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The Dead and the Damned (2011)
All the tools, poor execution
When one comes across a movie like this, you tend to lower expectations to a pretty base level. Zombie action, some scares, low budget cheese, and an overall good cheeky time.
The 30,000 dollar budget is apparent, but not as much as you'd think. There's some good bang for the buck, but not nearly enough bang. We'll start with the lead actor. Forgoing all subtlety, he's AWFUL. Most of the laughs in this came from cringes induced by his ridiculous and amateur performance, gun handling, smirks that scream "I look like a cool action hero to myself" only to look idiotic and embarrassing to the audience.
There is some gratuitous nudity that likewise illicit some groans here and there. It's as if the filmmakers did not realize that with the production value they had, a GOOD zombie cowboy movie could have been made. If you're going at it from the view that no matter what you do, the movie will be crap, then at least make it entertaining crap.
There must have been several 15-20 minute stretches in this movie where characters fall victim to the "we must sit down and tell our sad story" syndrome, when due to the level of acting, or lack thereof, a greater focus on the action and horror would have been preferable whereas to not make the audience feel like they've been ripped off in the end.
That said, there are two scenes that come pretty close to showing how this could have been a GOOD little low budget genre mash-up and both of those scenes involve the main actress encountering zombies (a standout being a creepy hide and go seek scene that belongs in a better movie). What both of these scenes have in common? The horrible lead actor is nowhere to be found. Also these two scenes (due to their isolation from his awfulness) seem to have been filmed after the fact (after shooting was completed?) to fill out what is already a pretty short movie.
All in all, don't let the cover fool you. There's not much action to be had here. Just long stretches of characters talking about back story that would have been better left in the subtext in place of what your audience was told to expect: Action.
The good: A few inventive zombie make-ups, a couple genuinely creepy scenes with the main actress escaping zombies, and some nice location photography.
The bad: Most of the performances, the music, pacing, and lack of action.
The ugly: Every time the main actor shows his face or opens his mouth. He really is that bad.
The Last Stand (2013)
Back to basics
Having just attended a screening of The Last Stand I couldn't help but wonder if my thoughts would have been kinder to my favorite action hero had he chose the now shelved "Cry Macho" as his comeback vehicle instead of this one.
The Last Stand is a paint by numbers throwaway action movie that is far less clever than the snazzy animated poster art would have one think. It brings to mind similar movies like Harrison Ford's Firewall or just about any Nicolas Cage movie in recent memory.
The story is simple: A drug cartel leader with an inhumanly fast car is trying to make his way into Mexico with a small town sheriff caught in the middle. You can guess what happens. Bullets fly. One liners are dispensed like so much ammunition, but all the while it's missing something. This is less a film than it is a distillation of what an aging movie star thinks his audience expects of him...and he tries very hard to please...a little too hard. Arnold usually performs solidly as a rock, but his timing is off with this one. The persona gets in the way of the person.
As an outspoken fan of Arnold's underrated acting ability, the amount of mugging in the first 40 minutes alone is enough to turn the audience from laughing to groaning. His saving grace is in the film's numerous actions sequences, a surprisingly emotional reaction to a tragic event, and a climactic fight scene that will leave most UFC fans going home happy.
Johnny Knoxville injects zany energy into the proceedings and his chemistry with Schwarzenegger is good enough that you wish they would have been a team for the whole film. Forest Whittaker plays an FBI man, phoning in most of his performance (literally) while the rest of the supporting cast do what they can with the material given. The villains are as clichéd as one would expect, the one flash of brilliance being a small role played by Billy Blair.
The action, while smaller scale than the usual Arnold film, has a surprising amount of impact, but the predictability of the script works against it at every turn, cutting momentum just as it begins to build. In the pantheon of Arnold action films, this one rates somewhere behind Raw Deal and neck and neck with Collateral Damage. For serious fans only. This reviewer is a serious fan, so perhaps The Last Stand is best intended for Arnold fanatics.
In short: this is not a film per se, it is a vehicle...it gets the Arnold fan you where you need to go, but the parts are salvage and the model needs an overhaul.
High hopes for The Tomb and Ten to be the comeback Arnold deserves.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
For those who don't want to grow up
10/10 for the Nostalgic little kid in me I never want to lose.
6 for the jaded film snob in me I'm trying to kill off.
Guess who's winning?
This was the first film I ever saw in the theater. I was 3 years old and remember it very well. The smell of popcorn, my friend running up the aisle screaming when Skeletor first turned to the camera, my refusal to leave while he waited in the lobby. I always liked Skeletor more than He-Man and a lot of that came from this movie. I watched the cartoon, but the movie is what did it for me as a 3/4 year old. It really influenced me a lot, especially my action figure play as a goofy little kid who enjoyed doing long Skeletor dialogues alongside the usual action figure...action.
All these years later, I really do still have a fondness for this film and since it was such a big part of my childhood...I can't judge it too harshly. As a Screenwriter/Filmmaker myself, I understand the problems this movie faced in fitting an epic universe into a less than epic budget. For what it is, the movie works today, but beyond the nostalgia factor, the three undeniable things that still hold up are the realization of Skeletor's character (look, costume, LINES! ACTING!) the set designs for the greyskull throne room, and the majestic score.
I don't turn my nose up at good entertainment(I can watch this film and Apocalypse Now in one sitting and enjoy both for different reasons), and this is good entertainment, certainly with more substance than the 2 dimensional crud kids get today.
"Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of Evil?"
Think about that line, and the underlying theme that Skeletor, even though he has "won" will never be whole because greed needs conflict to survive (i.e. more greedy pursuits, hence Skeletor's obsession with "breaking" He-Man).
"Men who crave power look back over the mistakes of their lives, pile them all together, and call it destiny."
What it did not have in budget, the film made up with heart. Some of the technical things aren't up to snuff, but again great writing will seep through even when hampered by the constraints of budget (meaning a last second..."let's set most of it on Earth" note from the producers) David Odell and Gary Goddard did the best with what they had, as did everyone else. Some went above and beyond, Bill Conti, Frank Langella, and for those reasons and more many of us remember this film fondly and enjoy watching it again.
Slasher flick: a breakdown of AVP-R
With this movie I was really hoping that the idea was to make up for the hashed together ineptitude of the first AVP, and yet to my horror: Requiem is far worse than I could have imagined.
My hopes were up in the opening moments of the film inside the Predator ship, and I almost breathed a sigh of relief when we finally saw the Predator home world (a throwaway digital matte painting, but still nice to finally see it) and then of course, the humans (if such poorly written characters can be referred to as such) are introduced...
One must wonder why it seems to be impossible for Fox to make a good film out of Aliens and Predators. At the very least the supposed filmmakers could have done their homework.
Characters are set up in the same manner in which we would expect from the worst Friday the 13th Sequel. The pizza delivery scene was cringe inducing as was every other scene of character interaction that followed it. Bimbos and teen non actors do not make for a REAL film, they make for a cheap flick, and Alien 1-3 and the Predator movies were good because they were produced above the concept (remember that the 1st Alien is a "B" movie done as an "A" movie) The Strause brothers really missed an opportunity, that could have been rectified by simply knowing their Alien+Predator roots: In both the Alien and Predator films we are introduced to characters that are part of a larger group (Alien: Refinery workers, Aliens: Marines, Alien 3: Convicts and in the Predator films we generally follow a main hero part of a unit; Predator, Arnold--Special forces, Predator 2: Danny Glover, Police) and it's easy to see where the filmmakers of both franchises started to go wrong: in Alien Ressurrection we have pirates...or something, AVP we have...explorers?...with guns?? and of course in AVP-R we have teen slasher clichés. What is there to identify with here? In concept the idea of a convict returning to a small town and a war vet returning seemed a set up for a First Blood type of action hero, but like many things it was never paid off.
The Film-making is equally devoid of rhyme of reason. There is no sense of forward momentum to the action, just small sequences that build the most minuscule levels of tension or interest only to cut away just when they're getting interesting...taking the audience out of the movie at every turn. The action scenes themselves, though much ballyhooed in the trailers, are so darkly lit, it is literally impossible to tell what is going on during the fight scenes when they finally occur. Basically, the movie is hindered from many levels. Bad actors combined with poor direction and an atrocious screenplay (which as a screenwriter myself I noticed, seemed to hit every wrong note and cliché that only the most untalented writer devoid of ideas could have hashed together) The WRITING, if it can be called that, is not even direct to video quality, nor does it demonstrate a shred of respect for the established lore of the previous entries in the series. Why does the Predalien all the sudden have the ability to shoot alien embryos down a pregnant woman's throat to use her as an incubator for chestbursters? More than likely because the brain dead screenwriter needed a way to have more aliens for the predator to fight (and given the accelerated growth time even more so than the first AVP: as quickly as possible. Why must meaningless small talk between cardboard cutouts on sticks (meaning the supposed characters)substitute for real character development? (Remember a character is defined by what they DO, not SAY). Why is the Sheriff leading civilians to a cache of guns? (isn't he an officer of the law?) How does the bimbo of all people know where they are? Why does the Predalien wait for the Predator to VERY SLOWLY remove his mask before it attacks? Why are the aliens still falling into that nasty series-post-Alien 3 habit of hissing all the time to let their prey know to run? How on Earth did this series devolve to a character saying "People are dying...we need guns!" (how this writer even works is beyond me, and reflects badly on Fox's already destroyed artistic reputation. It's like everyone involved in the making of this film suffered from a mental impairment or really are that inept at every level of the film-making process.
The EFFECTS are pretty lousy this time around. The Aliens look like men in suits and ADI is just getting lazy with their creature design. The Aliens look like modified leftovers from Alien Resurrection, with that same bulky musculature around the arms as if they did not learn from that movie that it was not a good design, nor a good one to recycle. Again, everything is shrouded in such a state of darkness not to create mystery or atmosphere, but simply to hide how bad the creatures look. And just like in AVP, Stan Winston is sorely missed when the fake looking Predator face is revealed.
There are too many faults to list so I will just say this: Do not waste your money on this movie. Fox is beyond caring about the fans, as this cheap and trashy film is clearly evidence of. I felt bad having taken my girlfriend to see it (though it was free) and apologized to her profusely after. This is one die-hard fan who is done with the franchise.
Note to Fox: What we really wanted wasn't a mindless slasher flick, it was a film adaptation of the original Darkhorse Comicbook, which was better than anything you've produced for this franchise post 1993.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
An Indictment of American Apathy
This is easily a film that will come under fire for having something to say, but what is the alternative? Making a film that has nothing to say? That seems to be the norm nowadays as the box office grosses of the terrible trio of threequels demonstrates. Lions for lambs reminds me of a time when Directors had greater ambitions than to make a huge opening weekend before people realize their film is garbage (Transformers, Pirates, etc...but being saturated with these types of films for so long I doubt many remember what film can be, and accomplish.) Robert Redford strikes me as someone who wants to make a difference and the problem is that the audience has become more deaf to reason than ever.
Lions for Lambs is more of a filmed essay than a narrative feature, and being a Kubrick fan, I am all for changing the classic form of Hollywood narrative structure. This is a film based around ideas, and exploring them to raise awareness that our own apathy will lead to our undoing as Americans. Let me invoke Batman Begins "People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy"...etc. So people won't get off their posteriors and respond to the chaos around them, perhaps because there seems to be no direct connection to the news, or as this film so brilliantly points out: we change the channel. This film is a dramatic example of where we're going as a nation and what we're becoming as a people. I doubt anyone will listen but I applaud the filmmakers for at least making an attempt.
This film presents the facts pretty much up to the minute, from many angles, and yes even the Republicans get a sympathetic view of their strategy. Whose fault is it that the economy is in a downward spiral? It's all too easy to point the finger at the Bush administration and leave it at that, but what about the media? The corporations that own the media that favor news as entertainment rather than news as information by which to empower the people via knowledge? What about the public themselves? V for Vendetta, another film centered around powerful ideas that didn't have nearly the impact it should have, said "People shouldn't be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people."
Has the public become so passive that they just ignore the big issues whenever confronted by them? This film suggests that and much more, but more importantly the film asks: What are you going to do about it?
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Director's cut is the only cut
When I first saw this film in may of 2005 I had read all the stories about extensive cutting, and outright deletion of scenes. I was hesitant to even see this film in the theater because why bother? It is not the true version. My curiosity eventually got the better of me and I went to the early show. I have to admit it was one of the more frustrating filmgoing experiences I have ever had. Nothing seemed to be payed off...events were haphazardly rushed through, depth of character was obviously missing. The most painful thing about Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut) was that is was so obvious that it was a great film that had been butchered into a "studio approved version." What more would I expect from Fox, the most creatively stifling, money grubbing studio of the new millennium. The theatrical version was a film cut into something it was not meant to be (much like Ridley Scott's Legend). Is this film an epic? Yes. Does it have battles? Of course. Is that all that the film is about? Absolutely not.
For over a year I had been waiting for the director's cut to come to theaters (it came to ONE screen in Fairfax for 2 weeks...nice job, Fox)or DVD. When I finally got the DVD and I was absolutely unprepared for the beauty and grandeur of a film the film that deserved to be seen in theaters as it was intended. There is simply no excuse for what Fox did, even if they did not do it directly (Ridley's reasoning: "If you don't cut it they will cut it for you")
The Director's cut of film is an absolute masterpiece, one of the greatest films of our time and easily would have been the best picture of last year had the director's cut been the version that was ultimately released. Every character, plot, sub-plot, action sequence, and scene of dialogue takes on so much more meaning in this new cut that it feels like an entirely different film.
Every aspect of Kingdom of Heaven is of the absolute highest quality. Ther performances, the writing, the music (Gregson-William's score was the best score of 2005, but just like the film, it got no recognition). Ridley Scott is perhaps the greatest working director alive today, more so than Spielberg, or Cameron because he is one of the few true artists of the cinematic form. A Ridley Scott film is like a great work of art that can be observed many times with new meanings being taken from them with each viewing. With Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut, it is a bittersweet triumph that one of his greatest masterpieces has finally seen the light of day, but it should have been the version that was released to theaters in the first place.
See the Director's Cut, it is one of the greatest films you will ever see in an age that produces few that are even memorable
Hard Times (1975)
As an auteur, Walter Hill's 1975 film Hard Times is a perfect example of what to expect from him. It is uniquely his film made evident by the economy of dialogue, the simplistic, uncomplicated narrative, and numerous tough guy moments that are all trademarks of his. It was Walter Hill's first film as a director, and set the stage for much of his later work. Hill's unique style, tone, and his vivid, mythic characters are thematic elements that he would keep constant for the majority of his career, and it is all clearly evident in his first film. From the start of the piece Walter Hill sets a tone that clearly reflects the title. He creates an uncompromising view of the 1930's Depression. We see the run down buildings, the rust and grit covering everything in sight. This is where one of the director's trademarks comes in. It is evident from his later works, such as Last Man Standing or Wild Bill that Walter Hill has always had a soft spot for the American western, or more accurately the western ideology. His films consistently uphold the system of beliefs associated with the American western. His films contain constants of the western such as a stoic leading man, a realistic setting, and a showdown at the climactic scene between his heroes and villains. Hard times contains all these things. The lead up to the climactic fight scene near the end of the film is written shot and executed like an old western showdown. All the elements that are associated with such as scene are in play. The ticking clock, the hero's friend in the clutches of the enemy, and the doubt of the hero's return all fall well within the western aesthetic. Chaney's grand entrance from the shadows into the old abandoned warehouse is a visual homage to countless similar scenes in American westerns where the hero appears at the last second to save the day. The warehouse is a stand-in or metaphor for an old western battleground, similar to the O.K. corral in the Wyatt Earp stories. Is it a coincidence that three of his principal actors, Bronson, Coburn, and Martin are best known for the westerns they made in earlier years such as The Magnificent Seven, and The Wild Bunch? Hill knows what he is doing and the casting of his leads was no accident. Like most of his films Hard Times could have been set in the old west with gunfighters in place of street fighters and all the basic elements of the story would still be there. Hill uses the conventions of the western to create mythic character archetypes that are easily identifiable like Bronson's stoic stranger, and Coburn's colorful gambler. He uses the conventions of the genre to shape the world of his film. The lone figure of Charles Bronson as Chaney, strolls assuredly into town not unlike an old western gunslinger. It is a great deal of screen time before we actually hear Chaney speak his first lines of dialogue, and keeping with the conventions of the western Chaney is a man of few words. On the opposite side of the spectrum James Coburn's character, Speed, never seems to shut his mouth, and is portrayed as Chaney's sly, witty opposite. One is a character of economy while the other is a character of excess. Both give off the sense that they have complete histories outside the confines of the film, and both would be perfectly at home in a western setting.
Hard Times is less visually mobile than Walter Hill's later works, most notably The Warriors which was the first film where he made a conscious effort to create a dynamic visual style. Hill takes the less is more approach in this film and whether it was out of caution since this was in fact his first film or whether it was born out of the stark realism of the story he does it effectively. The minimalist style works very well for this film, and is perfectly in line with the 1930's tough guy aesthetic. The characters in the film reflect the sensibilities of Tough Guy literature by showing as little emotion as possible.The cynicism of the 1930's is inherent in the film's period dialogue which is replete with tough guy witticisms. The film is thematically consistent in both its visuals and dialogue since both are concise and to the point. The action is close and brutal. He does not want the audience to miss a thing, and in numerous point of view shots the director allows the audience to see from the character's perspective. Each fight sequence as an intimate dance of violence choreographed to be as realistic as possible.
Like his other action oriented films the fighting is nothing fancy, just fast and brutal. With Hard Times Hill does not indulge himself with gratuitous violence. There is no making fun of violence. He simply shows violence as something that is a part of life for both the characters and the world in which they inhabit. Typically in a film by Walter Hill, the world that the characters live in is symbolic of violence, and he came about at just the right time to tell the kinds of violent, uncompromising stories that interest him most.
Walter Hill is a director who has definite ideas about what he intends to show the audience and what impact it will have. His sensibilities are perfectly evident in what was only his first film, and he has kept them consistent throughout the duration of his career. Hard Times is a fine film by a fine director. It is brutal and uncompromising in its depiction of violence, but rich in character, atmosphere, and subtext. Walter Hill has made a quite a name for himself by creating vivid characters and populating them within a detailed, realistic context. As an auteur Hard Times is a definitive product of his unique vision.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Reality comes through
Real Women Have Curves is a very enjoyable film, and also a very real film. It deals with very real issues concerning women and especially young women. The main character is of the Hispanic persuasion and though she is a very bright girl and could possibly get into a good collage she runs the risk of being swallowed up in the death trap job of making dresses that cost them 18 dollars to make but get sold in department stores for 800 dollars. Her mother keeps telling her she's overweight overlooking the fact that she is heavier than her daughter. This film is very much set in the real world, and the problems facing the characters are problems we all face at one time or another like "can I pay the rent on time?" or "will this person like me for who I am instead of what I look like?" Within the context of the film the answers to those questions are yes, and yes which may be one of the reasons this film is so enjoyable. America Ferrera's performance is reminiscent of the kind of girl you would see at your local high school, and the message of this movie is one that more people should take to heart. Be who you are, not who others want you to be, follow your dreams, and the like. I was surprised with how frankly this film deals with teenage sexuality, and how it challenges the concept of what beauty is in modern culture makes it a very progressive film indeed.
Far from Heaven (2002)
A Triumph...fifty years too late
Far From Heaven is one of those movies that lends validity to the saying that film is an art form. It is a film that just refuses to leave your thoughts for days after having seen it. Moore plays your typical 50's neglected housewife with so much energy and grace that it is very easy to forget that she is acting, or that this is just a piece of cinema. Her mannerisms, facial expressions, and tone of voice all feel exactly within the period. This film does have quite an effect on anyone intelligent enough to appreciate it. The look, feel, and mood of a 50's era film is wholly recaptured to tell a story that would never have been told if this film was to be made at that time. Censors, congress, and that damned Catholic Church would never allow a film like this to be made at the time. Heaven forbid that a film portray gays, blacks, and women as real three dimensional human beings. Everything about it down to the last detail has been so meticulously thought out that suspension of disbelief is never a problem unlike some other films that came out around the same time ::cough:: Chicago ::cough::. It would not be going to far to say that this is one of the greatest films ever made, but the most interesting thing is that it was made at all.
Every director should have a vision, but so should every dictator. Francis Ford Coppola must have worshiped Stalin at some point because his directing style in Apocalypse Now seems to indicate a predilection for ruling with an iron fist. Personally I've never thought much of Apocalypse Now, but respect it in that many good points and observations of human nature are made. Kurtz, being shown and introduced as almost god-like. Having complete control over his men who speak of him as if he was the second coming of Christ. Willard is somewhat of a curiosity. He mulls on about how he admires Kurtz and......this is so hard. I am completely indifferent to this movie. Most of the performances are unbelievable in that the actors always seem like they're acting. One only has to watch Dennis Hopper to realize that. " I...I..I wish I had the words man..", Hopper says of describing Kurtz, but what he really means is " Hey man...I cant think of anymore dialogue man". Marlon Brando so full of himself and self aware of the clout and power he has in the entertainment business that he just rambles on for days while Coppela is hoping enough of the footage will be usable or make enough sense that it can be used in the movie. Francis pushes all his actors like he is the plantation owner and they are the slaves. After seeing Hearts of Darkness I lost even more respect for this film. The continuing battles of Coppela's obsession with making his epic, Brando trying to prove that big stars have the power to do anything they want, and a bunch of actors that don't know what they are doing. Sure the film is nicely shot, but it couldn't be taken seriously. Apocalypse Now is a very funny movie, and perhaps that was all intended to end when Willard killed the woman on the boat showing that he is completely obsessed with getting up river to Kurtz, but then the laughs continue. Let us not forget Kilgore, the name alone is hilarious. Not a slight on Duvall but Kilgore comes across as more of a cartoon character than a real person. Perhaps intended, but it took me right out of the movie. Improvisational movie making is not my cup of tea. The real madman here is Coppola; he spent an unbelievable amount of time and money on a complete mess, and only through generous editing found some meaning in it. The original version of Apocalypse Now was somewhere around six hours....one can only wonder.
Citizen Kane (1941)
That which is required
Power, control, conspiracy, manipulation, method acting, madness, malevolence, domination, dictators, and directors. We all at one point crave power, and some are lucky enough to get it. Inevitably that power will be abused as history teaches obsessed men no lessons, but on occasion great things can come from the obsessed mind. Orson Welles is such a character. His drive and determination to conquer every medium from radio to theater to film yielded one of the most superbly crafted films in history in Citizen Kane. The opening scene with the abundance of fences telling the audience that they are about to tread where few have gone before. Showing a man who has seemingly all the power in the universe only to be left in the end wishing for the simple life that could never be. Welles used every trick visually and narratively to get his points across and it shows to a somewhat heavy-handed "I'm going to beat you over the head with my brilliance" extent, but none the less gets the job done. Charles Foster Kane cannot simply be a larger than life character, he must really be larger than life as nearly every scene featuring him is shot in low angles and he always appears to be towering over everyone else. One must wonder if he was standing on a soapbox half the time. Citizen Kane is a film that tries to be many things at once; a serious drama, a hilarious comedy, a vicious satire, and it succeeds brilliantly. Just like Welles knew that war of the worlds would cause a panic he knew that Citizen Kane would cause controversy.....bravo. William Randolf Hearst was the most powerful man at the time, and what better way to get your foot in the door of the entertainment empire than to attack him. Hearst made a living out of destroying lives and for all intents and purposes he deserved to be ruined. Though Kane is loosely based on Hearst he seems to have more in common with Welles in the years of isolation and loneliness that awaited him in his latter days. Kane is a man who has this abundance of power and is obsessed with acquisition, but for what? In the end Kane has all this material wealth but he really has nothing; no friends, no family, living in exile without the warmth of human comfort. Citizen Kane is a portrait of self inflicted sorrow, and as shown in The Battle Over Citizen Kane, its director is as well.
One of the originals
One young man has the ability to find god through math. Will it unlock the secrets of the universe, or will it drive him insane? Are the events he witnesses really happening, or are they all in his head? This film seems to be constructed for the sole purpose of baffling whomever sees it, and it fails as much as it succeeds but is none the less an interesting little movie. The orthodox Jews want the numerical code for god so they can be all powerful. They believe so blindly that they are chosen to resurrect their deity that they overlook that maybe our main character doesn't care about it one way or another. I couldn't help but notice the subtle allusion to Martin Scorsesse's The Last Temptation of Christ where god is presented to Jesus in the form of a splitting headache. Our main mathematical genius suffers from the same ailment, hmmmm.... Perhaps he is in the same predicament; chosen to complete some biblical prophecy when he really doesn't want anything to do with it. His death at the end was both graphic and graceful as he power drills himself in the head and ends up in his idea of heaven where he does not know all the answers and the pain is gone. There religious metaphors abound in Pi with the most obvious being the overt allusions to Christ by way of our main mathman. People may like this film or hate it, but much hard work and ingenuity were necessary to bring this unique vision to the screen so the average person can pick it apart. It is hard to say what makes a great movie because everyone has a different opinion, but if a film can touch you, be it on an emotional, visceral, intellectual, or philosophical level then it is well worth your time.
The Last Command (1928)
The Last Command was one of the best movies I've ever seen. Chronicling the rise and fall of a Russian dictator with so much power, emotion, and humanity that it is very easy to forget this is a silent picture. Emil Jannings as General Dolgurucki shows such mad obsession for power over everyone and everything, only to be betrayed by his entire country and left a sad withering shell of the man he once was. The scene where Jannings gives his "last command" was amazing in his portrayal of the sad old man reliving his glory days. The flaring of his eyes, the strength of his stature, the passion of his words are a fitting end to a great man's life. It make sense that the general would die on a movie set since it was the only plausible place left that he could die an honorable death on the battle field. Perhaps The Last Command is a portrait of the first method actor, but that would sell it short because it is about so much more than that. Every character seems to have a few tricks up their respective sleeves, or skirts. One of the running themes is that people are capable of anything, and it shows to a great extent. The general goes through such a physical change from stately dictator to grubby extra that it is hard to believe that each end of the spectrum ever had anything to do with the other.
4 Little Girls (1997)
Lee's finest hour
It has been well documented by a select few directors that reality is infinitely more compelling than fiction. Not to say that there's anything wrong with fiction, but knowing that the story that is about to be told is indeed fact almost unanimously eliminates the problem of "getting into" the movie because the viewer can already relate to it on a human level. Spike Lee is a bloody genius both in telling a story and telling it in such a way as to be provocative without being pretentious. 4 Little Girls cuts through all the sugar coated drivel and stilted piano music commonly associated with remembering those who have perished needlessly and gets to the heart of the matter: they perished needlessly. The style of this documentary is very intimate, using extreme close-ups at all times with those being interviewed whereas to magnify their emotions. I found this style engrossing because you can see the gears turn in these people's heads as they try to remember these girls fondly and also the tragic events that took their lives. Some of the more sympathetic (read: racist) southern lawmen try ever so subtly to paint the results of the church bombing as mere collateral damage, but a point was being made and the people who made it didn't care who suffered as a result. It is a great to see that the families of these four little girls are still strong and undeterred by the tragedy though to some the deaths are still like an open wound. Spike Lee makes the considerably wise decision of first introducing us to the girls from the recollections of their parents and loved ones and making them human first, victims later. He also lets George Wallace make an invalid-ish idiot of himself simply by letting him speak without any directorial intervention. The intimate, personal nature of this film is what makes it work on every level. Spike Lee obviously has a passion for telling stories that perhaps would have been shoved into obscurity had he not the courage to fearlessly tackle them with such passion and intensity.
My Family (1995)
A great work
Mi Familia is a mini masterpiece. It uses all manner of genre styles to tell its story and amazingly it works. This is a film with so much passion and significance it is almost tiring to praise it for fear of running out of breath. You could call this film an epic or a saga since it deals with many generations of the same family. The film never shies away from making a social comment or two and deals directly with the issues at hand in whatever time period it happens to take place in. The family has never had an easy life, but the closing statement rings true in that despite the hardships they have been made to endure they have lead an incredibly good life. More than twice this family is broken up by the racial hatred and civilly unjust policies of their times, but they always stick together and no matter what happens or who does what this family is truly unbreakable. All performances are fantastic but there is one the really sticks out. Jimmy Smits has proved time and again that he is a capable actor but his work in this film is simply amazing.
Down in the Delta (1998)
A lesson in humanity
Down in the Delta is a great film but not by way of technical brilliance. This is a film in which the main drive is using the characters to tell the story. Maya Angelou takes her time to let the particulars of this tale fall into place and in the meantime creates vivid characters that grow and learn valuable lessons in life and eventually become different people during the film's running time. Alfre Woodard is the best black actress in film period, and like many other great actors or actresses she gets the shaft every awards season in favor of more mainstream actresses or ones with greater sex appeal. This film is yet another in a long line of snubbed movies that lend validity to the ever-growing fact that the Oscars are a joke, a sham, and have degraded into a downright trivial affair. The story of a family embracing their roots and making a good life outside the city is an incredibly reassuring one, but the real narrative gem of this film is the poignant and gradually revealed story of Nathan, which makes us wonder that it wasn't that long ago when the value of human life was less than that of an material object. This film deals with the ugly truth of slavery in the simplest of ways yet I found this one plot thread more compelling than the entire 156 minute running time of Amistad. Maya Angelou should direct more films in the future. Perhaps that would in some way elevate the pathetic lows cinema has reached in recent years. By contrast Americanos shows us how some thing never change. Police will always associate Latinos with gangs, and Latinos will always argue over being lumped into any category, especially "Latinos". This documentary shows us that there is such wide diversity within this "ethnic group" that how could anyone dare to call them by the same name? People represented in this film are all to happy to challenge stereotypes: like the boarder patrol officer, or take them to new, interesting, and most of all challenging heights: like those at the living art exhibit. All in all the message here is the same as in Get on the Bus: These are not Latinos, Hispanics, or all Mexicans. They are people as different from us as they are from each other, but first and foremost they are human beings, as are we all.
Get on the Bus (1996)
An Important film
The day when Mr. Spike Lee gets the respect he truly deserves will be a great day indeed, but also horrendously overdue. Get On The Bus is a masterpiece. The characters are vibrant and alive, and through them a wide variety of subjects and questions about what makes a man are covered. The brilliance of the film operates on too many levels to mention in one paragraph, but the fact that the cast is a group of black men from vastly diverse backgrounds makes one wonder how some of these men could be identified as the same when they are as different as night and day. Trust, honor, tradition, brotherhood, and cultural history are abound in this tale yet it is just amazing that so much happens in a movie primarily about a bunch of people taking a bus ride. Lee leaves no stone unturned in speaking on the political and social matters that face black men but it never feels forced or contrived in the slightest. The dialog always feels naturalistic as if these are real people and not just characters on a page. Every character is three dimensional regardless of the amount of screen time they are allotted. We are introduced to Gay men, Republicans, Democrats, wise men, young men, flawed men, law men, men of faith, rich business men, poverty stricken single fathers, and all manner of opinions leading to the comment that if there is one thing for the average person to get out of this film it would be that while this diverse group of black men are just men, not African-Americans, not blacks, not Negroes, just men.
V for Vendetta (2005)
This is one of the best films I have ever seen...
...I am well aware that my summary line invites several retorts, and given the nature of my comment those retorts may very well be resoundingly, unanimously negative. If I say "This is one of the Best films I have ever seen..." One would think the immediate response would be, "Then you must not have seen many films in your time, dear boy." Butoh I have, and it has been far too long since there has been something up on that screen in the darkened theater that I enter to leave this boring, monotonous existence that had the capacity to inspire. To see the possibilities of what might be, what could never be, and what could happen if the leaders of the world keep things going in the directions that they are headed. V For Vendetta is just a film, yes? But it is also a wake up call of which there are not enough in this time we live in. It speaks directly to the hardship that we endure but seldom take notice of because we are distracted by things that do not matter...upon leaving the theater I saw people, teenagers mostly, the very people who should be pro-actively questioning the methodical erosion of this thing called government in the modern age, react with complete apathy. Most try so hard to be so outwardly different from the rest that they do not realize that in doing this they become just like everyone else; oblivious. We as a society do not want to see films like this, we do not want to acknowledge the atrocities going on in the world, all we want to do is play our video games, watch reality television, spend our money on clothes, jewelry, entertainment. Things that for all intents and purposes we do not need. These are the distractions that keep society from pondering in the wee hours of the night what they can do to prevent true injustice. The evils committed by those that govern are far worse than any fiction the cinema can dazzle us with these days. Yes this is a truly great film and one that I will cherish for a long time. I can only hope that its message finds a wide audience that is open to seeing things from another perspective, in a uniquely human light. In the end that is what the film is about...being human. Having the capacity to choose weather or not to recognize the evils of society and take a stand to make things better than they are. The film of course takes this idea to extremes but for the viewing public dramatic examples are needed to awake them from this artificially induced state of being we call existence and say, "I see there is wrong, and it is my duty as a human being to do what I can to make it right." To the makers of this unique and wonderful film, I salute you.
The Quiet Beginning
Review 1 of 4
Alien is one of those films that will never age. It takes the simplest story and tells it as well as it can be told. I look at this film as the first in a trilogy, many may not agree with that, but Alien is a perfect beginning. It establishes an entire world and makes it feel real. Everything feels new and interesting. The things that are not explained in this film are exactly what makes it so fascinating to watch. Where did that ship come from? It doesn't matter. Like a good novel the film allows you to fill in the pieces with your own imagination. This goes for the alien it self, since we see so little of it that it becomes all the more terrifying for it. Ridley Scott is like a painter with his images. So many frames of this picture seem like they could be made into still photographs. Alien is science fiction and yet with the way it is shot and acted the movie feels like a documentary. It's that sense of verisimilitude that has made this movie last for so long. So much is present in the subtext. I get the feeling that one of the underlying themes of the film is that technology in the future will little by little overtake the lives of human beings, but paradoxically the nostromo still needs a crew in order to operate. I believe this film is one of the few realistic depictions of what encountering a real Alien life form might actually be like, and that it may not be what we are expecting. something that has always stood out to me about the film is the level of familiarity that the characters have with their surroundings. Many science fiction films love to draw attention to their futuristic technology but the characters in Alien react to it like a construction worker would with operating a crane: it is their job. This film is so good for so many reasons. The performances are nothing short of amazing, the set design exquisite, the score by Jerry Goldsmith is subtle and evocative, but the main reason for me that alien still holds up after all these years is that it takes itself very seriously. There is no Hollywood style self referential humor that would saturate the later entries of the series. Sigourney Weaver may have gotten the academy award nomination for Aliens, but her work here is very solid. She plays a character who through much hardship finds strength within herself that never appeared to be there to begin with. If you look at the Alien series as a trilogy this is the film where Ripley discovers who she really is, or defines her character, and the only way one can do that is through the choices they make in extreme circumstances. This is a film of great tension and subtly, well worth seeing over and over again to pick up on all the layers of subtext that may have been missed the first or second viewing.
Great story told with heart
I can honestly say that Highlander is one of the most original and affecting stories I have ever had the pleasure of viewing, although sadly not in the cinema. The film has its flaws but the cumulative effect of all the various elements make this a film that is really like no other, and often imitated. There are many elements in the film that were experimental at the time, especially for a genre film. The editing style is much more painterly and nonlinear than what one normally expects. The integration of modern songs in a period setting was handled brilliantly, with the crowning achievement of the film being the "who wants to live forever?" montage, which is an absolutely heartbreaking scene. Anyone who has ever truly loved someone will understand when you see it. One of the refreshing aspects of Highlander is that the movie is not just set up with an interesting concept and becomes a mindless action film from there, but that it actually comments on the questions posed by immortality. With Connor Macleod we are given a fantastic character who is brilliantly realized through Chrisopher Lambert's complex performance. The change he goes through from young, innocent Scotsman to a sad, world weary antiques dealer is a wonderful achievement. I actually feel through his performance how lonely the life of an immortal must be, and how he keeps people at a distance whereas to not get too deeply involved. This film has it's heart in the right place because it comments on the fact that when people lose everything they hold dear, in this case because Macleod will outlive everyone he cares about, they travel inward, cutting themselves off from the world in hopes that they will be spared the pain of seeing the ones they love die. From a story standpoint alone, this is a truly magnificent film, which isn't to say it is lacking in other areas. The camera angles are very inventive and some of the transitions between time frames are jaw-dropping. The musical score by Michael Kamen is lush and romantic, while at the same time allowing for an integration with the songs by Queen that is a tremendously successful idea that in theory you'd never think would work right, but strangely it does so extremely well. There is a wide range of performance in the film ranging from Lambert's subtle, understated interpretation of Connor, to Clancy Brown's flamboyantly theatrical portrayal of the main Villain. Sean Connery also makes quite an impression as Connor's mentor. He is both hilarious and charming, powerful and poignant. The female character's are also handled very well with Conner's first wife Heather being the standout. Highlander has a very odd sense of humor that seems to have come from improvisation from the actors. The entire film has a spontaneous energy that works very well because you never quite know what is going to happen next. This is not a perfect film, and sometimes it tends to fall back on genre stereotypes but the overall effect of the film more than makes up for it. Highlander is one of the more original films ever made, and sadly none of the sequels ever built on that. As far as the Highlander series goes; There can be only one, and this is it.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
The Fatal Mistake.
Review 4 of 4
With Alien 3 closing the story arc of the Alien trilogy, this film begins with a fresh slate. The Alien films have always been a director's series but in this film it was the writing that ultimately killed it. Resurrection tries to be too many things at once. It has a very artistic and dynamic visual style, but cardboard characters. It has a very overt sense of humor, but it is all done in a very juvenile manner. Much of the maturity and restraint of the previous three films is thrown out in favor of a more comic book style. The cinematography and set design is gorgeous to the point of decadence. Sigourney Weaver has been given an interesting character to play and does it with a strange sense of detachment that lends more depth to the proceedings than the script ever could. Thinking back, the first three films all had very solid overall stories and well developed characters while Resurrection has a very solid concept but can't seem to build a coherent movie around it. If you follow the overall themes of the series with the first, second and third being birth, life, and death respectively that leaves Resurrection on shaky thematic ground. Since this is Alien: RESURRECTION obviously the filmmakers wished for rebirth to be the theme, but somehow it never quite works. The characters are basically action movie clichés, and the action sequences of the movie are hopelessly contrived. Why does the Alien always stop to snarl before it attacks giving people just enough time to shoot it? Alien 3 did not have this problem and it reinforced how dangerous the creature really was. Resurrection turns the Aliens into monsters from a B-movie. Very few scenes in the film are particularly memorable. Sure, the underwater chase is a nice bit of action derring-do, but there's no real sense of danger...except for the supporting characters you barely know who get killed in the reverse order they appear in the credits. Two fantastic scenes that I wish there were more of in the film are the doctor's examination of the Aliens where he "plays" with them. Now that was a scene of inspired genius. The other scene was when Ripley wakes up in her circular chamber. It is interesting to note that neither of these scenes have any dialogue, because the dialogue is pretty atrocious. Ron Pearlman is always fun to watch and makes a good comic duo with Dominique Pinon, but Winona Ryder absolutely kills this movie with her nonperformance. The effects look less realistic this time out and the score at times seems to try too hard to emulate the second and third films with Goldsmith's original Alien theme being used on several occasions. The film is a brilliant exercise in dynamic visuals but the story really does not go anywhere. Unlike the first three films this one does not take itself seriously at all so the danger level becomes nonexistent. I believe Jean-Pierre Jeunet was an excellent choice for a director but the script served him very badly. This is an interesting film to watch for an interesting scene here and there but not in the same league as the previous films.
The Tragic End.
Review 3 of 4
Looking at Alien 3 as the final film in a trilogy I have to say that it is one of the better final acts in film history, even though it is perhaps not the final act that many would have wanted. If you follow this guideline for a trilogy: Part one sets up the story, Part Two expands on it, taking it in new and interesting places, and Part three brings closure, then Alien 3 works just fine. I think of this film as a tragedy. Ripley loses everyone she ever cared about. Her situation is bleak, the setting is grim. Where Alien was subtle and Aliens was flamboyant, Alien 3 is more thematic. Much is present in the subtext. There is much religious and symbolic imagery to be digested. It is a very layered film that requires several viewings to take it all in. Again, Sigourney weaver gets much praise for her performance in Aliens, but here I believe she does her best work of the series. How does someone react when everything has been taken from them? What has their life amounted to? What was it all for? These are all questions posed by the film and to her character, and it is not an easy thing to play. This film has an elegiac quality that is absolutely unrelenting. The Extended Version of the film is much more layered and provides much more character depth, but there is one thing that really differentiates Alien 3 from its predecessors (especially in the special edition), it is almost solely focused on character to the point of the Alien not being all that dominant in terms of screen time and moments of suspense. The thematic elements of the film are very dominant; life, death, faith, and internal conflict. Many religious allegories are made with the most obvious being "the last temptation of Ripley" at the hands of Bishop II. The score in this film is much more dominant than either of the previous films, and there is a greater emphasis on the character's faces rather than set design or technology. Alien 3 seems more personal than the other films, perhaps because it centers entirely on Ripley's character. Several other memorable characters are introduced like Clemens, the soft spoken doctor, and Dillon, the religious leader. Golic is a fascinating character who's entire character arc was cut from the theatrical version but thankfully is in the special edition. Alien 3 is a difficult film for a mass audience because it doesn't have the horror or action aspects of the first and second that an audience can easily latch on to. It is a film about loss and internal conflict, not exactly the stuff one thinks of with popular entertainment, but I've always looked at the Alien Trilogy as more than just movies. Alien 3 has it's flaws, mainly the looming question of where the alien egg at the beginning of the film came from (but then again we never found out where the ship in the first film came from did we?) This film gives such a sense of completion and finality to the series that I wish no more installments had been made after it. It has one of the best endings in film history, but seeing David Fincher's subsequent work with Seven, The Game, and Fight Club, great endings are a trend in his films. This is a very rewarding film, but not an easy one to watch if you are looking for mindless entertainment. There are greater ideas and themes at play in Alien 3. Watching the first three back to back as a trilogy creates an amazing experience much like following a well loved character through a series of novels, sharing in their hardship and triumph as they go along.
The Exciting Continuation
Review 2 of 4
As the middle part of the Alien trilogy this film accomplishes exactly what any good second chapter must do, it builds on the world established in the first film and takes the story in new and interesting places. The emotional canvas of this story is broader than the original Alien, and the film as a whole is less subtle. I really like the theme's of family and the parallel character arcs of Ripley and Newt. They are both characters who have lost everything they ever cared about and through finding each other they attempt to fill the holes in their hearts that their respective losses have left behind. Cameron takes great time in setting up his characters from the start, something that was lacking in the original. The beginning of the film may be a little slow but like Cameron's next film, The Abyss, the payoff in the end would not be nearly as satisfying without all this time to get to know the characters and become emotionally invested. The setup is massively important to the rest of the film. Aside from the abundance of action this film benefits greatly from a larger emphasis on character. Hudson, Hicks, Vasquez, Burke, and Bishop are all very memorable characters, perhaps more memorable than those in the original film. It is the relationships between these characters that make it more than just an action film. Cameron has such a way with dialog and Aliens is a prime example. I have built entire friendships on mutual love of this movie. So many lines are so easily quotable. From a technical level this film is flawless, and like the original it has not aged much at all since its release twenty years ago.
If in the first film Ripley was discovering her inner strength, Aliens is where she learns to master her fear. In this film we also learn the depths of her humanity that was scarcely present in the original film (the scene where she goes back to save her cat comes to mind.) Ripley is a character that continues to change and grow, and this film does a fine job of fleshing out her interesting (in under developed) character from the first film. Aliens is definitely a film to watch more than a few times, but for different reasons than the first. The mystery and ambiance of the original film makes it fascinating to watch multiple times, but Aliens is more like spending time with old friends, you want to spend two and a half hours with these characters. Aliens is quite possibly the perfect sequel because it gives you everything you got in the first film and much, much more.
The Abyss (1989)
Special Edition is a must
In it's original form The Abyss is an absolutely brilliant film. I cannot begin to explain how different my viewing experience of the Special edition was from the severely truncated theatrical version. To sum it up, the special edition is a richly thematic and far more resonant experience, the difference between a good movie and a truly great film. Perhaps Cameron spends too much time in the beginning of the picture explaining the technology and how it works but I believe that knowledge only helps one immerse themselves into the world of the characters. The Abyss is actually three films; a technological thriller, a love story, and a lesson in basic morality. This is definitely a movie that warrants your full attention since the details are so vastly important to the whole that if you were to step out for five minutes (which no one should ever do!) you would become completely lost. This film has some of the most amazing scenes I have ever seen in film, and they are quite diverse. One would have to be the scene where Linsday chooses to drown and be taken back to the rig by Virgil...the real human element of that scene that struck me was when the water level started to rise over her neck, she doubts that it was a good idea. I can feel her fear as she desperately tries to keep her head above the rising water. Immediately following is the scene where Virgil revives Lindsay, screaming for her to fight while everyone else thinks he is crazy for trying to bring back what appears to be Linsday's corpse. That entire scene is so gut wrenchingly emotional that it's a good thing that there are a few quiet scenes afterward...we need to catch our breath, but then this also has to do with Cameron's storytelling, he knows we do too. The biggest moments of goose bump inducing awe that this film gave me came only from the special edition...the whole reason for the NTI's being there is explained and the reason they didn't go through with using the wave to wipe out mankind was because of Bud's own self sacrifice. It's hard to comment on a movie you love without getting incoherently jumbled, but this one will always be special to me because it does one thing that many films these days do not: it makes me feel something.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Good enough for what it is, fascinating for what it could have been.
This is an extremely well crafted film, but a poorly edited one. Much like The Ghost and the Darkness it has such a winning historical concept that it is easy to forgive a little narrative incoherency from time to time. This film is a bit muddled when it comes to plot and characterization but hits all the right notes in terms of creating an adventurous spirit and thrilling action sequences. Jerry Goldsmith's score is a real high point, as is the cinematography. This is an absolutely wonderful film to get all caught up in on a lonely night because it makes you feel as if you are on the journey with Banderas' character. It is an action thriller that is actually...thrilling. In particular the scene with the "fire dragon" is one of the more memorable battle sequences I have seen in any movie, and I really mean that. The only negative aspects of the film are the feeling that a lot of scenes were left on the editing room floor, which is true, and if there was ever a film that really deserved a director's cut this is certainly one of them so long as Jerry Goldsmith's music (the soul of the picture) remains in. (Greame Revell composed a score for the unreleased longer version, which I have heard and in no way compares to Goldsmith's thunderous adventure music). The lavish costumes, set designs, memorable characters, and brilliant camera work somehow allow this film to overcome its editorial handicaps. All being said, this is a film well worth watching.