Days of Wine and Roses
I guess I'm in an alcoholic mood: one day after watching The Lost Weekend, I watched another movie about binge drinking, Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as a couple that turns into a threesome: him, her, and the bottle. And star they do, especially Lemmon (a real alcoholic at the time) who shouts, cries, screams and howls his way through the movie in a profoundly harrowing way. I always thought that 'The China Syndrome' was his first really serious part. I was wrong; it's just that the public hated him in a serious role until then. I don't see why, though; his performance, as well as the movie as a whole, touched me more than did yesterday's Weekend.
The Lost Weekend
In essence, "The Lost Weekend" is a simple story: an alcoholic who considers himself a failure spends a weekend spiralling further and further down, with the aid of numerous bottles of rye whisky, only to come out of it in an unlikely, Hollywood-hopeful surge of optimism. There are three things that make the film worth seeing.
First, Ray Milland. I only know one other film starring this actor, Hitchcock's ingenious "Dial M For Murder", where he delivered a believable foppish psychopath. His role here, however, is much more demanding, and he plays it perfectly, mixing humor and despair effortlessly. The supporting cast is fairly OK, but pales in comparison.
Second, Billy Wilder. Every time I see yet another movie by this director, it seems to stand apart from the other ones, and this is no exception. The camera work is almost Hitchcockian from time to time.
Third, the topic. 1945 test audiences reportedly balked at the gritty, nihilistic atmosphere of the film, which I guess didn't fit the end-of-the-war euphoria. Leaving the sappy ending aside, it's a dark and haunting portrait of an addict even today, made worse by the fact that this is actually a likable guy.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
I'm one of those people who enjoy a good bad movie. The truly terrible "Plan 9 from Outer Space" by Ed Wood set the standard, but unfortunately, there's plenty of truly awful trash to be found (the IMDb Bottom 100 is a good starting point).
But I could never be as funny as the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for short). Started in the eighties on a local TV channel in the US and later brought to Comedy Central, this TV show is based on the premise that a human being and some robots are trapped on a ship and forced to watch truly bad movies such as "The Touch of Satan" or "Godzilla vs. Megalon" as a form or torture. To endure the torment, the spectators continuously comment on anything that happens on the screen. Searching for MST3K on YouTube gives a number of good results.
Some of you may be shocked that I never heard of this show before, but honestly, it was never aired in my home country.
For the past couple of weeks, my girlfriend Swatra and me have been laughing our asses off watching the four seasons of the British sitcom called "Coupling" on DVD. I know it's close to a mortal sin to explain what's funny about a show, but in the interest of bringing this one to more people's attention, I'd like to give it a shot anyway.
It's the 'sit' in sitcom
Imagine being a man stuck at a dinner table, explaining to the assembled guests the artistic merits of a movie called 'Lesbian Spank Inferno'. Imagine being a girl arriving at a guy's apartment dressed only in your raincoat, only to discover that he's throwing a party for a few dozen friends. Imagine going on a date with a girl who you made believe you have an artificial leg.
Experimental narrative techniques
One episode of Coupling is almost entirely shot as a split screen, one side showing the guys, the other showing the girls. In other shows, flashbacks and flash-forwards abound. In yet other shows, the same scene is played out several times from different characters' perspectives (even in different languages), each new version shedding more light on the whole.
Few comic characters can match the weirdness that is Jeff, the sex-obsessed loon who blurts out inappropriate phrases at every opportunity. His universe is inhabited by strange concepts such as The Melty Man ("the arch-enemy of trouser confidence") and The Nudity Buffer (the amount of time he can look at a woman before imagining her naked, rendering any normal conversation impossible).
Oh yeah, I almost forgot
It's simply hilariously funny.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I come from a family of art lovers. As a kid, my parents would drag me from one museum to another, much to my annoyance. I could never quite get the point of all these colors on the canvas. What was the meaning of them, I kept wondering -- what was it all about?
And then, one afternoon in a museum, when I was around 11 years old, I suddenly had the epiphany. I decided to shut off my brain and just experience the paintings. I've enjoyed all kinds of paintings ever since.
Whether you like "2001: A Space Odyssey" or not depends largely on whether you've had this epiphany or not. "2001" is slow, ambiguous, pretty much plotless, and silent. It is also beautiful, majestic, hypnotic, and philosophical. Seeing it in the cinema on 70mm film, as I had the pleasure of doing this weekend, it's an experience you won't soon forget. The key to enjoying this movie is to just accept it for what it is, instead of wanting to make it something it isn't, say, a film that follows ordinary conventions. It's not surprising that many viewers advocate the use of soft drugs or hallucinogenics when watching this movie: both have the ability to 'open your mind'.
I never used drugs, and I'm generally level-headed to the point of being a nerdy bore. But for a movie like this one, I'm more than prepared to act like a hippie, mellow out and check out the light show. "Look at the colors, man!"
Syriana is a sophisticated movie about the wasp's nest that is the Middle East. Fabulous wealth, ruthless violence and Machiavellian machinations dominate the scene. The Middle East is as much about oil as it is about religion, as much about a struggle between progressive and conservative forces as about the battle between East and West. The movie argues, boldly for a Hollywood movie, that nothing is simple and that there are not really good guys or bad guys. In that sense, it's not only refreshing, but also vitally important. Maybe if the Bush administration could have seen this movie before going into Iraq, they'd have thought twice.
V for Vendetta
"V for Vendetta" provides an interesting counterpoint to "Good night, and good luck". Where in the real world, Edward R. Murrow confronts and defeats a totalitarian threat using words alone, in the fantasy future, the police state appears to have reached a point at which the rebel known only as "V" has to resort to explosives, poison and psychological torture to "bring balance to the Force".
In "V for Vendetta", Britain has become a fascist dictatorship, with V, the elegant man in the Guy Fawkes mask, as its avenging angel and the young woman Evey caught in the middle. Evey is gradually converted to V's cause through the use of some brainwashing techniques that would make V's former prison guards proud. The movie touches upon the questionable nature of V's methods, but in the end puts him plainly on a pedestal. As I understand it, the graphic novel is more ambivalent; I can't wait to read it.
Coming back to "V for Vendetta" and "Good night, and good luck", the following two quotes nicely illustrate the differences between them:
"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason [...]." --Edward R. Murrow
"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." --V
Good night, and good luck
I've been trying to figure out what it is about McCarthyism that I find so deeply disturbing. In terms of impact, the communist witch hunt of the 1950s was, after all, nothing like the rise of the Nazis in 1920s Germany, or the Russian Revolution of 1917. All I can say is that I can identify strongly with the victims and the country. Much as I criticize the USA, it remains a shining example of what democracy as an ideology can accomplish -- and of how fragile those accomplishments are.
As a defender of those accomplishments, Edward R. Murrow stands high, and "Good night, and good luck" does nothing more (but also nothing less) than show him in his finest hour: waging and winning a war of words with the powerful and dangerous Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film is as painstakingly accurate as to be basically a re-enacted documentary, which makes it slightly boring, but also very pure. Director George Clooney cries out for just such a voice today to protest and fight the forces of wartime absurdity.
But sadly, the new media landscape, which Murrow already warned about, can no longer produce such a person. Not because such people no longer exist (they do), but because such people no longer work for television news.
As a comics fan, my first reponse upon hearing about the movie "Ghost World" was to buy the graphic novel it's based on.
The book is anecdotal, funny, and -especially- desolate. The characters dwell through empty, starkly lifeless streets. This boring suburbia helps explain the selfish behavior of angsty adolescent Enid Coleslaw.
In Enid's more recognizable movie universe, her behavior becomes crueler. The movie also explains what the book leaves unsaid. A workable but flawed adaptation remains of the superior comic. I don't regret not seeing the movie earlier, and I recommend "David Boring" by the same author (Daniel Clowes).
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
After a ride on a rollercoaster is it normal to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the ride?
So why do people discuss "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" as if it's a serious, debatable motion picture? It's a pirate movie, based on a Walt Disney ride, for God's sake. Nobody takes pirates seriously. The makers of this movie don't. Johnny Depp sure as hell doesn't. And you also shouldn't.
The plot doesn't make any sense. Because it's a pirate movie. It's all action and no story. Because it's a pirate movie. It's good, silly fun. Because it's a pirate movie.
Sure, it's too long. Sure, it's not as funny as the first one. Sure, it's just milking the franchise. Who cares? If I wanted a short, hilarious, and original film, ...I wouldn't see many movies. Anyway, yohoho and a bottle of rum, and avast! ye scurvy scallywags. Or whatever.
The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema
Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher and psychoanalyst specializing in pop culture, in this three-part documentary takes on some of the classic movies of past and present, including The Matrix ("I want a third pill!"), Vertigo, Solaris, Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Lost Highway, and Eyes Wide Shut. His observations, often made on a reconstructed set, are insightful and stimulating, provided you go along with Žižek's theorizing: it's no secret that Hitchcock's movies are soaked in Freudianism, but Revenge of the Sith seems less obviously an Oedipal drama. This documentary series is not (yet) listed on the IMDb.
What can I say about this movie that hasn't already been said? It is truly a beautiful, intense, quiet and tragic film of a love that cannot be, and two lives that are wasted because of it.
I see many movies and only a few of them manage to draw me in these days. I can see through the tricks, plot devices and cliches that permeate them. Brokeback Mountain has nothing of that. The reason it's about nothing more than two cowboys who love each other, is simply that for them, there is nothing more. That's the beauty --and tragedy.
Racism in "Crash": a white woman thinking her Hispanic locksmith is a gang member; a black cop feeling uncomfortable about being an election prop; a white cop saving the life of a woman he harassed earlier for giving a black man a blowjob.
Racism not in "Crash": a major American city drowning because it is full of black people; nonwhite people living in abject poverty; plain, unjustified bigotry.
The main consequence of real racism is poverty, but almost everyone in "Crash" is affluent, if not filthy rich.
Hmmm... the people who made, saw and laureled this movie were also rich...
After a Muslim terrorist group kills the Israeli athletic team at the Munich 1972 Olympics, prime minister Golda Meir deploys a supersecret Mossad team to travel around Europe and kill off the supposed culprits. Are they killing the right guys? Does killing these people help combat terrorism at all? Is it justified to execute people like this, without a trial?
Spielberg, an American Jew, shows courage by raising these questions which, among many Israeli and their supporters, are beyond debate. But where he shows the team leader Avner as a tormented soul who loses his faith in 'the cause' as he continues to kill, the nuances on the Arab side are much more hidden. There is some political debate about the conflict, and some of the victims are shown as loving fathers or art lovers, but the prevailing conclusion seems to be that justice was done. In the end, Avner is still a hero and the killed men are still villains. But neither is really the case.
Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
An IMDb Top 250 Movie
It began with books and plays being turned into movies. Then it was TV series. Then it was videogames. And now there's this movie, based on a Las Vegas Disney ride. Apparently, much of its success comes from the performance of Johnny Depp, who very obviously doesn't take the whole thing too seriously, but never explicitly takes the piss. It is this, despite the producers' problems with his approach, that makes "Pirates" a lot of fun to watch. It's not just his attire, make-up and roguish ways that make him stand out from the other characters in the movie, but also his shameless overacting. I read somewhere that Keith Richards was Depp's main inspiration for this role.
The makers of this movie also correctly realized that an adaptation that would be true to life, depicting actual pirates as they historically were, would be both ridiculous and unsuccessful at the box office. They instead went all out with their undead, "arr-laddie" style swashbucklers, creating an enjoyable action movie.
With all that said, I still can't help but be amazed that this film made it into the (lowers regions of) the IMDb Top 250. Surely, there must be 250 better movies in the world than this one?
It Happened One Night
An IMDb Top 250 movie
As exciting as the sounds and images of M are, so boring and uneventful are the photography and audio of "It Happened One Night", an early Clark Gable romcom featuring Claudette Colbert as his feisty counterpart. Shot in a few short weeks, this early Frank Capra film sets the standard for all future romantic comedies: boy meets girl, boy annoys girl, girl annoys boy, boy and girl realize they love each other but don't tell, boy loses girl, boy takes bold step and gets girl. Sure it may be the first movie of its kind, but it's not the first movie of its kind for me, and so it seems trite.
Most people have seen one scene from the movie, the one in which Colbert trumps Gable's hitch-hiking skills by raising the hemline of her skirt to a brake-slamming level.
An IMDb Top 250 movie
The death of the silent movie wasn't a universally positive thing. You'd be right to think that sound adds a whole new dimension to movies, but you'd be wrong to think that this did not go at some expense. The problem was that microphones in the day were not sophisticated enough to only record localized sound. Instead, they registered all sound in a wide radius --including the loud whirring of the camera, that nobody had ever bothered to make quiet. To solve this problem, cameras were almost always encased in a large soundproof booth that was impossible to move.
The result of all this was that the first 'talkies' (and the cheap later ones) were extremely static in their camera work, featured a lot of dialog and as such did not present much excitement for the viewer.
Which brings us to the happy exception to the rule: M, by master German director Fritz Lang. M works perfectly because it needs silence both for its eerie atmosphere (it's about a crime mob chasing a child killer) and to make dramatic panning shots that were mostly unheard of at the time. Long shots in absolute silence are in this case a bonus and not a flaw. Featuring a very young Peter Lorre, who was destined to play the creepy psychopath for the rest of his life, the story is beautifully shot, has great actors and a solid plot. Go see it.
Million Dollar Baby
An IMDb Top 250 movie
The advantage of writing a movie review a week after you've seen the movie is that it tells you how memorable the film is. "Million Dollar Baby" is a simple, basic story that, like its protagonist boxer, dances around us for a while, but then punches us out with a swift, devastating blow.
Clint Eastwood created a film in which people are driven by grim determination, not upbeat ambition. The heroine is a young woman desperately struggling to get out of her life through boxing, and for some time, she succeeds. But there's something ominous about her standing there alone in the boxing school in the middle of the night, facing the punching bag.
This film is a tragedy, but Eastwood tells it without sentimentalism or elaborate storylines. Instead it's straight and sharp like a razor, one more tale of quiet desperation in a world full of such tales. A movie that can break your heart without you feeling like it played a cheap trick on you-- that's what good storytelling, and good moviemaking, is all about.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
One of the best things about Mike Newell's classic romantic comedy, "Four Weddings and a Funeral", was his seemingly effortless transition from comedy to tragedy and back again. He managed to make this combination work by presenting engaging and believable characters.
In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", episode 4 in the boy wizard series, and definitely the best one so far, Newell does the same thing. I found myself laughing without impatience while Harry, Ron, Hermione and their classmates struggled with their raging hormones and the prospect of a school dance. Within half an hour after the gala, Harry is tortured by an evil villain with little slits for nostrils. The fact that the two scenes go hand in hand is no mean feat.
"Goblet" is the most expensive movie ever made (this week, anyway), but Newell didn't let the whopping three hundred and eight million dollars go to his head. He spent the money wisely on dazzling action sequences involving dragons and sea monsters. And he invested precious time in whittling the heavy tome by JK Rowling down to a mere 157 minutes. Unlike earlier Potter directors, he cut out entire subplots and even characters, but in the end, the movie is so much the better for it: more evenly paced, engaging and full of darkness. I saw it in an IMAX version; you should at least see it in a regular cinema (the one that you have to put your coat on for, not your 'home cinema').
An IMDb Top 250 movie
As computer animation progresses, this new movie medium can slowly but surely come of age. The Incredibles is an indication of what is to come: not a CGI movie, but an animation movie that just happens to be made using a computer.
The Incredibles household has a fifties-sixties feel to it, with the superhero family shamelessly donning spandex outfits and living in some nameless suburbia, but the world at large, featuring obsessive superhero fans and troublesome lawsuits, sits squarely in the new millennium. Probably it's this contrast, along with the many visual gags and the high velocity of the movie, that gave it its place in the coveted Top 250.
Overall, I found this movie worth seeing, a good laugh, but nothing to write home about. Rent it, don't buy it.
An IMDb Top 250 movie
While I will admit to reading comics, I had never seen Frank Miller's work when I sat down to watch 'Sin City'. There are basically two ways of looking at this movie. One, you can try to figure out what this movie is about, and find out that it's nothing much. It's about tough guys, hot dames, rainy streets, and lots and lots of extreme violence. And unlike in a Raymond Chandler screenplay, there's close to no witty dialogue or inventive plot twists to hold things together. There's only a few loosely connected stories, barely worthy of that name. In short, a crap movie for the popcorn crowd.
Two, Sin City is a dazzling reinvention of cinema, using digital wizardry not so much to show what can't exist (space battles or dinosaurs), but to show what does exist in an exaggerated way (film noir was never this noir). Call me pretentious, but Sin City does to movies what impressionism did to realist painting: it redefines what a movie can look like, and foregoes the notion that a movie should, at some level, look real. Sin City doesn't look real, nor does it want to, and your response to that fact will determine to a large degree whether you will like the movie or not. On a visual level, I love this movie: it's a shame that there is not enough story to back it up.
Cidade de Deus
An IMDb Top 250 movie
Apparently, the following is a joke in Brazil: God calls a congregation of His angels during the days of Creation. 'You'll never believe what I've come up with now', He says. 'It's just an astounding country. It's got a jungle, exotic birds, pristine beaches, natural beauty everywhere. It's My best work yet, and I'm going to call it Brazil.' 'But Lord,' asks one of the angels, 'if this place is so beautiful, won't it be too much of a competition for Heaven?' God smiles benevolently and says, 'I didn't tell you what kind of people I'm going to put in there.'
This Brazilian movie about the Rio de Janeiro ganglands scores surprisingly high in the IMDb Top 250, especially for a non-US film. Hailed as the Latin American GoodFellas, City of God, as its international title goes, makes the thugs from Scorsese's universe look like weak-hearted mama's boys.
Murder is not only a trivial and fairly forgivable offence in the City of God, a suburb where desperate officials have migrated all the scum of the metropolis, it is also committed by small children. And although crime here is gritty rather than glamorous, there is still a strange beauty in the cityscape, the characters and the way the movie is shot. Definitely worth a look.
Requiem for a dream
An IMDb Top 250 movie
What sounded like the title of a bad 70s symphonic rock album turned out to be a visually exciting maelstrom about addiction. What begins as a fairly quiet, amost overly relaxed movie about drug addiction (the teenager who keeps stealing his own mom's TV set, and the mom who keeps buying it back from the pawn shop), quickly descends down an ever darker spiral of abuse and self-abuse.
The mom turns out to be unseparable from her favorite infomercial and her diet pills, while her son and his drug buddies get more and more desperate, and less and less successful, in acquiring their next fix. The movie ends in nightmarish collage of all major characters reaching rock bottom, each in their own horrible way.
Most (indie) directors would choose to film such urban despair in gritty black-and-white, but Darren Aronofsky opts for vivid use of lighting and coloring, and rapid sequences of shots (the Trivia section of IMDb mentions that "[m]ost movies contain 600 to 700 cuts. Requiem for a Dream contains over 2,000").
My only objection to the movie is that you could see it as too pretentious, too artsy-fartsy for what is still a fairly straightforward plot. But to be honest, I found that the combination of the visuals and the story was effective.
An IMDb Top 250 movie
The Rwanda massacres must count as one of the most gruesome events in human history: man-made slaughter on a scale that defies imagination, comparable only to the likes of Hitler's holocaust or Pol Pot's brutal regime. And as in those cases, the main (and unanswerable) question in this is: what is it that made this horror possible? In this case, what made people enthusiastically wield machetes and bludgeon some one million people to death?
"Hotel Rwanda" is a movie about the events in Rwanda, but it is never concerned with this question. Instead, it shows a desperate hotel manager trying to save as many people as possible from the insanity. Unlike in movies such as "Schindler's List", the utter randomness of the violence is only touched upon, and focus shifts instead to the United Nations and its utter failure in preventing the bloodshed from occurring. This made the movie unsatisfying to me. I had hoped to learn more about the conflict and its origins. Instead, a Compelling Drama was put to the forefront.
An IMDb Top 250 movie
I never knew about this apparent classic, but it's up there with "Arsenic and Old Lace" as a great example of translating screwball plays into screwball movies. In this case, James Stewart is Elwood P. Dowd, an insane man who is convinced that he is accompanied by a giant rabbit named Harvey.
This idea in itself would get pretty tired pretty soon. But the genius of the story is in the fact that Harvey, real or imagined, creates some kind of impenetrable shield around Dowd, protecting from all who would do him harm. Happily oblivious to the harsh realities around him (he states, in an unusually lucid moment, "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it"), Dowd somehow always gets what he wants.
Anyway, the slapstick moments, as well as situation comedy which actually revolves around the situation (how many 'sitcoms' do these days?), make this one to watch.
An IMDb Top 250 movie
This South Korean movie (the first South Korean movie I've seen, as far as I know) deserves its place in the higher echelons of the top 250 for its inventive start (a man is kidnapped, locked into an empty room for years, and the released, all for no apparent reason) and its kick-ass action scenes.
Director Park conjures up memorable images (among others a long fight sequence in a hallway, filmed in one long tracking shot) but the movie tapers off toward the end. Many films that revolve around a Big Secret disappoint the most when the Big Secret is revealed, and Oldboy, unfortunately, is one such film. However, if you can stand watching a man eat a live octopus (definitely "harmed during the making of this movie") and some unpleasant scenes of Tarantino-style violence, this movie is definitely worth seeing.
Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi
(English title: Spirited Away)
An IMDb Top 250 movie
While watching this movie, I thought that the animation in this movie gives Disney a run for its money. But when I later saw the trailer (included on the DVD), I saw that Disney is in fact the US distributor.
That said, this movie is hardly standard Disney fare. I found it hard to get a grasp on this erratic story, mostly set in some bizarre dream-like universe full of weird creatures. I might be the wrong target demographic (both in terms of age and in terms of cultural background), and although the graphics of the movie are quite stunning, they didn't make up for the confusion I felt through most of this film. Kids may find it intriguing; I didn't.
Ostre sledované vlaky
Apparently the most celebrated movie in what was once Czechoslovakia in the sixties, "Closely Observed Trains" is set in World War II, but the Nazi occupation is just a sidebar to the main story. With a typically Eastern European mix of resignedness and dreaminess, young Milos takes a job as an apprentice train dispatcher, a job that involves zero effort, but then again, also zero excitement. And a young man's mind begins to wander, as it will, about the cute train conductress who has her eye on him. This is a movie about the idiotic stuff that men will do for or with women (such as rubber-stamping her bottom with government-issue train stamps).
The beginning of the story so resembles the movie Amélie in its rapid sequence of crazy little stories that I anticipated what would follow. Unfortunately, the movie slows down a lot after that, although the humor remains. The film ends in typical fashion with an act of silly suicidal heroism. I strongly recommend you check it out.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
An IMDb Top 250 movie
Greed corrupts, as Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston (director John Huston's father) and one Tim Holt discover in this classic about gold-digging. Huston plays a seasoned prospector, who knows enough about human nature to realize that (a) whoever you dig with will do anything to get hold of your gold and (b) he himself is no exception to rule (a).
Bogart's character, on the other hand, new to the trade, turns from hopeful to angry to homicidal as his grasp on the gold tightens and weakens. It's one of his better roles.
Quite aside from the good cast and script, I was also delighted to finally find out the origin of that classic phrase: "Badges? Badges?! We don' need to steenkin' badges!" Like so many movie quotes, this one is different from what is actually said in the movie (by a Mexican desperado posing as a policeman, being asked for his badge by Bogart).
An IMDb Top 250 movie
Based on the letters of one Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, this movie tells the story of the first black regiment in the US Army, which, under Shaw's leadership, trained itself for combat and engaged the Confederates in a bloody charge that killed a great many of them.
As a pacifist, I can't help feeling that this movie shows the first case of white Americans figuring out that everybody can be killed on the battlefield, regardless of race, creed or color. This strategy worked through Vietnam to Iraq and is better described as 'Operation Black Shield' in South Park: The Movie.
The reason that people will be angry about my comment above is the fact that the 54th Regiment died for what is quite undeniably a good cause, the abolition of slavery. And I realize that this is one of those cases in which pacifism is a hard case to make. But as Gandhi once commented, 'What difference does it make to the dead if he died for a good cause or a bad one?'
Maybe the best thing to say is that the soldiers were without a doubt incredibly courageous, but that the event was anything but glorious. Seen from this light, 'Glory' is a much-needed tribute to these people. But it's the fact that the movie can be seen differently as well that bothers me.
For a long time, I was unaware that as a child, director Roman Polanski was in the Krakow ghetto and that he spent most of the war wandering the European countryside. It helps explain why he made a movie out of the true life's story of Wladek Szpilman, a Polish Jew and pianist who turns from hunted to haunted as he tries to survive in his city, Warsaw, during World War II.
Like in Schindler's List, a sense of total arbitrariness over who lives (few) and who dies (many) pervades the movie. Szpilman narrowly escapes deportation because a Jewish policeman he vaguely knows separates him from his family as they board the train to Treblinka. Numerous selfless and selfish people help him survive, but most of the time, he's on the run or imprisoned in some nameless apartment somewhere in the city. The movie succeeds in being both intensely personal and almost blank at the same time: rather than a heroic figure who takes conscious decision to direct his fate, Szpilman could almost be called lucky as he keeps surviving one ordeal after the other. He is simulatenously anybody and somebody.
What an awful movie.
Heartbroken heartthrob Colin (Colin Firth) leaves England when his fiancée sends him a wedding invitation --she's marrying someone else. He goes to a small town called Hope in the US, merely because of the name, and hooks up with a peppy blonde (Heather Graham) who supposedly exudes all the virtues of the well-spoken, mild-mannered East Coast. Then the fiancée drops by and hilarity, cleverly disguised as an extremely boring and stretched-out hour of film, ensues.
There's no chemistry. There are no jokes. There is no plot. There is no spoon. Oh wait, that's another movie. You half expect any of the fairly decent actors to glance at the camera for a brief, panicked instance, wondering along with you what the hell they're doing in this unromantic noncomedy. But they don't. At least that would have made "Hope Springs" tolerable. As it is, it's just twenty minutes of already flat storyline rolled to fresh-pasta thinness of a tedious hour and a half. A tedious hour and a half, I might add, that I'd like to have back.
Mixing different story lines in movies is being hailed as the new amazing development in screenwriting since Pulp Fiction, but truth be told, it's an old, if effective, device. The Mexican movie 'Amores Perros' causes three groups of people to meet in a violent car crash.
In part 1, Octavio doesn't understand why his sister-in-law won't leave his deadbeat brother and run away with him. It's hard to say if his descent into a vile and cruel world of dogfighting is the cause or the result of his failed attempts to convince her. This episode ends in the car crash
In part 2, a beautiful model must face the reality of mutilation and being wheelchair-bound because of that same car crash, while her boyfriend, recently divorced from his wife, tries to catch her lapdog, which disappeared under the floorboards of their new home.
In part 3, an ex-guerillero turned hitman lives on the streets like a bum, vainly attempting to reconnect with the daughter he left behind to join the revolution while renouncing his evil ways.
I'd say that while the three stories each have their own painful beauty, the stories don't connect enough to call the whole thing an elaborate mechanism. As such, the device seems a bit obvious and ineffective.
In this satirical comedy about the movie biz, two estranged Hollywood megastars (played by John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones) are forced into a reunion for the purpose of promoting their new movie. However, the diva's sister and PA (played by Julia Roberts) is secretly in love with Cusack, and romantic comedy ensues.
Billy Crystal, who produces, writes and acts, settles a little score with Hollywood showbiz, but is wary of turning the whole thing into a pamphlet. Disguising the whole thing as a 'delightful comedy' shows that Hollywood doesn't need cold-blooded producers: self-censorship is apparently alive and well in Tinsel Town.
That said, Roberts acts uncommonly well and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves tremendously. It's a bit of an insider movie, perhaps less interesting if the freak community in Southern California doesn't concern you much, but still, there are good jokes and the pace is high. Lukewarmly recommended.
I know enough German to be able to follow this movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler's life, as seen by Hitler's secretary. The movie shows the events as cold, well-documented facts, without editorializing.
All through "Der Untergang", I kept wondering if a neo-nazi could watch this movie and swell with pride over his hero's tragic ending. The answer is: not really. Hitler is hardly a martyr, but a man who is stubbornly refusing to accept a reality that no longer fits his twisted demands. He calls everyone around him a traitor and his mood swings from hysterically angry to moved to tears. That said, it is worth noting that one of the characters in the movie is actually played by a neo-nazi, who managed to get himself hired.
I'm not sure if the subplots in the movie (an army doctor wandering through the rubble that once was Berlin ends up in a hospital sawing off legs; a fanatic Hitlerjugend boy loses his parents and ends up with Hitler's secretary) have any basis in fact, but they tell a bigger story: that of a land in ruins. Some people, Germans among them, think that Germany, because of the sheer unforgivableness of its actions during World War II, has no right to point to its own tragedies. I myself disagree. Allied forces and Russians have committed acts in Germany that easily pass the litmus test of war crimes. Trading one atrocity for another is just bad moral mathematics.
Meet the Fockers
Like its predecessor, Meet The Parents, part 2 (or should I say part 39785?) of Ben Stiller getting into outrageously embarrassing situations now ups the ante by having his fiancée's stiff, conservative parents spend a weekend with his own free-love hippie liberal parents.
But strangely, the conflicts are much more about personality than about opinion. Where I expected heated exchanges about racism and Vietnam, the film shows how different people can be --and how they can work things out. Which makes Meet the Fockers, despite small animals being flushed down chemical toilets and the like, a sweet movie. Maybe a little too sweet: for those enjoy their humor black and their satire cold, the 'heart-warming' parts of the story may be a bit too much to bear.
Making up for all this are the great acting performances. De Niro is believable as a rigid but soft-hearted ex-CIA agent, and Hoffman is even better as a jubilant savorer or middle-age life, much to the embarrassment of everyone around him.
The Spanish Prisoner
I love movies that make me think about them afterwards, especially the puzzle-like ones such as Memento and the best Hitchcocks. Such movies are rare gems these days, when entire websites are devoted to movie mistakes.
In this genre, "The Spanish Prisoner" by David Mamet is a real treat. Like most good thrillers, it has a lot of plot twists and unexpected surprises, but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the plot seems disjointed at times, and seasoned viewers of these movies might find mistakes. To see if I 'got it', I went to IMDb and checked out the user comments. Most reviewers found it a so-so thriller, ok in its genre. But one reviewer remarked mysteriously that 'almost no-one really understands this movie'. Intrigued, I went looking for more info and found a site that attempts to explain it all. Warning: I strongly advise against visiting this site if you haven't seen the movie.
To me, it shows courage for a director to make a movie that almost no-one understands. Ridley Scott (possibly inadvertently) did the same with Blade Runner, a movie with a secret that is never explicitly revealed. But there, the dazzling visuals and intriguing main story line greatly helped the movie. In Mamet's case, the viewer must dig deeper to appreciate the hidden gem.
I was mildly enthusiastic about the first installment of our arachnoid superhero, but part 2 of the series doesn't bring much more to the concept. Director Sam Raimi deserves some credit for avoiding Bruckheimer-type, apocalyptic "let's detonate Manhattan" scenes, choosing instead for rapid action scenes, often in tight spaces. But the boring and predictable storyline dominates too much over the action scenes, which themselves often have very detectable CGI.
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000
Several years ago, in the cinema, I watched a trailer for a new science fiction movie.It starred John Travolta and was, the bellowing announcer informed me, "based on one of the most successful science-fiction novels ever made". Throughout the rest of the trailer, I kept wondering which book it might be, and especially who wrote it. I had to squint my eyes at the end to read the name of none other than L. Ron Hubbard, the inventor of that freakiest of cult religions, Scientology.
Yesterday, "Battlefield Earth" aired on TV and I started watching it, trying to find out what Travolta (who also produced the movie), a self-confessed Scientologist had done with his mentor's book. The answer: he'd turned it into the most successful anti-Hubbard campaigns ever produced. This movie is so amazingly bad that it's a miracle that Travolta is still taken seriously in Hollywood.
I've seen a lot of movies in my life, and I know that there are various elements in a movie that work together to produce the end result. If the acting is lousy, the script might still be decent; great editing and cinematography can often save a basically bland storyline.
It is rare, then, to see a major Hollywood film failing in absolutely every respect:
- Acting: The acting is ludicrous, and the best proof for this is not even Travolta himself, hamming like there's no tomorrow, but all the other actors and (surprisingly few) actresses, none of whom I'd heard of before. And for good reason.
- Script: Aliens called Psychlos have taken over our entire planet in 9 minutes, but after 1000 years of oppressing the humans (or "man-animals" as they call them), they still haven't stripped the planet clear of gold, which is for some reason extremely valuable to them. The humans, reduced to a caveman existence, manage to stage a revolt that involves destroying the entire Psychlo homeworld (demonstrating what is so quintessentially human about the human race: their ability to rise up from oppression and nuke the hell out of their oppressors).
- Editing: In a traditional movie, tilting a camera indicates confusion, things being "out of whack". Apparently "Battlefield Earth" is full of confusion, because virtually every shot is taken at an angle.
- Cinematography: This movie is shot almost entirely in the dark, which combines with the bad editing to produce a confusing jumble: half the time, you have no idea what the hell is going on.
- Costumes: These aliens look totally ridiculous, wearing rastafari hairstyles and sporting breathing apparatuses that look like nipple clamps with tentacles.
Woody Allen makes actors work for their money. In this movie, Kenneth Branagh is a womanizing, somewhat younger replica of the neurotic protagonist of almost all other Allen movies. His marriage falls apart and we follow both him and his ex through various stages of their lives. On the way, many renowned movie stars of today (Leo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder) make their appearance and show off their talent --or lack thereof. To see them engaged in normal conversations in everyday situations instead of sailng on large steamboats or murdering people is refreshing and makes me hungry for more. But I do have to admit that the movie is fragmentary.
AVP: Alien vs Predator
Apparently, some students came up with the idea of having the aliens from the "Alien" series do battle with the predators from the "Predator" series, with some helpless humans stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, the result is more like the "Predator" series: lots of action and fighting, but very little plot. What plot there is is more in the way of ancient pyramids, buried monsters and warrior rituals than anything particularly original. The action scenes are good enough; they are also the only reason to see the movie. On a rented DVD, I might add.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
As short as the original Terminator movie, part 3 of the naked-killer-robots-from-the-future saga was not wanted by James Cameron, the director of parts 1 and 2. That said, the movie does fit in with its predecessors, combining action-packed chase scenes and a relentless and seemingly indestructible killer machine with a grim view of the world and humanity.
"T2" seemed to have wrapped up all time paradoxes neatly by making sure that the technology from the future that people will use to create the technology from the future, was destroyed. So Terminator 3 provides a slightly different perspective. As the T-101 (Schwarzenegger) explains to a now-adult John Connor, "the war is inevitable". In this case, the superior robot is in the form of a female (it is never explained why). It's kind of hard to top the robot from T2, with its shapeshifting abilities and "memory metal", so the Terminatrix doesn't even try to offer much more.
So is "Rise of the Machines" milking the franchise? Yes and no. It is definitely the least of the three episodes, but it still makes for entertaining viewing and it doesn't make a joke out of the general idea and philosophy of the series. What we have here, it seems, is simply a very devoted fan with a humongous budget. That's all nice and good, but he's not James Cameron.
War of the Worlds
If you don't know the Four Word Film Review site yet, check it out. You may think at first that it's impossible to review a movie in four words, but after seeing a movie like "War of the Worlds", you realize that you can. Here's my proposed review for this movie:
Cruise escapes aliens. (Repeat.)
That, in fact, is all that happens during the entire movie. Note that I say "Cruise", not "people", because the movie has a lot of Tom Cruise in it. In fact, the movie almost exclusively has Tom Cruise in it. I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than about a minute or two of footage that does not have Tom Cruise in it. Tom Cruise shocked, Tom Cruise horrified, Tom Cruise crying, Tom Cruise nervous. How much Tom Cruise is that? A lot. The movie could have been called "War of the Cruise" (although that might have made people think that it was a remake of "Speed 2", and they would have stayed away).
Anyway, the movie is full of jaw-dropping scenes of basically everything exploding and everybody getting killed, which is quite a sight, especially if someone like Spielberg directs it. That said, some plot wouldn't have killed ya, Steve. But anyway, see it and enjoy it, unless you hate Tom Cruise.
Batman BeginsTo Europeans, the cult of Batman is an enigma worthy of the Riddler. Sure, the Old World enjoys exploding stuff, fast cars and hot babes as much as the next red-blooded American, but we never grew up with the comics, the cartoons and the clumsy live action TV shows. In short, what many of us saw was a guy in a ridiculous costume fighting lots of other guys in ridiculous costumes. Europeans take pride in their lofty, highbrow cultural heritage and often find comics silly and childish. And how surprising: when Christopher Nolan, born in London, takes on the saga of the Caped Crusader, the result is a thoughtful movie that doesn't forego moral subtleties for the sake of an obligatory romantic or humorous interlude. Hollywood studio execs must be baffled that this episode, which is heavy in dialogue and relatively easy on the stunts, scores higher on IMDb than any of its predecessors. The cast of famous actors (rather than celebrities who act) such as Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson and Morgan Freeman add to the "seriousness" of the project. Here's a typical scene. Bruce Wayne is throwing a birthday party at his mansion, attended by the master villain of the story. To prevent unnecessary bloodshed, Wayne lets out his guests, leaving only the evil guy and his henchmen behind. In any regular Hollywood movie, this would be the prelude to some major ass-kicking. Instead, as the henchmen torch the place, Wayne and his nemesis discuss moral issues as if they're at a philosophy conference. What makes this movie the best in the series to date is simply its believableness. Yes, there's still a guy in a Kevlar suit swooping down from the rooftops and the action scenes are dazzling and spectacular, but the hysterical over-the-topness that characterized all the other episodes is absent here, and CGI is kept to a bare minimum. I had to read the reviews afterwards to realize that the movie does actually features an alter-ego villain like the Joker or the Penguin (in this case, it's the Scarecrow); to me, Dr Crane was just a mafioso with a shtick. It's a credit to Nolan that he managed to convince the producers that "less is more" would be a successful action movie formula; that's tantamount to heresy in Tinsel Town. The problem, of course, is obvious: we're still taking about Batman here, a comic book hero fighting the bad guys. Some people might say that Nolan made his own movie and gave it a couple of bat wings. But I like to see this movie as a first indication that there is again room for action movies that actually cannot be understood by children under the age of six.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
WARNING: this review contains spoilers but no carburetors.
In the last years of the nineteen-seventies and the beginning of the early nineteen-eighties, yours truly was still an innocent, blushing child, to whom The Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky & Hutch represented the ultimate thrill in visual entertainment. Until, that is, the Star Wars Saga came along. I didn't have the same obsession with Star Wars as some of my friends, who owned real AT-Ats and Millennium Falcons, but I sure envied them.
Then came some twenty-odd years of radio silence from the makers of the movie. Things had already gone steeply downhill in the third movie (oddly numbered "6") because it featured the most gruesome aliens known to adolescents: cute, cuddly, furry animals called Ewoks. Rumor also had it that the two-legged walking Imperial monster robots from Episode VI were simply the four-legged walking Imperial monster robots from Episode V, cut in half. I was also older then, and decided that Star Wars was, in fact, kind of silly and childish, and stopped obsessing over it.
Then, just a few years ago, came Episode I, which offered the same (and better) dazzling visuals as parts 4, 5, and 6, but took itself way too seriously and, worst of all, featured a whiny kid whom anyone could easily imagine turning to the Dark Side. Just the other week, I caught Episode II on TV, aptly nicknamed "Attack of the Pubes", and found the slightly older Anakin Skywalker only slightly less annoying, and the plot as confusing and serpentine as its predecessor's (note to Lucas: in a sci-fi action movie, avoid talking about intergalactic trade disputes in a way that makes EU conferences sound exciting).
And now, this weekend, my girlfriend and me were downtown and went to the cinema. Much to my surprise, "Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" had two tickets available a mere hour before the start, so we decided to go see it. Sure, we already knew how it would end, but what the hell. Waiting in line, we saw a whole crowd of people gathering, though thankfully, none of them were dressed as Stormtroopers, Darth Vaders or, for that matter, Jabbas the Hutt.
The movie kicked ass.
Probably it was its connections back (or forward, if you will) to the Episode IV of yesteryear that triggered a whole lot of childhood neurons that had long lain dormant. Episode III made me want to wield a light saber again and make those "heng-heng" mosquito noises. The story is, for once, completely straightforward and action-packed. Lucas learned that one guy's tragic fall from grace beats the intricacies of otherworldly politics. It features awesome, stomach-turning space fights, quadruple light saber duels, and, of course, an evil overlord with an appropriately creepy voice. Of course, it finally explains how Darth Vader gets his mask and his bad temper (although his transition to the Dark Side is still somewhat abrupt). But best of all, like the best of the five episodes, "The Empire Strikes Back", "Revenge of the Sith" is dark and pessimistic, and there's not a furry animal in sight (the horrid Jar-Jar Binks only appears sporadically and keeps his mouth shut).
In short, back in 1977, George Lucas should have had the good foresight to give "A New Hope" the number 2 and create just one action-packed prequel. We would all be happier for it.
"First Knight" is a movie so bad that it merits an extensive review. What could possibly have motivated several renowned actors and a major movie studio to produce such an unequivocal pile of poo? The script, the acting, the casting, the art direction, even the costumes; all work together to create an all-round turkey.
Since Arthurian legends are sketchy at best and often contradictory, the boys in the writing team went wild with this one. They rob the knight of his shining armour and created a universe where the bad guys are evil for no particular reason and where Arthur's philosophy is presented as some weird mix of devout Christianity and vague, American-Constitution-sounding principles. And although Arthur explains that everyone is equal at the Round Table, "even the King", I couldn't help noticing that the other knights seem to do little more than raise their fist and shout in unison whenever Arthur makes a suggestion. We never even learn their names.
The bad guy in the movie, called something like Flabberghast, is easily identifiable by his black outfit and wicked ways. He threatens the peaceful land of Leonesse and burns down villages there, although I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's because it gives Guinevere (Julia Ormond) the opportunity to be a damsel in distress. Guinevere says she loves King Arthur and goes off to marry him, but on the way, she gets kidnapped by the bad guys, so that she can be rescued by Lancelot (Richard Gere). She's obviously smitten by the ruffian, but when she arrives at Camelot (which, incidentally, is an exact copy of Cinderella's Palace in Disneyworld), she still agrees to marry King Arthur (Sean Connery) even though he gives her a chance to back out of the deal without losing his protection from the bad guy. Women!
Before the wedding bells can toll, however, Flabberghast arrives (invited by King Arthur the Gullible) to act innocent and be obviously evil for the three viewers in the back who didn't get it yet. He insults everyone and then storms off. Lancelot joins the Round Table, although I don't think we ever see him sitting at it. And then, just to make things absolutely crystal clear, Flabberghast goes and kidnaps Guinevere (taking off the mask of innocence he had been wearing for a full three minutes).
Now at this point, Lancelot decides to rescue his Queen-to-be, unarmed, from a heavily-guarded castle. Attention script writers everywhere: there is a point where the fine line between selfless bravery and blundering stupidity is crossed, and this is that point. Frequently exposing the love of his life to mortal danger that could easily have been avoided (the bad guy had no intention of killing her, he was holding her for ransom), he drags her back to Camelot through a heavy thunderstorm, without looking for shelter. She could catch pneumonia, but then these are the Middle Ages, you see, where medical science could deal with such an eventuality.
The heavy rain both sets a romantic mood and gives Lancelot the chance to show his awesome survival skills. As they stand under a tree, Lancelot lines up some leaves to create a little stream of water for his maiden to drink from. Never mind that it's raining cats and dogs and all she has to do is open her mouth to have a drink. No, 'Where did you learn that?' she says, marvelling at this amazing feat of engineering. Anyway, one romantic interlude later, they ride on to Camelot.
Back at Disneyland, the Knights of the Round Table seem still to be giving the bad guy the benefit of the doubt. It takes a heavily bleeding villager, announcing the invasion of Leonesse, to make them sit up and take notice. Um, sorry, but wasn't this invasion thing going on from the start of the movie, and wasn't that why Guinevere agreed to marry Arthur? Anyway, Arthur and his army finally ride out to Lionesse and set up camp. But instead of sleeping in it, they make straw dummies of themselves and wait for Flabberghast's men to arrive. Then they fire a volley of flaming arrows at the camp and attack. This is where we learn Rule No. 1 from King Arthur's "Fighting with Honor" Manual: when you attack your opponent in battle, make sure he's on fire first. They win the day, obviously, and strangely assume that that will be the end of the war, because they immediately go back to Camelot.
There, the full extent of the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere becomes apparent when Arthur catches them snogging. Angrily, he confronts both his wife-to-be (they still didn't get round to actually marrying) and his first knight with it. This results in memorable dialogues such as:
Lancelot: "My lord..."
Arthur: "I'll ask the questions around here!"
Anyway, being the just and firm ruler that he is, Arthur appoints himself judge, jury and executioner and calls a public trial against the two lovers in the castle courtyard. The charge is treason, although I fail to see how a quickie endangers the kingdom. The punishment is death, and it becomes obvious that Arthur just wants to kill both Guinevere and Lancelot, in keeping with his noble, chivalrous principles.
But just as he is about to execute them, guess who shows up? That's right, Flabby's back in town and this time, he's here to stay. He wants to force Arthur to his knees, but the king yells at the townsfolk to fight, fight, FIGHT, which they subsequently do in a badly choreographed way. Arthur himself gets shot with half a dozen arrows. Lancelot kills the bad guy and is just in time to find Guinevere saying a tearful farewell to her husband (sort of) and protector (sort
of). Both she and Lancelot are inexplicably heartbroken when the man who was about to chop their heads off conveniently draws his last breath.
They put him on a raft, let it float out to sea and then set it on fire. Boy, do they want to make sure he's dead. The End. Lancelot and Guinevere obviously get married and have lots of babies. What kind of moral we are to draw from all this is beyond me, other than this one: First Knight is a stinker of a movie.
To my knowledge, tapdancing, swordfights to the death, and cross-dressing are rarely combined in one movie. Takeshi Kitano tells a seemingly familiar story of a lone, unbeatable hero safeguarding a small, defenseless community against a group of thugs. But the lone, unbeatable hero is blind, members of the small, defenseless community run around in their underpants, and the thugs have computer-generated blood spurting out of them.|
All in all, Zatoichi is a somewhat unevenly paced, elegantly edited, kick-ass swordfight extravaganza with beautiful surroundings, lots of humor and, yes, tapdancing. I understand there are 29 other Zatoichi movies; let's see them.
The true test for a movie that revolves around a plot twist is whether it's still a good movie after you know. In the Truman Show, it's almost irrelevant; the Crying Game remains brilliant; the Sixth Sense loses some of its charm; and the Argentinian movie Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), a story about two con men, is on the edge and in danger of dropping.|
Don't worry, I won't spoil your fun by revealing the big secret, but I will say instead that I still enjoyed it. Seeing the movie again will be interesting and entertaining. But it's no masterpiece.
Maybe it was the pan-and-scan video, but this movie looked crap to me. Badly framed shots, lots of darkness, no overview of the scene: all distracting enough to make me pay only marginal attention to the story.|
In the film noir plot Jane Fonda is Bree, a call girl receiving anonymous threats, and Donald Sutherland is Klute, a private investigator who takes the case of a missing friend, falls in love with Bree and barely says ten words in the whole movie. The plot 'surprise' is revealed halfway into the movie, which must be a seventies way of being anti-establishment.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Any filmmaker would feel intimidated making a film about the painter Johannes Vermeer, because of his photographic use of light, colors, subject matter and composition. But the way this movie captures the light and the colors makes you gasp. Each shot is simply a painting.|
The script's decent but obviously plays second fiddle. Griet, the girl of the painting, is restricted by her class and by Vermeer's wife, from entering into a professional or romantic relationship with him. The idea is that all the unspoken desires are sublimated into the painting, which, if you look at it, seems pretty likely.
Lost in Translation
|When traveling, you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you are waiting, along with everyone around you. The situation creates a strange sort of suspended life, in which people reveal themselves slightly.|
I used to wish I could describe this feeling; now I just say, "You know, like Lost in Translation". The whole movie floats in mid-air, and the entire city of Tokyo is the waiting area. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson carry the entire movie, doing a great job. Their undeveloped romantic relationship reminded me of Brief Encounter, and it is as nicely understated as that British classic.
Letter from an Unknown Woman
|This is the first Max Ophüls movie I've seen, and it has its good sides and its bad sides. The romantic tragedy tells of a woman who is desperately in love, for decades with a man who hardly ever notices her, but when he does, suddenly feels as if he should drop everything for her.|
It's the kind of story that isn't filmed anymore these days -not necessarily a bad thing- and seems dated even in 1948. But the acting is good and the camera work (crane shots, unusual for that time I think) impressive. Don't stay up for it.
|Only after this movie ended did I realize I'd been watching people talking to each other in a motel room for 86 minutes. So kudos to the actors (Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard carry the whole movie); the plot, revolving around a rape but managing to steer clear of Festen-like depressiveness; the convincing dialogue; and the camera work, which makes the most of what little room there is. |
The movie is shot on video, sometimes giving the impression that we're watching surveillance footage. In short, a successfully executed movie that doesn't answer all of its own questions.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
|Volume 2 of Tarantino's revenge flick is mostly set in the US, and therefore returns to more American characters and plot developments. That said, it also includes a hilarious flashback of The Bride's martial arts training in China, including Bruce Lee-style rapid zoom shots. As in the previous movie, The Bride kills her way through various former killer-colleagues before confronting Bill, her former lover and current nemesis.|
Combined with Vol. 1, 'Kill Bill' is a different, but not really worse, brand of Tarantino movie. It's more directed (no pun intended) toward the Far East, but also offers classic Tarantino suspense.
|I didn't see the US version of this horror film, but I liked this Japanese original. It's scary in the same way Rosemary's Baby or Lost Highway are scary: by being dead quiet, disturbingly normal, and playing with your mind rather than your stomach. Fans of splatter movies will probably find the whole thing tame, but for those who prefer terrifying ideas over terrifying images, the one in this movie has its charms: you watch a video, you die within a week. The plot unravels slowly but surely, and the ending is worthy of a classical Edgar Allan Poe story.|
The AvengersIf a movie has two Uma Thurmans in it and still sucks, it must be horrendous. 'The Avengers' is that movie. Instead of being utterly British, like the TV-series that inspired this monstrosity, the movie is what Americans think is utterly British: saying 'Quite' when you mean 'Yes', remaining witty and calm in life-threatening situations, and, apparently, having a cup of tea in your car while being shot at by giant electric killer bees. Sadly, neither Ralph Fiennes nor Sean Connery (who are, after all, British) cared to point out this glaring oversight to anyone working on the film. Rarely has the yawning abyss between Britain and the States been so neatly defined. 'The Avengers', it is rumored (and if you watch the movie, you can believe the rumors), was cut to shreds and then patched back together. Such things usually happen after test audiences boo the first draft off the screen. However, in this case, there were no test screenings, which must mean that the producers were the ones doing the booing. And, truth be told, it must be somewhat perplexing to see several dozens of millions of dollars wasted on a ridiculous story about a mad scientist, Lord August de Wynter (subtle puns there!) who tries to terrorize London ï¿½with bad weather. Yeah, good luck with that.
Steed (Fiennes) and Mrs Peel (Thurman) go back and forth to De Wynter's country estate several times before they finally figure out he's the bad guy. To us viewers, it's blindingly obvious, since the only other suspect is Mrs Peel herself. The 'evil Peel' is a clone, as it turns out, probably made by De Wynter on those Sunday afternoons when he got bored from working on his world-dominating weather manipulation device thingy.
I could say the plot unravels as the movie ends, but for the lack of plot to unravel. Instead, Big Ben explodes; it snows in London (snow is the worst meteorological catastrophe imaginable to people living in Hollywood); and Steed kills De Wynter while Peel shuts down the world-dominating weather manipulation device thingy. Oh, and the happy couple makes a narrow escape as more stuff explodes.
Dialogues that are meant to be witty but sound more like repartees from a Schwarzenegger movie; quotes from British literature to give it a semblance of culture; a secret meeting of evildoers all dressed in giant teddy bear costumes (no, that's not tongue-in-cheek, it's just not bloody funny); decent, capable actors shamelessly prostituting themselves; the nightmare just doesn't seem to end. As a testament of Hollywood vapidness pushed to the extreme, it's excellent; but as a movie, it is a giant turkey ready for roasting.
Ying Xiong (Hero)
|There used to be black-and-white movies. Then you had color movies. And occasionally you have color movies. "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" is one. "Ju-Dou" by Zhang Yimou is another. And "Ying Xiong" (or "Hero") by the same director, is also a very good example. This movie simply oozes with colors, preferably primary ones: a whirlwind of bright yellow leaves (later to turn crimson) complicates a fight; a huge palace hall has soft green banners hanging from the ceiling that hide two duellists from each other.|
All this works well in combination with the dazzling martial arts fighting known as wu xia, which is of the same quantity and quality as in the Western wu xia breakthrough movie, 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. That movie disappointed in its storyline, spouting clichés such as 'spoiled princess gets tamed by rough but noble robber king' and 'they had to hide their true feelings for each other to stay professional'. "Ying Xiong", on the other hand, is a multi-layered, color-coded and believable story where treachery piles on top of treachery. Add to this some massive battle scenes and the inventive use of computer graphics, and it's clear who gets the gold.
Les Triplettes de Belleville
|"Amélie Poulain", but the slow pace and quietness are more like the best of Jacques Tati. In short, a very French movie.A cute old lady trains her son for the Tour de France for years, only to see him abducted by gangsters. They use him in cycling contests in the fictional city of Belleville. Mom, with unwavering persistence, catches up with him and rescues him in (probably) the slowest chase scene in cinema history. The animation uses CGI subtly enough not to annoy, and has a smoky, dark atmosphere all its own. The strange, funny details reminded me of|
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
|2 out of 5 snowstones>Peter Weir's reputation made me go see this movie, but I was sorely disappointed by the lack of story. Yes, life on a 19th-century war ship is probably shown very realistically, the blood and gore is very lifelike, and there's even something of a conflict in the ship's doctor's desperate attempts to turn a bloodbath into a proto-Darwinian quest for scientific enlightenment. But it can still all be summarized in four words: "swashbuckler Crowe fights French" (French getting their asses kicked plays well to US audiences, I guess). From the man who made "The Truman Show", I had higher expectations.|
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
|Tarantino once said, 'The problem with movies these days is that after fifteen minutes, you know the whole story.' I guess that's not a problem anymore: Kill Bill, Vol. 1's four-word plot is "she's out for revenge".|
But I know Tarantino can write. He must have consciously decided to give action and visuals center stage, and there, he delivers. His use of colors and music is amazing.
Also, the film's bloodier than any mainstream movie I know. But the violence is grotesque and strangely beautiful. Beauty and violence are traditionally connected in Japan, where most of the movie takes place.
|'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun', imagines himself a Red Dragon. His only connection to normal life is through his fumbling relationship with a blind girl (Emma Thompson), who's unaware of his true nature. Suspenseful till the end, it's a worthy companion to the original 'Lambs'.Anthony Hopkins obviously enjoys playing the supremely evil Dr Hannibal Lecter in this prequel to 'The Silence of the Lambs'. The basic setup is the same: from his cell, Lecter helps an FBI agent (Edward Norton) catch a serial killer (Ralph Fiennes). The killer, obsessed with William Blake's painting|
One Hour Photo
|A lousy thriller, but a great film about loneliness. Robin Williams (who we can now call a bona fide dramatic actor) plays a terribly isolated middle-aged man developing photos in a mall. His obsessions are his job and a middle-class family. Covering his bedroom wall with their snapshots, he imagines himself some long-lost uncle, and is overly attentive whenever he encounters one of them. When he gets fired and discovers the husband's unfaithfulness to his wife, he goes crazy. But unlike in regular thrillers, his rage and insanity are as pathetic as his life. A very well-photographed (pun intended) film.|
Bowling for Columbine
|The 2003 Oscar for Best Documentary went to some questionable semi-journalism by a loudmouthed demagogue I happen to agree with. Professional provocator Michael Moore explores American gun-craziness, stopping in between too often to crusade against his enemies. But he makes some interesting points. First, Canadians have as many guns as Americans, but they don't kill people with them. Second, the US is a society of fear cultivated by both politics (Saddam's nonexistent WMDs spring to mind) and the media (while crime dropped by some 20 percent, media crime coverage increased 600 percent). All of which nicely compensates Moore's intermediary rantings.|
Un Coupable Idéal (Murder on a Sunday morning)The 2002 Oscar for Documentary went to a simple but horrifying tale. After a woman is shot dead by a black man during a robbery in Jacksonville, Florida, police simply pick up the first black male they see, a 15-year-old boy. In a confrontaton, the victim's widower identifies him as the killer. The boy is interrogated and, when he refuses to confess, taken into the woods and beaten. He subsequently confesses. The documentary follows the public defender as he skillfully unravels his opponents' flagrant abuse and incompetence. The boy's family, too, is shown, patient and seemingly resigned to the proceedings. In the end, the boy is acquitted and in an epilogue, we see the actual killer convicted several months later. The film is a powerful testament to the stupidity, racism, and neglect of duty of the Jacksonville police and prosecutor's office, and shows how badly needed defense attorneys are as the last line of defense from police misconduct. But it must be admitted that the movie shows only one side of the story. The DA and cops are never seen telling their story outside of the trial room. It's unclear whether they refused to comment or were simply never interviewed. Either case, it's bad journalistic practice.
|This is a ghost story in the most classical tradition, which means that even though it has a pretty unnerving twist at the end, it still operates within the limits of the supernatural. Nicole Kidman has yet more of her mastery of the various accents of the English language to show off, and otherwise, she carries the movie convincingly.|
What's wrong with this movie is the revelation at the end. During the movie, I came up with this result, but the story behind it wasn't very obvious from the movie itself. All in all, it doesn't wrap up nicely, which is ultimately what makes the movie unsatisfying.
|'Birdy' cuts back and forth between a post-Vietnam insane asylum and pre-Vietnam Philadelphia. Masquerading as a war movie, it suggests that 'Nam turned the bird-obsessed protagonist Birdy into an isolated mute, forever a bird in his mind. But as we gradually learn from the flashbacks, his descent into madness begins long before the war. His obsession turns from daring into scientific into erotic. Parallel to this, his friend (and now Viet vet) Al tries to pull Birdy back into the real world.|
What is great about the movie is that it is equally about both characters, and I couldn't say whether Nicolas Cage or Matthew Modine is the better actor. Also, the theme of birds and flying makes for some amazing camerawork, giving new meaning to the term "bird's eye view".