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Probably in the top-ten superhero movies
After the decent Thor, the disastrous Green Lantern and the under-performing X-Men, the Summer of the Superhero looked in danger of becoming its box office last stand instead. While Captain America may not break any records, and it likely won't surge much past 200 million domestic, it is still one of the best SH movies to come from the glut of the past decade.
It's first and last half hours are the most compelling. The former a rousing build up that actually has you caring about a character, and the latter a non-stop parade of action sequences, reminiscent of old time serials. Not quite in a league with 1978's Superman (still my benchmark for the genre) or The Dark Knight, but easily as good as any X-Men movie, and possibly better than Iron Man, Cap arrives just in time to give the bloated, sagging genre a shot in the arm. Time will tell if word of mouth will make it a smash, but it bookends Marvel's summer on an up note and should ramp up anticipation for "The Avengers" next summer.
Saving Private Rambo
I'll admit, when I first heard about another Rambo in the works, I shook my head and laughed, while at the same time my inner 15 year-old did a back-flip. I knew I'd be there opening weekend. How could I not be? Either it was going to be mindless fun (parts I & II) or a horrid train wreck (Rambo III). Either one should be entertaining.
Thankfully, its the former. Rambo was one of the best times I've had at the movies in awhile. It helped that the sold-out crowd was TOTALLY into it - cheering and clapping every time John J. went into action. It was more than just mass euphoria for the good old days of Sly's straightforward shoot'em ups though. I always thought Stallone was a by-the-numbers director, but here he proves that he really knows what works on a visceral level. This movie has some serious action scenes that deliver the goods with a punched-up, in your face intensity. Call it Saving Private Rambo.
The film wastes no time setting up the scenario of well-meaning missionaries in danger, and then follows the rescue/chase pattern of most other Rambo films - once the action starts, it gradually escalates to a bloody crescendo. I don't know what was louder, the 50 caliber that Sly blasts away with for a good ten minutes, or the cheers of the crowd watching him do it.
Some may call it dumb, but dumb really doesn't do a film that works this well justice. Simple is a better description, but who ever said K.I.S.S. was a bad thing? Sign me up for your next campaign Sly, I'll be there.
Massacred my brain...
Loud, annoying, headache inducing mess of a sequel. It's a very different film than the first - some defenders of it think that you have to judge it on its own terms. Okay, I am, and it's awful. I like good horror movies. I even like bad ones that are fun to watch. This is just painful. It's not scary, it's not even that gory, and it ain't funny either. It's all screams and blaring chainsaws...not my idea of fun. Dull, plot less and pointless.
Does it make me feel like I'm losing my mind watching it? Yes. Does that make it good? Hell no. Avoid at all costs. Seriously, this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (2006)
John, John, John!
What happened to you Johnny-boy? John Carpenter never used to rely on special effects (and bad ones at that) to make things entertaining. He used them judiciously to add to the story, but not to fall back on because there is nothing else in the script. The effects in this are terrible, ranging from lame CGI (added in at the last minute to "pump-up" some of the gore) to a cheesy guy-in-a-rubber-suit demon. Gah.
Remember Prince of Darkness, John? The huge black hand - the only part that we see of the Anti-Christ - that was scarier than anything in Pro-Life. Much. much more frightening than a rubber monster. I realize that if you just had a big, shadowy figure roaming the halls in Pro-Life, many viewers would think it was a cop-out, but your fans wouldn't. Instead, most of us probably think that showing us everything was the cop-out.
Whatever your next budget is, cut it in half so you make a good movie.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Another Carpenter flick that's grown on me
I used to think there were two types of John Carpenter movies: Ones that I love (most of his movies) and ones that I hate (Escape from LA, Village of the Damned) The latter category is dwindling as I re-watch some of his films that I wrote off the first time around. BTILC is one that is starting to grow on me. Yeah, it's a broad, simplistic, chaotic mess - but it is definitely entertaining. Russell plays a great buffoon, the action and effects are pretty solid, and the idea as a whole predates Hollywoods eventual embrace of Kung Fu films by fifteen years or so.
I only hope that all of JC's movies end up respected in certain circles. The guy is one of the most consistent performers in all of Hollywood. His movies hit a chord at the start and maintain it through to the end. Few directors have such an instantly noticeable style. Now get back to work Johnny.
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Not quite the train wreck I originally thought.
I knew this movie was in trouble when I watched Kurt Russell appear on a talk show months before it opened. The host asked him why he was growing his hair out. Kurt smiled at the audience and said "getting ready to play Snake!" He was expecting cheers and applause. He was met with the air conditioning clicking on.
Then the week it opened, he was promoting EFLA on Jay Leno. They went to the surfing scene, and Kurt looked like an uncomfortable salesman demonstrating a product he knows nobody wants. When the scene was over, the audience reacted with polite, strained applause.
Not that this really bothered me. Escape from New York was one of those movies that I loved and most people hadn't heard of. I liked it that way. I did, however, want to see the sequel succeed and maybe launch a franchise.
A movie I had been waiting for most of my childhood/teenage years finally arrived and landed like a big, wet turd on the sidewalk. Critics hated it, nobody went to see it, and I couldn't blame them one bit. I wanted to like the movie. i really did. But I couldn't. I found the effects awful, the acting lame, the action scenes totally lifeless (not to mention ridiculous and stupid), and the whole movie a flatly shot, lazy retread of the first . I left the theater seething and hating John Carpenter.
I still can't say that I like the movie. I still think all the things above. But I have come to appreciate some other aspects of EFLA. The current state of politics probably has a lot to do with it. I've always loved John Carpenter's movies, but is the guy psychic too? Islam illegal, all moral undesirables outlawed, etc...Patriot Act in ten more years? A religious nut for a president...Robertson even looks like Bush. A Police controlled population...we're on our way. As I watched this again (I finally forked over $5 for the DVD - the only Carpenter film I didn't own) I began to see some of the brilliance in this movie. I'll bet the screenplay read a lot better than this movie was executed.
I still don't get the cheesiness of it - the original was serious as a heart attack and so much more subtle. This is a clunky, over the top satire that to me sits uncomfortably next to EFNY.
I do love that ending though. American Spirit baby.
The Sentinel (1977)
Alternately dull and weird
I have to admit that I watched the first thirty minutes and was so bored that I sped through the next hour, stopping when it looked interesting.
There are two very creepy scenes. One where a girl's dead father shambles after her in a dark room, and another where a literal parade of "freaks" tries to get the same girl to kill herself. Weird and unsettling in the extreme.
Most other scenes are nonsensical (FF notwithstanding), and could easily be removed from the movie without affecting anything. The film has no momentum and characters come and go with no real purpose.
Beverly D'Angelo's masturbation scene, however, would have gone down in folklore history if more people had seen this boring mess.
The rest is laughable. Chris Saradon's acting at the end is too google-eyed to be taken seriously, and Burgess Meredith is about as scary as Grandpa Simpson. If this was some studio's answer to the Exorcist, I'm amazed they're still in business.
King Kong (2005)
The Best Version of the King
Aside from a few brief scenes that shall remain nameless, I though this movie was excellent. The CGI is superb but for a couple quick shots. Anyone who says otherwise just wants to hate this film.
The buildup to Skull Island is the weakest part of the film, but completely necessary. This is one of those three hour films that goes by like ten minutes. The emotions were right on, and the climax was truly heartbreaking. In my opinion, this is the best version of this film. It tops the original in realism, character motivation and emotional impact.
Nice job, Pete.
Batman Begins (2005)
Good movie, bad action.
I'm only going to focus on the bad because everything else in the movie works. This came so close to hitting the bullseye...but there is something seriously wrong with a superhero movie that has lame action scenes. I don't think you ever even see Batman land a punch. Chris Nolan must have watched The Bourne Supremacy for inspiration. It's all quick movements, blurry cuts and sound effects...very frustrating. Was it that there wasn't time to train Bale or was it just laziness? The first action scene is forgivable because there is the big reveal of the mask and costume, but every other scene is the same way. It's like every explosion has to be cut halfway through and every punch has to be a head and shoulders shot. Next time pull the damn camera back. Look at First Blood, The Terminator, Die Hard... that's how you shoot and edit action.
The only other thing that hurt the film was Bale's delivery a couple of times, especially the last line. If he had just toned it down a little bit...otherwise he was great.
Year of the Dragon (1985)
An Interesting Mess
Somewhere in this stylish, violent, great-looking, meandering mess is a good movie, but it's not so easy to find. This is basically a character study of a disenchanted Vietnam vet turned cop who's trying to win a personal war, which happens to be directed at the Chinese mafia. Mickey Rourke's solid acting and Michael Cimino's direction and visual flare are the biggest assets. Oliver Stone's screenplay is muddled and too preachy at times, and the performance by "Ariana" as the reporter is amateurish at best.
Overall this is a movie you can sink your teeth into and really get lost in another world, but the world isn't that much fun to visit. Too many scenes just seemed contrived, and the idea that this is supposed to be an important "event" movie is hammered home. Lastly, the music score is really bad, and the final, awkward scene is just plain stupid.
Still, worth a look.
Still missing something.
Lucas pours on the special effects and action for one final blowout, but its still not quite enough. The film is entertaining on a visual level, but like the other prequels, it has no heart. There are so many scenes that should have had more impact, but they are killed by flat, cliché-ridden dialog. Why can't these characters talk to each other like human beings? What's wrong with having a little emotion on their faces? You've got this massive betrayal going on, all these innocents killed, and characters react like they're doing a line reading around a conference table. I know that most of these people are good actors, so I can only assume it's George telling them to be more robotic.
For instance, when Anakin betrays Mace, just a second of a reaction shot, just a moment between the two of them that says something, would have been nice. Little things like that are whats missing from the picture.
The only scene that illicited genuine emotion from me was when Anakin entered the chamber where the "younglings" were. (George, call them 'children' for gods sake, 'younglings' makes them sound like baby chickens or something). That gave me chills.
Overall, the whole thing feels empty. I didn't feel any sense of tragedy at Anakin turner into Vader. (and the change isn't all that convincing - he's disgusted with himself one minute and then totally gives in a second later) Didn't buy it.
Even the special effects - as great as they are - just don't seem to fit with the series. All the flipping and flying around - which couldn't be done in the seventies - looks and feels like something completely different than what people went crazy for back in the day.
It's fun, sometimes thrilling, but still not movie magic.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Like the first film, I came out of this wishing it had been better. Here's why: The effects are pretty good but are still a bit choppy. I've decided I don't like Tobey Maguire as an actor and especially as Peter Parker. Alfred Molina makes for a bland villain. Some parts are really corny and needlessly stupid. The love story takes up way to much of the film and feels endless.
On the plus side, the action scenes are pretty cool and do capture the feel of the comic. If only there had been a little more of it.
Just a few quick comments. Overall, a 6. Don't believe all the ridiculous hype.
Best of the series
When I saw the first movie two years ago - I have to say I was disappointed, but I also had not read the books and was unfamiliar with the story. Once I did read the books and saw the movie again, I really liked it. Then came the Two Towers, which I thought was great.
Now comes ROTK, and I think it is easily the best of the series. Amazing effects, powerful scenes - three hours and twenty minutes have never gone by so quickly. There are scenes in this that are simply amazing. One of the most spectacular movies ever made. Only the end (yeah, I know) begins to drag, but its necessary for closure.
Overall, its amazing. I think it will win best picture and Jackson will finally get best director.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Disappointing End To The Series
This took its time getting started. The first hour offers a few "been there/seen that" kung fu/machine gun/exploding concrete wire fights, and, like the last one, lots of conversations that don't really go anywhere.
I think the biggest problem I had is that all the characters are out of their elements, and as a result the action scenes are very different than what we're used to. In fact, most of the really good action scenes go to secondary characters. Morpheus and Trinity are given little to do, and even Neo takes a backseat until the last half hour or so.
Halfway through we get the battle for Zion. This is where the movie really hits its stride. This is one amazing sequence that goes on for half an hour. Worth the price of the ticket alone.
Then we get the wrap-up, with Neo fulfilling his destiny. This is where i felt the movie really fell apart. The entire showdown with Smith and the reasoning behind it seemed forced, and their fight was way too overblown. It was like something out of Superman 2. You would think that would be a good thing, but its not. Their fight in the first one was much better.
The entire conclusion is murky and unsatisfying. It makes the whole series seem like much ado about nothing. Some like it that way. To me, it feels like the W brothers didn't know how to finish what they started.
Mystic River (2003)
Liked it but...
I was really expecting a little more out of this movie, and I can't even say what. To me, it just seemed like another murder mystery with exceptionally good acting and story telling. I guessed the killer/situation halfway through(The same thing happened in Eastwood's "Blood Work" - there's a scene so obvious that you just go "oh...that's what happened.")
There's more to this film than just a mystery - it deals with personal demons and how difficult it is to change who you are, no matter how much you change your life. A lot of it rings true, and the film is extremely realistic, but as a whole, Mystic River wasn't as enchanting as I wanted it to be.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
If it weren't a remake, i think I would have been bored with this movie. The only real interest I had was seeing what they kept and changed from the original.
As a remake of a classic horror film, it makes a good try but falls a tad short. For one, it's much too "slick" looking. The first one works because it seems real - like a documentary. This one comes across as "See? Here's where leatherface makes his skin masks. Isn't it WEIRD?" In other words, this one is trying to be strange and unsettling where the first one just plain was.
Also, getting rid of the hitchhiker character (or changing it as they did) was a big mistake in my book. Although no one could top Ed Neal for a total whacko, I still think this movie needs that character. I guess R. Lee Ermy kind of replaced him, and they used this hitchhiker to set up their slightly different (and admittedly less coincidental than the original) storyline.
Overall, just OK. Some shocks along the way, but by the end its all kind of numbing and your like "enough with the saw already." It has none of the creepy atmosphere that makes the first so compelling. This was just another slick horror film made for teenagers.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Creepy and atmospheric
This movie is definitely dated and a bit cheap looking (it was cheap) but it's so damn weird that you find yourself thinking about it for days. The hitchhiker is one of the strangest characters ever commited to film. All the little things he pulls out of his fur "purse" and what he does with them...creepy. Leatherface is of course a classic american psycho right up there with Jason and Freddy - although he's scarier because he's realistic. Not superhuman, just demented....I really could imagine a guy doing that (supposedly Ed Gein came pretty close).
Overall is it scary? Not really, just effectively strange and mind-bending. By the time its over, you really feel like you've been trapped in that house and almost made into ground beef.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Entertaining But Overrated
I'll say this about QT - he's one of the most stylish directors to ever work in the movies. He approaches things from skewed angles, picking up stories in progress and then going back and filling in the blanks. His movies are never boring; but I do think they suffer from a definite lack of substance. I realize substance was one thing KB wasn't really going for, but his other films don't have a lot of depth either. They come on strong and fascinate, but they don't exactly make you think. Not that every movie has to, but I think if QT wants to have a lengthy career, he needs to break out of his seventies fixation and show some variety.
Seventies fixation is what KB is all about. From the "Shaw Scope" opening to the snap-zoom close ups, much of Kill Bill is violent, colorful fun. Uma is great in the lead, and the supporing characters are cool. I have to say that I was disappointed by the final battle, though. I looked forward to it the whole time, and when it finally came, it all just seemed...average. There's better sword-fighting and wire-work in Crouching Tiger, the fight with the Go-Go girl is unexceptional, and the highly touted bloodbath is mostly in black and white! This really annoyed me because I know it was just done to get an R rating. To me, the b & w took most of the fun out of the scene. Hopefully the DVD will restore it.
Overall, KB was pretty cool, and I was ready to watch part 2 when it was over. I think now that QT has done his ultimate homage to kung fu films he should tackle another of his passions and do the ultimate comic book movie.
Overall, this was a letdown. Like many superhero movies, this takes too long to get going, and just when it begins to get really good...its over. And this time with a tacked on, forehead-slappingly bad ending.
The biggest problem with this movie was the story...too much repressed memory mumbo jumbo that really wasn't necessary. I respect the fact that they were trying hard to give the film some weight and emotional depth, but in my opinion they failed. I couldn't care less about Banner's inner-struggle...it just took up space between brief Hulk sightings. As I've always said, of all the genres, there's nothing worse than watching bad drama.
Another problem was the comic-book style editing. I liked the split screens because they showed you different angles of what was going on and it was interesting. But the stupid freeze-frames that try to capture the feel of a comic panel? Annoying and cheesy looking. A movie isn't a comic book and doesn't have to look like one. Do book adaptations ever resort to typed passages of the text in the middle of the movie to make you feel like you're reading? No. They may use narration of the text, but that's audio and it fits in the medium of film. What it boils down to is when a guy gets blown up in a comic book movie, he should be thrown across the room, not frozen in a still frame with a white border around it. That is the kind of stuff that brings this film to a screeching halt at times.
Out of two hours and fifteen minutes, I'd say I enjoyed about forty minutes of this. The first couple of Hulk scenes? So-so. The dog fight? Pretty cool but too dark and confusing. The whole escape/desert chase? Right on. The ending? Oy.
Overall, a big disappointment. Better luck next time fellas. If there is one.
Best movie of the summer so far
Having seen The Matrix, X2, and the Hulk, I can honestly say that I liked T3 the best of all of them. Lots of action, humor and a good story that doesn't feel contrived.
That being said, how does it stack up to T1 and T2? It's hard to say. The first two films definitley have a different look and feel to them. This one seemed more flatly shot and less atmospheric. T2 was such a mind-blowing surprise when it came out that everything before it was blown out of the water, and it has become the benchmark for everything since. Because there are so few surprises left for movies to offer, this doesn't give you that sense of awe, like you're seeing something for the first time.
It does, however, give you old school action by the bucketload. Cars, buildings and bathroom stalls (you'll see) explode with such reckless abandon that you can't help but enjoy it. And just when it begins to become too much - the story takes a twist and sucks you in. Also, Arnold looks better than he has in years and its great to see him back in his signature role.
Some have said the ending is a letdown. I disagree. Though it may be understated, I think it's the best ending of a movie in a very long time. It doesn't cop out, and leaves you wanting more.
Overall, very entertaining. Arnold's best since the last one.
Avenging Angelo (2002)
Believe me, nobody wants to see Sly reclaim his former glory more than me, but "Avenging Angelo" ain't the way he's gonna do it. I cringed when I saw it on the shelf in the video store - Sly's second straight to video dud - but I rented this one too. "Eye See You" wasn't all that bad...he's had worse go to theaters...but "AA" is totally D.O.A. Stallone is good, but Stowe is over the top and annoying - she's trying too hard to make everything "zany" and "madcap". And the "wacky banter" - Sly tries to blame a farting corpse on "bloated squirrels stuck in the walls"(???!) - is just horrible.
Many scenes are stupidly overdone - the shoe scene, the shooting the ceiling scene, the adultery scene, all those pointless romance fantasies - they're trying to be funny but that's all they are...trying. In fact, the whole movie is. I watched half of it on fast forward, stopping occasionally to see if it improved. It didn't. Even the climactic fight is lame. Sly's worst.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Good but not great sequel
Overall, it's good. Go see it. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If you're a geek who already thinks he lives in The Matirix, nothing will please you. If you hated the first one, you will hate this one. If you didn't see the first one, what the hell are you waiting for?
Now, a few things about it:
The good: The action is sweet. Forget the crap you hear that the big sequences dissapoint. They don't - unless you're a nerd who can quote the Matrix by heart, dresses like Neo and thinks that he, too, is "The One." The Burly Brawl and the car chase had the theater cheering when I saw it. There are a few quick moments where things look a tad fake, but they pass quickly. Overall, the effects are some of the best ever put on film.
The bad: It seems like whenever a character is seen for the first time in the film, he or she must deliver a five-minute, eye-glazing monologue. Sometimes it's necessary, sometimes it's not. There's a lot of information to take in, and unfortunately it's mostly delivered like a boring philosophy lecture.
The reason some people don't like it: I think it's because the mystery from the first film is missing. You already know the deal with the Matrix (or do you?) and so it just becomes an action movie. What new mysteries there may be are either not fully explained or explained in the painful fashion mentioned above. But it is supposed to be the first part of a bigger movie, so I'm assuming all will be revealed in November.
Improves On The First In All The Right Ways
As a fan of the comic from way back, I more or less enjoyed the first X-Men flick, but I definitely had issues with it. I thought overall it was too short, with not enough action, a thin story and not much emotional depth.
It was as if Bryan Singer read my mind, because all of those things have been improved upon. X2 runs thirty minutes longer, has more(and better) action scenes, a good story and a kind of Empire Strikes Back tone, involving us more in the future of these characters.
It's still not perfect - I still could have used another big set-piece battle towards the end and it does have its slow spots - but overall this may be the best comic book film to come out since "Blade" kickstarted the new wave in '98. It definitely tops the first one, and I'd go so far as to say it was better than "Spider-Man".
My only suggestion for X3 would be more Colossus. His one brief scene was one of the most exciting.
Mr. Deeds (2002)
I like most Sandler movies, but this one sucked like an Armadillo on crack. No real laughs, just a few scattered chuckles. Every scene ends with a resounding thud. The fact that somebody wrote this and thought it was funny, read this and thought it was funny, directed it and thought it was funny and starred in it and thought it was funny astounds me. Not since "Nothing But Trouble" has such a mainstream comedy been so bad. Nearly unwatchable.
I'm not usually a fan of movie musicals, but this was one of the most energetic, stunningly directed and edited movies I've ever seen. The plot is fairly simple - as with most musicals - but the flashy visuals and great performances more than compensate. This is really a great, entertaining movie.