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Last update: September 30, 2016 - Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who (classic & revival), Doctor Thorne, Downton Abbey, Indian Summers, Star Trek Enterprise, The Night Manager, True Detective, Weeds (& Space Above & Beyond update)
As is to be expected, most of the truly most expensive films concern big action films, high-concept comedies, period pieces and otherwise special-effects laden films, or a combination of some of the above. Another reason for a high budget would be a cast including many big actors.
Or 258 films from 1926 to 2022
The Abrams Awakens
In 2005 I was in a massive, packed theater on opening day for "Revenge of the Sith", convinced it would be the final "Star Wars" movie. The mood was electric, the audience was buzzing with excitement and there were massive cheers and applause every time a new character appeared on screen. It was an incredible moment and one I was sure I'd never experience again.
In 2015 I was in a massive, packed theater on opening day for "The Force Awakens". There was a smattering of applause at the beginning and end of the film and when the Falcon, Han Solo and Chewbacca first appear. There were also a few laughs for a couple of scenes. Other than that, silence. Walking out of the theater, surrounded by hundreds of moviegoers, no one uttered a word. Everyone just shuffled out in a deathly quiet.
Now don't get me wrong, "The Force Awakens" is a fantastic movie and the best thing JJ Abrams has ever done. However it also underwhelmed me in a way Episodes I to III never did. There is enough good, even great in it, and I have enough good will towards the series to name it my favorite film of the year, but I also have major problems with it, which range from the outer packaging all the way to the creamy center.
Everything you feared since hearing JJ Abrams was directing has come to pass (lens flares aside). His obsession with the first three films as well as "real sets, practical effects" is taken much too far. You can see everything coming from a mile away, none of the mysteries and twists work and there is zero emotional weight to the film. The endeavor also suffers from a major case of telling rather than showing and as such we are pleadingly being asked to love our new heroes rather than liking them of our own volition.
Of the new characters, Snoke and Hux are great, Kylo Ren is the weakest villain the series has ever had, Captain Phasma is useless, Rey and Finn are fine, Poe Dameron makes no impression whatsoever and BB-8 is pretty cool but very redundant.
Again it's a great film, and I'll see it again in theaters. Just be careful to keep your hype in check.
Wild Card (2015)
Competent action thriller that wants to be a drama
Wild Card has been a passion project of Jason Statham's for several years, the actor having even secured Brian De Palma for the director's chair at one point. With De Palma stepping away, Statham enlisted the competent but much less exciting Simon West with whom he'd already collaborated on The Mechanic and The Expendables 2.
West was excited to work with legendary screenwriter William Goldman again after The General's Daughter and assembled an impressive supporting cast around Statham, the likes of Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, Jason Alexander and many more. A vastly underrated actor, Statham easily holds his own among these and gives a fine performance as Nick Wild, first played in the 1986 original by Burt Reynolds.
That picture was a notoriously troubled production that left a sour taste in William Goldman's mouth, but he obviously thought highly of his screenplay, as story-wise, Wild Card plays almost exactly like the original, beat-by-beat. However, watching the on-screen proceedings it is hard to believe this is the same man responsible for such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride and so many others.
From its top notch cast to its look and pacing, Wild Card feels like it wants to a gritty drama, a moody character piece with bursts of action in the vein of Michael Mann's Collateral, a film with which it shares quite a few characteristics. Unfortunately it never quite reaches the heights of its ambitions, the film being unable to conjure up something special, unexpected, original enough to put it over the top.
That is not to say it doesn't deliver. Without saying much, the film draws you into this world easily and convincingly. The acting is very strong and the characters pretty appealing. The writing is sharp. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson gives the film a distinctive look and the editing is excellent. The score is composed by the ultra-talented Dario Marianelli. And then there's the action.
While there are only but a few of them, the action scenes, handled by Hong Kong legend and frequent Statham collaborator Cor(e)y Yuen, are incredible, exhilarating and eminently memorable. Even more to the film's credit, each one is very different, both through their visual and musical presentations.
All this makes for a perfectly serviceable film but one unfortunately stuck between two worlds. Which makes it quite a shame that Brian De Palma backed out of the project as his style would have no doubt elevated Wild Card to something pretty fascinating.
A classic, but well-made and formidably acted biopic
I basically knew nothing about French pop superstar Claude François before seeing this film, apart what he looked like, a couple of his songs and how he died.
A talented filmmaker, Florent-Emilio Siri has surrounded himself with a stellar cast and captures dazzling visuals to deliver what ends up being a rather classic, well-made musical biopic that (re)introduces the singing sensation to the 21st century.
On the down side, the film sometimes plays like a highlight reel of sorts, seemingly jumping from one flagship scene to the next without taking the time to explain the significance of events unfolding to the unfamiliar viewer, while at the same time jumping over portions of François' life that look like they might have quite some importance.
However on the positive, apart from the aforementioned excellence of the actors and the incredible shots scattered throughout the picture, Cloclo also gives an insight into an aspect of the musical industry that is rarely seen on film, which is the "industrial" production of songs, creation as seen through a committee rather than a single artist. Quite fascinating.
Les adieux à la reine (2012)
Unconventionally wonderful period film.
A marvelous film. Very rarely does a film based on fact, especially a story as infamous as this one, succeed at creating such tension despite the fact that everyone knows pretty much what is going on and what will happen (United 93 springs to mind). As it is director Benoît Jacquot and his team have done a incredible job in capturing the confusion, uncertainty and pure dread that those living at Versailles in the final days of the Monarchy must have felt. Seriously, anyone who's ever dismissed period dramas and films based on true stories as "stuffy", slow and boring should give this one a shot. The cast is also exceptionally strong, led by a group of immensely talented female performers. The only downside is really the ending, unfortunately, slightly anticlimactic and a bit of a let down.
Real Steel (2011)
A Spielbergian movie with a lot of heart
Most of the time, if a film director hits the big time, it's usually that one of his films, early on in his career, has made a huge smash and given him status and power. This is the case for people like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Shyamalan, Cameron, etc... However, if there's one director that has been steadily moving up the ranks of the Hollywood over the past ten years or so, starting out small and tackling on bigger, more ambitious and more prestigious projects as he goes on, it's definitely Canadian filmmaker Shawn Levy.
The man started out directing episodes of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows such as Animorphs or The Famous Jett Jackson in the late nineties, moved on to directing kids from those types of shows in their big screen efforts, such as Big Fat Liar and Cheaper By The Dozen and used the success of these films to bag ever more prestigious comedies, from The Pink Panther remake to Night At The Museum to Date Night. And while critics have mocked him and dismissed him, calling him an untalented hack, he has now graduated to a big, science-fiction blockbuster produced by Steven Spielberg himself, Real Steel.
Like a couple of other recent sci-fi releases, I Am Legend and The Box, Real Steel is based on a story by celebrated genre writer Richard Matheson. Well it is actually loosely based, or as the credits put it "partly based" on it. Indeed, Real Steel basically only retains the fact that robot boxers have replaced human boxers in the future from Matheson's story, which is probably a good thing as its twist ending is now so widely known.
Real Steel takes place in the very near future, barely ten years from now. Not much is different other than the fact that robot boxing is one of the most popular sports in the world and the phones, computers & co are much more advanced. Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, is a former boxer turned small-time "robot trainer". Constantly in debt, he tours the US in his truck, looking for fairs where he can have his robot fight for cash. Things get complicated for him when the son he never cared about enters his life, finds an old robot in a scrap-heap and decides to have him fight.
Earlier this year, media outlets all over made a big fuss about the fact that Steven Spielberg had produced Super 8, which in their mind made Super 8 as much a Spielberg film as a JJ Abrams film. For some reason no such fuss has been made about the three other films Spielberg personally produced this year, be it Transformers 3, Cowboys & Aliens or Real Steel. Interestingly though, Real Steel is just as Spielbergian as Super 8, if not more. At the world premiere of the film in Paris, Hugh Jackman told us how the film was about a son and his father, and how the young Dakota Goyo is the heart of this film. I initially scoffed at this but when the film ended a couple of hours later I knew he was speaking the truth. The science-fiction robot ass-kicking element of the film is just a sheen under which the real subject shines through: the relationship between a father and his son.
Real Steel is actually a sports movie. The fact that it is about boxing robots is essentially irrelevant and simply serves to give it an identity and a cool factor. It could have been about human boxing, football, baseball, car racing, whatever, and the story wouldn't have changed, which is in my mind one of the film's big strengths. The story of Real Steel isn't particularly original, but it is instead a classic story, that speaks to our primal emotions as human beings. It is a David vs Goliath story that had the packed theater cheering, clapping and reacting like I've seldom seen a movie audience react.
The film is beautiful to look at, the fights are cool and the acting is of high caliber. Danny Elfman's music is effective but not particularly original and will remind you partly of his "emotion theme" for The Kingdom and partly of every sports movie music ever made. The rest of the music is mostly comprised of Eminem songs, apparently the most popular singer in the future. Contrarily to what another reviewer here said, I found the ending to be realistic and hugely satisfying.
The big difference between Super 8 and Real Steel is that while Super 8 is perhaps more enjoyable "in the moment" due to it being more high concept and having more stuff going on all the time, like everything JJ Abrams does it seems to lack in something and is somewhat forgettable. Real Steel, despite featuring many cold, metal robots, as a warm, beating heart at its core and for that I say: well done, Shawn Levy, well done.
Your run-of-the-mill EuropaCorp action flick
If there is one French director the non-French general public knows about, it's Luc Besson. Even if the name means nothing to you, chances are you've heard of the films he's had a hand in. Among his most famous films are Léon: The Professional (which introduced American audiences to Jean Reno and Natalie Portman), Nikita (which has been remade into an American film and two American TV shows so far) and The Fifth Element (which nearly 15 years later remains one of the most famous science-fiction films as well as one of the 10 most expensive French films).
At the dawn of the new millennium, Besson started his own production company, EuropaCorp, which in the last ten years or so has funded its fair share of diverse movies, both in the French and English language. Nevertheless Europa (as it's known in short) is best known to mass audiences for its numerous, high-octane, medium-budget action films, most of which are written or co-written by Besson himself (often with Karate Kid screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen). Among these are the Taxi, Transporter and District B13 series of films, Wasabi, Taken, From Paris With Love, Danny The Dog (also known as Unleashed), Bandidas, Kiss Of The Dragon, Yamakasi, Crimson Rivers 2, Hit-man,... Through these films, Besson is also responsible for introducing the world to Parkour, which seems to have taken over action cinema in the past 5 years (and even making its way to films such as Step Up 3D).
Colombiana is another product from Besson's action film factory. The story starts in 1992 in Bogota, where some mob guy, Don Luis, orders a hit against a former associate of his who he considers has betrayed him, and naturally his whole family. Only young Cataleya Restrepo escapes the bloody shootout during an intense Parkour chase (what else?), and manages to reach her uncle in Chicago, to whom she swears that she'll become a hit-man and avenge her family. Fast-forward and enter Zoe Saldana as adult Cataleya as the rest of the film takes place, strangely enough, in 2007. With her uncle's help, Cataleya has indeed grown up to be an awesomely skilled contract killer, having performed 22 jobs in 4 years. However, she signs each of her kills with a message destined for her real prey, making her one of the FBI's most wanted. When the FBI decides to divulge her "serial killer" status, Don Luis and his men know what's up, and all hell breaks loose.
Much has been said of the film's similarity with Besson's Léon and Nikita, with many people musing that the film could just have well have been a sequel to Léon with Natalie Portman's character all grown-up and kicking butt (something fans have been dreaming about for years). Now I haven't seen Nikita, but while there are similarities between Léon's Mathilda and Colombiana's Cataleya, the two films are definitely not on the same level. Colombiana is really your typical, run-of-the-mill Besson action production, which is really not a bad thing. It is not in the top-tier of these films (where I place films such as Taken and Danny The Dog), but still a perfectly entertaining romp.
Viewers concerned with director Olivier Megaton due to the perceived lack of action in Transporter 3, his previous film, need not be concerned. The action here is almost non-stop, pretty much to the detriment of plot. While the story has potential and could make for a film with a lot more depth, whatever plot is here is minimal to the max, recycled, cliché and basically a hodge-podge of all previous hit-man/revenge/on-the-run-from-the-law films you've ever seen. There is absolutely zero character development whatsoever and if you didn't know that Cataleya's parents were murdered by Don Luis, you would have no idea why any of the characters are doing what they're doing. I'm not exaggerating, the Transformers films, heavily criticized for this reason, have more character development.
But lack of plot depth isn't really a negative here. More depth would have certainly made it a better film, but Colombiana is still entertaining as a simple, straightforward, "dumb" B action flick. Like all EuropaCorp films, production values are top-notch. The expected Parkour chase is kept fresh by having it unfold with a child. Zoe Saldana gives a great physical performance and spends a great deal of time flitting in and out of vents and the various hits shown in the film are all quite cool. The other actors also do fine, though Michael Vartan's character has very little purpose and is actually barely in the movie. Also this might be the only movie you'll ever see in which toothbrushes are used as weapons.
In short, know what to expect from Colombiana (which literally means Colombian woman by the way), and you'll enjoy it fine. It's a straight-up action movie, no more, no less, very low on plot, high on action, that falls straight into the heap with the scores of other similar Besson-produced films, though it doesn't possess the touches of humor that most of his other productions have. In comparison to the other hit-man movies of the year, it's superior to The Mechanic, but way inferior to Hanna (though it contains a lot more action than Hanna, which shouldn't be seen as an action film). This is no Léon: The Professional 2, fans can keep hoping that Besson and Portman work that one out at some point (interestingly, Megaton is first in line to direct if that movie does happen).
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
"I live. I love. I slay. And I am content."
Let me preface this review by stating that I have not seen either of the Arnold Schwarzenegger films (except for the opening scene of the first one during a class), not a single episode of any of the TV shows, whether animated or live-action and have never read any of the original stories by Robert E. Howard nor any subsequent comic book and have never played any of the video games. As such, I have no means to compare it to the previous films or to assess its fidelity to Howard's works. I am coming in fresh, and reviewing this film strictly on its own merits using as prejudice only my image brought over by pop culture of who Conan The Barbarian is.
The basic story is this: as a Morgan Freeman sound-alike tells us, a long time ago there were these bad guys, the Acheron, who had this bone mask which made them really powerful, but the Barbarian tribes united and beat them to a pulp and they destroyed the mask with each tribe keeping a piece of the mask so that it can't be united again. Then came the "Hyborian Age" and baby Conan is born on a battlefield to the chief of a Cimmerian village and a mother who dies in the process. Years later, teenage Conan is a skillful fighter and the village is attacked by a guy who wants to reunite the mask pieces. He finds the last piece remaining with the help of his witch daughter and Conan is forced to watch his father die in front of him. Naturally, he vows revenge and years later, adult Conan still searches for his father's murderers.
I will just come straight out and say I very much enjoyed this version of Conan The Barbarian. No, it's not an Oscar contender, of course not. No, there are no big surprises either, the whole thing is pretty straightforward. But it fulfilled every expectation I had from a movie called "Conan The Barbarian". Much like the other recent Robert E. Howard adaptation from the same producers, 2009's Solomon Kane, and perhaps even more so, it's a perfectly sound, effective piece of entertainment, and compared to other films with similar ambitions, such as Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, The Scorpion King and the Clash Of The Titans remake, it is much better.
First of all, the film looks very good. The world we are shown is vast and expansive. Indeed, Conan moves around a lot and we are introduced to scores of different environments, all beautifully conceived from amalgamations of different real-world cultures and with a realistic look and feel. Secondly, the film is not shy on violence and certainly earns its R rating. The (very) numerous action scenes range from very good to excellent and are in addition very bloody. In fact I'd go so far as to claim that the film is more bloody than director Marcus Nispel's remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th combined. In other words, you may not want to bring your kids and the squeamish may want to give this a pass, as there are some truly unpleasant scenes.
Tyler Bates' score is not particularly memorable after a first watch but is still strong, epic, and effective. Marcus Nispel has truly done a great job directing the film, and a strong sense of adventure seeps through every frame. He also seems to pay homage to John Milius in an early scene where Conan and his father forge a sword together, which echoes and looks very similar to the opening scene of the 1982 film. The 3D (post-converted) looks good and works well in the film.
As for the actors, Jason Momoa, best known as a TV actor up to this point with roles in Baywatch, North Shore, Stargate Atlantis and Game Of Thrones, does not possess the same presence as Arnold Schwarzenegger but delivers an adequate performance nonetheless. Teen Conan, played by the same kid who blew everyone away as Teen Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is very good here as well. Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Season Of The Witch) acts as his bearded father and does well as expected, and otherwise we have Stephen Lang (Avatar) as the bad guy, Rose McGowan (TV's Charmed and who was ironically previously attached to a Red Sonja reboot) as his daughter, Rachel Nichols (G.I. Joe) as the love interest and Saïd Taghmaoui (G.I. Joe) as one of Conan's buddies (3 former G.I. Joe actors in a single movie?). There's also that huge pile of muscles called Nathan Jones whom you might remember from the beginning of Troy. All do fine and apart from Perlman and Taghmaoui are rather unrecognizable.
The biggest question is how will 2011's movie audiences react to Conan The Barbarian, as it seems in many ways a relic of a bygone era. It's a very earnest film, that doesn't pretend to be anything else than what it is, where characters snarl at each other and raise their swords to the sky in a powerful thrust while screaming their lungs out while heroic music plays on the soundtrack. Yet somehow, for some reason modern audiences seem to think they're above this sort of thing and tend to snicker at such things. They might call it unsophisticated and silly. But I am rooting for Conan The Barbarian. I hope that people will be able to appreciate it for what it is instead of mocking it for those same reasons. I hope it is successful enough to green-light the planned Red Sonja film starring Amber Heard as well as Conan sequels. I would like to see this become a franchise.
In short the film looks great, is decently acted, has a Morgan Freeman sound-alike narrating, offers plenty of imaginative action scenes and is just altogether entertaining, which is the most important thing. A job well done.
Air Guitar Nation (2006)
A fun, easy-to-watch doc.
Set around the 2003 Annual Air Guitar World Championship Contest, and in particular around the first-time American participants, Air Guitar Nation plays like a tournament movie, pitting two opponents against each other, the "favorite" C-Diddy and the "relentless challenger" Björn Türoque.
Don't be deterred by the overall silliness (which everyone acknowledges) and gives this documentary a chance. It's a joy to watch, from the inventive structure to the obvious fun the contestants have taking on their "rock star" personas. No these dudes aren't really like that, they're taking on a role! And having a blast doing it too! Air Guitar Nation certainly isn't a must-watch but it's a very nice watch. Very original and a lot of fun. A refreshing documentary which doesn't take itself seriously and doesn't tackle a serious matter either.
Tru Calling (2003)
Pretty repetitive at first, but started to get really interesting when it was canceled.
Tru Davies has a gift. When she's next to a corpse, sometimes it asks for help, at which point her day rewinds and she has to save the person before he dies.
Early episodes of Tru Calling are extremely repetitive. Corpse asks for help, Tru's day rewinds, Tru saves person. Sure, the writers made attempts to diversify the formula (several people must be saved, day rewinds several times, etc...) and advance the storyline (Tru forms alliances with her boss at the morgue and with her brother, etc...) but still, you probably wouldn't want to have a Tru Calling marathon.
This started to change about halfway through the first season with the introduction of Jason Priestley's character, and by the time the show was canceled (six episodes into the second season), things got extremely promising and viewers are left with the beginning of what would probably have been a fascinating story arc involving Eric Christian Olsen's character Jensen.
It's a shame Tru Calling got canceled when it did, as by that time it had started to show the potential it had. And when you think that the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Ghost Whisperer is going strong by having the same exact storyline every week, it's extremely frustrating. Tru Calling is worth checking out. I wouldn't say it's a great show (though it could have become one) but it's still pretty entertaining and certainly offers more ideas than the aforementioned somewhat similar Ghost Whisperer.
Possibly the best croc movie
This is the third croc movie I've seen, after the first Lake Placid (which was quite fun) and the Dominic Purcell starring Primeval, which I was pleasantly surprised with, and felt was actually a political film disguised as a croc film.
2007 was a ripe year for croc films, with the aforementioned Primeval, Australian flick Black Water, and now another Australian flick, Rogue, writer/director Greg Mclean second feature effort after the well-received 2005 gorefest Wolf Creek.
I got to see this film in the cinema, and let me tell you it was worth it. The film is simply beautiful to look at. Mclean and his unfortunately now dead cinematographer Will Gibson offer some amazing, breathtaking shots of Australia's Northern Territory (where the story is set). Seriously, I cannot stress how beautiful this movie's setting is, you have to see it to believe it.
However stunning visuals do not a good movie make, and thankfully Greg Mclean and his team deliver the goods in the other departments as well. Have you ever been disappointed by that "keeping the monster hidden makes him more effective" rule of monster movies? Well Mclean actually pulls it off. You almost never see the croc during the first part of the movie, yet his presence is felt at every turn. The pacing is just right, the atmosphere is appropriately tense and the characters are pretty believable. Unfortunately, the film becomes slightly less interesting during its second part, where Rogue takes a more conventional turn.
Nevertheless, I'd recommend watching Rogue, even if you're not that into horror films, as Mclean's mastery, originality and inventiveness is felt throughout, from the superb opening to the awesome rendition of the Disney song "Never Smile At A Crocodile" which accompanies the end credits.
On a side note, I'm not sure how happy Australia's tourism board are with director Greg Mclean. On the one hand, he captures the beauty of the setting in a way not often seen, but on the other, you won't want to go anywhere near that place after seeing Rogue. Especially considering the size of our killer croc is apparently entirely plausible. Scary stuff.
Weaker and too similar to the original, but still a lot of fun...
The first National Treasure was a truly great movie. Blending Indiana Jones with elements of James Bond and The Da Vinci Code, boasting talented and charismatic actors, and filled with over-the-top American patriotism, it was a perfect entertainment.
The good news is, the sequel is more of the same. The bad news is, it's more of the same. National Treasure 2 is basically the first movie tweaked a little differently and unfortunately a little less interesting. Seriously, it's as if the producers told the screenwriters "all right, we want exactly the same thing, except not exactly, see what I mean?". One of the main problems here is the villain. Ed Harris is a great actor, but his character here is extremely lame and absolute rubbish in comparison to Sean Bean in the first movie. Nicolas Cage seems slightly less enthusiastic about historical stuff and Diane Kruger, while still lovely, doesn't make you fall madly in love with her as in the first film. Harvey Keitel's return is welcome but he ultimately serves little purpose. And finally the treasure hunt and action scenes are considerably less thrilling this time around.
However, the movie still has plenty left for people who enjoyed the first movie. What happens is fun and entertaining, the cast is talented and Helen Mirren's character is a great addition. A lot of what was great in National Treasure returns, which is why this sequel is still very enjoyable and highly recommended by me. So, despite the fact that it's vastly inferior to the original, i still love this film and look forward to National Treasure 3 (hopefully with a little more creativity).
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Truly one of the greatest films ever made...a must-see masterpiece
Stanley Kubrick is widely considered as one of the most talented film directors ever and it can be said that every one of his movies are well worth watching. Barry Lyndon is of course no exception, in fact it's one of his very finest films, at least in my opinion.
Everything here is perfection, the music, the acting, the script, and of course the filming and direction. All is simply superb. The film may be long,it may have slow pacing and there may not be that much dialog in it, but none of it hampers the film. Kubrick tells the story mainly through image rather than sound, and said story is so engrossing that the three hours simply whiz by.
I don't really know what else I can say beside the fact that it's superb. It's as impressive as ever and really doesn't pale in comparison to more recent features, so really don't hesitate to watch it on the grounds that it may be "dated". Everyone claiming to love films should watch Barry Lyndon if they haven't already. Truly one of the very best films ever made.
The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Funny mob comedy
Well, there really isn't that much to say about this movie. It's very enjoyable and has plenty of jokes. Bruce Willis really does a great job as hit-man Jimmy The Tulip, Matthew Perry does his usual funny shtick, and Amanda Peet gets topless, which isn't unusual but always nice.
Director Jonathan Lynn, whose 1985 adaptation of Clue is a hilarious underrated comic masterpiece, delivers a fine mob comedy here which you should definitely check out if you're a fan of either of the two main stars, comedies in general, or more precisely other mafia-type funnies such as the Analyze This series or Hugh Grant's Mickey Blue Eyes.
I hear the sequel isn't that good. Maybe that's true, won't stop me from watching it though, but you can't really go wrong with this movie which is pretty much a guaranteed good time.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Better than the first movie (which actually wasn't that bad, you know?)
Let me start off by saying that Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk is NOT a bad movie. In fact, as of writing it has 5.1 rating on IMDb and an critical approval of 61% on Rotten Tomatoes (this one is currently at 65%). Ang Lee did a lot of cool stuff in his film and had a talented cast, Eric Bana was good as Bruce Banner. Overall however, the Ang Lee film suffered from being too ambitious and overly complicated, and simply not being what the audience expected. The audience went in expecting to see "Hulk smash", and got a more cerebral film than they expected, even though there was still plenty of action (Hulk did swing tanks around after all!). It is true however that action scenes in Hulk weren't the coolest, which also contributed to the negative reputation it enjoys.
The Incredible Hulk writer Zak Penn (also responsible for X-Men 2 & 3, Elektra and Behind Enemy Lines), director Louis Letterier (of the Luc Besson productions Transporter 1 & 2 and Danny The Dog/Unleashed) and actor Edward Norton (who contributed greatly to the screenplay, though he is uncredited) took the complaints over Ang Lee's film into account and aren't overly concerned with continuity in this sequel. It is mentioned that 5 years have passed and the film starts in Brasil while Lee's film ends there, but the origin of Hulk is changed in the opening credits to resemble more the famous 70s TV series (references to said series abound).
The film is more fast-paced than Lee's effort, and while there actually isn't that much more action here (both films have 3 main action scenes), it is certainly better-made and definitely cooler. The story is certainly less cerebral but it's not a throwaway either. There are characters here, and they do go through something. As for people criticizing the CGI, well that just baffles me...just hows realistic do you expect a green muscled giant stomping around to be? The effects of the 2003 movie were already very good and they're even better here. They could have done a few things slightly better interaction-wise, true, but they're still very good.
In addition, I love how Marvel movies are starting to reference each other (we have here references to Nick Fury/S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony Stark/Stark Industries, the Avengers and Captain America). This is way cool and I wish they could it for characters whose rights are owned by other companies, such as Fox, Columbia or New Line. Stan Lee's cameo is probably his best one yet and the Lou Ferrigno appearance is way cool. The guy who voiced the Hulk in one of the animated series also appears, as does Bill Bixby, indirectly.
Almost as good as Iron Man, this 2008 Hulk enters the hall of the best Marvel movies along with Blade 1, the first two X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man 1 and The Punisher "2004 version" (yes, I love The Punisher), and succeeds in bettering Ang Lee's underrated movie. With great action and the cool factor in spades, The Incredible Hulk should satisfy all your action blockbuster needs and leave you wanting to see Hulk smash some more. The only minor gripes I have with it are the unnecessary retconning of Lee's movie and the fact that I sincerely doubt that they asked any cast member of the first film if they wanted to return (I definitely would have preferred Jennifer Connelly reprising her role to Liv Tyler stepping in...what is it with movie sequels replacing pretty girls with unpretty ones? Maggie Gyllenhall in The Dark Knight and Liv Tyler in Hulk, sheesh!).
Well that's it. Good movie. Good action movie, that is, not good "potentially an Oscar-nominee" movie, but you should already suspect that if you know anything about this film. So yes, this is a good action blockbuster, a great one actually, one of they very best of the quite strong 2008 summer movie season.
Now vote that my review was helpful or you'll make me angry...and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry...
Heaven & Earth (1993)
Not Stone's best, but still a good film
This is the third movie in director Olvier Stone's unofficial Vietnam War trilogy after Platoon and Born On The Fourth July. It is the least known of these movies and also the worst of them. Which doesn't mean it's bad, far from it, it's actually pretty good.
Like Born On The Fourth Of July (and many other Oliver Stone films), Heaven & Earth is based on a true story, this time around that of Vietnamese humanitarian Phung Thi Le Ly Hayslip. Though the Vietnam War is very much present in this movie, it is less a war movie than the previous two, instead more of a "biography" film. And one of the problems with this movie is that though the main character goes through many ordeals and suffers many hardships, you never really feel for her, connect with her. Or at least I didn't, and often found her to be somewhat annoying. Despite his prominent presence in the posters, Tommy Lee Jones is really more of a secondary character here and only appears about an hour and ten minutes into the movie, as a fictional character that was merged from two separate men in Le Ly Hayslip's life.
Oliver Stone does have detractors and his latest films haven't been his strongest, but he's generally accepted as one of the "good" directors in Hollywood. Heaven & Earth isn't his best film, but it's still a very well-made one, with some beautiful shots of Vietnam (actually Thailand) and particularly brilliant scenes in America. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this film strongly, but once again, there's still some very good stuff in there, so if you're into Oliver Stone, movies about Vietnam War, or movies in general for that matter, it's a nice one to watch.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Should be required viewing...absolutely amazing
Noted film critic Roger Ebert said "You owe it to yourself to see this movie" and guess what, he's right. Basically this movie is a filmed slideshow environmental conference hosted by Al Gore intercut with a portrait of Al Gore, his life and career. The conference is obviously the more interesting part of this documentary and the main draw of the movie.
As the host, Al Gore is excellent, frequently using humor but never letting the viewer forget how serious the issue at hand is. He is extremely convincing and brings up a number of very interesting points (being environment conscious does not mean lesser financial profit, for example). Do not not watch this movie if you're not a liberal, it is not "bullshit liberal propaganda", it is not political. This a movie which transcends politics and national borders.
This is a movie which should be given a chance by everyone, even if you don't usually watch documentaries. This is a movie which is truly as good as they say. Do watch it.
Mad Money (2008)
Underrated heist comedy
Directed by Callie Khouri (best known for writing the famous Ridely Scott film "Thelma & Louise"), Mad Money tells the story of three women working at the Kansas Federal Reserve Bank (though the movie was shot in Louisiana) who work out a system to steal money that is about to be shredded. Obviously, stuff happens.
Mad Money is far from being the best heist film out there. Recent efforts such as After The Sunset, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair, Entrapment or The Ladykillers are all much cooler. But just as Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's" series is extremely overrated, this widely panned film is quite underrated. Actually, though it is central to the plot, the movie doesn't really focus on the heist element that much preferring to stick with character interactions and light comedy. Here also it's far from the funniest movie out there, but the humor is pleasant and harmless.
The acting is pretty good all around. Diane Keaton is certainly better here than in her horrible performance in the previous year's Because I Said So, and while some may find baffling that Katie Holmes chose this over The Dark Knight, she certainly does a better job here at playing a ditz than her uselessness in Batman Begins. Who knows? Maybe she just doesn't like Batman, maybe she wanted a role that would center more on her, maybe she just loves Thelma & Louise and is willing to have a lower paycheck, which, being married to Tom Cruise, she can totally afford to do. Queen Latifah is her usual self and it's always cool to see Ted Danson and Christopher McDonald (even if it's little more than a glorified cameo).
The movie has flaws yes, and shouldn't really show up on anyone's top 10 or top 200 list. The flashback narration doesn't really work that well and the ending is pretty ludicrous, but what the hell it's just a movie folks. I don't think anyone involved in the making of Mad Money declared that this movie will radically change your views on life. It's just simple harmless entertainment, something pleasant to watch if you stumble upon it.
Very-well made and good suspense, one to watch...
Through persistent correspondence over the course of three years and new elements in his possession, police captain Malinowski starts to doubt the man convicted for his 10 year old daughter's rape and murder is actually guilty and starts a counter-investigation on his own.
Written and directed by ex-cop Franck Mancuso (also co-writer of the great 36 Quai Des Orfèvres), Contre-Enquête is a very good, well-made film, certainly the best French crime film of 2007 out of those I've seen so far (which include Le Deuxième Soufflé, Chrysalis and ex-top spot holder Pars Vite Et Reviens Tard). So-hot-right-now Jean Dujardin is very good in his first truly serious role I've seen, and the rest of the cast do a good job as well, especially Laurent Lucas as Daniel Eckmann, the convict. The script, based on a short story by Lawrence Block (screenwriter of Wong Kar-Wai's English-language effort My Blueberry Nights) is greatly written and keeps the suspense going and the viewer wondering until the very end. Good crime thriller, check it out if you have the chance.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Overrated horror, yet more believable than the better remake
I watched this movie having already seen the 2003 remake (and its 2006 prequel) beforehand.
This movie is obviously considered a classic of horror cinema, by fans and critics alike, while opinion on the remake is divided, some believing it competent while others despising it.
The two movies are actually very different, despite sharing many similar elements, both in terms of story and stuff on screen. Here you have a group of buddies who run out of gas somewhere in Texas and who go check out the childhood home of two of them while waiting for the gas station to get refueled. One-by-one, they stumble onto a house where Leatherface proceeds to take care of them.
A lot of people praise this film for its technique of not actually showing anything, making it that much more powerful. The thing is this was not due to artistic choice, but rather lack of budget. I'm not at all an advocate of "more gore is better" but I can't say I appreciated the demonstration of terror in this movie, which basically consisted in a whole lot of screaming and extreme close-ups of the actors' faces. So if you're looking for actual cool scenes, the remake is the way to go.
That being said, Tobe Hooper's film is also more realistic and believable than Marcus Nispel's, from the reason the teens are stranded to Leatherface's house (it actually looks normal from the outside, somewhere you actually would go knock at the door to ask a question). Also the 70s teens in this movie are obviously much better at playing teens from the 70s than Jessica Biel and her buddies (the remake could easily have been set in the present day, you wouldn't know the difference).
It's pretty amazing that the same cinematographer worked on both films considering how different they look. Obviously 30 years separate the two films and the remake had a much bigger budget, but still... All in all, while the remake is better looking, cooler and a more pleasant viewing experience (at least for me), the original is more believable and has a better storyline and better characters.
I guess it's good for what it is, but I feel it's quite overrated. Of the other teen slasher-type films from the 70s/80s which I've seen (Halloween and Friday The 13th), I enjoyed this the least.
Gomez & Tavarès (2003)
For fans of the genre only
Maxime Tavares (comedian Titoff) is one of Marseille's best cops, but he's also dirty. When he's assigned a new partner, Parisian tough guy even more dirty supercop Carlos Gomez (rapper Stomy Bugsy), there's not exactly love in the air. Yet they'll have to learn to work with and appreciate each other when they stumble onto a huge case that has the potential of getting them a lot of money.
No doubt greenlighted following the success of that other Marseille-based action/comedy, the successful Luc Besson produced Taxi franchise, Gomez & Tavarès is yet another variation of the buddy cop genre, in the tradition of Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, Rush Hour, etc... The big originality here is how crooked the heroes are. Their interest in solving the case is not due to their sense of duty but to save their own skins (since they're're being investigated by internal affairs) and to reap as much cash as possible.
The movie gives a rather bad impression at first, with its "Shaft-like" soundtrack and seemingly very low budget, but it gets better as the film progresses. It still feels rather low budget (which it probably is) and there aren't any really cool/impressive action scenes. The tone of the movie is more serious-minded than comic, even if there is comedy layered throughout.
All in all, Gomez & Tavarès doesn't offer much originality in terms of plot and doesn't offer much in terms of thrills either. It isn't really bad either and offers casual entertainment. Some will appreciate the eye candy provided by model Noémie Lenoir (After The Sunset, Rush Hour 3) and the amusing dirty cops idea while others will shake their heads at the various plot holes and the weakness of the script in general. As for me, I'd recommend it mainly to fans of the genre, but warn them that it's definitely not one of the best entries. I wouldn't mind watching the 2007 sequel, Gomez Vs Tavarès, but I'm not in a hurry to either.
A simple straightforward harmless adventure...watch it in 3D if you can
This comment is based on the 3D version of the film.
This movie joins Bewitched as an unusual adaptation where the characters are aware of the adapted book. Indeed in Journey To The Center Of The Earth, the characters know Jules Verne's classic book and actually use it as a guide since they find out that, well, Jules was right.
Not much can be said about the story. 3 people fall to "the center of the Earth", discover a prehistoric "world within a world", realize they must get out or be boiled alive by the rising temperatures, face a variety of dangers and challenges and get out. Don't go to this movie expecting depths of dialog the level of Zodiac or Eastern Promises or even expecting badass action as in Iron Man. Don't forget that you're watching a movie designed for the whole family. Journey is just simple straightforward harmless adventure which moves at a very brisk pace. Indeed the film, though more than 90 minutes long, feels incredibly short, which, depending on your view, could be a good or a bad thing.
The 3D in this film is probably of a better quality, but it basically works in the same way as Spy Kids 3D and Sharkboy & Lavagirl. Once in a while, something will really stretch out of the screen (most often a hand) but most of the time the 3D adds a..."more real" depth to the image, I guess you could say. The effect is certainly interesting, but is it really better than watching a 2D movie? Is Journey in 3D better than Journey in 2D? I couldn't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure it is, the 3D makes it special. But what I mean to say is this: would the Indiana Jones films be better in 3D? or the Die Hard films? etc... Honestly I don't think so. Perhaps when watching a 3D movie on a really humongous screen could it really give a heightened sense of realism, but it would really have to be huge, because the screen I saw it on was already pretty damn big. Thus, I'm really doubtful that 3D is the next big step in cinema. It's fun and cool to see a 3D movie and to have some come out from time to time, but I think 2D should remain the mainstream and I'll even go as far as to say that I believe 2D can be more involving than 3D (strange, I know).
All that being said, I think Journey should be watched in 3D if you have the chance. The first feature directed by Eric Brevig (ILM visual effects whiz who supervised the effects on many movies from Total Recall to The Island, directed the second unit on some of them and also directed a few episodes of Xena) is an innocent, fun ride which should keep you entertained if you remember not to take it seriously. Far from being the best movie of summer 2008, it is nevertheless enjoyable and I wouldn't mind seeing the hinted at "Atlantis 3D" sequel.
Die Siebtelbauern (1998)
A beautiful bleak little film
When a farmer is murdered he unexpectedly wills his farm and all his belongings to his 10 peasants, 7 of which decide, even more unexpectedly, to keep the farm and try to run it themselves despite the scorn and outrage of the "legitimate" farmers. Thus, they become the "one-seventh farmers" in this second feature length movie by prominent Austrian writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky. A beautifully made movie about class struggles, injustice and vain arrogance (among other things), Die Siebtelbauern is also not a film that unravels the way you'd like it too (thus, it isn't really for everyone). This is quite a bleak film, but it is also extremely engaging as you truly feel for the characters, who were all wonderfully acted. Also serving the film perfectly is its beautiful music, consisting mainly of haunting piano pieces which set the tone very well. Most amusing of all is a well-made nod by Ruzowitzky to First Blood (aka the first Rambo movie) towards the end of the film, which you're likely to appreciate if you've seen said film. All in all, while it isn't essential viewing, this is a splendidly crafted little film, very engaging, beautiful, realistic and dark, and at least on par with Ruzowitzky latest, the Oscar-winning WW2 prison film Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters).
The Winslow Boy (1999)
A well-made, brilliantly acted film, but not for everyone.
A proud father goes to great lengths to defend his son's honor in this latest movie version of Terence Rattigan's play The Winslow Boy (itself based on the true story of George Archer-See), written and directed by David Mamet one of the most respected screenwriters working today. I am unfamiliar with the play or its several other adaptations so I can't compare, and I'll judge this film based solely on itself. What's unusual with The Winslow Boy is that it's a court movie which hardly spends any time actually in court, concentrating instead on how the case affects the lives of the Winslow family, and in particular the father Arthur (Nigel Hawthorne) and the daughter Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon). As such the ultimate resolution of the Winslow case is actually of little importance to the movie, like a bit of a side story, something which may be quite off-putting to some viewers who'd perhaps find it boring and/or pointless. All in all, while The Winslow Boy isn't a masterpiece of epic proportions it's a very well-made solid little film who's greatest strength is probably the excellent performances all across the board.
Down to You (2000)
Better than average teen romance
Alfred (Freddie Prinze Jr) and Imogen (Julia Stiles) both reflect on their past relationship their lost "first true love". This flashback style of storytelling is one of the film's strongest points as it adds a whole new depth to the story, at least in my opinion. Is this what people would call a "chick flick"? Mmmh, not really. I know a lot of guys squirm at the sound of "romantic comedy" ("Me man! Me need big explosion!!!") but hopefully others don't mind them and Down To You is a pretty good film if you're looking for something sweet and somewhat cheesy. What's more, the film is told mainly through the guy's perspective, a minority in these types of teen movies. Usually, when the main characters are male, the movie will be mainly about having sex and filled with sex jokes, rather than portraying young guys with feelings (oh my god! Guys have feelings too! Just like girls!). Other such movies include the excellent 10 Things I Hate About You (also with Julia Stiles, oddly enough) and The Girl Next Door. So yes, I'd recommend Down To You. It isn't an amazing film by any means and shouldn't be on any Top 10 or even Top 100 best movie list but it's a nice enough little film. Freddie Prinze Jr isn't the strongest actor in the cast but he's decent enough. Other familiar faces include Selma Blair, Rosario Dawson, Henry Winkler and Ashton Kutcher in a very small but great role.
Made of Honor (2008)
The best rom-com of 2008 so far
I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie. I'd never heard of it before the trailers started playing a week before its release, and I wasn't that impressed by said trailers. I still went to see it, because, well, I go see everything, and boy am I glad I did... This is definitely the best romantic comedy of 2008 so far, knocking 27 Dresses out of my top spot. The plot has already been seen plenty of times and will continue to be seen plenty of more times, but that doesn't really matter does it? It's the classic story of one person figuring he's in love with someone and then desperately trying to "get" his love before it's too late. Once again in these types of movies, it isn't the story that's important, it's the execution. Patrick Dempsey is excellent here as playboy-in-love Tom, and this is truly his show. He was fine in Enchanted but here he's another league entirely. Director Paul Weiland (responsible for a few "Mr. Bean" episodes) does a really good job here and keeps things fun as the movie is literally hilarious from beginning to end. It seems this movie wasn't a big success in the US which is probably why its rating (as of now) is only 5.2, but hopefully more people will see it on DVD and the rating will go up to a more deserving grade. Obviously if romantic comedies make you vomit this isn't the movie for you, but if you can enjoy a movie independently of its genre, then you're in for a treat. Enjoy.