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Detachment (2011)
6/10
Not great, but nearly there
26 March 2013
I rented this solely on the trailer, and on Brody's strength as an actor. While I wasn't disappointed to have seen it, I have to say it came across more than a little heavy-handed. I'll tell it to you now, without spoiling the movie: the message is we're ruining our civilization by not raising our kids properly. So, if you want to sit through an hour and a half of bleakness to be spoon-fed that fairly obvious concept, there are worse ways to do it than to watch this film. It's a solid (if peculiar) cast of mostly character actors, who clearly felt a need to put their muscle behind this story; otherwise, they're strangely placed here. Everyone turns in perfect performances, sometimes in difficult roles (Caan's restrained kindly-but-scary is wonderful to behold), and visually this is a striking work. But beyond the surface, it's a bit thin in character, motivation and plot, so won't end up on anyone's Great Movies list.
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6/10
A waste of a dynamic, gorgeous animated film
8 March 2013
When I first heard about this project, I was excited. How could I not be? I've been a monster fan since I was able to be a fan of things, and have enjoyed Genndy Tartakovsky since my very first exposure to his vivid, highly-stylised work. Then came the bad news: the voice cast. Upon seeing that not only Adam Sandler, but also David Spade, Kevin James, Fran Drescher and Selena Gomez were attached, my heart sank. What was this? The worst, most pandering cast they could find? So, I decided I could skip this one, Tartakovsky or not. The film showed at our local theatre, and I let the wife and daughter go with friends and without me. They came back pretty pleased, but not excited enough to make me feel like I'd missed anything. So, I waited for it to come out on home video. Having finally gotten to see it, all my expectations have been confirmed: the film was fantastic to look at, with animation more full of animated life (as opposed to 'real' life, a la most computer-animated films) than I've seen in...maybe ever; the voice cast was awful. It's an entertaining premise (though one I feel has been visited before), and one that has the potential to gather together great monsters in a human-free environment to unwind and show us their 'true' personalities. That much was realised, but only as far as the voice talent could take it. Sandler's Dracula was lackluster and as empty as his performances tend to be. Most of the rest of the cast could have been anyone, really. Even their heaviest hitter talent-wise, Steve Buscemi, was so underplayed as to be non-existent. And Samberg's character, the sole human in the story? Oof. Could they have made him sympathetic to anyone but the most obnoxious late-teen douchebags? And I'm not even going to touch the non-Mothersbaugh soundtrack. Though, to paraphrase the young son of an eminent animation man: movies always end with dancing anymore. Okay, I know that cranky geeks in their 40s are not the target audience for this movie. But maybe it should have been. Clearly, they weren't going to get the Twilight crowd, and the movie was a little too light-hearted for the Twilight-lash-back crowd. Outside of that, who was going to see this movie and actually care what was on the screen in front of them? Monster fans and animation freaks! While neither of those are likely to be completely let down by Hotel Transylvania, I doubt this is one of which any audience is going to need repeat viewings. Except, perhaps, with the sound off.
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8/10
The ONLY true inheritor to the mantle!
10 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
After having seen this movie countless times, I finally felt obligated to write a bit about it. I've no idea how many horror fans -- and thus fans of 'The Exorcist' -- I've talked to who saw 'Exorcist II' and were so dispirited by it that they never bothered to see this one! This is so completely regrettable as this third installment is superb. Out of the three sequels to the original, this is the sole one worthy of having been made. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the only sequel Blatty (the authour of the book the first one was based on) wrote as a novel...and he wrote and directed this film! The story picks up 15 years after the original (and rightly ignores whatever happened in the second film). The cop Kinderman from the first movie returns, now portrayed by the fantastically intense George C. Scott. He is our lead character this time, as the story is more like a serial-killer mystery than the straight demonic-possession of the first two. Several gruesome murders have occurred in Georgetown, and Kinderman's investigating. He finds all the murders share MO not only with each other, but with a series of killings from around the time of the first story...the perpetrator of which was caught and executed. Events lead Kinderman to a local hospital, where he's shocked by what he finds. After a handful more scares to keep you watching, everything eventually builds to a suitably horror-y (if somehow disappointing) climax that's considerably less nasty than the first, and in totally different ways. This film is dominated by Scott, of course, as his presence is always overwhelming. Brad Dourif is his typically riveting self, and serves as a perfect equal and balance to Scott (though the peculiar and seemingly random pitch-shifting of his voice is a little distracting). Jason Miller returns as Father Karras, surprisingly enough, and is just as perfect in the role as he was over 15 years earlier. There is another exorcist this time 'round, but Nicol Williamson (perhaps best remembered as Merlin from 'Excalibur') is no Max Von Sydow. (I could swear there's a little Mercedes McCambridge voice cameo over the first little old lady, but have no way to confirm this...) And on top of all this are bizarre cameos from C. Everett Koop, Larry King, Samuel L. Jackson and FABIO, among others! All that said, this is not a perfect movie. There are some noticeable discrepancies between this and the first (though I must assume they're truer to the book, considering the source), the most obvious of which is the playing up of Kinderman's relationship with Karras. In the first movie, they met only once, I believe, before the latter died on those infamous stairs. In this film, however, it's repeatedly established that they were bosom companions. In addition to this are some problems with the crime mystery angle, mostly concerning police work, but nothing to spoil the movie. It's clear Blatty learned a great deal from Friedkin, as the latter's stylistic fingerprints are all over this. Granted, there are a couple directorial stumbles but for his second film (the first the very solid 'Ninth Configuration,' based on another of his novels) it's a decidedly decent effort. From the scene-establishing montage shots to the agonising attention paid to the sound engineering, this is a perfectly crafted sequel to the first film. Skip the second one (and the fourth, for that matter), and just make this THE 'Exorcist' sequel you love.
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8/10
Relentlessly bleak
26 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In all honesty, I started watching this on the suspicion that it may have been the source of comedian Chris Rock's 'Salad-Tossin' Man' routine. It wasn't, but I'm certainly glad I saw it anyway. This is a fairly frank (if somewhat dated now) look at prisoners' life within the prison system on Riker's Island in New York. It tries in an hour and a half to cover the various buildings and prisoner-groups housed across the island. At times the narrative is a little choppy and the camera work is entirely freehand. In spite of this, we are given chilling insight into the truly awful conditions in which these people live. Sprinkled throughout the film footage are numerous startling facts and statistics dealing both with Riker's in specific and the American prison system in general. Many of the inmates on Riker's, as we see here, are charged but not yet convicted, some are mentally ill, MANY are drug addicts in dire need of rehabilitation more than incarceration, some of the women are pregnant and give birth in the prison (there were, at the time of filming, twice as many births as deaths on Riker's) and most are very poor. If nothing else, this is yet another indictment of both the American prison system and the American economic system, both of which conspire to keep poor, uneducated people poor and uneducated...and in prison. Though at writing this film is a decade and a half old, this writer doesn't imagine things on Riker's have changed, save for the worse. This documentary remains vital, poignant and moving. Certainly, this is recommended viewing, but not for the weak of heart.
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4/10
Torturous and unending!
9 April 2007
You'd think that between Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt (not to mention the inimitable Jeffrey Tambor), an at-least-decent movie would emerge, but that was regrettably not the case here. That is not to say that Hopkins and Pitt turned in bad performances; they were both what you'd expect of them: Hopkins at turns stiff and explosive, Pitt utterly chameleonic. Rather, it is the ineptitude of the writers (all FOUR of them!) and the director that fails this movie so miserably...and what is there to a movie after that? So much of this film reminded me of Peter Sellers' 'Being There,' but that movie worked with a fluid story, single-minded direction and all spot-on performances. This...well, the story is single-minded, the direction is sloppy and the performances are (at best) spotty. Even the usually excellent Pitt's character is all over the place: one moment he's naive or petulant as a 5-year-old, the next he's as omnipotent and stern as a god! Again, not his fault clearly. His performance at every turn is solid, but the turns he's given are just too much. Behind all this is a score that sounds like it's been lifted from 3 or 4 other movies. It sweeps, dips and soars often completely counter to the action on the screen. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last conversation between Hopkins and Pitt. My wife and I were convinced at any moment they were going to be pressing their faces together in a climactic kiss! But, no, it was just a chat...that went on forever. My pregnant missus was laughing so hard, she felt certain it was going to induce labour! The writers of this movie should've stuck to TV scripts. It's clearly what they do best. Too much of this story was too trite, and too much of the dialogue sounded like it was pieced together from greeting cards. The best example of this is Hopkins early speech to Forlani on the plane, regarding looking for true love. That monologue jumps from one cliché to the next, as though the writers stood in a drugstore on Valentine's Day, rifling through a rack of niceties and copying down the insides. I gave it a 4 out of the IMDb 10, and that mainly because it wasn't '"Manos": The Hands of Fate,' and did have a pretty solid core cast. But do yourself a favour: avoid this movie. I watched it with my wife (though at my own suggestion, I'm ashamed to say), and it's truly surprising we both made it through all three hours of this dreck. Don't do the same. Go watch any of the number of other better movies either Hopkins or Pitt have done...then just put the quality together in your mind. You'll be a better person for it. I only wish we'd done the same.
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Förortsungar (2006)
5/10
It was 'okej'
26 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is no great shakes, but it's certainly not bad. It reeks of independent film, which makes it particularly strange when the MUSICAL NUMBERS happen! Otherwise, this is a cute story about a young immigrant who (I don't really understand why) is living with her grandfather in a ratty apartment with a (Swedish) 'rocker.' Grampa dies pretty short into the film, so the kid is alone with the nice guy, who's promised the grand-dad he'd take care of her. Meanwhile, the girl makes friends, has fun...and solves a crime! And in the midst of all that, we get songs and dances from just about every member of the cast. In America, this'd be strictly a kids' movie. So should it be here.
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Stealing a Nation (2004 TV Movie)
8/10
Heartbreaking, infuriating and embarrassing
29 December 2006
The endless bounds of our inhumanity to our own kind never fails to stun me. This truly astonishing story of a horrifically abused and largely unheard-of population is compelling, well-documented and enraging. As an American, I am constantly humiliated by my country's behaviour and this is just another in our long catalogue of international debasement. We suck. This is probably the first John Pilger documentary I've seen, but it immediately made me want to see what else he's done. My only complaint, and the reason I gave this film only 8 out of 10, is that Pilger shows us this travesty and the appalling collaboration of the US and UK governments, demands that we viewers/citizens are complicit in our own inaction...but makes no suggestion of how to help. I don't know about Britain, but America's made it nearly impossible for the citizenry to take part in their government's doings. A gesture in the right direction might help these islanders' cause.
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5/10
Could have been good
29 October 2006
If there is any one thing that REALLY holds this movie back, it's probably MTV eye-candy Ashton Kutcher. Sure the script is weak and smacks of late night pot sessions, sure the direction is alternatingly sloppy and overwrought, and sure I reached the movie's end thinking 'why the hell should I care?'...but all these considerations are nothing compared to the mess that is Kutcher's acting! The kid can not act his way out of a paper bag, and I don't know what would possess anyone to put him in such a demanding dramatic role (more demanding, honestly, than popcorn fare like this should ever expect). The only reason I can see to have put this guy -- whose previous credits included portraying the chowderhead on 'That 70's Show' and HIMSELF on the idiotic 'Punk'd' -- in this role was to get ANYONE to see it! Seriously: would anyone have gone to see a movie about the paradoxes of time travel if some schmuck nobody knew was in the lead role? Almost certainly not. At least with Kutcher on the posters you'd at least snag the poor suckers who thought 'Donnie Darko' was the deepest thing ever... Aside from they abysmal Kutcher, this movie had certain things going for it. It is, essentially, a clever premise, but a tough one to tackle. A writer could never be certain how far to go when trying to calculate the changes one could effect in one's own life and the world if able to go back and change key events in one's past. And the creators of 'Final Destination 2' are not necessarily up to the task. But why should they be? Nobody expects much of them, and this movie will assuredly become another short-term classic for high-school/college half-thinkers to hash over as they play it again and again, searching for greater meaning than will ever be there. See this movie only if you're a time-travel nut...or a 13-year-old with pretensions toward genius. Otherwise, anyone could sit this one out, and spend the time changing their own life.
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Diner (1982)
6/10
As good as they got
29 October 2006
Before Steve Guttenberg's career became a joke at the hands of the 'Police Academy' series, before Mickey Rourke turned himself into a battered meatmonster, before Kevin Bacon became Skeletor, before Paul Reiser restricted his own public image via his television pairing with Helen Hunt and Daniel Stern became better known for his criminal bumbling in the 'Home Alone' movies than for anything else he'd do...before all this happened, all these men came together for this one little gem. 'Diner' covers the misadventures of a small band of college-age men in the 1950s in America. There is the expected misogyny, drinking and general misbehaviour one would expect of such a situation. However, looking at the cast, one might not expect fluid and energetic performances delivered by a cast that would later essentially be embarrassments to themselves. This is no classic, nor is it even a cult classic, just one of those countless largely-forgotten flicks that would be worth your time some late night on TV. It was worth mine, and I'd seen it already!
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Spider-Man (2002)
7/10
No 'X-Men,' but still entertaining
29 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I should preface anything I'm about to say by saying I don't like superheroes. These men (and women) in tights are holdovers from when comics were aimed strictly at kids, but now are being read by adults. They cast the world in tones of black and white (or, in the case of this movie, red-and-blue and green...) and oversimplify morality in a way only the real-life comic logic of organised religion does better. This said, I have to admit that I liked this movie. I worked in a comic shop for 10 years, and during that time witnessed the beginning of the recent boom in comic-book movies. Customers would get completely worked up over the latest spandex thriller to hit the big screen, but I'm only catching these movies years later on the small screen. Originally, I hadn't planned to give any synopsis on this story, thinking that if you were going to see this and didn't already know the story behind the spider I had no sympathy for you. However, I then found my own wife had no idea how Peter Parker got his superpowers, so here goes... Mild-mannered ubergeek Peter Parker lives with his elderly Aunt May and uncle Ben, next door to his longtime crush Mary-Jane Watson(who doesn't have any interest in him, of course). On a field trip, he's bitten by a scientifically altered spider, and finds himself endowed with special spidery powers...and a buff new physique! Naturally, being a much-downtrodden teenager, his first instinct is to use these powers to impress girls. Or, more specifically, one girl: Mary-Jane. However, through a series of events, his own actions lead to his beloved uncle's death, and he realises what his late uncle said was true: 'With great power comes great responsibility.' He thereafter commits himself to fighting crime with his newfound abilities. Wackiness ensues...I mean, ADVENTURE ENSUES! The story, at its roots, is pretty true to the source material, for better or worse. On the plus side, the movie maintains the childish charm of a comic book; on the minus, the movie doesn't really surpass the childish charm of a comic book. My only real beef with this movie was probably just a technical limitation of the time (only a few short years ago) when digital effects were STILL not up to bringing this particular character to the screen. While Tobey Maguire pulls some great physical acting out of his performance, it becomes all too clear when the switch is made to a computer-generated 'person' clumsily climbing the side of a building or swinging through the city. I can only imagine such effects looking much, much worse twenty feet high on the big screen. Sam Raimi, who brought us the much-beloved 'Evil Dead' trilogy (and countless other truly crappy movies), is a good choice to helm this flick. His work in 'Army of Darkness,' 'Darkman' and others show he has both an understanding of what makes these stories appealing as well as an appreciation for faithful adaptation of the superhero ethos. The downside of this, is that Parker, arch-nemesis Norman Osborn, Aunt May and the others end up consigned to the otherworldly realm of comics. They never at all approach believable real-life characters, and this removes the viewer from the 'reality' of their world (both the viewer's AND the characters' worlds). Compare this to Bryan Singer's work on 'X-Men.' He managed to take the equally ridiculous other Marvel/Stan Lee icons and mold them into acceptable members of the world we live in. Sure, they have superpowers/mutations, but they also have believable personalities and interactions with reality. I suppose the difference lies in what you want from your superhero: for a reasonable adaptation of the superhero into our world, see the 'X-Men' movies; for pure escapist fantasy, see 'Spider-Man.' Either way, you're not liable to be disappointed as both pack thrills and visual excitement into their brightly coloured packages.
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1/10
Oh my crap...SO TERRIBLE!
29 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen any number of successful movies turned into shameful franchises, but the 'Poltergeist' trilogy really takes the cake. While I would never suggest the first was a fine film to any degree, it has its share of good scares and (more importantly) iconic scenes and images that stay with the viewer. I can only hope nothing stays with me from THIS abysmal chapter in the series. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Heather O'Rourke truly showed her (lack of) acting chops here. Granted, this is the first time in the series she's been expected to really perform (beyond 'They're here' and 'They're back'...oh, and a LOT of shrieking), and she was only 12 at the time, but who would build their movie around a performance that would embarrass a porn star? Especially when you have comparative heavy-hitters (at least for the time) like Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen and Lara Flynn Boyle in your cast? Who would do this? Apparently a producer/writer/director/visual effects coordinator like Gary Sherman. Less than halfway through this quagmire, I realised there was something horribly wrong with the direction: nearly every one of the actors delivered their lines as though they'd first seen them that morning; the action relied too often on (not particularly spectacular) special effects; and the story offered little sense and less sympathy for any character. I set these problems squarely at the feet of director-co-writer Gary Sherman. I hope he's proud of himself. And whatever happened to Scott, the doofy pseudo-romantic interest for Lara Flynn Boyle? Not that I care, but when you're tying up your loose ends, wouldn't you care to at least account for all your 'major' characters and their whereabouts? I guess that's just me... Any reviewer here who would suggest 'Poltergeist III' is in ANY way good needs to see more movies. Perhaps they are suffering under some mass-hypnotic suggestion projected by the imagination of a manipulative 12-year-old girl they've never met. Within the last month, my wife and I have viewed all three 'Poltergeist' films. Do yourself a favour, and just watch the first.
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Don't Go to Sleep (1982 TV Movie)
4/10
Fun junk
25 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I am constantly amazed at how many people confuse their childhood enthusiasm for something with its legitimate value. I LOVE the 'Planet of the Apes' movies...but I don't think they're at all 'good.' I'll watch them time and again, and subject friends and family to them, but I'd never suggest they're decent films! So, it seems, is the case with 'Don't Go to Sleep.' Almost all the comments here are positive...no, not just 'positive': glowing! There are reviews here calling this the 'best horror movie ever made.' Really. Just look. It is not. It is not even a good horror movie. However, it is a LOT of fun to watch. 'Don't Go to Sleep' follows a family into a new home and life after the elder sister has died in (we find out later) a fiery car accident (a la 'Simpsons'). Now, the younger sister is haunted by the 'ghost' of her dead sibling, and this leads her to pick off every member of the family in a series of deftly orchestrated accidents until only her mother (Valerie Harper) remains. My wife, like so many writers here, saw this movie when she was young and it stayed with her (mainly, I suspect, because of the bad little girls), so I bought a copy of it for her. We've watched it over and over, to the point that I can recite lines from it verbatim (a house favourite: 'I'm ALWAYS nice'). She takes offense to my low assessment of this movie, even though she doesn't place it quite as highly as some IMDb reviewers. This was made for TV in the early '80s...and it really looks it. Think 'Tales from the Darkside' with the same degree of guest talent (in addition to Harper, we get the delightful Ruth Gordon and the baffling Dennis Weaver) and slightly higher production value, but the same corny kind of writing. A perfect example of how ridiculous this movie can be: the family moves into a house with the number 13666. You KNOW some bad stuff is going to go down if you move into a house with such a SPOOOOKY number, right? Truly, this is made-for-TV garbage, and how it escaped the attentions of the MST3K gang is beyond me. But, if you are able to watch it, do it with friends and make your own running commentary...because that's all this is good for. But at least it's not '"Manos"...'
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Cast Away (2000)
7/10
Cartoons run the world!
25 September 2006
I have to give more credit to cartoons for my cinematic education than I tend to like to admit. If it hadn't been for my early love of Warner Bros. cartoons, I probably never would have seen many of the films from the '40s that I have, and almost certainly wouldn't have entered my longtime infatuation with filmmakers like Welles and Hitchcock. 'The Simpsons' got me to watch more current classics to get their injokes, and now 'Family Guy' has brought the trend up to the newest films. So, that's why I watched 'Cast Away' when it came on television, though I otherwise had no other interest in it. And once again, I have to thank cartoons for broadening my horizons just that bit farther. I won't rehash the story of 'Cast Away,' since it's surely been done enough on this site and even if it hadn't it's pretty much in the title! I will simply say Tom Hanks has done another surprising job while staying within the confines of his nonacting (the only time I've seen him be other than 'Tom Hanks as...' was probably 'The Road to Perdition'), and that's fortunate since he has the responsibility of carrying most of this film himself. The story is another 'Robinson Crusoe' kind of affair, with a volleyball standing in for Friday. If I have any issue with this movie, it's that it didn't follow more truly the formula of such films: too much in-society, not enough cast-away. And that's IF I have an issue with it... This is not a great film. The direction is utterly straightforward and the writing is only as good as it needs to be. The ending is a little much after what is a fairly simple concept tale, but I'll leave it at that. So, see 'Cast Away' if you've nothing better to do. At the very least, it'll give you a leg up on the latest parodic cartoons. At the most, it's a decent enough picture that won't make you feel like you've wasted the last hour and a half...like 'Coyote Ugly.'
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Freeway (2005)
8/10
Hypnotic
25 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's a little surprising that there are no comments for this film, but perhaps it has gone unseen until, like me, it's stumbled upon on late night (Swedish) TV. That's a shame, as I would have certainly paid the rental or theatre price to see it. This documentary follows a different path than most. Eschewing the straightforward documentation of films like 'Capturing the Friedmans' and the flip-side over-the-top sensationalism of Michael Moore, Danish filmmaker Jacob Thuesen has here rather composed a cinematic poem about his subject, the LA freeway system. We are shown the freeway through the eyes of its patrons (via anonymous but spectacular in-traffic candid footage and equally anonymous but considerably more unnerving gas station interviews), its creators (chiefly a heavyweight at Caltrans, a California highway contractor) and its patrols (well, one CHP cop, anyway). There are never any long, drawn-out explanations of the freeway's history or construction, very few diagrams, and as few loving shots of backed up traffic from above. Still, we are given a sense of what it is to 'be' the freeway: bearer of the weight of a society in love with its cars, but at war with the problems they create. Through conversations with Caltrans-contracted road crew (populated by misdemeanor miscreants) and one particularly contemptible Hummer salesman (a pillow-faced pig pushing his planet-polluters as fun toys for grown-ups), we see vastly disparate ends of this automotive spectrum. Watching this movie is oddly compelling. Though there is very little choppy editing to convey the constant rush of traffic (or, indeed, the violent ends often met there), and almost no narrative thread to follow, an effective use of a mesmeric score draws the viewer in to the creators' awestruck perception of the American freeway. As an American, this is a compelling film examining one of our strangest mores. For outsiders, it must just look like a funeral procession for the fattest country on the planet. But for everyone, this is a recommended film.
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6/10
Another Hughes classic
24 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It is so unnecessary for anyone to make another comment about this film, really, but here I am! This is, of course, another nearly-timeless teen classic from John Hughes in his golden era. Unfortunately, this means it suffers from the same flaw most of this period does: after about the first third of the film you can probably turn it off since you've seen the best it's going to get. Aside from Principal Ed Rooney's very funny pursuit of Bueller through the remainder of the movie, the best moments for my money occur before Ferris leaves the house! I understand this excludes the well-known 'Danke Schoen'/'Twist & Shout' parade scene, but this is an overrated one anyway. Our insights into Ferris -- as well as into the excellent portrayal of what could easily have been a thoroughly irritating spoiled brat by Broderick -- chiefly occur in the first half-hour of the film, and much after that is filler. Not that I would dissuade anyone from watching this fun movie all the way through at least once, but be prepared to make your popcorn break about the time they show up to pick up the girlfriend.
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3/10
Not so much remake as ripoff
24 September 2006
I never would've seen this film had it not been on television on a slow night. I LOVE Hitchcock and the idea of remaking his movies misses the point of his movies: they're not great because they were great stories, but because they were great films. This purported to be a 'remake' of 'Dial M for Murder,' a favourite Hitchcock of mine (mainly because I love Grace Kelly under his direction). It was with surprise, then, to find that really the only element to survive the update was that a fellow plans to have his wife murdered and it goes wrong. All else appears twisted and worse-than-modernised in this version, making this movie its own, as though a writer had written a VERY similar screenplay and it was only after shopping it around that someone pointed out its similarity to 'Dial M...' The performances in this rendition are utterly weak, a shame considering the leading cast. The direction, though colourful, is far too much for what is a simple murder mystery. Do yourself a favour and miss out on this one...go watch the original for a better -- though less SEXIFUL -- experience.
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8/10
A step in the (rope) ladder
24 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In this second installment in Disney's only successful ride-to-movie franchise (does anyone even remember 'Tower of Terror'?), we find the major players further along in their lives, though in similar positions. Jack Sparrow is in trouble again and at the whim of his own worst interests; Will Turner again finds himself in the position of leverage; Ms. Swann is able once more to indulge firsthand her infatuation with pirates; and the once-mighty naval man Norrington is forced to compromise his principles for his heart. Sparrow's soul, it turns out, is owed to the Lovecraftian Davy Jones. He can either turn over a pile o' souls to Jones in his own stead, or defeat Jones by retrieving Jones' heart from the infamous Locker. Meanwhile, all sorts of monstrous phantasmagoria ensues involving the creepy crew of Jones' Flying Dutchman. It's a mishmash of nautical lore, certainly, but somehow it all works...and they even manage to work in the swampy start of the original ride as well! This isn't at all a bad movie, even though Depp's performance is a little weak. I like to think he was distracted during shooting by being in mourning over the death of Hunter S. Thompson. Fortunately, we are already familiar with Capt. Jack Sparrow, so the character carries where the performance lacks. Also there to provide support are excellent actors like Bill Nighy and Stellan Skarsgård aboard the fantastic-looking Flying Dutchman. The effects are great, especially if you like monsters, though they can be overwhelming at times. I can't imagine how much this will lose going to the small-screen, where the huge cast of truly amazing-looking creatures will just turn into a dark mush for the eyes. Be forewarned, though, for its fine points (even beyond a strong supporting cast and slick effects, there's a fun story and up-the-ante action scenes), this movie should be viewed with the knowledge that it is REALLY the second part of a trilogy. It was alarming to come within minutes of the film's end and realise suddenly that there was no resolution in sight...until movie number three! So, as long as the viewer can enter the theatre forearmed with that information, this ride's an enjoyable one.
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Coyote Ugly (2000)
2/10
So bad I left my wife
24 September 2006
Okay, so I only left my wife in the living room to watch this piece of garbage while I ate supper, but that's still a pretty big deal in our house! I mean, I do have LIMITS! I'll watch 'Billy Madison' over and over for her, but if she wanted to watch an 'Ernest Goes...' movie I'd draw the line, too. Any movie with this much WOO-ing can't be good, and every little bit of it that I heard was so hackney I could only roll my eyes. Why are movies like this even still made? Why are movies like this still written?! And why is John Goodman in this one? I hope he at least got laid outta the deal...I know I didn't... Just do yourself a favour and avoid this junk.
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8/10
A classic...in spite of itself
23 August 2006
I'll fess up: I enjoy this movie. Or rather I should say, I enjoy the first half or so of this movie. As is typical of John Hughes 2-3 year golden period in the 80s, this movie kind of peters out for me about midway through, probably around the time they all get high. That said, I am under no illusions about the quality of this film. The cast, all young actors who became bastions of the decade's films but struggled outside of the eighties, are as laboured as ever in these stereotyped roles. Each one is, admittedly, being expected to play up to their 'title' in the movie to a certain degree. However, when given an emotional range to portray, each one of these kids flubs it (does anyone buy for a second the 'tender side' of Judd Nelson's character?). The direction is typical Hughes, for the time and beyond. It's hard to imagine he does much more than set up the camera and say 'Action!' most of the time, because those rare occasions he tries anything inventive it goes awry (e.g., the pan shot around the stoned circle that gets obscured for several seconds by the rail). But he's never needed to stretch his directorial muscle and nobody's ever wanted him to: we see his movies to be entertained by quirky, endearing characters, not to be stunned by his camera work. And that's what he does here. This is, likewise, a typical Hughes story. A group of kids are thrust together in an unlikely circumstance (in-school suspension is typical to teenhood, sure, but at least three of these kids effectively chose to be there). They find a little bit of themselves in each other, and vice versa. All come out (perhaps) changed by the experience. This is what Hughes does...or did, anyway: he designs likable characters, in spite of their flaws, who you want to see pull it together by the end of the film. We do, and they kind of do. I'd like to believe that it's just that this movie came out when I was their age that makes this a more poignant and precise picture of teenage mentality. I don't think, however, that there has been another movie that attempts to draw a broadly outlined picture of the teenage personality and does it sympathetically. Most teen pictures within the past 15 years do, of course, specialise in the broadly drawn characters...but you as a viewer are rarely expected to sympathise with any but the 'hero.' Unfortunately, this movie has grown extremely dated in the time since its release, and I'd be surprised if most teenagers today could find any reason to watch it. A shame, truly, because a film like this becomes a significant pop-cultural milestone for its generation, and every generation should have one.
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Flatliners (1990)
2/10
Almost complete junk
21 August 2006
This movie perfectly exemplifies two things SO wrong with modern American cinema, in the forms of Joel Schumaker and Julia Roberts. Joel Schumaker is one of those directors I hold largely responsible for the cultural dumbening (to borrow a 'word' from Lisa Simpson) of the US. His films so perfectly embody the very attributes that make stereotypic 'American Movies': the symbolism is heavy-handed, the actors are weak, the effects are big and the technology is misunderstood but overused! This man should have been stopped long ago, but I understand that people want to see this kind of popcorn chow garbage. Garbage like that has given freak-of-nature Julia Roberts her entire career, which now seems (thankfully) pretty well over. This woman overacts every line she's been given, chewing up the scenery with that gaping maw of hers and over-emoting every scene. This film joins these two paragons of modern cinema for a bland and nearly unbearable journey to the other side. Only Joel Schumacher could've taken such a large and (all things being relative) promising young cast and made it into a sub-B-movie schlockfest like this. Don't get me wrong: I REALLY don't like Oliver Platt, can barely stand looking at Son-of-Skeletor Kevin Bacon, and think Keifer Sutherland has been typecast to DEATH. That said, I still think a film like this shouldn't happen to a cast like this. I mean, I just don't like these guys, but I'm not saying they don't have their place (Kevin Bacon's supposed to be great in 'The Woodsman' and Keifer may be typecast but he does make a fun villain). A movie like this shouldn't happen to a DOG! The strange thing about 'Flatliners' is that it's not a bad idea, it just goes SO horribly wrong. The writer clearly had a very slim grasp of religious belief (and the lack thereof) and an even slimmer one of medical technology (EEG, ECG, who cares?). And, of course, Schumacher's not happy unless you KNOW he's there! Movies can be over-directed, Joel. Back off once in a while. The only reason to see this movie is for nostalgia (it is SO dated looking, and from a time Schumacher must've been a fan of Michael Mann) or for a loved one. In my case, it was for a loved one's nostalgia: my wife had fond memories of this movie from her teen years, but by the end even she was irritated by this pile of dung. I rated this movie at a 2, though, because at least it's not '"Manos" The Hands of Fate.'
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6/10
An embarrassment to its creator
22 June 2006
In spite of myself, I was completely geeked up about the movie adaptation of one of my favourite comics. I can only blame this on a very effective advertising campaign (the site was neat, the retro design on the posters very attractive and news on the movie hard to come by), since every prior Alan Moore adaptation has suffered horribly at the hands of Hollywood. In addition to which was the directorial debut of an AD from such abominations as the 'Star Wars' prequels and 'The Matrix' trilogy. Still, despite these warning signs, when it was finally time for the movie, I was quite excited. (Regrettably, it was only after seeing it that I heard Moore had disowned the project!) Knowing I'd most likely be disappointed, though, I tried to separate the film from its original source material (which it almost entirely betrays, for some reason) and view it simply as a sci-fi action movie (which I'd almost never watch otherwise). I know: impossible, right? I thought I could do it, and I don't know if I was up to the task. I'll concede that Hugo Weaving was an apt choice for V. He does a nice job with a difficult character, only occasionally descending to hamminess. I was curious to see what Natalie Portman would do with Evey, and was completely let down. She was entirely too attractive for the role of Little Miss Average, and I can never accept her all-too-subtle English accent (this was supposed to be a lower middle class girl, after all, and she plays it like she went to Oxford). I understand that, in order to have an almost all-English cast, the filmmakers had to score some American star power, but surely there could have been someone else (was Jena Malone busy?). McTeigue's direction is all you'd expect it to be: effects heavy and lacking moving artistic perception. I imagine this film looks great in stills, and that's how he (and his mentors the Wachowskis) sets up shots: as images, not as motion. So much of the camera-work -- to say nothing of the effects -- was gratuitous and done solely for 'wow-factor' in a story that would otherwise have been too quite for the mythical American audience to handle. That, it seems, is at the root of the problem with this film: it was engineered, once again, for the eternally underestimated American filmgoing audience. So often, Hollywood betrays sharp original material in pursuit of what is desired by a fictitious audience it's created itself. This only results in the worst kind of movies, and 'V for Vendetta' is a perfect example of this. The original material was fine, and probably as close as Alan Moore will ever have gotten to a made-for-film comic. All it would've taken to make it filmable was to excise some of the enriching subplots (the doctor's story, the homelives of the party members, the 'Evita' style power grab by the wife) and shooting what was left. And it comes close here, but just has to monkey with it. In the end, this was an attractive movie for a dumbed-down audience. I'm constantly shocked by how many people who've read the original book think this is a good adaptation. The movie takes the basic material and ruins it, so I really think it should only be considered on its own. Even in that light, however, this clunker falls flat. Nice mask, though...
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8/10
A film worth watching
22 June 2006
I remember hearing so much about this movie when it came out, and I have wanted to see it about that long but just never got around to it. It was only by chance I finally did see it on TV (uncut, 'cause I'm in Sweden), and it was well worth the wait. It should be said right up front that I haven't read the book, and never will. I'm not that big a Stephen King fan, and haven't really been into him since I was in my early teens. So, I have no idea how much of him or his book has made it into this adaptation, and can only deal with the film on its own merits. Chief among these, of course, is Michael Clarke Duncan. His performance here is an utter revelation from the moment we see his face. The expression he manages to work into a largely expressionless character is astonishing, and that first look at him conveys volumes about who this man is. How Duncan didn't end up having excellent roles thrown his way after this I can't imagine. Oh wait, yes I can: he's huge and black, and Hollywood has no imagination to be able to cast him as much beyond a huge, black man. (It's like Don Cheadle all over again -- except he's small and black -- but still an amazingly talented actor who'll never get the roles he should just for those reasons.) At least he had this one time to shine, and he completely steals this movie. That he lost the Oscar to Michael Caine (who was playing...himself) is just another indication of how worthless the Academy Awards are in rewarding actual talent. He handles John Coffey with a subtlety that, frankly, the role didn't require of him. It's a shame the same couldn't be said for the rest of the cast. Most of the actors gave their roles just what was expected and no more, making the characters come across too often as parodies of who the humans would be. Another standout in 'Green Mile,' though, was Sam Rockwell. His role is King's too-typical crazy redneck, but he uses it as a showcase for some of his most outrageous abilities. It's easy to completely hate this guy, and that's all the more credit to Rockwell. (Compare this to Percy, who's meant to be contemptible, but too often just feels pathetic.) Again, why is this guy's name not on every moviegoers lips? This time, one has to assume it's because he's not leading man material and just has the chops (see also, Gary Oldman). This movie runs just over three hours, and this is one of those happy occasions when the time breezes by (compared to, say, the torturous and totally unnecessary length of Jackson's masturbatory 'King Kong'). The plot never drags, the photography -- though a little Speilbergishly sepia -- is lush and warm and Thomas Newman's score (recognisable from miles away) is sparse and effective. The direction was clearly lacking, most evident in the absence of better performances on the whole, not surprising looking at Darabont's resume. I would absolutely recommend this film, which is something I'd almost never say. It's an all-around viewable piece of work, and a perfectly benign popcorn flick.
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Falling Down (1993)
6/10
Not as bad as expected
22 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As far as I'm concerned, Joel Schumacher is the epitome of what people mean when they disparagingly call something 'too Hollywood': he likes his explosions HUGE, his emotions sappy and his characters paper-thin. So, with that in mind, I had low expectations of 'Falling Down,' but watched it anyway. (For a change, I wasn't watching it because of my wife, but because I've always been a little intrigued by the premise. It was only Schumacher that kept me from it before now.) It's not unreasonable to say the movie surpassed my expectations, but not my much. This is a hard film to get a grip on. Is it a comedy? Is it an action movie? Is it the story of a psycho on the loose? Is it a biting satire/commentary on society? Is it a racist diatribe? It seems 'Falling Down' is a little of all these, but it's often difficult to tell if this is intentional, or because writer Ebbe Roe Smith (an actor writing, rarely a good sign) lost the thread somewhere along the way. Again, it seems a little of both. For instance, there are clear indications of intentional parallels to be drawn between the D-FENS and Prendergast (the off-kilter women in their lives, 'London Bridge is Falling Down,' their general demeanours). However, with those same two characters, we see an unravelling of narrative parallels (D-FENS attacks the Korean shopkeep with open racial malice while Prendergast carelessly assumes the Korean and the Japanese cop speak the same language; D-FENS battles the Mexican gang guys, and Prendergast has to fight to weasel his way into his Mexican coworker's case) that seem intentional at first but may have just been coincidental. Then there's the view of D-FENS as a man on the verge of becoming (to borrow a term from 'Manhunter'), and the two directions we can see him going. Could he have been a quiet fighter for justice like Prendergast, or would his vigilantism have been a slippery slope to the homophobic/homoerotic leatherboy Nazi fantasy of 'Nick, The Nazi Surplus Store Owner'? (I won't even go into that whole twisted scene! Was that homoeroticism intentional? I REALLY hope so...I'd hate to think someone could come up with that without meaning to.) Beyond all this symbolic nonsense lies the movie itself, truly a Schumacher piece. The explosions are indeed huge, the emotions are certainly sappy, and the characters are so thin you can practically see through them. The script, though at times inventive and thought-provoking, contains some terrible dialogue and it is often painful to watch two heavy-hitters like Duvall and Douglas struggle with what's in their mouths. The cast beyond them is filled out with some of the stiffest actors I've ever seen supporting playing even flimsier characters than the leads (what was the deal with the super-obnoxious guy paired up with Prendergast's gal-pal?). So, what was this movie? It was (I hope) a dark comedy action antihero diatribe, but it was also a half-assed attempt at depicting America in a single human. That human, of course, is our main character William 'D-Fens' Foster. He's not just an average American, but the country itself. It's not necessarily apparent at first viewing, but it really all comes together when, just before he's shot to death (your spoiler, ladies and gents) Prendergast assures D-FENS he's 'the bad guy' (in almost exactly the same way other characters have evoked his disbelief when they expect the absolute worst from him). His response is, 'How did that happen? I did everything they told me to.' Therein lies the crux of the movie and the character: he is America, which has become the 'bad guy' to most of the world, in spite of (perhaps because of) doing everything it thought its own populace and the world stage wanted. But (as ably illustrated in the home movie when he's forcing the kid onto the rocking horse he was going to buy her AGAIN this year), it was always more about what he/it wanted: countries don't ask to be invaded and have their dictators toppled, but America's always been more than willing to do it for them...as long as there's something in it for America. All told, this wasn't a bad movie, just typically heavy-handed for Schumacher. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and I'm glad it was a late-night flick I didn't have to pay for. The biggest success of the entire film, regrettably, is that it conveys that it was a hot day, a damn hot day.
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The Omen (2006)
7/10
Was this trip really necessary?
14 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a horror movie fan. I'll even confess to liking a remake occasionally. And I LOVE Liev Schreiber. You'd think these three factors combined would lead me to enjoy the latest in an unfortunately long (and growing) line of horror remakes, but 'The Omen' really didn't work. The original really is a classic among horror films. It was one of the few horror flicks to successfully marry higher end Hitchcock-type suspense to lower end gruesome gore-flick effects. It's stood up well over time and is not fixed so firmly in its own era to be unwatchable today. So, why does it need to be remade? I have no idea. I asked the same question of 'Psycho,' and at least Van Sant had an answer: there are people (and I've known some) who will avoid a movie simply because it's in black and white! And they're missing out, of course, on some classic cinema. Now, should we cater to these Neanderthals? I don't think so, but what do I know. Anyway, what's the answer for 'The Omen'? Gregory Peck was too old? There aren't any safari parks in England any more? Got me. Schreiber was, I first thought, an odd choice for Ambassador Thorn. Then I remembered that voice. Ah, I thought, he's got the Peck timbre! To his credit, he did quite well with a flawed and largely unnecessary script, against all odds with his flawed and largely unnecessary costar Julia Stiles (please, can't we just keep her in the teen flicks? maybe she can be an older sister or a mom or something...). While he and Postlethwaite, Thewlit and Gambon were acting there hearts out (Thewlit seemed to have built his performance heavily on Warner's original), Stiles read lines like she'd only seen the script for the first time that morning! She is usually wooden and hard to accept as real, and a high-profile film like this only throws that into stark contrast. Some reviews I've read have applauded this remake for reigning in the modern penchants in horror movies for over-the-top effects and gore. I feel like I saw a different cut of the movie, because the death effects were certainly more graphic than in the original, and went to unnecessary lengths to cinematize some deaths. Did we really need the spike's POV when Postlethwaite finally gets it? And the shards of stained glass piercing his face and body? What the hell was that window doing up there anyway?! Honestly, I had no intention of seeing this in the theatre. I was intrigued by it being remade, as it ranks among my favourite horror flicks, but knew I could wait for video. I only went to see it because my wife got all excited about it. I'm pleased to say she was as disappointed as I was. This film really did not need to happen, and should certainly not be getting the praise it's received. I'm begging the 'creators' in Hollywood: STOP with the remakes! Has a single one of these been even AS GOOD as the original? Have any of them even paid for themselves? End the madness now, and try to make something original again.
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Human Trafficking (2005– )
2/10
Tonight, on a very special 'Saved by an ICE Agent'...
14 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have to comment on this piece of unmitigated rubbish if only because there are three pages of reviews praising it for MUCH more than it is. My wife and I watched this over the past two nights (it just aired here in Sweden) mainly because it sounded interesting, but also because so many people had so much good to say about it, as well as it having a decent cast with Sorvino, Sutherland and Carlyle. The subject matter is something that demands greater attention, especially among American audiences who tend to be mislead so often by a napping media. The manner in which the creators dealt with the stories -- interweaving them in an effort to portray the global nature of the dilemma -- would probably have served the concept well...in better hands. Additionally, I have to assume that the 'reviewers' who so enjoyed this miniseries are mainly accustomed to watching Lifetime films rather than actual films, because nearly everything about this was wrong! The script was WEAK beyond bearing, with characters of less density than onion skin and dialogue cribbed from the lowest rung of cop-drama movie-making. And the cast? Well, personally, I don't expect much of Sorvino. She's been good in her place, but I don't think of her as a great actress by any stretch and she was fairly miscast in this role. Sutherland I expect better from, but he was clearly only in this for the paycheque and I could almost feel his embarrassment at spouting lines like, 'You're a loose cannon' to his not-at-all-out-of-control subordinate of only a few weeks (presumably -- time is hard to gauge in this flick). And Robert Carlyle (who has taken me into many a bad movie by now) was well over the brink of cartoon super-villainy this time, and with an accent that lapsed in and out of Russian pretty regularly. Beyond these unfulfilled expectations, there were the demands that were placed on my suspension of belief. For example, are we really meant to believe that cellphone reception is SO good in back-alley brothels in the Phillippines that a mother could hear the pervert drooling over her 12-year-old daughter while his phone is UNDER A PILLOW and she's OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE?! And would any mother in her right mind hear this situation and think the sensible thing to do would be to scream into the phone, immediately jeopardizing her daughter's safety, AND then not think at all about the likelihood she's just signed her kid's death sentence? And that's just ONE scene! I won't even go into mum then recognising the guy's voice later off the videotape her child's rights advocate friend made...with the difference between him whispering in one situation and yelling in another, both times for only a few words. But at least we can take comfort in knowing that human trafficking is all handled by one mastermind who, if we could just shoot him MANY times...and then shoot him again...would singlehandedly cause the collapse of the industry. Okay, end of rant and end of 'spoilers.' This movie was such a bunch of garbage. The creators should be ashamed of themselves, the actors should be embarrassed and Lifetime should be lambasted for taking a serious issue and turning it into a program so sappy and contemptible it's not even worthy of Hallmark Theatre.
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