|You wouldn't say Jerry Seinfeld's the richest comedian on earth from this documentary. He's shown at various US clubs, slowly accumulating an hour's worth of jokes. Surrounding him are colleagues, some famous (Chris Rock and Bill Cosby), some starting out, like Orny Adams, who comes across as an arrogant, insecure idiot who can't accept constructive criticism. The contrast between Adams ("I'm sorry, but this audience just sucked.") and Seinfeld ("I was nervous like the first time, back in 1979.") shows the difference between someone who likes to become famous telling jokes, and someone who has a job as a comedian.|
It's hard to find an unambiguous truth in a documentary obviously slanted in favor of Fidel Castro. But hearing Cuba's leader speak, noting his keen sense of humor and realizing his deftness at surviving while the superpowers battle it out over his head, I can’t help but admiring the guy. He's that rare type of dictator: the one genuinely loved by his people, and not too much in love with himself. (Cuba's not full of huge statues of Fidel, nor is his picture in every home.) And he seems loyal to his people, even inviting the pope to his country.
|Nihilist Sci-fi cocktail
Star Trek: Nemesis
|Trekkie superstition states that even-numbered Star Trek movies rule. Episode 10, "Nemesis", generally delivers. In it, Captain Picard meets his younger clone, who grew up on the planet Remus in the Romulan empire. He's had a rough life, so we might as well forgive him for wanting to annihilate Earth with some horrible molecular weapon Saddam would love to get his hands on. There's lots of gleaming black spacecraft and butt-ugly aliens, but the plot lacks originality. The clone, especially, shares neither Picard's diplomatic skills, sense of humor or intelligence. He is, in fact, a clone of any movie villian.|
|The plot of 'Insomnia' (murderer blackmails dirty cop) is a far cry from that of Nolan's brilliant breakthrough, 'Memento': its twists and turns are fewer and far less serpentine. It's a remake of a Swedish original. And the setting, slow pace, eerie score, dead girl found naked in transparent plastic, outsider detective solving the murder, and decent local cops were all reminiscent of Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' TV series.|
However, the Alaskan landscape, with its unending daylight even at 4AM, is a character all its own in 'Insomnia'. It's also refreshing to see Robin Williams in a serious role, a rarity.
|Referring sporadically to 9/11, New Yorker Spike Lee presents a small, compact story about an unlucky marijuana dealer's last day of freedom, before being put away for seven years. |
Montgomery (Edward Norton) goes clubbing with two old friends, who are faithful but estranged from him and each other. He's presented with a gun and the man who betrayed him, but we don't see whether he shoots. The final scene, in which Montgomery's dad paints him an escapee's life in some desert town, is the most poignant.
Tragic, to the point, simple and never preachy: more movies should be like this.
|Eminem's surprisingly uncontroversial biopic paints an unexpected portrait of the loudest bigmouth on the planet: 'Rabbit' (Eminem's alter ego) is a quiet, selfconscious loner wandering the ugliest neighborhoods of Detroit, desperate to escape the garbage heap that's his trailerpark life. |
It's no self-idolizing, romanticized thug life (he's no gangsta), but bleak social realism, the kind of poverty and squalidness not considered marketable. This is best felt when 'Rabbit' visits a glitzy recording studio, which looks like a different planet from the film's perspective. There isn't much plot to speak of, but '8 Mile' says one thing and says it well.
Die Another Day
|Whoever thought two Oscar winners might make a Bond movie artsy, relax: babes and gadgets still supersede character development and the human condition. Fortunately.|
It's 007's twentieth, and the fireworks look great, if overblown. Visiting North Korea, Hong Kong, Havana, London and Iceland, Bond chases Colonel Moon, who's intent on destroying South Korea with his outer-space sun-mirror annihilation thingy. Moon genetically reengineering himself into a British upperclass twit doesn't help.
Watch (or listen) for:
|"Spider-Man" is brighter, jumpier, younger and peppier than its rival "Batman" or even "Superman" movie series. And why the hell not? After all, this is a superhero we're talking about, so why pretend there's a dark undercurrent of moral ambiguity and/or a tortured hero under the mask? Peter Parker's too young for that. Sure, Spidey must in the end choose between the girl and the job, but it's an adolescent kind of tough choice.|
Anyway, before that, there's fun to be had; New York is a great backdrop for all this webslinging. The bad guy looks slightly stupid sometimes, though.
Lord of the Rings - the Two Towers
|You'd think it's hard to review a three-hour movie in 100 words. It's not.|
Two hobbits sit on top of a walking tree. Nothing happens to them.
Two guys walk a lot, guided by a Gollum (the only interesting character). They get captured, then released.
Three guys go to a castle and participate in a massive battle that lasts an hour.
A wizard meets most of them and finally brings the decisive blow to the battle.
The movie has the most amazing computer graphics ever, and lots of cameras swooping over massive landscapes. That's impressive, but not for THREE HOURS.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
|Nine Reasons Why "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Is The Worst Bond Movie:|
|Romantic Comedy Queen Meg Ryan plays a mathematician, but obviously a cute one, wooed by a car mechanic (Tim Robbins), but obviously a cute one. Hilarity ensues when none other than Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) acts as Cupid, turning the mechanic into a cold fusion propulsion theorist to impress the dame. |
The movie has nothing to do with Einstein but perpetuates his “silly scientist guy” image. Einstein had a sense of humor, but this wasn’t it. I didn’t expect a treatise about the Unified Field Theory, but the primate who came up with this concept surely deserves nothing but ridicule.
Six Degrees of Separation
A young black man, stabbed, rings the doorbell of a fancy New York apartment. Art dealer Flan Kittredge and his wife Ouisa let him in. Claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son Paul, he lectures on 'The Catcher in the Rye' and the nature of imagination, cooks a delicious meal, and talks about his famous father. Deeply impressed, the Kittredges let him spend the night, only to discover him in bed with an unknown man next morning. Shocked, they kick him out.
They then hear similar stories from fellow jetsetters, and find a link in the high school their children went to. It turns out that a schoolmate was Paul's lover and trained him to fake an upperclass upbringing, telling details about the families he knew.
Paul then convinces a young couple from Utah he's Kittredge's bastard son, 'borrows' money from them and sleeps with the guy, who kills himself. Paul is now a murder suspect and has a frantic telephone conversation with Ouisa, who promises to make him part of her society if he gives himself up. He is arrested and never heard from again.
This movie, based on a play based (amazingly) on a true story, subtly exposes the twisted, racist relationship between the Kittredges and Paul. To the couple, Paul turns from an ideal son-they-never-had (and a son of Poitier, the ultimate 'acceptable' black man) into 'probably a crackhead'. Paul, on the other hand, desperately attempts to become part of a society that could never accept him, while demonstrating that he is equal or superior to them in the long monolog he presents. All this is enough to make the movie deeply impressive. But it's the acting, particularly by the unlikely Will Smith, who pulls it off brilliantly in one of his first feature film roles, that tops the cake. Go see it.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
|Neither its amazing popularity nor its intended prepubescent audience can change the fact that JK Rowling's 'Harry Potter' books are rare gems in the world of books today: a (literally) magical world described inspiringly rather than impressively, leaving enough to the imagination.|
So did director Chris Columbus screw it all up by giving us the movie version of book 2? Yes and no. Yes, he successfully conjures up both Rowling's sense of wonder and her mix of darkness and humor, but no, even in 161 minutes, the story is condensed too much and becomes almost illogical.
Read the books instead.
|Spielberg's latest lesson in "in-your-face" cinema takes you to a Philip K. Dick-imagined future in which "Precrime" police can see murders before they happen. This allows Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) to stand in the middle of funky visual effects and catch bad guys. But Anderton, a loner/divorcee who lost his kid, soon becomes a fugitive from justice himself (three clichés for the price of one!). |
Spielberg relinquishes philosophical discussion in favor of dazzling, cold, futuristic special effects. And dazzle though they may, 'Minority Report' offers nothing beyond standard entertainment value, despite some inventive plot twists. Rent 'Blade Runner' instead.
The Man Who Fell To Earth - movie review
Extraterrestrials in movies are usually either malevolent or cute. Not so David Bowie (whom we suspect to be from another planet anyway) in The Man who Fell to Earth. In a movie in which atmosphere dominates over plot, he is lonely, intelligent, and above all, homesick. As far as I know, no other movie gives an alien a real personality and actually conveys the, well, alienation he feels on this strange, cruel planet.
Despite the dated cinematographic tricks (the fast zoom, cutting back and forth between two scenes), the movie still stands as a masterpiece with a thoroughly depressing ending.
The Best Years of our Lives - movie review
I caught this 1946 movie late at night and kept watching it. The story of three very different WWII veterans trying to adjust to civilian life is skillfully intertwined: a banker, alienated from his life and family; a young sailor whom the war gave hooks for hands, humiliated and ashamed; and a regular Joe who can't support his wife's lavish lifestyle with his crummy job.
The movie is unusual for its time: believable dialogue and characters, a lack of moralism or sentimentality, and a refusal to yield to the cheerful, propagandistic optimism of its day make it a non-controversial classic.
No Man's Land - 100 word review
Many movies have been made about the Bosnian war; No Man’s Land presents a humorous miniature version of it in the form of a trench between front lines. Here, two Bosnians and a Serb are condemned to each other’s presence, and that of an armed mine. Their respective armies, in a quandary, choose the easiest solution: call UNPROFOR. The movie now shifts away from the conflict itself and shows the clumsy, bureaucratic UN forces and sensation-seeking Western press. Personally, I’d prefer to understand more about the war itself. It’s presented rather simplistically, which might explain why it got an Oscar.
Mulholland Dr. - 100 word review
Rejected as a TV series, “Mulholland Dr.” is now David Lynch’s cinematic portrayal of Hollywood in a story that only makes sense if you consider most of it a fantasy. Replaying the blonde/brunette theme (see “Lost Highway”, “Twin Peaks”), Lynch here gives it a “lesbian scorned” twist. He also manages to make a superficial city like LA seem eerie and enigmatic. The movie plays with clichés (the young, naïve would-be actress, the artsy director forced to compromise), but in the end, Lynch’s trademark weirdness emerges. The film borders on the pretentious and isn’t as scary or intense as “Lost Highway”.
Sweet and Lowdown - 100 word review
Woody Allen made a mockumentary before (“Zelig”); this time, his subject is a selfish, brilliant jazz guitarist called Emmett Ray. His weakness is the more brilliant Django Reinhardt, who makes him either cry or faint.
His fumbling relationship with a shy, mute girl, Hattie, is unlikely, and therefore realistic. Uma Thurman is not too hammy as the pompous writer who marries Ray. But the Oscar should have gone to Sean Penn, who shows versatility and dedication (he really plays guitar).
What this movie lacks is story. It’s too anecdotal for my taste. Nevertheless, great acting, great humor and great music.
Fight Club - 100 word review
This movie is all over the place. Start with ‘American Beauty’ yuppie angst. Introduce Meat Loaf with tits. Move on to MTV’s Jackass on steroids –Brad Pitt and Edward Norton getting into some serious male bonding by beating the shit out of each other. Add buckets of ‘Raging Bull’ blood. Creep through anticapitalist ideology into fascist boot camp. Top it off with a psychological twist, and end in ‘enlightened terrorism’ that seems obscene after 9-11. What starts off as an interesting idea about masochism ends in a thinking (?) man’s Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Helena Bonham Carter should have known better.
American Psycho - review
When turning to the third or fourth page of Patrick Bateman's endless description of the beauty products he uses on himself, I chucked the novel 'American Psycho' into a corner. Although the idea of a yuppie serial killer had its symbolic attractions, I wasn't going to be forced to relive the eighties in all its narcissistic glory to experience it. But at the video rental, I felt myself tempted again by the idea and checked out the movie instead.
Patrick Bateman is portrayed perfectly by actor Christian Bale. Bateman is a highly successful demigod of his time. He's young, extremely good-looking, intelligent and rich. A recurring theme in the movie is the fact that these Wall Street yuppies keep getting confused with each other, and that, rich and attractive though they may be, they are conformist to their own culture. They compete in who has the best looking business card; in the ability to reserve seats in bars and restaurants; in dressing and looking as well as they can. In the end, they are all interchangeable, including (most of the time) Patrick Bateman.
That is, on the surface. Because in his private life, Bateman leads a life of extreme boredom on the one hand, and grotesque violence on the other. He kills people at random, starting with the murder of bums and prostitutes, but succumbing to his urge by killing a colleague, girls, and people in his office. So is this movie about the evil that is the yuppie, overdramatized by creating a yuppie serial killer? No, it's not, and it would be a bad movie if it was. The point that the film makes is that even when Patrick confesses his horrible crimes in a crying fit to his fiancee and to his lawyer, first on the answering machine and then face to face, both people simply ignore the facts in front of them. In the vacant universe Patrick Bateman inhabits, you could be a serial killer and no one would care. Is it any wonder, then, that at the end of the movie, Patrick tells us that he feels no redemption or remorse? In this sense, 'American Psycho' is a great portrait of that ugly, disgusting, callous and materialistic decade that was the nineteen eighties.
A.I. - Artificial Intelligence - review
|What happens if you take the best director and the most popular director and have them make a movie together? When Steven Spielberg took over Stanley Kubrick's project "AI", I was not convinced that this would be a good movie. When AI was jokingly referred to as "Spielberg's best two-letter movie since E.T.", I became even more suspicious. Spielberg is a great visual artist, and like Kubrick, some images from his movies will forever remain stuck in our collective visual cortices. But unlike Kubrick, he tends to manipulate his audience and deny them the possibility to do anything else with his movies than to undergo them, for better or for worse. This often means being taken to a world of childish simplicity and sentimentality.|
However, A.I. will stand out as Spielberg's coldest and most artificial movie, which, surprisingly perhaps, is a compliment. The story consists of three parts. The movie begins with the adoption of David, the first ever robot boy capable of feeling love, by a mother whose real son is critically ill. Although somewhat eerie (Haley Joel Osment seems destined to play the alienated, slightly creepy kid), David is hesitantly adopted into the family. The recovery of his "half-brother" Martin changes his behavior and finally, his mom dumps him in the woods. So far, the movie, if somewhat artificial, seems to want to be 'realistic'.
Part two changes all that. When David encounters Gigolo Joe, a sex robot, and is kidnapped and brought to a bizarre "Flesh Fair", where robots are destroyed in lots of grueling ways, it's obvious that we are no longer in normal Spielberg territory. The two travel to a city dedicated to sex, where David goes in search of the Blue Fairy from "Pinocchio", so that she can turn him into a real boy and make his mom love him again. We soon discover that "Pinocchio" is being retold, but in this version, the Blue Fairy does not grant David's wish.
The final part of the movie attempts to tug at our heart strings the most, but the artificiality of the situation (aliens reunite David with a DNA copy of his long-dead mother, who for one day truly loves him) prevents that from working. There is a strange sense of reversal in this last part: in a way, David is now the more real person of the two, and his mom is nothing more than a robotic jumble of living cells.
In short, AI is not always very accessible; neither is it predictable; nor is it easy to extract a moral out of this story; nor does the director pretend that we should watch the movie as if it's supposed to be realistic. All these characteristics are rare in Spielberg movies. It's definitely not the masterpiece Kubrick would have created, but it's unusual, original and inventive enough to deserve a big endorsement.
Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amelie from Montmartre) - review
|When I was young, rash and still exploring this newfound thing called internet, I chanced across a newsgroup called alt.shenanigans. Browsing through the pranks listed there, I came across a pearl, a gem of the most magic realism. It wasn't offensive; it made no fool out of anyone; and best of all, it had a strange, unusual poetry about it. The prank goes like this: when going on a faraway trip, preferably to various destinations, steal a garden gnome from someone's garden. Take it along and take Polaroid pictures of it in front of various exotic and/or famous locations (Golden Gate Bridge, the pyramids of Gizeh, and so on). Send these polaroids to the gnome's owner. When you come back from your trip, place the gnome in its original location.|
I could scold director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for stealing the prank and inserting it into his movie, whose French title translates literally as "The Fabulous Fate of Amélie Poulain". However, the movie itself has all the beauty, poetry and magical hilariousness of the gnome joke itself. Where American movies are big (big crowds, big explosions, big spaceships) and many European movies are pretentious and overly serious, Jeunet has not let the directing of "Alien: Resurrection" go to his head. Instead, his film, which, for a change, does not involve any fantasy but does involve a lot of imagination, is subtle and dynamic at the same time. Lots of ballet-like camera work and a main actress who looks like an updated Louise Brooks take care of the visuals; a story full of little jokes, crazy ideas and small, poignant subplots does the rest. There is a lot to discover here and you'll enjoy every single second of it.
Bringing out the Dead - review
|A lonely, sleepless man slowly losing his mind as he drives passengers around the dark streets of New York while falling in love with a self-destructive girl, in a movie by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by Paul Schrader. So far, it could have been Taxi Driver. However, this time, the vehicle is an ambulance, and the man is not Robert De Niro but Nicholas Cage, and it makes a world of difference.|
Not that "Bringing out the Dead" is a bad movie. Scorsese is one of those directors whose bad movies still leave a big impression. The cinematography is dazzling, often psychedelic; the script is horrifying, depressing and full of what being a human being is all about; and the acting is quite good, although Cage didn't always convince me. It's the supporting cast, especially John Goodman and Ving Rhames, who impressed me. There isn't much of a story in this movie, it's more of a sequence of ambulance trips which rarely seem to do any good. This ain't no "E.R.", we're not in Kansas anymore. Instead, there is a great deal of sprituality and morality, presented in a confrontational way. It's a very raw movie, but a good one nonetheless.
Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) - review
Pedro Almodóvar is a director who finds women fascinating. This might explain why almost all the men in this movie (and there aren't many) wear wigs and makeup and have artificial breasts. The story is about a woman, Manuela, who loses her son and goes back into the world of her past to tell this tragic news to the boy's father, who never even knew he existed. She reacquaints herself with prostitutes, transsexual men and flamboyant actors. And she finds some semblance of her past self in a young woman (the very beautiful Penelope Cruz), impregnated and infected (literally) by the same man who made Manuela pregnant.
With references to "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the movie "All About Eve", this movie is in many ways reminiscent of a play. It is also a movie that lets you get into it easily if you let it. It isn't hard to feel sympathy for these people, strange as they are. There is a warmth here that is very deliberate and sophisticated. I recommend it to everyone.
My Name is Joe - review
For many years, British movie director Ken Loach has been making low-budget movies about poor people and the messes they find or get themselves into. Mike Leigh, of unexpected Oscar fame, cites Loach as one of his mentors. Loach's films have a deliberate rough edge to them and often involve untrained actors.
This story, set in Glasgow, is of addiction and temptation. It shows how easy it is to fall into drug abuse, alcoholism and crime if you are in an environment that makes it simple and necessary. As in most of Loach's movies, the main character is a likable guy with a lot of heart. In this case, Joe, as you might have guessed, who has been on the wagon for almost a year now, falls in love with a nurse and seems to be heading in the right direction. But the people around him and their problems seep in. The realism, both in images and acting, make Joe's breakdown all the more convincing. There is no sentimentality here, just the tragedy of someone's life going to pieces. There are some unanswered questions at the end of the film, but as a whole, I found it good.
The Hi-Lo Country - review
|Stephen Frears, the British director who alternatively makes low-budget British movies such as "The Van" and Hollywood-budget American movies such as "Dangerous Liaisons", here directs Woody Harrelson and Bill Crudup in a western that often feels like a film noir with horses and without a mystery to solve. It's a story set in the 1940s and it has two subplots: on the one hand, the dangerous but beautiful Mona (Patricia Arquette) makes grown men chew their cowboy hats in agonizin' desire; on the other, we have Jim Ed Love, the big cattle driver who is squeezing the life out of all the little farmers trying to eke out an existence. Even though the movie has all the necessary requirements for a true western (gunfights, bar fights, strong, silent men and lots of cattle being driven), I'd still prefer to call it a 'cowboy movie'. It just doesn't fit the genre well enough. It's too nuanced and subtle. In a western, our hero usually frets a lot before entering the decisive gunfight in the end. With "The Hi-Lo Country", you don't exactly know what you're gonna get.|
This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The story doesn't seem to have much direction except a lot of repetition, and good acting and cinematography (the widescreen effect was lost on me as I saw it on video) are required to pick up the movie's slow pace. The music was a bit too old-fashioned for my taste. In general, this is hardly Frears' best work and there's a lot to complain about.
Girl, Interrupted - review
|Some astounding and amazing movies about insanity have been made. There's "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest", which asks the question whether anyone can objectively say what's normal and what's crazy. There's "Twelve Monkeys", which wonders where reality ends and imagination begins. "Girl, Interrupted", however, neither astounds nor amazes. It doesn't provoke outrage about the psychiatric profession, which is portrayed as fumbling but basically adequate. It doesn't make you doubt your definition of sanity: the patients in the mental hospital in this movie are there for a reason, even though they may not all be very dangerous. In short, it's probably realistic but never very engaging or provoking. What seemed to me the most interesting part of the story, namely, the sessions with the psychiatrists, is almost completely absent. And so we are in the dark as to the nature and origin of the main character's illness, if any.|
What saves a plot and script that could have been a TV movie with a title ending in "The Susanna Kaysen Story" are the actresses. Winona Ryder, also an executive producer of the film, is convincing as the slightly disturbed Susanna, but she is out-acted by Angelina Jolie, who keeps up a defiant kiss-my-ass superiority down to the very end of the film, where she has a very convincing breakdown. Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave are both as good as you'd expect them to be. But apart from the acting, there's not much of a spark in this movie.
Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle - review
|We shudder to think what Mrs Parker's own review of this movie about her sordid life would have been like. My guess is the film would have hurt her very much. That's not to say that I disliked the movie: in order to say something relevant about her, it must be truthful to the point of pain. If I base myself on Mrs Parker's prose and poetry and a badly written but factually accurate biography, I would say that the movie did a pretty good job. On the one hand, it shows her talent (as far as this is possible within the context of a movie) by interrupting the storyline repeatedly with recitals of her poems; on the other, it shows that her friends, and she when with them, were shallow and playful to the point of fanaticism. It shows her many disastrous loves and the suicide attempts that sometimes followed them, but it doesn't cover up the truth that deep down, Lady Razor was a sentimentalist of the worst, that is, self-destructive, kind. The burden of portraying Mrs Parker falls on the shoulders of Jennifer Jason Leigh, who does a great job, much to my surprise. Only as an elderly woman does she look far more glamorous than the actual Dotty, who was too ravaged by alcohol to be shown the way she really was. In the end, the film is chaotic, fragmentary and all over the place; which is ok, because so was Mrs Parker. The problem with this or any other movie portrayal of one of the most important women in 20th century America is that it can never top the real thing. So even though I enjoyed this movie pretty much, I still recommend you spend your money for renting this movie on a Dorothy Parker book instead.|
Yi ge dou bu neng shao (Not one Less) - review
|The Chinese director Zhang Yimou has gained international popularity with his ever more colorful and luscious productions. But one of his early films, the Story of Qiu-Ju, is set in a small rural community. In it, Qiu-Ju is faced with the reality of city life when she tries to get justice for her husband. The movie isn't colorful or luscious; it just shows the harsh and ugly world that is impoverished provincial China.|
Zhang Yimou's newest movie, Not One Less, is once again set in contemporary China and follows the 13-year-old primary school teacher Wei, who's directly confronted with pupils fleeing her class to earn money for their poor families. She follows one of the 'escapees' into the city and begins a determined and seemingly futile search for him. But with a little help from her fellow man in the form of a TV station director, she not only finds the boy back, but also gains enough publicity to have the school improved. On the one hand, it's a heartwarming story with a fuzzy happy ending. On the other hand, there's a cynical undertone, and the Chinese viewer is presented with the tough facts of provincial poverty. Zhang Yimou has now attained the status of national superhero, which means that he can criticize the government somewhat, without fear of direct censorship. In some way, he seems to say, justice is as hard to find today as when Qiu-Ju was a young woman, ten years ago.
Sånger från andra våningen (Songs from the Second Floor) - review
Some movies leave me wondering whether I just don't share the director's mindset, or whether he realizes what I suspect: namely, that what he made seems like a load of incoherent, vaguely symbolic crap to most of us. In the case of "Songs from the Second Floor", I'm inclined to go for the second theory. The movie definitely has its share of surreal moments and imagery (a magician really sawing a member of the audience in half, for instance), but there is hardly anything to connect the dots, no overall view. You could, of course, say the same for a surrealist par excellence like Luis Buñuel. However, he had some important qualities in his films that made them brilliant. Absurd humor, genuine warmth, a dream-like atmosphere, and above all, liveliness. The "Songs" (the title is a mystery to me, too, by the way) are wry, depressing and grey. There's no rebellion to be found here, only gloominess. For a movie that was praised all around, I didn't find a lot of good in it anywhere. Some good moments, no good movie.
American History X - review
|There are things in this movie that don't seem to add up, but then again, maybe life doesn't either. It seems illogical, and certainly against Hollywood clichés, to show us a neonazi called Derek Vinyard who is actually quite intelligent and from suburbia, not backward and from the deep south. It's also a great move to make him spew his racist rhetoric about niggers getting all the welfare money and special treatment, without offering much of a liberal counterargument (Elliott Gould as the liberal Jewish teacher hardly gets a word in edgeways). The moral of the story is not that Derek's wrong about all this (even though he is), but that his warped view of blacks and Jews and his violent treatment of them comes more from an anger that is all his own. After cruelly killing a black gang member in front of his home, he goes to prison and learns that principles fly out the door when you're behind bars.|
Derek finds redemption in the joint and exits a believably changed man. Just in time, it seems, to save his equally intelligent brother Danny from going his way. Danny, played by Edward Furlong, whom we remember as the not-even-that-annoying kid actor from Terminator 2, seems capable of being saved, especially by his big brother. The ending of the movie is very inventive and unexpected, and again throws a new light on the theme of the movie. All in all, American History X is pretty impressive and in my opinion, expresses wisdom without being overly moralistic. Pointless trivia: two actors in this movie, Avery Brooks and Jennifer Lien, acted in two Star Trek series.
Planet of the Apes (2001) - review
|Tim Burton must have gotten a real kick out of getting the president of the NRA to give a speech on the evil of guns. Charlton Heston, star of the original 1968 movie, has a cameo in this remake in which he does exactly that. Planet of the Apes has less story and more visual effects than the original, which is why both the heroes and their ape sympathizers have been reduced to one each. That said, the movie has a less belligerent attitude than the original, and suggests that even humans and apes can live together in peace and harmony. Hugely annoying was Marky Mark's human love interest, a sultry blonde with silicon-injected lips and heaving breasts, who really did nothing but stand around looking gorgeous. Wahlberg's character is only too justified in preferring Helena Bonham Carter, ape or no ape. What's truly amazing about this movie is the make-up. The faces of the apes are beautifully expressive and individual.|
Finally, some remarks about the movie's ending. I don't think I'm surprising anyone by telling that in the original movie, Heston discovers that the Planet of the Apes is actually (drum roll please)... the Earth. But in the remake, I don't think this is the case. Wahlberg finds his crew's spaceship rather than the Statue of Liberty, and when he leaves the planet, it doesn't look like Earth. The final scene in my opinion is great. Apart from subtly referring to American slavery (which is a constant reference throughout the movie) in the form of the Lincoln Monument, it also leaves the viewer puzzled and ready for a sequel. I know I am.
The Blair Witch Project - review
|Now that the hype is over, I can sit down and watch this movie for the first time, out of its marketing context. Is the movie good? Yes it is. We, the audience, are now conditioned to distinguish reality from fiction on TV by checking the granularity of the film, the flow of the camera, and the predictability of the dialogue. So, our brain's continuing reaction to Blair Witch is: this is real. This can easily be dismissed as a cheap and easy trick, caused by the 16mm/crappy video look of the film. But we shouldn't forget that the three people in this film do a tremendous job convincing us of the story's veracity, improvisation or no improvisation. What's more, the film doesn't attempt to explain anything, and it creates its own mythology, which the marketing campaign exploited as much as possible by suggesting that the events in the movie really were real. I could be cynical about the whole marketing brouhaha surrounding this movie, and I was before I saw it. But now I realize that this marketing campaign not only enriched the experience behind the film, it also gave worldwide popularity to a movie that would otherwise have ended up as some young filmmaker's freaky cult experiment.|
After all this adulation, you might think I have nothing against this movie. Far from it. There are times when you suddenly realize you're just watching some trees, or worse yet, simply a black screen. The fact that the film doesn't grab you enough to suck you into it does not count against it. The ending may be very smart and uncomprimising; then again, it may be an easy way out for the script writer. See this film anyway.
A Simple Plan - review
|Money is the root of all evil, and the more money, the more evil. In "A Simple Plan", the money's 4.4 million dollars, so it's not surprising that the mayhem that ensues leaves half a dozen people dead. More interesting is that the people who are most decent and moral on the surface turn out to be the most cold-blooded, calculating monsters, while the losers and no-good bums turn out to be the (anti-)heroes of this movie. The fact that this particular moral of the story is not emphasized at all is, I hope, intentional. It makes for the right amount of subtlety required by this otherwise pretty straightforward little tale. "Fargo", also about big heaps of money in a snow-covered Northern state of the US, is more absurd and caricaturistic, which, in my book, makes it a better movie. "A Simple Plan" is OK, but that's about it.|
The Boxer - review
After Jim Sheridan did a great job telling the story of six Irishmen jailed for a decade and a half for an IRA attack they had nothing to do with, he joins up again with Daniel Day-Lewis in The Boxer. The movie tells the story of Danny Flynn, a Belfast boxer, home from 14 years in prison, who thinks he can escape the politics around him. Instead, he's caught between the hawks and the doves in the IRA. Renewing his teenage love affair with Maggie (Emily Watson), who's married with a prisoner, doesn't help much either. And when his reopened boxing school accepts police donations, the lines are easily drawn. Offering no sentimentality and a realistic and pacifistic view of Northern Ireland, The Boxer is a good movie.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - review
|I always hated the crypto-fascist Dirty Harry movies, but Unforgiven was interesting. So it is with Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It has many clichés of the Deep South: a cackling, black old voodoo witch; refreshing lemonade on a hot and humid day; local blond belles; and a fondness of guns. But nevertheless, the lavish and Gallic culture of Savannah, Georgia does impress and carry you away, much as it does John Cusack, a New York journalist, writing a book on Kevin Spacey, the local big shot, on trial for killing his gay lover, played by Jude Law. What some people don't know is that the eponymous book this movie was based on, is itself based on fact. I am now inclined to read that book, which I fear has been somewhat Hollywoodified in translation. Still, I recommend this one.|
One Eight Seven - review
|Blurry, confused photography with lots of blue and red filters in this film. Samuel L. Jackson turns from saint into monster into martyr. This movie, about a teacher who is so sickened by the violence and danger oozing out of the punks he teaches that he pulls a Death Wish on them, struck me as just on the wrong side of perverse. The film hypocritically leaves it to us to make up our judgment of the teacher Mr Garfield, which is a bit sickening. Unlike in Taxi Driver, where we can see the main character break down slowly into psychosis, Garfield seems to represent The Right Thing To Do. Even if it is only a suggested moral of the story, it's a pretty perverse one.The fact that this story was written by a teacher makes me wonder about the status of the education profession in the USA.|
Three Kings - review
|Three Kings starring George Clooney, Mark "y Mark" Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze, was described by Clooney as "like those movies from the classic era of American cinema.. you know, like M*A*S*H..." This caught my attention. Since the horrible and tragic Twin Towers attack, American patriotism and xenophobia is at an all-time high. I needed a reminder that some people in the US wouldn't kill anything wearing a turban. Even if it was made several years after the Gulf War, it still tells stories many Americans seem not to want to hear. Nevertheless, the bastards-turned-humanitarians spiel didn't quite work for me. Good cinematography, good speed, but the satire was not that great. After all is said and done, it simply isn't a black comedy, which was what I expected.|