvent some of the criticisms that less savvy viewers are bound to make. Sure enough, they go ahead and make them; the reviews are polarized. But the film is a masterpiece.
The film has two parts. The first part, titled Fiction, focuses on a creative writing student Vi (Selma Blair), her Cerebral Palsy-stricken boyfriend Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick) and their professor Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom).
The classroom setting provides an unusual venue: a story writing workshop within a story. Solondz puts one of the characters through a perversely traumatic experience, which we witness as viewers of the movie. Before we have a chance to pass judgment on Solondz, his character writes about the event in the 3rd person and reads the story in class. All accusations one might level against Solondz (namely: bad taste, plus every "ism" in the book) get made by the fellow students, who detest the story. But in the context of the movie, they're condemning an account of an event that actually happened! Very clever...
In spite of some of the grotesque twists, I found myself laughing out loud fairly often. Solondz has a gift for rendering subtle ironies that become overwhelmingly funny.
The lead characters are fascinating and multi-layered. Vi seems innocent, but if you pay close attention, you'll notice she's not particularly sincere. One would like to root for Marcus, but his condition doesn't excuse him for being a lousy writer and a self-absorbed a**hole. The professor may be a monster, but he is also very frank.
The second part Nonfiction is also highly self-aware. It covers the making of a two-bit documentary. In the process, the dialog once again anticipates many of the charges some will make against Solondz (that he exploits his subjects and creates a sensational freak show for us to snicker at). There's a cameo role with Mike Schank, who was featured in real life in American Movie. The similarities between the documentary American Movie, the fiction Storytelling and the documentary within a fiction (tentatively titled American Scooby) are uncanny.
Scooby (Mark Weber) is the ultimate apathetic suburban slacker teen. While very much spoiled and sheltered, he is also alienated from, and resentful of, his elders. He perks up a bit when there are no grownups around, but most of the time the "stupid" barrier is up and his eyes are half-closed and red from smoking pot. He's such a lost cause, he attracts the attention of an aspiring documentarian (Paul Giamatti).
As you might expect, the rest of Scooby's family is a real piece of work. Scooby's dad (John Goodman) is loud and domineering. His mom (Julie Hagerty) is idiotic. His younger brother Brady (Noah Fleiss) is a jock, perhaps the closest to what we'd like to consider "normal".
The brainy youngest brother, Mikey (Jonathan Osser) is a real standout. He tags around with the overworked El Salvadorian housemaid Consuelo (Lupe Ontiveros) and asks her lots of questions. His curiosity is cute, but his conceited insensitivity truly boggles the mind.
Solondz definitely favors the sordid, but I'm not sure he does so gratuitously. I think he simply refuses to pretend, as so many other do, that the world is a tidy, simple place. (Those who seek to preserve such a notion are guaranteed to abhor his work.) But is it fair to berate Solondz just because he dares to present what others systematically avoid? Whose vision is more skewed: Solondz for pointing out the dog***t on our shoes, or the mainstream for ignoring it?
I wish I could agree that his writings are contrived and distorted, but I don't think they are. Through the media, through the grapevine and sometimes with my own eyes, I've seen events that are every bit as twisted and "wrong" as those Solondz creates. Everywhere I look, I encounter people who could easily be incorporated into a Solondz script.
Every storyteller recreates the world according to his/her own vision. Todd Solondz just happens to be vastly more perceptive and talented than most. Storytelling is one of the most insightful, clever and thought-provoking films I've ever seen. Watch it multiple times for maximum yield.
Southland Tales (2006)
I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid.
I give the film a 3 out of 10 because it does have some sharp moments where some sort of vision glimmers through. I particularly enjoyed watching Jon Lovitz shattering type. And it's good to see Nora Dunn and Will Sasso on the big screen.
But for the most part, this feels like the world's most expensive B-movie. It has a lot of scenes, most of which are professionally lit and well-composed through the camera, and they feature actors reading lines. And that's all there is - the parts don't add up to a whole.
I like weirdness and I like apocalyptic themes. I like social/political reflection and cinematic chaos. I don't require a movie to present a nice, tidy narrative arc. I do, however want to be drawn in, I want to believe at some level in what's happening on screen. And this movie didn't do that for me. None of these scenes are ever going to happen. They don't depict, or reflect on, a world in which we live. They're supposed to, but like a badly-drawn portrait, the resemblance isn't quite there. All I see is a bad rendering.
I honestly can't understand where all the positive hype for this movie is coming from. I suspect a case of the emperor's new clothes. If you genuinely enjoyed this film, I say the more power to you. Having made it to the end, I think it's a dud.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
A worthy vehicle for the near-invincible rage virus!
After a second viewing on DVD, this sequel really grew on me. At the theater, I was put off by what I thought at the time were absurdities in the plot. The incompetence of the U.S. military brass seemed too absolute to be believed. But when I think about it, a little disconnect can go a long way, especially when you're dealing with a beast like this virus.
This film is not a simple rehash of it's predecessor - it spins it's own yarn. While the horror elements are undeniable, Weeks is structured more like a disaster movie. The first act provides plenty of buildup and foreshadowing. I don't think I'll be giving much away if I say that at a certain point, things proceed less than perfectly. The writing is solid enough that I felt for the characters. Certain scenes delivered extra dramatic and/or tragic weight and there were many visual images that suitably conveyed the most ghastly of occasions.
Following an original breakout like 28 Days Later is a thankless task. If not quite as bold and original, Weeks acquits itself well, successfully maintaining my fascination with the overall scenario established in Days. If sensational bleakness is what you crave in your entertainment, this franchise is hard to beat.
I Am Legend (2007)
No 28 Days Later, but much better than Omega Man.
Of course, that's not saying a whole lot. Low as the bar was, Will Smith's version raises it with ease, with better acting and much better production design. (Always helpful when the deserted city is at least as important a character as the protagonist.)
I was impressed by how quick and morose the hordes of the infected are. Though they look a bit digital, I still say they're much more effective than so many idiots in white makeup and sunglasses.
This movie was surprisingly well-paced. They took great pains to establish a tangible eerie stillness, which in turn set the audience up nicely for the inevitable outbursts of activity.
I was pleased to see the climax didn't spoil the tone of the movie. And yet, the overall package was only moderately convincing. The narrative lies somewhere between empty calories and world-class fiction. Since I'm a sucker for all things post-apocalyptic, I'm glad I checked this title out. If not the creme de la creme, it certainly could have been much worse.
Three Kings (1999)
Taut, funny, exciting and provocative.
A friend of a friend of mine walked out of this film 1/4 the way through. Fair enough - it isn't for everyone. But there she was at a party, telling everyone how AWFUL it was, all violent and irreverent, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (This must surely be the exception to the rule that states everybody is entitled to their opinion.)
It's true, the first chapter is mostly greed and machismo. But once our protagonists find themselves in the midst of atrocities unfolding in Iraqi territory, their apathy is put to the ultimate test. Suddenly, the film has a very strong moral compass and everything from the first act goes completely out the window. All factions get a voice (even the dreaded Republican Guard heavies) and there's plenty of food for thought.
Ethical-correctness aside, I found Three Kings was plenty entertaining. The cast is great and there's quality humor interspersed at just the right moments. Director David Russell did a fine job, weaving together the various elements into a tight, satisfying package.
I highly recommend this film. But don't see it if you're squeamish! And if you are squeamish and you see it anyway (expecting a kinder, gentler heist/war story?) and you can't make it through the first half hour, please don't talk about it!!
Death Proof (2007)
Laughed my ass off!
The "missing reels" and added film scratches are an unnecessary contrivance. Try as they do to emulate the "Grindhouse" drive-in movie, they can't hide the fact that everything about this film is very much A-list. And that's a good thing.
Quentin Tarrantino has always had the ability to make me laugh, even as I'm clinging to the edge of my seat. This movie is no different. Some decry the vast quantities of dialogue that occupy most of the film's run time. I can tell you I enjoyed every second of it.
Tarrantino has a knack for reviving actors whose talents have been wasted by lesser filmmakers. This time it's Kurt Russell's turn to shine in the best role of his life and be 100% genuine badass.
Of course, the whole thing hinges on a big car chase - apparently the whole premise of this project was for QT to test his mettle and hopefully do the best chase ever. I don't know that he's completely blown away the likes of Vanishing Point, Bullitt or Magnum Force, but it's certainly comparable, in terms of visceral excitement.
This combined with the dramatic weight (if you want to call it that) yielded a finale that made me want to whoop and holler out loud. It's been quite some time since a movie has had that effect on me. So congratulations, Quentin; you've done it again.
3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
Fun at times but too long & clever for its own good.
At times this film delivers the high-octane action and intrigue just as promised. Unfortunately, it runs too long in too many directions and loses its "punch". It starts out as a Vegas heist caper. Then it turns into a road movie. Then it tries to be a mystery. Then they pump things back up with some mega-action but by this time they've lost me. It could have been a really satisfying package if they'd wrapped things up a good half hour sooner.
On the plus side, I have to say, this is my favorite Kevin Costner performance. Turns out he's REALLY good at playing the "heavy". Sure hope he does it again, maybe in a tighter movie. I credit him for making the absolute most out of a not-very-good script.
La môme (2007)
A genuinely moving biography.
I don't think I'll be spoiling anything if I reveal that in a later scene, we see Edith sing "Je Ne Regrette Rien" and it's a moment powerful enough to put a lump in my throat.
Biography films so often fall into that boring formulaic quagmire, it takes a lot to get me interested in the genre. It's very impressive, the way La Vie En Rose manages to rise above all this, to make the story feel fresh and exciting. Instead of dutifully reciting established highlights, the film seems more concerned with mood and emotion, the very things that make Piaf tick. It eschews the standard narrative arc in favor of more convoluted time-lines that seem to imply that the various stages of Piaf's life are interchangeable. (Wherever you look, it's a struggle.)
I was not a great fan of Edith Piaf, or of her brand of music, prior to watching this film. The music is so well-done, it won me over. The same can be said for the acting and the direction. Just like the subject, this is a tragic, beautiful, passionate work.
Das Boot (1981)
One of the best films of ANY genre!
When movies are at their best, they can take the viewer completely into a different world. Watching this movie again, I felt very much transported.
It seems unfair to call this a submarine movie because it is so much better rendered than any other offering from that genre. Das Boot transcends all the necessary clichés and tells an amazing story in an incredibly convincing way. In this rare instance, the writers understand that the truth is plenty fascinating, with no need for exaggerated action or melodrama.
Technically, this film is a marvel. The camera work is astounding, most of it done hand-held in a real submarine environment where it's hard enough to move, let alone shoot a movie. What special effects there are blend in so seamlessly, it's hard to imagine how they could have made this picture without putting the cast in harm's way.
It's a delight to see the director's cut which feels very natural in its pacing. There are long, slow sections which are not boring to watch, but they effectively illustrate what the crew has to endure as they wait weeks on end for some real action. When the action finally comes, the buildup is tremendous. Few movies match Das Boot's dynamic range.
All the technical and dramatic devices are in perfect harmony with the human element. One quickly forgets how this crew is fighting for Hitler's Third Reich. They're really just a bunch of kids, lead by a jaded captain. Their ordeal becomes so severe, it's impossible not to have sympathy for them. Because of this, Das Boot should be ranked among the very best of all war films.
30 Days of Night (2007)
The visuals are more memorable than the story.
I enjoyed this film as a quick empty-calories excursion. I was very impressed by the look and mood throughout. Kudos to the cinematographer for lots of very powerful, stark images. This isolated Arctic town is a pretty cool setting for a yarn like this - very original.
Alas, the story didn't knock me out the way was hoping it might. With an elemental struggle like this one, there's plenty of dramatic potential. That makes it all the more disappointing when said potential isn't realized. I'm assuming that the graphic novel was way hip but this movie feels like it lost its way somewhere at one of the script meetings.
But then, I wasn't expecting Shakespeare. So I give it a 7. It didn't sweep me off my feet but I was entertained. Josh Hartnett was very solid, by the way (though maybe a bit young for a sheriff).
Michael Clayton (2007)
A smart, taut '70s-style thriller, well-written and well-acted.
This movie exceeded my high expectations. The plot was tight and unpredictable, with none of the gratuitous flab that seems to plague SO many wannabe thrillers.
All the performances were right on the money. I particularly enjoyed George Clooney's more complex approach to his role. He can always dust himself off with another "Ocean's" installment, but in movies like Syriana, The Good German and this one, he seems to almost relish his character's diminished status. In Michael Clayton, we have an unhappy, financially and morally bankrupt flunky. This is hardly your typical hero. It's got to take some real confidence and talent for someone with Clooney's innate leading charisma to pull this off, and he does.
This is definitely not an action movie, it is a thinking person's thriller, rendered pretty much flawlessly by rookie director (but veteran writer) Tony Gilroy.
Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
Anyone can raise the body count - raising the bar is a little tougher.
Paul Giamatti's type-shattering performance as the villain makes me itch to give this film a 7 out of 10. Clive Owen didn't disappoint either and yet I can't bring myself to call this a good movie. It's a decent little chunk of brain candy, sufficient for a weeknight rental.
I guess I found these empty calories a little TOO empty. (And I liked Ultraviolet and Dusk Till Dawn II!) If you're going to stretch the suspension of disbelief as far as they do here, the humor needs to be stronger. Some action flicks (Kill Bill, Payback, James Bond) deliver good laughs AND excitement, but for me this film doesn't quite achieve either. It feels like a long exercise in gun ballet.
Like I said, Shoot 'Em Up isn't a total waste of time. The lead actors could probably read the phone book and make it entertaining. If you've got a couple hours to kill, this movie will do it. But if you're craving some quality cheese, this isn't it.
Can you say: "guilty pleasure"?
I used to tell everyone this was my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie, until I realized it's not by him. Oops... The gentleman whose hand I really was wanting to shake is Scott Spiegel. He hasn't directed much, but he's been around. He co-wrote Evil Dead II, so he's definitely well- versed in funny lowbuj horror.
Emphasis on funny. I just loved the comic energy that pervaded throughout this film. It was fun just to watch all the desperadoes ribbing each other in their good ol' Texas drawl. Pretty much everyone made me laugh, and the director was right there, hamming it up with oddball camera placements and Dick Dale musical cues. This film features my absolute all- time favorite gratuitous camera angle. It involves a pit bull and a water dish and it makes my week every time I see it. I also savor the debate held by the crooks as to the pros and cons of story development in porn.
Consider it a subtle hint as to how to best enjoy the movie. If you're set on real suspense and a more lavish production, you'll be sorely disappointed. On the other hand, if you have a sense of humor and an open mind, you may find this film to be a highly entertaining underrated gem. I know I did.
Coogan's Bluff (1968)
Warming up for Dirty Harry with style.
The transition is pretty obvious - the film starts out in the sagebrush before landing in the big apple. Clint Eastwood is ready to ease off the spurs and try crunching some pavement.
Playing the same general role under the same director just a few years apart, comparisons between Coogan's Bluff and the subsequent masterpiece Dirty Harry are unavoidable. Though closely related and crucial to the development of the latter, this movie is quite different. It reeks of the '60s (in a groovy, sometimes psychedelic way), and it's our last glimpse at a younger, less world-weary Clint. The pacing is more laid-back and the stakes are lower. Undeniably tough and smart, it's still plain to see that our protagonist hasn't quite come into his own in an urban setting. (That's part of the intended charm of this picture. But just you wait!)
If not a monumental work, Coogan's Bluff is still perfectly enjoyable. The characters are all fun and the action unfolds quickly enough. There are some good fights and a rather exciting chase. Overall, it's a fitting beginning to a very fruitful collaboration between Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel.