Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Hours (2002)
A New Classic, the Most Literary Film Made in a Long Time, Brilliant
The brilliant and emotionally-wrenching film "The Hours" recalls and refines the power that classic great films have over us. I would dare to say this film deserves to be in the ranks of "Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (no pun intended), "The Godfather," "Apocalypse Now," "Citizen Kane"--all of the films we, today, consider the best of the best. Movies that remain peerless in their time, and achieve more than other films of their time often dare.
Watching "The Hours" is much like reading a great novel. The same exhaustive detail and careful introspection is there. The movie has a rhythm and a pace often created in novels. It brings you into the lives of these three women, alternating around until you feel like you are following a braid that loops in and out and around--or like a patchwork quilt that comes together in the end as one great and intricate entity.
Indeed, perhaps the zenith of this film's strength comes when the movie connects all three stories. This doesn't particularly happen at the end of the movie--you just know all the pieces by the end of the movie. I won't reveal when it all really comes together, but there is a tangible and also a somewhat, dare I say, psychic connection. Virginia Woolf reveals it when she is discussing with Leonard towards the end her feelings on who must die in "Mrs. Dalloway" and why. It's eerie, perhaps more frightening than some whole thrillers--that one moment--because it demonstrates that to really be moved, you must care about these characters first.
I won't divulge on the whole plot or reveal important points or the heart-wrenching twist towards the end that could quite easily bring the the most calloused moviegoer to tears--no mention of how shocking it is, reminiscent of the shock of realizing "The Sixth Sense"'s big twist, while that is completely different in subject--but I will say this: this movie is perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made. Without a doubt. I know we all must wait thirty years before we even think of lauding a movie with such praise, but between the brilliant acting, casting, directing, cinematography, music, and editing--really, the kind of movie that makes you realize how great even editing can be--I really don't think there are many movies, particularly of this time, that get much better than this. Something happens in 1951 to Laura Brown, then the movie jumps to 1923 and Virginia Woolf asks the question you know Laura's asking in her mind. Clarissa looks around a room in 2001, and Laura says something that seems the perfect observation of what she sees, while she is talking about something completely different. The whole movie just keeps intertwining the stories, until after a while, you forget they are three different stories, and realize they come together as one single story.
I think this movie would be nothing without its actors. What makes their performances so great is that we have seen all of these actors as completely different performers, and here, they have completely transformed themselves. If Nicole Kidman was the kind of actress who often played grossly depressed, suffocating, introspective people like Virginia Woolf, this performance would be a piece of cake. Instead she plays beautiful, charming love interests with flowing blonde hair and glistening smiles. Forget the fake nose--she transforms everything about herself to play this role.
Meryl Streep proves once again why she is simply one of the greatest film actresses of all time. She has this abundant energy and power around her, and not a word of dialogue that comes out of her mouth sounds forced or awkward. And the woman is a master of crying scenes. While her crying sequence here--the breakdown in the kitchen--feels slightly requisite--though only because people come to expect and enjoy a good cry out of Meryl--she does it so well. Yet she is more moving in her desperate attempts to not cry, to not feel anything, to not "hear the silence," as Richard notes. You simply believe it, every second she's on the screen.
And then there's Julianne Moore, really one of my favorite actresses. The woman is heartbreaking, she really is. And she's another one who has this great ability to handle crying scenes. When she leaves her son with Mrs. Latch, and tries desperately to hold herself together as she walks away, and then with all her strength, manages to keep her voice steady as she calls out a goodbye--amazing. Her best scene, though, is in the bathroom as Dan is calling her to bed. You almost never want the scene to end; you hang on to every second. You want her to keep herself together, and you know she can't. It makes you wonder what Moore goes through to manage these scenes. They are emotionally draining to just watch.
And then there's the supporting cast, that practically steals the movie from the three leads. Ed Harris as Richard is awesome; another performance that makes you wonder how he did it. It's just so not him. Stephen Dillane as Leonard has this constant desperation and struggle to maintain a delicate balance in the house. He matches moment for moment with Kidman in the hopefully-soon-to-be-infamous train station sequence. John C. Reilly as Dan is a wonder; he is another one of my favorites. He's just a brilliant actor and so incredibly admirable for his understanding dialogue and character. Miranda Richardson as Vanessa is perfect as a woman almost as out of her mind as her sister, but in a different, more functioning way. She's perfectly nuanced. Toni Collette as Kitty is very reminiscent of the kind of character that would appear in "Far From Heaven," also starring Julianne Moore. She's that perfectly happy 50s suburban housewife on the outside, and all full of disappointment and terror on the inside. With only the one scene, as most of these characters only get, she's incredible. And Allison Janney as Sally practically seals the show, which seems impossible. She has incredible timing and understanding of moments of dialogue and silence. And dare I ask, what is happening in that first scene with her--actually, the first scene of New York, 2001? There's another subplot there that brings up a bunch of new questions. Perhaps this is in the book?
Rounding out the cast, Claire Danes is perfect as the intuitive daughter who's just about grown up, or at least enough to be on the same intellectual level as her mother. Jack Rovello is adorable and heartbreaking as Laura's momma's boy son, who, above all, is afraid for her. And the young Sophie Wyburd's ability to connect with Kidman's Woolf and have some sort of mutual understanding with her on certain matters is incredibly impressive. Eileen Atkins is charming in a small role as the owner of the flower shop; she was also in the brilliant movie "Wit" and I've always liked her since then. Last but not least is Jeff Daniels giving the best performance of his whole career as Louis Waters. Once again, one scene, but you get the feeling for his whole character in that one scene, and there's such depth and nuance to his delivery.
"The Hours" definitely deserved to be named Best Picture at the Academy Awards--it succeeds in practically every aspect possible. I do think all of the actors nominated from this film should have been given Oscars--namely Julianne Moore, but no less Ed Harris and Meryl Streep.
I recommend watching "The Hours" very closely and appreciating the small connections director Stephen Dillane displays between his characters. There is one very large connection of the three, but that would almost seem incomplete without realizing these small connections, these small moments that make the film so incredibly brilliant.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
A Royal Mess
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is the type of dramedy that looks really appealing in the previews, and the hype about it is top-notch, and the big name cast/crew is enticing enough to make you go see it. I assume that's the trick. Because once you see the movie, you see how the previews either showed all the funny scenes or skewered them to seem funnier (in this case, both), and the hype is just that--hype, and cast and crew end up being wasted by a weak storyline and not much material to work with.
It all starts well enough, as we get to know this strange family of Tenenbaums in a nameless city, with the heartless and thoughtless father, the oblivious and obsessive mother, and their three genius children, Chas, Margot, and Richie. They all grow up physically, but not mentally, at least in Royal's case, as he claims to be terminally ill to his now estranged wife and even more estranged children. He returns to live with Etheline, only after being kicked out of the hotel suite he was living in, and the children, now depressing, aged shells of their once capable minds, come home to be with him. Throw in Etheline's new love interest, Henry, the wannabe Tenenbaum, Eli, Margot's neurologist husband Raleigh, Chas's soon-to-be carbon copy sons Ari and Uzi, and a show-stealing Indian servant named Pagoda who seems to be the only one willing to stick by Royal's side (even though he's just as willing to stab him in the back...literally), and you get a story that doesn't really manage to go much further from there.
The movie quickly side-steps the guise by which it is marketed (this pseudo-"Golden Pond" reunion of a family), and the sad excuse for a plot falls apart. We find out what really goes on, and are left to wonder, "Wow, is that all?" But no, then the story pointlessly plods around for a while to, I suppose, a climax that is supposed to change everything and conclude it all, but only seems to mess things up even more, those these people don't seem to pick up on it.
Watching "Tenenbaums", you pretty much sit there waiting to laugh yourself to tears. You walk in the theatre expecting that. But it never really happens, and more often than not, you find yourself feigning a laugh just so the one other person in the theatre who liked a certain joke won't feel so lonely, and you can pretend you got it. I was almost, strangely enough, embarrassed during the moments of dead silence when there should have been people rolling in the aisles. I thought, "Jeez, this is really sad. Nobody finds that funny--not even me?" And the moments that did evoke a laugh were not shared by all, so it was but a sporadic giggling here and there.
The drama side of the movie is more dark comedy. There's a strange subplot of incest that really isn't, legally, but is still much too uncomfortable, and the early-on tensions between Royal and Henry, and of course, the issue of Royal's illness, and his children having to face the man who was never much of a father to them, are all dealt with as light-heartedly as possible, as one would expect. But they never come across as funny. Not that Wes Anderson (director/co-writer) should have felt any inclination to make this a very serious movie, but hell, the comedy never comes through, why not try another approach?
The one thing the movie does have going for it is the sometimes great but sometimes dreary music, and a few performances. Gene Hackman as Royal is the only saving grace, because he's just a terrific actor, and given the only good role in the movie, he does a lot with it, and he's great. I would expect at least an Oscar nomination. Maybe not a win, but at least a nomination. He was worthy of the Golden Globe win. Angelica Huston is decent as Etheline; she isn't given much of a part, and only gets really one good scene, with Royal as they go for a walk in the park, and only then is she able to really get a chance to be good. Other than that, she only has a few good lines, though I blame the script more than I blame her, because she's a very capable actress. Ben Stiller is another highlight of the movie as the over-acheiver Chas, and his typical right-on Ben Stiller delivery of good lines is here. He comes away with his dignity, and I thought he did well. Luke Wilson, on the other hand, as Richie, isn't particularly memorable, and is more depressing than anything else. Gwenyth Paltrow is good as Margot, barely cracking a smile and never particularly enthused about anything. But like the character of Etheline, she isn't given enough good scenes or good lines. Paltrow has a lot of talent, and the role should have been good for her, but once again, I more blame the script for the hand she's dealt. Owen Wilson as the pointless character of Eli is actually quite annoying, probably more so than anything because he helped write this damn movie, so maybe I more don't like Wilson as a writer, but his performance is only mediocre. Danny Glover isn't given enough to do as Henry, but he comes through with a good performance, and the scene where he falls in the hole is one of the only really funny scenes in the movie, and much needed after probably a half-hour of no laughs at all. The saddest case of all is the treatment of Bill Murray in the throw-away role of Raleigh St. Claire. Murray, in my opinion, has probably one of the best comedic deliveries of most actors of his time. He's always great and he's always a riot...except here. His role is small and pointless, but he seems to keep popping up for no other reason except, I suppose, to pad the movie out. He's never given a good "Bill Murray line." He's never given a chance to use the dry wit he often uses so well. I, of course, once again, blame the script, but I think anyone else could have done this role, and not have given so wasted a performance. Kumar Pallana is great as Pagoda, and was the source of some of the only comedy in the movie, in a "Simpsons"-style "laughing at the minority" sort of way. He was much needed. Alec Baldwin narrates; I thought it was Gene Hackman the entire time.
"The Royal Tenenbaums" lacks any real plot, and there are only a handful of good scenes. I liked when Henry fell in the hole, I thought the scenes between Royal and Etheline in the park were charming there was a lot of chemistry between them there, I loved the stabbing scene, I thought that was maybe the funniest scene in the movie next to the hole scene, and I liked the much-too-quick dinner scene between the Tenenbaums. It could have been longer. Actually, there were a lot of scenes not milked for their potential. What also comes to mind is when Royal takes Margot out for ice cream. That could have been a great scene, but the only highlight of it you'll probably see in the preview, and it's not that funny in the movie.
The movie has profanity (along with a lot of pointless, inconsequential dialogue, which I suppose should be an equal warning), drug use, and unnecessary nudity which seemed to only be there for the sake of nudity, and to beef up a very short flashback scene of Margot having a lesbian encounter (believe me, it sounds more enticing than it is). The plot bobs and weaves throughout the entire running time, and the actors seem to do the same with their parts. Skip this mess.
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Jeepers Creepers Ain't No Keeper
Okay, so the catchy title isn't so catchy, but the point is, "Jeepers Creepers" is a bit of a letdown, especially since the first half-hour or so is so good, and so is the acting by the two leads. I hate to say that by the end, I wasn't happy with what I saw, mostly because the movie fell flat on its face after our two protagonists made brought this whole nightmare to civilization.
Anyway, first, the plot synopsis, which is unnecessary, because what most people know about this movie going in is about enough. Brother Darry (Justin Long) and sister Trish (Gina Philips) are driving home from college, taking the scenic route. All is not well when a menacing old truck tries running them off the road "Duel"-style. When they later see the same truck parked at an old church, and a dark figure dumping what looks like a body down a sewer pipe, things get more suspicious. They eventually return to investigate out of concern (it's actually a weak excuse, but the script makes it sound logical), and find something unbelievable.
And that, my friends, is as much as I feel like describing, because after that, the movie goes downhill. More cast members show up for bit parts before either disappearing or getting killed for no good reason. Trish and Darry make various stops, trying to explain what's happening and why someone needs to believe them, then the Creeper shows up and chases them away. You won't even realize when the movie reaches it's climax, because you're just expecting this formula to continue playing out. But then the movie ends, with an epilogue that only somewhat helps the weak precedings (sans the great first half-hour) with a shocking final scene that was pretty original.
"Jeepers Creepers," as I've metioned, does start out well. The dialogue between Long and Philips is fun and original, and none of that self-aware, pretentious crap we usually hear. It's very natural. They play roadgames and bicker like a brother and sister would, and everything seems fine, until this very natural threat of a creepy car roaring up behind them tries to run them right into the corn field. It's scary and very effective, and when they see the truck again, and it comes after them again (in the most frightening scene of the movie), it only seems to get better. Then they go back to investigate, and for some reason, the pace slows down a little. It's not as creepy, I don't know why. Then they get to the diner, and from then on, the movie never picks up again. Sure, there's action, and most of the same stuff is going on, but it's just not scary anymore. By the time Trish and Darry get to the police station, it's downright boring.
I think the problem is, everything is quickly revealed, and the mystery and the creepiness about the movie is lifted. We quickly figure out what's going on, we see who (or what) the Creeper really is (very cheesy, actually, should have kept the big jacket and hat on), and the relevance to the title of the movie is realized (something else that should have stayed under wraps, or never used at all). Also, the characters of the two cops and the Cat Lady are thrown in our way and quickly disposed of, only slowing down the pace even more. Then the psychic, Jezelle, shows up, and is more of an annoyance than anything else, and she tells us everything that's going on. I can understand maybe why that method was used: skip the long revelation, move on to the action. But in this case, it didn't work.
I think the movie would have worked really well if Darry, Trish, and the Creeper were the only characters in the movie, and the setting was the open road and a few abandoned buildings. The Creeper could never be revealed to us, and maybe it wouldn't matter why he was doing what he was doing. To mention "Duel" again, what if he was just some form of evil. Or just a jerk.
Still, Justin Long and Gina Philips turn in great performances, and have so much chemistry together. They only help in making the first half-hour so great. But not even their acting could carry the audience through the tedious hour that ensues. Hopefully the sequel will be better.
Promenons-nous dans les bois (2000)
Deep in a Coma...
I first heard about this movie a few months back. The movie sounded pretty good, and last night, I noticed it at the video store, and was quick to pick it up. Despite its generic cover (enough of assembling a semi-circle of scared people--it is definitively old now) and the terrible description on the back (describing our protagonists as "five sexy actors"), I thought I knew it would be good.
Hm. Guess not.
"Deep in the Woods" is French, so right off the bat, there's something awkward about the feel of the movie, something somewhat unsure about the cinematography. The acting is an immediate low point, since dubbing jobs are always guaranteed flops, there just so the viewer knows what the characters are saying. The only real perk is that, most likely, the music will be good. (Then again, remember "Anatomy," the pseudo-American German flick?) Anyway, sure enough, there was a great musical score, probably too good for the movie it was in, the dubbing job was terrible, and that certain Euro-feel was there, big time. Even the opening credits were European.
The plot is fairly simple: "five sexy actors" (hehehe) are asked to perform at some rich man's mansion in the woods (a beautiful house, indeed) for his strange little son Nicolas. They put on a (terrible) performance of "Little Red Riding Hood," and afterward, that night, are killed one by one by someone dressed in the wolf costume from their performance. Of course, this could only be the rapist the troupe heard about on the radio on their way to the house...or is it? Perhaps it is one of them. (Why? Jeez, I don't know.)
Actually, before it completely goes down the toilet, the movie has the potential of at least being weird, and making its audience squirm. The rich man, Axel, has a growing sexual interest in one of the male protagonists (Wilfried aka Frederick, as the dubbed voices call him), and as it becomes more obvious, you start to wonder how French this movie is going to get. Also, two of the girls, the innocent Sophie and the mute Jean, are lovers, and if we couldn't figure it out from Sophie putting her hands all over Jean on the way to the house, the director throws in a short albeit explicit love-making scene between the two gals once they get there. If anything, at least it was different from the typical American fare.
Anyway, then the movie decides, "Let's be cool and go at it American-style!" and it all gets pretty dull from there. Once the murders start, everyone starts pointing fingers, and some inconsequential detective character shows up for about two minutes, disappears, and reappears later, much later, which leaves you to wonder, "Well, what the hell was he doing all that time?" (Oh, I'm sorry, he's supposed to be a suspect, silly me.) Anyway, the plot becomes sort of unclear, and the director seems to start guessing what to do next. You're never really positive who our hero/heroine is going to be, seeing as that, except for Matthieu, none of them are really innocent enough, and anyway, he actually becomes more suspicious as the movie goes on. Sophie didn't seem likely, seeing as that she bared all and had sex AND she was a lesbian, and Jean was mute, and any characters who are weird always end up killed (unless the movie was going for a "The Spiral Staircase" sort of approach) and anyway, she eventually has sex with Wilfried, who's not the hero type, and Mathilde, though I really liked her, eventually turns into the bitch character. So, you don't really know who you're following through this whole affair.
Meanwhile, something happens to Axel, I'm not really sure what, and his son, who looked like a bald Linda Hunt (the ET-like chick who played the Chinese guy in "The Year of Living Dangerously") seems to wander around the house in his "The Last Emperor" PJ's the whole time. And the characters don't really seem to worry much about little Linda, though sometimes Sophie brings him up for good luck, I guess, when talk of getting out of there comes up. (And what held them back from just leaving after the first one got the boot? I don't know, they had an excuse.)
The movie does have style, though, and Dario Argento fans will love the opening murder, and the reoccurring Little Red Riding Hood theme was creative if you could stay awake enough to follow it. But by the lengthy, confusing, and downright muddled killer's explanation, my eyelids were getting heavy, and I had a tough time enduring to the end, which doesn't come soon enough. So, in the end, I do not recommend "Deep in the Woods," unless you're looking for some violence and nudity, but then again, despite the somewhat explicit amount in both categories, you could still do better. In fact, just stay away in general. This one's a stinker.
The Burning (1981)
Overall Decent Slasher Fare
"The Burning" showed up on Showtime late one night, as I've noticed many rare films have (one time, I saw a really strange Italian action-adventure movie from the 80s, complete with bad dubbing and all) so I decided to tape it, hoping to finally see the infamous "raft scene," which was probably the only reason I wanted to see this.
Well, let's just say the movie didn't live up to ALL my expectations, but it wasn't terrible. The story is fairly generic, complete with rehashed backstory about Cropsy being burned to near-death by some mischevious campers. After five years in the hospital (!) he's finally released, so what's the first thing he does? Solicits a prostitute, of course, with terribly gory results. Eventually, he makes his way to a summer camp, armed with some gardening shears, to do some dirty work as only a slasher movie villain can.
The real deal doesn't start until some counselors and campers (well-established in the "Meatballs"-like interum of forty minutes) head off on a canoeing trip down the river. Cropsy comes along, and only then manages to do away with some (not enough) of our unlucky characters. So, who are these people? Well, there's Todd (Brian Matthews), the brawny head counselor who only wants everyone to get along; Michelle (Leah Ayres), his likable co-counselor and girlfriend, I suppose; Alfred (Brian Backer), the weird outcast who seems to eternally annoy Glazer (Larry Joshua,) our stock bully character. Rounding out the main characters are Karen (Caroline Houlihan) and her slimy boyfriend Eddy (Ned Eisenberg), kindly prankster Dave (Jason Alexander), Glazer's girlfriend Sally (Carrick Glenn), and Woodstock (Fisher Stevens), who...well, who's just plain weird, and he's got the stupidest laugh ever.
Anyway, most of these people are all killed before the credits roll, and only the ones you really end up liking survive. As far as who survives, well, it's usually a bit more predictable earlier on in the movie. Took me a while to figure out who was playing who. I thought Karen was the "final girl" at first, and Michelle was the slutty friend. In the end, though, there really is no "final girl," at least not in the conventional manner. Sure, there's a female character left standing (I wonder who, take a wild guess) but most of the climactic action is left to two male characters, which while unique to the genre, did not work for me. I mean, I realize that Alfred's character was supposed to be sympathetic and we were supposed to worry about him during that delirious, never-ending run through the woods, but that job is better performed by a token heroine. I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I don't mind a male hero (sort of expected, I guess) but when all the heroine is given is one scene of peril, and then some dull scenes on a boat, the tension all but dies away for me.
Anyway, speaking of all this carnage, the gore in this movie is unbelievable. I definitely winced a few times (particularly with the prostitute's murder) and would expect nothing less from Tom Savini. And that, my friends, leads me to the raft scene. It was, I'm sorry to say, a letdown. I mean, the suspense that builds as you realize what's going to happen in the scene, is really well-established, and I was on the edge of my seat. But then...it's over in a few seconds. The scene is extremely rushed and while somewhat gory, didn't really seem like a whole lot of carnage. Now, I'm not a fan of watching mass killings or anything, but I suppose I was just hoping the scene lived up to its reputation, and it really didn't.
As far as music, there's an excellent score that works well with the movie, and always adds a little edge to things. Acting-wise, everyone does pretty well. Leah Ayres was a little uneven. While at some points she was excellent, and her delivery was right-on, at others, like when she was angry, she got a little melodramatic. Jason Alexander shines, and it's no surprise he went on to be something big. Holly Hunter, the movie's other budding star, is barely in the movie. You see her a few times once they go on the rafting trip, but she has very little dialogue, and not much to do. Oh well. Everyone else is decent, to say the least. There's quite a bit of nudity in this one, more than I expected, and the shot of people mooning someone, a staple of camp slasher films, is here, and is quite hideous, thanks to Fisher Stevens. Probably one of the most hideous butt shots in film history.
Anyway, "The Burning" isn't a bad movie, but it isn't great. There aren't many genuine scares, and towards the end, things seem to inexplicably lose a lot of suspense. I suggest you see it, though. It's probably required viewing for slasher fans.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Little Plot + Lots of Action= Just Another Mindless Popcorn Flick
The commercials looked exciting, and managed to highlight most of the action displayed in "Jurassic Park III," making the final viewing of the film more a checklist of scenes than anything else.
"Have I seen any part of this scene yet? No, no, great, it'll get good again."
I have to admit, that's what kept going through my head while watching this movie. The exciting action pieces were all that carried this fairly flimsy movie through its meager 95 minutes. The "plot" isn't really thought through, at least compared to the original, which went out of its way to be logical and set up the story. And it still offered some excellent action (my favorite being Ellie vs. the raptor when she was turning on the power). I also liked "The Lost World," though I haven't seen it in a long time. As far as this sequel goes, it seems to be in a mad rush to cart everyone off to the island, for a fairly transparent reason, just so we can see a handful of characters run around and spout bad lines.
The plot has been turned over a hundred times, so I don't need to waste time explaining. It isn't the most intelligable scenario I've ever heard of, and Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) seemed a little too willing to be a part of it all, after mentioning earlier on that nothing could bring him back to those dinosaurs. And I would have expected him to be only a little more upset by the fact that he was ONCE AGAIN stuck on an island with the man-eating prehistoric beings, running for his life. A little too calm for my tastes.
Amanda and Paul Kirby's (Tea Leoni and William H. Macy, respectively) rekindled admiration and love for one another once stuck in this nightmare seemed terribly inplausible. I can see people working together to survive, but falling in love again? I don't know, running for my life with my ex probably wouldn't turn me on to them again. And their wayward son Eric (Trevor Morgan) is so terrible a character, you wonder why we couldn't have likable JP kids again, like in the original, and even the sequel. (Okay, so the girl sneaking along on the trip in "The Lost World" was sort of a annoying, but I still liked her character.) Eric is way too resilient, and to have survived for 8 weeks, when in a matter of minutes, two very tough adults, armed with weapons, were killed once they arrived on the island, just doesn't make sense. When he's finally found, looking like some "Lord of the Flies" reject, smirking about how he survived for so long, you sort of wish he wasn't found at all, or ended up being the sound heard in the dinosaur's stomach in the distance (and not the phone--God, that was weak.)
And for further complaints, Billy's (Alessandro Nivola) decision to bring along the raptor eggs made no sense, since he should have known better. It seems the only reason that happened was to give an excuse for why the characters were being hunted down, other than, "The dinosaurs are hungry," and then, so later on, when he rescues Billy from the pterodactyls or whatever the hell they're called, or however it's spelt, he can redeem himself and be a hero. Sort of a tired idea. And last, but not least, Ellie (Laura Dern) is so terribly wasted! Why couldn't she come along. She and Alan have such amazing chemistry together, I would have loved to see them back together. The characters that ended up on the island had zippo chemistry, and no one seemed to really fit with anyone else.
Anyway, the movie does have its merits. The action pieces are fairly exciting, though lacking some suspense. Still, they were carried out fairly well, and went on for some time. Made the movie almost seem to be a non-stop adventure, had it not paused for Amanda and Paul to make up, or for Alan to spout some wisdom, and Eric to be precocious.
As for the acting, it's minimal at best. Sam Neill gives a good show, and I like his accent. He brings some depth to the characters in the movie. William H. Macy is a great actor, but gives a fairly weak performance here. Action movies are not his forte. I think he's better in good comedies and dramas. He belongs in a better movie than this. Tea Leoni, actually, isn't too bad here. She has a good delivery of most of her lines, and I loved her big freak-out scene, with the body in the parachute. She executed that one brilliantly. Would have liked some more of that type of panic and frenzy from her, she did it well. Alessandro Nivola is also fairly good, and I thought he gave a likable show, at least before we found out about the eggs he stole. Trevor Morgan is annoying as the requisite kid, and I could have done without him in the entire movie. Michael Jeter has a limited screen time as Udarsky, and I didn't like him. His voice got on my nerves, and he even got a chance to scream like a blubbering idiot, which only made me happier to see him go. And Laura Dern, reprising her role as Ellie, is terribly underused, and I really liked her limited performance. It's too bad she didn't show up more often.
Overall, "Jurassic Park III" is not a great movie. As a whole, it's a disappointment. But there is some great action, and for fans of the original score (sorry, that doesn't include me, it sort of got on my nerves after a while), it's here again. The production standards are a little lower (check out the terrible backdrop scenes in the close-ups of the earlier hang-gliding scenes) and the setting is a slightly smaller scale, and sort of feels like it's an adventure through the junkyard of the previous two films. The acting and story are so-so, but at least it's sort of fun. In the end, I recommend it for some mindless fun, but don't waste nine dollars on a ticket, and wait for it to come out on video.
A Semi-Classic, With It's Faults
One of my favorite films of my childhood was "Airport '77," trapping Christopher Lee, Lee Grant, Jack Lemmon, Brenda Vaccaro, and plenty more underwater in a super-duper airplane owned by Jimmy Stewart. There was plenty of action, a substantial amount of drama, suspense, romance, and peril, and overall, it was a good time. Being nine, I thought this was wonderful, and my imagination was all over the place with it. Well, I still like that movie. It's still exciting. And that's the point of this digression. That was a genuinely fun movie, once it really got going. "Airport," the original of a series of all-star in-flight dramas, was, well...let's just say a few explosives on a plane don't do it for me.
The film takes place over one night at a Chicago airport. There's a terrible snow storm, and to start things off, a plane is stuck on the runway. Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) is head honcho of the airport, and with the help of his assistant Tanya (Jean Seberg), must deal with the snow, the airplane, his scorned wife Cindy (Dana Wynter), and the threat of the airport being closed.
Enter stage left, Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes), a kindly old woman, who turns out to be a stowaway, whom Mel and Tanya must deal with. Then there's Mel's brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin), who's cheating on his wife Sarah (Barbara Hale) with stewardess Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), who, as it turns out, is pregnant. And then there's Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) working desperately to get airplane out of the snow. And to top it all off, D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) is boarding the flight to Rome (flown by Vernon, served by Gwen, taken by Ada) with explosives in his briefcase, with plans to blow up the plane, much to the eventual dismay of his wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton), who, once realizing his plans, tries desperately to get to him before he kills himself and many other people.
Whew, that's a lot of drama in one night.
And to the film's credit, each subplot is carefully weaved into the story and handled surprisingly well. It's just too bad none of the stories amount to too much. I mean, the story about Mrs. Quonsett is pretty funny, and there's some familiar but effective ground tread by the Vernon-Sarah-Gwen triangle. And there are times when the explosives-on-the-airplane story gets somewhat tense. But in the end, the movie is missing something. Once the crescedo is reached (take a guess as to what happens), there isn't much suspense, and you don't get the impression everyone won't be okay. And in a way, what happens is sort of weak. The film's sequels (no real connection, except Kennedy's recurring role) at least put their characters in some peril. Well, at least "Aiport '77" did. And the solution was not easy, and you didn't know for sure who would live and who wouldn't. Here, you have a general idea of who will make it and who won't, and one outweighs the other far too heavily.
If anything, the acting is generally good. Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin are worthy leading men, but don't fill every scene so that you get tired of them. Jean Seberg is excellent at Tanya, and Helen Hayes deserved the Oscar as Ada. George Kennedy gave a typical George Kennedy performance, but he always comes across as a nice guy. Jacqueline Bisset is likable, and gives a particularly notable performance. Van Heflin does the paranoid bomber quite well, and Maureen Stapleton is wonderful as his distressed wife. The scenes of her racing through the airport to get to the plane and stop him are quite tense. Towards the end of the movie, she got a little hammy, but it was forgivable. Everyone else has a somewhat small role, but for the most part, I liked them all.
Anyway, the movie lacks some needed tension, and never becomes too harrowing. But the acting is good, there's some substaintial drama (though I would have liked more out of the love triangle story), a great musical score, some appropriate humor, and a nice early 70s feel. So, I recommend it for drama fans, but those who like these sort of movies as disaster films, move on.
The Redeemer: Son of Satan! (1978)
From what I remember, a unique and creepy movie
I rented this a while back, being the fan of slashers films that I was (and still am, I guess). Seemed like an interesting premise, and hopefully, it would do better with it than the awful "Slaughter High" did. (Saw "Slaughter High" twice--first time, I was young and terrified, second time, older and bored. I don't recommend it.) Anyhoo, I took a chance on this, and actually, it's a very good movie, at its core. Some of the evil doings surrounding the pudgy boy from the lake, if I can recall, were sort of confusing, though.
I won't go on to describe the plot, you must know it by now. It's not a new plot, but what's done with it is what's unique. I don't remember all the characters too well, but the lesbian takes near-center stage as the leading lady, which I found to be a surprise, since the lesbian is usually just that. All the characters are utterly likeable, even the promiscuous girl. She may have been one of the sweetest characters, and her demise is heartbreaking. (C'mon, you knew it would happen.) From the murders in the film I remember (one of which I can't remember at all, God, my memory sucks), the one involving the killer dressed as a hunter and the character trying to escape outside was probably the scariest. You actually think she's going to make it, seeing how long the scene went on (once again, if I remember correctly). Add to that the stark daylight which is far scarier than the scene may have been at night. (Why don't more filmmakers realize this? Daytime can be extremely scary. See the climax to "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." An early-morning nightmare.) Anyway, I must be giving the worst review right now, but I thought I'd let people know that this is actually a very tense movie, with a merciless atmosphere of doom. It's not obvious who will live and who will die, and overall, you want everyone to survive, even the "bad girl" (who isn't bad at all!). The killer dons a couple creepy costumes--the hunter and the clown were pretty freaky (need I add--if I can remember). And while some of the peripheral plotlines concerning this killer are somewhat perplexing, don't let that turn you off to this movie. It's worth seeing, if you can find it. If I can remember : ).
I rented this having no idea what it was about (as I think most people do). The "plot" of this movie (if that is what you want to call it) is not easily explained in a blurb on the back of a video cassette box or a description from a friend. To understand what the hell "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is really about, you need to see it, probably twice.
I'm still exhausted from seeing it the first time.
Richard Burton is history professor George, living on campus with his brash wife, Martha, played expertly by Elizabeth Taylor. (But more on her later.) The film opens with the two stumbling home from a party, late at night, only to then have guests Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis), a new biology professor and his wife, stop by for a visit, as invited by the couple, though George can't remember that ever happening. From there, drinks are passed around, conversations begin, and personalities come out. And secrets. And a whole long line of character twists that, in the end, destroys each character in their own little ways.
That's the best I could do for explaining this plot, and it's weak, at best.
Oh, what a movie this is. What a movie, carried solely by almost constant dialogue and interaction between the characters. No real action (well, in the visceral, shoot-em-up sense), but the movie is action-packed, and as many would agree, exhausting. Martha seems to love a good argument, while George is quietly passive. Martha eggs him on, pushes him further and further, dragging their seemingly innocent guests into what ends up being a night of very calculated games and trickery and lies, to the point where you don't know who's telling the truth.
While the film is engaging from the start, it takes some time before you are truly sucked in, trapped in this nightmare. I'd say it takes until after the scenes at the bar until you are not just the viewer, but are in the movie, observing very closely, and held tight until the very end. To say this film is "delirious" is an understatement; the movie itself is insane. And it isn't until those haunting scenes once the film returns to George and Martha's house, after the trip to the bar, until you realize how insane this all really is.
To say there are any stand-out scenes in the movie would be leaving out the great scene before the stand-out scene, and the one after. This whole film is one great, memorable scene after another. Mike Nichols appeared on "Inside the Actors Studio," in one of those excellent interviews with James Lipton, who noted the director as being known to do memorable scenes. As far as this whole film is concerned--the scenes aren't memorable, they're haunting. Whether they're funny or scary or tense or dramatic...you'll never forget them.
My favorite moments in the movie mostly involved Sandy Dennis. I was enthralled with her entire performance, and as another reviewer noted, there is more going on with her than it seems at first. Notice when she's coming downstairs, and George and Nick are talking about her. She pauses, listening, almost contemplating how she would reappear, then puts on the whole ditzy, "Oh, this house is beautiful!" act, making it appear as if she were as naive as first believed. I also loved her "interpretive dance" at the bar ("I dance like the wind!") and her drunken giddiness is great. Then notice her performance closer to the end, particularly the scene between her and George outside. We know what's going on inside, and we see how George feels about it (though we don't fully understand it), but you have to pay close attention to how Honey reacts, and it's then that you really understand her character.
Not to put down any of the other actors. Richard Burton is so amazing, you have to wonder why the heck he didn't win an Academy Award. He gives a brilliant performance, so brilliant it's hard to understand with only one viewing. George Segal's performance is almost entirely composed of reacting to the situation, and it's amazing. His performance should be used as a model for other actors, in playing a very straight, very average guy, thrown into absolute hysteria. While everyone else almost outshines him, he gives a performance so realistic, it's amazing. And then there's Elizabeth Taylor. What a great performance. She portrays and envokes every emotion possible. She's laugh-out-loud funny, in the way that a real person would be funny. I love when she's eating the chicken wing, asking George about the Bette Davis movie. And later, when she follows Nick as he answers the door, and starts singing and dancing towards him. It's sheer madness. But besides being funny, she's frightening, intimidating, powerful, weak, hopeless, intelligent, and perhaps one of the great characters ever portrayed in film.
I think the women in this movie really carry the film. Segal and Burton are terrific, but for example, their scene together outside was sort of flat, while the eccentricities of their wives seem to always keep the film alive and exciting. I wish Honey didn't have to vomit so much, she seems to disappear at moments in the movie that need her.
Overall, the movie is about four people getting wickedly drunk and going mad together, and it's insane and crazy and a lot of fun. Of course, it's so much deeper than that, and by the end of the movie, you're not only afraid to ever drink again, you're tired and shaking you head, wondering what the hell just happened. Then, it will haunt you, and over the next few days, you'll keep thinking about the movie, and you'll need to see it again, to understand the issues about George and Martha's son, as well as Nick and Honey's issues with having a child. I'm still a little confused, so I may try watching the ending again, to see if I missed anything.
Mike Nichols is one of the greatest directors, up there with Hitchcock, in my opinion, and this is one of the best movies ever made. I sincerely recommend you "experience" this film (because it's not just about seeing it, it's about living through it) and perhaps going through the ordeal more than once. This is an example of film making, at it's finest and most timeless, and some of the best acting ever seen, anywhere.
Enjoyable, Occasionally Suspenseful Deep-Sea Thriller
I'd been wanting to see "Leviathan" since I had somehow, out of nowhere, heard of it. Negative reviews (from IMDb, FYI) dulled my interests, but finally, I figured what the hell, and as it turned out, this isn't a bad movie.
A deep-sea mining crew, counting down to its last few days (well, first, of their project, and later, of their lives--ouch, that was pretty promo-like, huh?) and, seemingly out of nowhere, one of the crew members becomes infected with an odd sort of skin disease, which may lead back to a small, spider-like sea creature brought on board. In any event, things don't look good, and this disease is apparently something more. Something very deadly. This may also explain the sunken Russian ship they find, with the mysterious captain's log and, well...one thing leads to another, and "Alien"-style fun ensues as members of the small crew are infected or killed (or, in one rather unique case, kill themselves), leading up to a somewhat flat climax, where the film falters.
Indeed, we'll start with that. "Leviathan" has a good amount of build-up. Bores the hell out of some people, but it really isn't boring. (And doesn't take THAT long for the screaming to start, so to speak.) We get to know the characters, and what is going on here, and what is causing this whole fiasco. I, for one, liked that, and liked the way the characters are developed. Peter Weller as the pacifist head honcho, Beck. Richard Crenna as the doctor, Dr. Thompson. Amanda Pays as the requisite tough-but-likably-innocent miner, Willie. Daniel Stern as the slimy Sixpack, and so forth and so on. All in all, a great group of characters. (Loved Ernie Hudson's Jones.) And you don't really want to see them all die. So, when it all goes down, the movie manages to envoke some sympathy for them all.
But once it's time to get into action mode (running around steam-filled corridors, toting a flame-thrower, screaming and hollering and all that fun stuff) the movie doesn't deliver. Sure, the final trio of survivors gets to do their fair share of it, and they do it well. But then it just seems like the ending came too quickly, and there was still more to be milked. Let's look at "Alien" again. (I think it's a prerequisite that anyone who reviews this movie mention that one, too.) In the end, after everyone but Ripley is killed, we get a pretty harrowing thrill ride through the soon-to-be-detonating ship. Sure, it goes to the extent of Ripley going back to get the cat, but it's SCARY! And you're on the edge of your seat the whole time. Here...well, no cat, but the the mining ship was going to implode, due to lack of oxygen. So, what happened to all that drama and suspense? I felt a little cheated. Would have loved to have knocked off the others and left Willie running around doing all that fun stuff, trying to escape before she ran out of air. Instead...well, you get the point.
Since we're talking about characters a little, let's move on to the acting. For the most part, the cast gives a good show. Peter Weller is leading man material, and he pulled it off well. Richard Crenna never gives a downright bad performance, and I liked him here. Loved Amanda Pays's British accent, and she gave a good performance. Would have liked her a little bit more gun-ho, though, she seemed to need some saving a little too much. Daniel Stern has a surprisingly smaller role, considering his billing, but he does well with what he has to do. Ernie Hudson is a dependable actor, and you can always trust him to give a great performance. Here, he does it again. I really liked his character, he was probably the one I liked the most of them all. Another great actor is Hector Elizondo, and here he gives another very Hector Elizondo performance, and he does a great job. Lisa Eilbacher also gave a great performance, and I really liked her. Michael Carmine may have seemed a bit like the "we'll think of a character later" Hispanic, but I thought he did quite well, too. Last but not least, Meg Foster, who actually only appears on a television communicating with Beck (she sent them all down there) and a little bit in the end, but, well...she's got the most amazing eyes I've ever seen, and that's the most I could say for her.
The special effects are excellent, and with all this CGI crap we have today, its great to see these "genuine" effects, and they look great.
Overall, the movie isn't bad. It sustains a good amount of suspense in parts, and George P. Cosmatos can handle a swift action scene quite well. Check out "Cassandra Crossing" (the only other Cosmatos movie I've seen--I'll be sure to check out more), it's very Italian but it's a pretty good 70s disaster flick of his. The Jerry Goldsmith score is good, too. Not "The Omen" good, but he never fails to give a pretty rousing score.
So, in the end, "Leviathan" ain't bad. Try the much frowned-upon "Sphere" (I liked it) or "The Abyss" for similiar fun. Enjoy.
Final Exam (1981)
Typical Slasher Fare, With Some Above-Average Acting and Music
I rented this a few years ago, but the tape was messed up, and I had to return it and settle for "Don't Answer the Phone." (Yes, I still regret it.) Yesterday, I found this again and figured a second try was long-overdue, plus I hadn't seen a slasher in good while.
"Final Exam" pretty much plays out as expected. Opening with a couple making out in their car near a lake, girl hears something, guy gives excuse, guy is killed, girl screams, fade to black and cue title. Then we move on to Lanier College. It's the end of the year, and most students have gone home, while the (un)lucky few are still taking finals. Among them is Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi--what a name!), our token all-around good girl. And I'll give her some credit, she was very likable, without being too angelic. I'd give her an A (ouch, bad pun). Anyway, we also meet her geeky friend Radish (Joel S. Rice, also giving a thoroughly sympathic and none-too-annoying performance), our requisite tough frat brothers, Courtney's man-crazy girlfriends (surprisingly, no real quirky ones--there's always a quirky one), as well as Janet's (Courtney's semi-quirky friend) boyfriend, Gary, the ample frat pledge, and a mere handful of others. ANYWAY, not too much happens for a while. Plenty of false scares and throw-away subplots (Janet is in love with Gary, Lisa's having an affair with Dr. Reynolds, and plenty of frat-related pranks and schemes) before anything really happens. But while most people who despise the thrill-less first hour, I found it sort of comfortable, and I liked getting to know the characters a little. A rarity in most slashers.
By the last half-hour, the movie kicks into gear, killing off most of the cast (though there aren't many people in the movie), and setting up the scene for the final showdown between the motive-less, identity-less killer and Courtney, who was a good girl and studied for the entire movie.
"Final Exam" may not be a "great" movie, but it has its good qualities. The acting by the two leads was impressively good, and I really liked Courtney and Radish. And the music is also quite good. With the expected and familiar music (I can't explain it, but it's practically the same music used during all the "dark and scary" scenes of every slasher") there are also some quite effective moments on the soundtrack, employed mostly towards the end, when the movie shifts gear. Also, as I said before, you get to know the characters. Though Lisa disappears throughout the middle of the movie, we get a little on Janet, as well as her boyfriend Gary (with a very eager C. Thomas Howell-looking face and demeanor), and though characters like Wildman and Mark, the frat brothers, are one-dimensional, we see enough of them to enjoy each one's demise.
Overall, "Final Exam" employs a lot of qualities other slashers don't, but the tame first hour may hinder many people's interest. Still, I recommend it, especially to slasher fans.
If I Die Before I Wake (1998)
Flawed but Effectively Disturbing Thriller
I didn't have any high expectations when I rented this, but figured it was worth a shot. And indeed, "If I Die Before I Wake" was a surprise. There were some flaws, but overall, this was a very tense film.
The movie opens only minutes before the carnage begins. It is night, and we see the mother and father of the house in their room, the mother asleep, the father dozing off over a book. Their son, Ben, is on the computer and listening to some music. Their younger daughter Mary is asleep, and across from her, their older daughter Lori Beth is, too. Then a handful of robbers break in. Lori Beth is the first to realize, and thinking quick, hides herself and her sister, but it is too late for the rest of the family, who are held captive and terrorized. It is up to Lori Beth to try to escape with Mary, but she soon realizes the only escape is to fight back....
Indeed, the plot is somewhat familiar. "Last House on the Left," "I Spit On Your Grave, "House By the Lake" aka "Death Weekend," "The Desperate Hours," and so on and so forth, all have similar elements. But "If I Die Before I Wake" doesn't steal from them as much as one would think it would. In fact, this film has some fairly original and interesting ideas, and above all, it maintains quite a bit of tension, from beginning to end.
Clocking in at only 77 minutes, this movie wastes no time, and surprisingly enough, that may be its biggest flaw. We don't know anything about any of these characters, and only grow to worry about the family. When the film first begins, and the robbers break in, we have no emotion towards any of the characters involved. If ten or fifteen minutes were taken to establish characters, as well as the robbers/killers/lunatics' motive, at least the night of terror, so to speak, would have evoked more emotions early on. Instead, the characters are one-dimensional, and we never even learn the names of the parents!
The film makes up for its weak points with a good amount of tension and excitement. Also, it's a surprisingly violent and disturbing movie. There's quite a deal of violent content, including rape, which is more than you'd expect from a direct-to-video low-budgeter obviously shelved for a little while before being released. (Found this in the New Release section of Blockbuster.) And a lot of what Lori Beth goes through and resorts to is logical and I always seemed to agree with her plan. I particularly liked her desperate attempt to contact someone off the Internet (but don't miss the cheap rip-off version of AOL called American Chat that she logs onto, it's pretty bad). It was an interesting idea, because yes, she could get in contact with someone, but they probably wouldn't help her. Smart idea.
In fact, despite overall weak characterization, Stephanie Jones did a lot with Lori Beth's character. She conveyed a great deal of emotion, and she was a very strong character and a terrific heroine. On the other hand, in the other starring role, Muse Watson as lead baddie Daryl was over the top, and I wasn't impressed. He's slightly more menacing here than in "I Know What You Did Last Summer," but a better actor would have done much more with the role. Imagine Robert DeNiro in his role. Now that would be scary.
For a better version of this, try Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" (see my review). It's a Dutch film (with subtitles) about a family (mother,father, son, dog) taken hostage at their secluded vacation home by two subtly disturbing teenage boys, who proceed with psychological warfare on the family, daring them to survive until 9:00 the next morning. It's an absolutely terrifying movie, and brilliantly made. I recommend it.
Overall, I still recommend "If I Die Before I Wake," too. It's tense, it's scary, and it pulls a few unexpected punches. With more exposition of the characters, and a minute or two longer of an ending (I felt there could have been a little more to it before the credits rolled), this would be an excellent movie. Still, it's very well done. Check it out.
The Cassandra Crossing (1976)
Interesting, Above Average Medical Thriller
Big all-star casts seem to do wonders for almost any disaster movie of the 70s. Sure, "Cassandra Crossing" would have done fine with a handful of Italian actors (this must be an Italian-lensed movie--it's so Italian!) but it may not be as much fun. Instead, here we get Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner, OJ Simpson, Burt Lancaster, and Alida Valli, and they give, for the most part, a good show.
With an explosive opening which gives just enough explanation to get the story going, the film begins. In the beginning, two men plan to blow up a government bio-medical building in Europe. One man is shot, while the other, escaping, bursts through a lab, getting himself somehow infected with a highly contagious virus, before escaping to the train station....
Meanwhile, our main characters begin to board a train at the aforementioned station, including famous doctor Jonathan Chamberlain (Richard Harris, a dead ringer for a young John Mahoney) and, separately, his estranged (ex? I'm not sure of their story together) wife Jennifer (Sophia Loren). Meanwhile, Burt Lancaster as a suspicious army man (okay, I can't remember the ranking, I kept forgetting; he's your run of the mill big-schmooze) and Ingrid Thulin (?) as Dutch doctor Elena Stradner, argue and discuss about what's going on and what to do. (Interesting, the two of them remain alone in a conference room for the rest of the movie. Their interaction is very interesting.) Stars continue to arrive, with OJ as a priest (!), Ava as a snooty heiress, and Sheen as her boy-toy (it's not his best role, or hers). Alida Valli, a big European star (also appeared in "The Third Man" with Orson Welles) I think plays the mother of the key annoying kid of the movie, this time a strange little redheaded girl. I was having trouble figuring out who was who, besides the familiars at this point. But I digress...
Anyhow, the story gets going as the conductor of the train hears from Burt and Ingrid that the virus is traveling abroad. People start showing signs of a cold, while Sophia and Richard realize that something's going on, as they pass one of the stops, and see men in bio-medical suits toting rifles. Slowly, insanity starts to break out (nothing too crazy, at first), until finally, everyone starts getting frantic when the train stops, bio-suited soldiers board, the windows are boarded up, and the doors are sealed off. By then, large numbers of passengers have been infected, though many aren't, making it a guessing game as to who will be infected and who won't be.
Drama ensues, a couple great plot twists and a few very unnecessary ones are thrown in (and do I mean unnecessary!), and things actually get quite exciting before an absolutely amazing climax that left me stunned. Of course, by then, you lose track of almost all the peripheral characters (the singer and her boyfriend, for example--whatever happened to them?), but everything is wrapped up quite well, and the ending rather good, and very Italian.
Overall, "Cassandra Crossing"...ain't bad. Some of the acting is weak (Ava Gardner--you've seen better days, definitely) but Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Burt Lancaster, and Ingrid Thulin are all quite good, and the movie will hold your attention to the very end. Overall, I recommend it to disaster movie fans, this one will fit nicely in your collection.
Excellent, Engaging Hitchcockian Thriller
I rented "Niagara" for two reasons: one, the obvious reason to see Marilyn Monroe in such a unique role for her, and two, I always liked the idea of a side character (in this case, Jean Peters) getting inadvertently swept up in the intrigue of the main characters (Monroe and Joseph Cotten here). It's rare that the supporting characters of a film are integrated so well into the plot. Usually, they disappear or are seen less of as the plot progresses. (eg: the inexorable quirky friend of a leading lady in far too many thrillers) But I digress.
The plot is fairly simple, or so it seems. Polly and Ray Cutler (Peters and Max Showalter) are a young couple heading to Niagara Falls for a delayed honeymoon. Upon their arrival, they meet Rose and George Loomis (Monroe and Cotten), who are over-staying in their time in the Cutlers reserved cabin. Though Polly and Ray agree to stay in a nearby cabin, that is not the last they see of the Loomis's, a strange couple indeed. One day, Polly sees Rose passionately kissing another man (Richard Allan). Then, the sly Rose angers her husband by playing a seemingly reminiscent song on a record player a few other couples are dancing to, pushing George to destroying the record in his hands. It becomes apparent that something far more than infidelity is going on, and without giving away too many of the plot twists, murder ensues.
One of the things I really loved about this movie was how timeless it was. The actors, or at least Monroe and Cotten, may be familiar actors of the time, but this movie could be done at any time, and seem appropriate. And speaking of actors, the acting in this movie, for the most part anyway, is wonderful. Monroe, needless to say, was flawless, and I loved every second she was on the screen. Joseph Cotten, as he did in Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," has the ability of being very intimidating, almost brooding, and was terrific. Jean Peters gives an Oscar-worthy performance. She's very realistic, and impeccably likable. She manages to almost steal the movie from Monroe. I'm sorry to say Max Showalter was, well, really quite flat. The worst of the lot. Good thing he wasn't in a large role, though he still is one of the stars of the film. In supporting roles, Denis O'Dea gave a typical detective role as Inspector Sharkey, popping in once in a while. Richard Allan had little to do as Rose's lover Patrick. Showing up later in the film were Don Wilson and Lurene Tuttle as Ray's boss and the boss's wife, at Niagara Falls to vacation with the Cutlers. Both were excellent, though their roles were somewhat small. I liked the addition of their characters.
The chemistry between all the characters is terrific, particularly in the scene where Polly is bandaging George's hand after he breaks the record. The two of them have many scenes together, and I loved how Peters and Cotten interacted with one another. Showalter seemed consistently nervous around Monroe, while on the topic of spouse-switching, so to speak.
Overall, "Niagara" is very engaging. There is a good deal of action, especially towards the end. The chase scene through the bell tower was suspenseful, and the climax on the falls was absolutely wonderful. Polly proved herself to be very tough and a quick-thinker, and, throughout the rest of the movie, I liked how she didn't turn to Ray every time a problem arose. (Which made the final confronation between only her and the other character so much fun, because no one could save Polly but herself.) I think that's why I liked her character so much. Though, one thing to note, is the sort of silly-looking moment during the scene towards the end of the movie when George is pursuing Polly along the Falls (muted besides the sound of rushing water) and she slips and breaks through the wooden banister. It was a startling scene (I honestly thought she'd fall) but sort of funny, the way the movie sped up quickly to make it look to sudden. Oh well, blame it on technical abilities.
I definitely recommend this film, not just for Hitchcock fans and Monroe fans, but for anyone, even if you don't like older films. This one is a classic, but at the same time, feels as if it could have been made only twenty years ago, not almost fifty.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Interesting, Shocking, Stylish Thriller
I had been very eager to see this film, after seeing some of DePalma's other early, Hitchcockian films. "Sisters" was okay, a little rough around the edges. "Carrie," while not Hitchcockian in the sense of an homage, like the others, was absolutely amazing, and is one of the best films made in the 70s. I also sort of liked "Blow Out," though I had to see it on FX, and the commercials were a constant interruption. I even saw some of "Cult Movies"....God, was that bad. But anyway, what I really wanted to see was "Dressed to Kill." I had heard constant rave reviews, and it seemed like a great film.
We all know the "Psycho"-like plot: A woman (Angie Dickinson) breaks from her reality into seemingly another world, meeting a mysterious man in a museum, and subsequently going home with him. As she leaves that evening, she is murdered violently in the elevator, and found by another woman (Nancy Allen). Blah blah, you've heard the rest, and what a terrible synopsis this is, anyway. I wanna get down to the review, though, so let's move on.
"Dressed to Kill" is an amazing film. I saw the uncut version, with all the nifty extras mentioned in the "Alternate Versions" section. The opening shower scene is REALLY shocking, and the violent murder in the elevator is ruthless. Unlike the shower murder in "Psycho" the scene is so often compared to, this one is not as brutally quick. It takes its time, and while at first it's a little disappointing, as it progresses and the DePalma style sets in, the whole scene is terrific. In the uncut version, there are very close shots of Bobbi slashing the knife down Kate's face and I think slashing her throat as well. I'm not saying I like this sort of stuff, just that it's that much more horrific. I love when Liz (Nancy Allen) sees Bobbi's reflection as "she" stands in the corner, waiting for her, and, of course, everything is in perfect slow motion, pulling you right onto the edge of your seat.
Unlike "Psycho," after Part One (when the star is killed) the movie keeps up the pace and the tension. The scenes where Liz is pursued in the subway are tense, and a less-raw version of the horrifying scenes in "Maniac." (A sleazy, but oftentimes very scary movie!) Sure, the gang that Liz angers gets a little silly after a while, but DePalma seemed to be showing that there are other dangers in this world other than the central issue, and it's a creative idea.
The greatest scene, though, is the "Vertigo"-like scene in the museum. No dialogue, all music...yet so much is said, just in facial expressions and changes in the soundtrack. Pino Donaggio has a way of using very calm, beautiful music in such a way that it terrifies the audience. (Note the pre-pig's blood prom scenes in "Carrie" for more of this.) The scene is like poetry, and moves along beautifully well. I liked how Kate was wearing white, and the mysterious stranger was in dark sunglasses and clothes. Hitch did the same thing with Marion's lingerie in "Psycho."
The climax is a little cheesy (don't miss Liz's line about "assistance"--hysterical!) and throughout the movie, the killer is painfully obvious. Also, how did Dennis Franz find out so much information about Kate and her soiree with the man in the museum? *shrugs* I can suspend my disbelief. The acting is all-around pretty good. Michael Caine is great, as always. I loved Angie Dickinson--she deserved an Oscar for this very realistic, wonderful performance. She's not in the film much more than forty minutes, but she steals the show. Nancy Allen has her moments, but she's usually pretty weak in delivering her lines. Still, I liked her. Keith Gordon, as Kate's vengeful son, was very likable, but needed a haircut. Dennis Franz once again plays a detective, but he does it well, as always. The rest of the cast is barely in the movie, and Kate's second husband (can't even remember his name) is, I think, a purposely inaccessible character, perhaps to feel the way she does. He's even cast really low on the list. (By the way, Mary Davenport, also seen as Jennifer Salt's quirky mother in "Sisters," is cast here as "Woman in Restaurant"--where was she?!)
DePalma is an excellent director, and I wish he'd go back to making films like this, even though "Dressed to Kill" could only be made in the early 80s. He can master quiet horror (ie: the strangely horrifying discovery Kate makes from what she finds in the drawer of the mystery man's desk) and can pull off a full-blown scene of terror (ie: the elevator murder) equally well. He always puts together great casts of characters, and has a lot of great tricks up his sleeve. This is definitely one of his best films, and one of the best thrillers made in the 80s.
Somewhat Underwhelming, but Entertaining Nature-Gone-Amuck Film
I recently became interested in watching some of the "acclaimed" nature-gone-amuck films from the 70s, and this is the one of the first I've seen in a long time. (I saw "Kingdom of the Spiders" years ago, but have only vague childhood nightmares to remember it by.) I was rather interested in seeing this, and despite some entertaining moments, the movie is a tad underwhelming.
The Crockett family is having a reunion of sorts on Jason Crockett's (Ray Milland) island in the bayou. Brother and sister Karen (Joan Van Ark) and Clint (Adam Roarke) are out on the motorboat when they literally run into Pickett Smith (Sam Elliot), a photographer doing a story on pollution. Karen, apologetic, invites Pickett back to her grandfather's mansion to dry off and get something to eat. Once he is there, Pickett sees that the frogs on the island are nearly driving the family crazy. Jason hopes to seek his help in ridding the island of the creatures and their incessant croaking, but the frogs--and all of the other reptiles and amphibians on the island--have different plans, and begin murdering off the Crocketts in a war between nature and man...and nature seems to be winning.
For the most part, "Frogs" is rather well done. The musical score is excellent, and very disturbing. Reminded me of the "score" to "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," almost a dissaray of creepy groans and shrieks of music. The setting is creepy, and has a nice isolated feel. The acting is rather good, especially for the eco-horror subgenre. Sam Elliot is great in the lead role (his jeans could have been a little less tight--I don't need to know that much about Mr. Elliot), and Ray Milland is comfortably hammy in what is obviously an "I need the money" role. Joan Van Ark starts off bad, but gets better as the film progresses. Lynn Borden and Adam Roarke as Adam and Jenny play the upper-class white couple very well, and I loved Judy Pace as Bella, Kenneth Martindale's (Nicholas Cortland) black model girlfriend. The rest of the cast is all very good, especially Holly Irving, as Iris, Jason's neurotic sister. She's an absolute riot.
The real problem with this movie is that, unlike many other nature-gone-amuck movies, it never really explodes into all-out hysteria. Most of the cast is killed off rather quickly, but then the rest escape, and it's actually pretty easy. Other than a crocodile and some snakes, there's not much of a struggle. And you never really get an idea what happens with three characters (my three absolute favorite characters) who escape earlier before the second batch escape. I mean, you sort of find out, but even then....It's not much.
One thing I really wanted to mention is the scene seen in the trailer, and captured on the cover of the movie box. It's the shot of Holly Irving sinking to her death in a swamp....But, that never happens. The closest to that is when she falls on her face in a big puddle of water and mud (and check out those leeches!), but that's not much in comparison to what's often seen in ads for this movie. I guess it was an alternate end to her character. (Oh, like you didn't expect she'd go? Don't worry, you'll know who survives, pretty early on.)
Overall, not a terrific film, not as good as I hoped it would be, but still quite good, and entertaining. I recommend it just to see it, but I'm sure you could do a little better, at least in the excitement department. This is probably one of the better-acted and better-plotted nature-gone-amuck films, though. Have fun.
Rehearsal for Murder (1982)
Interesting, Creative Whodunit
Possible, but very vague spoilers (won't ruin much, I promise....).
I rented this because the scenario seemed quite interesting. A man's wife is mysteriously killed, and a year later, the five people he suspects are invited to reading of his new play, based on the real events, in hopes of catching the killer. The movie is mostly dialogue, and winds through the story quite well, taking a couple of interesting twists, and one you'd never expect towards the end.
One year ago, actress Monica Welles (Lynn Redgrave) appears to have commit suicide after her Broadway debut. Her husband, Alex (Robert Preston) is sure she was murdered, and knows of five people who could have possibly done it: playwright David Mathews (Patrick Macnee), director Loyd Andrews (Lawrence Pressman), producer Walter Lamb (William Daniels), actress Karen Daniels (Madolyn Smith), and actor Leo Gibbs (Jeff Goldblum.) He invites them all to an old theater to read for his new play, "Killing Jessica." He brings a detective, Lieutenant McElroy (William Russ) (yes, I know that's wrong, I looked at the cast list, just accept it...) to watch from the balcony, and stop anyone who tries to leave. Once everyone arrives, Alex begins, hoping to meticulously bring out the truth, as to who killed Monica.
I don't want to reveal much about the plot, because there are a few twists (ie: William Russ's character--don't worry, it's no big spoiler, you find out the truth midway through), and one in the end that's quite unexpected.
The movie is well-done, especially for a made-for-TV film. The first hour is a little unsteady, things changing a lot, but by the last half-hour or so, the movie is broken down and gets very interesting. Don't get me wrong, the whole movie will keep your attention. It's almost non-stop dialogue, which is a creative take on the whole thing. The only real action is towards the end, in a rather tense sequence right before the truth is revealed. The scene is almost a bit Hitchcockian, and rather scary.
The acting is all-around excellent. Robert Preston is terrific, and Lynn Redgrave, who, despite not being "alive" during the most of the film, does have a substantial amount of screen time, most of which is in the way Alex envisions the scenes of his play as they are being acted out. (The title character, Jessica, is supposed to be Monica....Sort of obvious.) She is also terrific. Patrick Macnee, William Daniels, and Lawrence Pressman are all suberb, and give a very professional air to the film. Madolyn Smith is always wonderful, and I love her in everything she's in. Jeff Goldblum is typical Jeff Goldblum, skeptical and witty, but he's great. William Russell plays his part quite well.
"Rehearsal for Murder" manages to avoid the made-for-TV feel, and other than obvious breaks for commercials, it feels like a feature film. I recommend it for all murder-mystery fans.
Intelligent, Exciting Sci-Fi/Horror
I had heard many good things about "Mimic" and I remember commercials for it when it first came out. Then...it sort of disappeared. Finally, some time later, I came across different snippets about it, and decided to see it. And I must say, I was impressed.
Mira Sorvino plays Susan Tyler, an entomologist who, three years ago, stopped an epidemic with her husband, that was passed through cockroaches. To do this, they released a breed of cockroach that would kill off the others, then die itself. Yet, it didn't die...it breeded. And the breed has grown to the size of humans--and larger. And they've mimicked their predator...man. (Okay, the literary technique is getting old, I know.) Anyhoo, Susan must return to the sewers where this breed was released, and get a specimen. But what she, and a handful of others, find, may possibly kill them and the entire city of New York. (And the world!)
Okay, cheesy-as-hell description, but you get the gist of it. Anyhow, it is a very well done film. The acting is suberb, especially from Sorvino. She has a Ripley-esque quality to her and is extremely likeable. Jeremy Northam is great, as well, as Peter, her husband. Charles S. Dutton got on my nerves as the overly-stereotypical black man, foul-mouthed and eternally p***ed off. Isn't that character just a little old by now? I figured Samuel L. Jackson drained it of any interest at this point. In this, Dutton plays Leonard, the transit cop who leads the main characters through the subways for their investigation. Noteworthy also, in smaller roles, is Alix Koromzay as Remy, Susan's partner, and Josh Brolin as, aptly enough, Josh, a detective. Giancarlo Giannini as shoe-shiner Manny felt a little out of place, but was likeable. The worst character in the entire film (with Leonard in second) was Manny's autistic son Chuy (Alexander Goodwin). Not only is the kid so utterly annoying in every moment he shows up in the film, but he's a waste-of-time character, and at so many moments could have been killed off (a taboo, killing kids, I know, but be realistic) but shows up alive. By the end of the movie, you get the distinct impression no one knew what to do with him. I thought a city bus could have gone by and hit him, and not felt it was out of place. He was the biggest detriment to the film. (And the whole spoons-and-shoe-type skill of his...God, I wanted to scream!)
The movie plays out quite well, with a great set-up, and for the last forty minutes, a heavy dosage of action and excitement. And what I liked was that the film didn't lose its brains. It's a terrific combination. I thought th e showdown between the final bug and Susan at the end was a little too short, but extremely tense, especially the chase towards the oncoming train (you'll see, it's terrific).
Overall, I definitely recommend this film. It's extremely well done. And except for Chuy (grr), Leonard's annoying characteristics (did you not see that he would help save the others by sacrificing himself, like, two minutes into his screen time?), and the very cheesy ending (so, what, they adopt Chuy?!), I loved it. Look forward to the sequel.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Not terrible, but nothing great
I rented this completely by accident. I was planning to rent a lesser-known but supposedly great genre effort, "Silent Night, Bloody Night," but I guess the geniuses at Blockbuster confused the two when putting the tapes with the boxes, and I ended up with this.
Eventually, I figured out the plot, which wasn't terrible. In a very creepy prologue, young Billy is traveling home with parents and baby brother after visiting his grandfater in the nursing home, and they stop to help a man dressed in a Santa Clause outfit whose car has died. The Santa is actually an escaped killer who murders Billy's parents, while he narrowly escapes.
He grows up in an orphanage, terrified every Christmas of old St. Nick, and Mother Superior, who runs the orphanage. Eventually, he grows up at gets a job at a local toy store...right around Christmas time. That Christmas Eve, he snaps, and dressed as Santa, kills off everyone at the after-hours party at the store, then ventures out to find new victims. The only person that can stop him is Sister Margaret, from the orphanage, the only person who ever cared for Billy. But, of course, it's too late to save him...or anyone else....
The movie manages to be quite creepy at times. The murder of Billy's parents was a frightening scene, and some of the murders were pretty effective. The music was great, too. The pace, for the most part, works well, though it trips up when the story moves on to Christmas morning. The movie would have been more effective all taking place on one night. Of course, that would consist of Billy killing off one-dimensional, stock characters, and Sister Margaret and the local sheriff tracking his path...but with a few twists, it would have worked.
The acting is pretty good. Lilyan Chauvin and Toni Nero, first and third billed as Mother Superior and Billy's short-lived love interest Pamela, respectively, have little screen time, but give okay performances. Robert Brian Wilson as the 18 year-old Billy is mostly in costume and has few lines, but for what he's given, he does okay. Gilmer McCormick has the largest role (which still isn't much) and actually does quite well with what she's given; she is also the only truly sympathetic, likeable character in the movie. Oddly enough, Billy is somewhat likeable, too, but the more senseless his killings get, the less you really want to cheer for him.
Then again, this movie doesn't really seem to give a damn about it's characters which, I guess if that's what you want, is fine.
Overall, not a bad horror film, but there are better. For a truly effective and worthwhile Christmas-related genre effort, I'd check out "Black Christmas." (Then again, that's everyone's Christmas horror movie suggestion, so if you haven't gotten the point that it's a great movie, then you're on your own.) It's far scarier, with a stronger plot and better characters. But for just your average seasonal bloodbath, I suppose "Silent Night, Deadly Night" isn't a bad choice.
Bloody Murder (2000)
Maybe I'm the idiot for renting this....
And anyone who has seen this would agree; I'm pretty stupid to have any expectations for this little film. I mean, how uninspired of a title, and storyline. I realize the title has to do with an actual part of the film (not much, though) but still...couldn't they just call it Summer Camp Nightmare or something? I realize that's pretty low, too, but God, it's better than "Bloody Murder." But you can't give the makers of this film much credit. I mean, they chose the actors, they wrote the script (they didn't come up with the story, it's pretty much a combination of all the horrorr/mystery stories that are older than the hills--and this cheesy expression), and they thought that the public would like this...do you really think they could come up with an interesting title?
Anyway, I didn't rent this with any high expectations. In fact, I only rented it because the story was so blatantly unoriginal and predictable, that I had to see what more this could possibly be than all the other films like this one in its past. (Was that the plan for success? "Hook 'em with how stupid this is!") And then I thought, "Hey, maybe they've come up with an entertaining way of using this storyline!" (So maybe I did have expectations....) Well, finally I just watched it. And let's just say, no, they didn't come up with anything new, and no, there is no new format here. It's just what you would expect....
Here's a rundown: A group of teens head to a summer camp a few days before the campers are to arrive to set up. (Friday the 13th, verbatim, at this point.) One night, during a round of "Bloody Murder," which is basically Hide and Seek, but It hides, and the others look for him/her, and when they find It, It has to chase them back to base, one of the guys "disappears." This leads to another "disappearance," and then another, and soon, everyone's a suspect...and a potential next victim. (Ooh, a shock around every corner.)
Name a cliche, and this film's got it. The prologue with the unlucky couple...you got it. The creepy old man trying to warn the virginal star...you bet. The "by-coincidence, the 'missing for the rest of the climax' character saves the day" ending...sorry to ruin the surprise, but yes. And is every character made suspicious...irrelevantly, yes. All this film's missing is a cat jumping out at someone as a false scare, and someone saying, "This place gives me the creeps." Still, there is the obligatory line after someone, inexorably, frightens our focal character, "You scared the sh*t out of me." And of course, we have the numerous practical jokes posing as potential moments of horror towards the beginning, and one character being confronted by the killer and saying, "Okay, take off your mask," thinking it's the practical joker again. So, be prepared, you're in for nothing new.
There are also plot-holes a plenty. I lost count after a while, but the worst is the one towards the end, with the one character getting hit with an oar and knocked into the water. If it was done was by the character we'd all figure--and, being the only one who could have--done it, why wasn't he/she (I won't ruin the shocking ending!) the killer. I reeled over that for the rest of the film.
There are, I guess, I few positive points. The climactic chase scene was alright, and some of the characters were likeable. I couldn't stand little "Nancy Drew" Julie, the "heroine." But Drew, the alternate good-girl, was okay, and Whitney, I think, was supposed to be the bad girl, but came off as more of the heroine type. All the male characters were annoying, to a lesser extent Tobe, the obvious knock-off of Jaime Kennedy's aggravating character in the overrated "Scream." But for the most part, I was glad to see them all go.
One really interesting point, which I think is just the lack of storyline or ideas, was the one obvious fodder character seeing the final credits with his/her life intact. (Once again, I'd hate to ruin this shocking film for you.) I think those behind this work of art realized in the end, "Oh, wait, we still have to kill that one....Ahh, nevermind," and left it how it was. In any event, it was worth mentioning.
Now, here's why I really hate the movie. (I know, you're tired of this review, but I'm coming down the home stretch now....Wow, another overused saying.) "Bloody Murder" promised me a chainsaw. I thought, being a huge "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" fan, "Well, great, a chainsaw, works for me!" Did I get a chainsaw? Well...yeah...but only for about a minute! In the opening prologue, there was a letdown of a chase scene with the "legend by the film's plot" killer chasing our unlucky fellow (his pregnant girlfriend got off without an on-screen death, or one at all, you don't really know) through the woods with his saw. Was I brought back to the thrills and chills of good old TCM, with the ominous Leatherface, and wonderful Sally?....No. A letdown indeed.
Just in case you cared, there is a legend of some killer with a chainsaw for a hand (didn't look attached to his arm to me) killing in "those there parts," and the filmmakers remember only in the end that that was a part of the story, and incorporate it in, but it's useless, and adds nothing to this.
Well, there's "Bloody Murder" for ya...and congrats, you made it through this review without a sip of drain cleaner. Now, do I recommend this? Well...of course! Prepare to be shocked...at how formulaic, how cliched, and how dull this film can really be.
Survival Quest (1988)
An Easy Video near me was going out of business, and selling movies cheap, so I raided the place and amongst some other cheesy, just for the hell of it bought movies, I picked this up, recognizing names such as Lance Henrikson (Pumpkinhead), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding), and Catherine Keener (8MM). With somewhat low expectations, I watched the film this afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised.
Henrikson plays Hank, a guide for Survival Quest, testing people's abilities in the wildnerness. The group he is given this time includes a convict, a divorced woman, an older man, and others. He leads them into nature, forcing them to rely on courage, wits, and strength to survive. Also venturing into the woods is a paramilitary group, an extreme version of the Survival Quest group.
The main characters are led through the woods, up mountains, across rivers, deeper and deeper into the wild. They begin to get to know each other, and work together as a team. A constant threat is the military group, who don't look fondly upon Survival Quest. Then one day Gray, the convict (Mulroney) and one of the military trainees meet up in a life-threatening confrontation. Trying to break it up, Hank is shot accidentally by trainee. Gray escapes, and the trainee sets up the scene as to appear as if Hank were a threat, after the military leader, Jake (Rolston), gets involved and injured. Then a hunt is on, as the military trainees chase down the Survival Quest group with rifles and knives, in a bloodthirsty rage for vengeance.
The movie is so interesting because of the way it plays out. The action doesn't really start until about an hour in, but the film is in no way dull up to that point. In the first hour, we get to know and like the protagonists, as they overcome their fears and learn basic survival in the wilderness. In fact, by the time the action starts, you're content with the plot being about just this group taking the course. But then, when it starts to get really exciting, the movie gets even better, because the threat of any of these great characters getting killed is tragic, since we like them all so much. Personally, I thought the characters of Hal, the old man (Ben Hammer) and Cheryl, the divorced woman overcoming some ever-present weaknesses (Catherine Keener), were my favorites, though I liked all of them.
The actors all do great in their roles, each becoming likeable characters and strong in each way. The action is great, as well. One scene, when the escaping group need to cross a raging river, with the paramilitary group close behind, is almost unbearable in the suspense. One good thing about this is that the plot never loses itself in mindless violence. The violence is focused and part of the story, and really, only occurs when necessary. For the most part, the action of the movie is more concerned with these characters escaping, and surviving. You never just let your brain go to sleep and watch mindless eye candy, and that's rare for action movies.
One last thing to note is the absolutely gorgeous setting in the Rocky Mountains. You never feel like you're watching a nature movie, but the setting is portrayed so breathtakingly well, and looks so great in every scene.
I definitely recommend this to action/adventure fans, but mostly to drama fans. The movie is thoroughly entertaining, and definitely worth a look if you can find it.
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Disappointing Hitchcock thriller
I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock's, but this one let me down. For the most part, it was quite dull, and really, not as gripping as many of Hitch's other fine films.
Johnny Jones (McRea) is a New York reporter sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent to inform America on the impending doom of the war. There, he meets Stephen Fischer (Marshall) and his beautiful and intelligent daughter Carol (Day). After attending a luncheon in which the host, Mr. Van Meer (Basserman) is said to be unable to attend, yet Johnny arrived with, he attends a press conference which leads to an assasination. Hot on the trail of the assasin with the help of Carol and her friend Scott ffolliot (Sanders), he soon discovers a kidnapping and a cover-up, and becomes a target of spies hoping to keep their business under raps. Throw in romance with Carol, double-crossing, and murder attempts...and, well, you kind of see where it goes from there, all leading up to an exciting climax that is, sadly, the only real highlight of the film.
I'm sorry to say I was disappointed by this. It was quite weak, considering how talented Hitchcock has shown the world he can be. All the big "thrills" (the assasination, the windmill, etc.) were weak, except the climax. In fact, at one point, my eyelids got pretty heavy. It's hard to believe this is the same director that had me glued to the screen with such classics as "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (the '56 remake) and "Rear Window," and showed impeccable skills in "Lifeboat." Well, we all have our flukes.
Now on to the acting. Joel McCrea, I'm sorry to say, didn't impress me, and fell pretty flat in his lead role. Laraine Day is so-so, a bit weak at times but still quite endearing and holds her own. I did like Robert Sanders, though, as the witty Scott ffolliot (yes, it is supposed to be lower-case). The rest of the cast did fine, and isn't much to mention.
My biggest indescretion was the light-heartedness of the film at time. One minute, Johnny, Carol, and Scott are pursuing assasins who are shooting at them, and the next moment, Carol and Scott are watching gleefully as Johnny chases his hat as it blows through the field, after they stopped to let the police continue the chase. A little unfitting. Not to keep comparing, but I was impressed with Hitch's way of holding emotions and tone of a movie in "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Doris Day, especially, remains distraught over her son's kidnapping well-after the first scene of her emotion, and though she doesn't become so weepy that she becomes a weak character (in fact, I think she's one of the better Hitch blondes), she remains realistic. The characters in this seem to forget the present reason for concern at times.
Overall, quite weak, except for the great climax, which I don't want to reveal much of, but believe me, it's one of Hitch's most exciting, and reminds me almost of one of those 70s disaster films (but well done.) If you can get through the rest of this, then that alone is worth a look, and the pretty grim, if not realistic closing. But, I'm sorry to say, Hitch sort of fell short with this one.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
A Taut, Well-Woven Tale of Suspense in True Hitchcock Form
I love Hitchcock, especially his films of the fifties and early sixties. "Rear Window" is amazing, "North By Northwest" is thrilling. "The Birds" is terrifying. And "Psycho," well, that may be the pinnacle of Hitch's film career. Definitely to add to that list now is "The Man Who Knew Too Much," a quintessential film by this brilliant director.
James Stewart and Doris Day play Dr. Ben and Jo McKenna, respectively, vacationing in Morocco with their young son, Hank, played by Christopher Olson. On the bus, they meet a Frenchman whom they soon befriend, but grows to become quite a suspicious character. The second day of their trip, he is murdered, and utters his dying words to Ben. Words that may be the reason he was killed. For it is a plot to assassinate an Ambassador in London. When Ben and Jo go to the police to make a statement, Hank is kidnapped, as to keep the couple quiet about what they know. Now they must race to figure out how to stop the assasination, and save their son, before it all becomes too late.
Needless to say, this is one hell of a movie, with unbearable tension, amazing action, and an edge-of-your-seat climax at Albert Hall, famed for having no dialogue at all for twelve straight minutes. Definitely Hitchcock.
First, the acting. Jimmy Stewart--amazing as always. He is one of Hitch's finest "every man" characters, truly identifiable and sympathetic, not to mention pretty witty at times. As for Doris Day, well...why do so many people put her down? She gives, without a doubt, one of the most amazing perfomances as a Hitchcock blonde EVER. Rare do we find the heroine to be a happily married wife and mother. It's usually an Eva-Marie Saint-like character, ala "North By Northwest." Icy, yet suave and sexy. Jo McKenna is quite a refreshing character, and I really liked her. Doris Day pulls off the role with an impeccably emotional yet strong performance. (Interesting backstory: Day was incredibly uneasy with Hitch for much of the shoot, since he said nothing of her performance, making her think he didn't like her. Finally, she offered to have herself replaced, and Hitch was shocked, claiming the only reason he remained silent was because he was so happy with how she played the role.) I loved her character from beginning to end.
The movie is filled with humor (towards the beginning, ie: the hilarious dinner scene), excitement, suspense, and a rare treat, emotions. My favorite scene (without giving too much away) is when Ben reveals to Jo that Hank isn't with the friends they met on the trip, but kidnapped, and she absolutely loses it. I mean, wow! That's a scene to watch twice, it's so powerful. Another great part is the church scene, especially the brilliant alms-giving scene, and...well, I'd hate to kill it, but the look Jo and Ben give to Mrs. Drayton is absolutely priceless. And of course, the Albert Hall scene. It builds tension amazingly well, the music being working perfectly to makes our hearts pound, especially because we know when the shot is to be fired and the Ambassador killed. One question, though: Why does Jo only stand there and cry, if she knows what's going to happen? Or does she? That may be my only problem with the film, and maybe that the two climaxes (the Albert Hall scene and the preceding scenes at the recital) could have been put into one, perhaps all taking place at the former. But with a film this amazing, anyone could look past that.
Perhaps one of the best scenes, though, is the ending. That may be, hands down, the funniest Hitch ending I have ever seen, and intentionally. It works perfectly, and had me laughing long after the movie was over. It's worth everything, just to see that.
Do I even need to recommend this? I mean, this is one of Hitch's best. I'd suggest buying it; I could stand to watch it again. Definitely a recommendation to newcomers to Hitchcock films. It's one of his ideal films. I haven't seen the original yet, but with a rare remake like this--rare in that it is so amazing, unlike most remakes (1998's "Psycho," anyone?)--you almost don't need to see the first. This one is great.
Boiler Room (2000)
I had been eager to see this movie ever since it came out, and finally, about a week ago, rented it. And I must say, I was really let down.
Giovanni Ribisi is Seth Davis, straight out of college and running his own casino at home. Then one day, two stock brokers from a firm not-quite-famous with the general public (frankly, no one's heard of it) show up, and offer him to come in for an interview. Seth accepts, and is soon a member. Things start to look up then. His father (Ron Rifkin) begins to respect him again, after many years of spite between the two of them. He begins to form a relationship with Abby (Nia Long), the head secretary. And he's moving on to becoming a senior member. Yet, all of this is too good to be true, and Seth soon realizes that the firm he belongs to isn't all it's cracked up to be, and he must decide what to do next, as his business is on the line. Meanwhile, the FBI is suspicious, and is monitoring him, trying to work through Abby and even Seth's own father, putting love and trust on the line, all "boiling" (sorry) down to a final decision.
Not that great of a movie. Nothing "shady" seems to become apparent until at least an hour in, and when the truth is revealed, it's none-too-shocking. This is one of those movies that falls into the new generation of hip, with young casts and everything the everyday MTV fan will like. Though I am of that target audience, I didn't find this all too appealing. The acting is weak, for the most part. Giovanni Ribisi acts as if he's drugged, and reads off his lines in an all-too-present slur. Vin Diesel was really starting to get on my nerves, why, I don't know. Nicky Katt was alright, nothing to rant or rave about. Every time Jaime Kennedy showed up, I expected him to start explaining to the other characters how to survive a scary movie. Needless to say, he was none to appealing. Ben Affleck in a very small role was so-so, a little over the top. The only performances I actually liked were from Nia Long and Ron Rifkin. They actually brought some maturity to a cast that resembled more of a frat house than a brokerage firm. Another point of note, and I rarely notice this in a film, was the overwhelming vulgarity. I'm not one to be against the use of expletives, but this movie went too far. Ben Affleck--who only showed up in two or three rather-lengthy scenes--was really getting to be too much with every other word being f***, or some variation of the word. That sort of put a damper on the film, as well as the annoying rap soundtrack, which really just made the whole thing feel like another one of those "The Substitute" movies.
In any event, this is really a disappointment. The weak storyline, the predominantly unappealing cast, excessive vulgarity, and unfitting music all add up to make one terrible movie.
Nothing But the Night (1973)
A dull, stuffy, British "thriller"
I caught this on The Movie Channel, and taped it, planning to watch it later. Finally, I sat down, and tried to get into "Nothing But the Night," which, from the plotline offered by the TV Guide, looked pretty good.
Well, let's start with the plot. Different people, I believe associated by an orphanage or some other organization, are all being killed. In the first two minutes of the film. Then a bus with orphans and some others crashes, and one little girl, Mary, becomes the focus of attention. A doctor and a colonel (Cushing and Lee, respectively) are introduced, but they really don't come into the plot much. First the focus is on a young doctor, Peter, who, after being intrigued by hallucinatory ramblings from Mary, begins investigating, along with the help of a reporter, Joan. Meanwhile, Mary's estranged mother, Anna, wants her daughter back, and will go to the extreme to get her. And then Peter is murdered, supposedly by Anna, and that's when Lee and Cushing's characters really come in. Eventually, this leads them and Joan to the island of Bala, where Mary has been returned to her orphanage, and Anna is headed for to get her daughter back, being refused many times. From there, it's a mix of weak investigation, a few murders, and a "The Fugitive"-like hunt for Anna, who is on the island and searching for Mary. (But Harrison Ford, Anna is not, and the hunt is pretty cheesy.) Nothing really connects or makes sense, and stumbles along to a semi-creepy climax.
What the hell does this have to do with that bizarre, very European title? I don't know.
The movie is pretty bland. While Lee, Cushing, and Georgia Brown (Joan) give good performances, Diana Dors (Anna) comes off almost like Bette Davis ala "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" with that big hair and brash disposition. The little girl who played Mary does a fine job, though, especially for a child actress, and that boosts this film a bit. But nothing masks the fact that the plotline is weak, and the film itself is overwhelmingly dull. As expected, there are far too many scenes of people talking. (I mean, c'mon, it's British after all.) And why does every manhunt need all the town's drunks coming out with rifles and dogs to go looking? You can almost see some of this coming at some points. Still, the movie has a pretty creepy climax, albeit short. And the twist in the end could have made a nice shock, but all the reviews for this movie give away the "big shock," as the plotline.
In any event, I don't recommend this. It's quite boring, and except for the acting, it's nothing to give the time to watching.