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The Hours (2002)
Elegant, fascinating melodrama invigorates with splendour.
Diseases? Check. Feministic over-tones? Check. Lesbianism? Check. Meryl Streep? Check. This seems like the perfect recipe for `lurid chick-flick-of-the-week', but `The Hours' is something far deeper and captivating. Two immediate thumbs-up for originality. Not only does David Hare adapt the famous story by Virginia Woolf; he also intertwines two different stories that criss-cross in the most engaging style possible. Each story gets a rousing treatment with an equal proportion of attention divided among them.
The first takes us to 1923, New England where mentally unstable novelist Virginia Woolf is writing `Mrs. Dalloway'. In the second, Laura Brown, an unhappy housewife is reading the book in Hollywood in 1951. In the third, Clarissa Vaughn finds herself becoming the character in modern day Manhattan. British director brings the movie depth and meaning as the plots unfold and interact in a thoroughly earnest and believable manner. Of course there are those that complain that the film is made up of a series of `they'll show this clip for my Oscar nomination' moments, but this isn't enough to really hold a grudge against it. Okay, perhaps it is manipulative in that sense but it was hardly intentional.
Technical credits are surprisingly terrific all round. In particular, the silky, brazen editing cleverly switches from one scene to the other with the just right amount of emphasis on key elements. Scenery, cinematography and costume designs are spectacular as well. Though hardly breath-taking compared to `Chicago' and `Gangs of New York', the alternating sets are magnificently detailed. Such is the case with the image of Hollywood in 1951. Always sunny and seductive, there is a perfect overbearing of cleanliness in the idyllic household and crystal clear roads. The solemnities of the plots really go right to the core. The subtext is hidden far enough to consider the film `sophisticated' and every little detail, no matter how irrelevant is chosen for a reason.
But the main power is generated by the host of superlative performances. Nicole Kidman of course won an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf (not to mention the heavy prosthetics). Though the performance is convincing, it is too small to consider in the `Best Actress' category. Meryl Streep gives the expected fine delivery and is as mesmerising as one would come to expect. It must have been tough for Julianne Moore to pull off her part. Mainly because she has played the same variation on the `disillusioned wife' character so many times. But she really makes this role her own, totally different from her character in say, `Magnolia', thus she is a brilliant character actress. Support is noteworthy all across the board from the likes of Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels; the best supporting turn coming from Ed Harris.
Under-rated and often misunderstood, `The Hours' is as subtly commendable as its haunting musical score with a shock ending to achieve the considerable impact. Easily one of the Top 5 best pictures of the year. My IMDb rating: 8.0/10
The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)
Frivolous, satisfying rom-com, but bog-standard for all that.
It appears that conventional paint-by-numbers romantic comedies are the order of the day. While writing these reviews, I try to be as original as possible, whenever possible. But when films (particularly rom-coms) are so alike, it's really a case of changing names and writing pretty much the same thing. So while `The Mirror Has Two Faces' is quite satisfying, it's hardly earth shattering or anything we haven't seen before. The world won't collapse if you don't get to see the film.
One thing that bogs down the standard of these movies is the `playing it safe' aspect. The inability to take risks doesn't guarantee consistent interest. Also, it more often relies on fluffy, glossy charm as opposed to good laughs and memorable situations. But it has its moments. It also makes some good points in showing the superficiality of `love'. But it soon falls into line with the slick `deux ET machina' ending which may be appropriate with most movies for this genre, but giving the circumstances, it was a wrong move.
Directed by singer/ songwriter/ actress/ newcomer director Barbara Streisand, there is a gently unpreachy tone throughout, but things are all too much in her favour. While she brings a spunky (if not increasingly feministic) charm to the proceedings, it's just not realistic. She takes it upon herself to recreate New York as the perfect haven for frumpy, single, middle-aged women. It's highly questionable that se should be the `coolest' person in a class of hundreds of college students, and also by able to memorise all of their names. And it's true what they say. She looks better before, as opposed to after, her transition to a `sex goddess'.
The support, on the other hand, is quite good all round. While none of them are suited to this genre, they're good all across the board. The standout is Lauren Bacall (on Oscar nominated form) as the typically overbearing mother. And Jeff Bridges finally finds a definition of character with an underwhelming, but convincing performance.
Certainly not flawless and very much cliched, `The Mirror Has Two Faces' is latte-light material. But certainly not the worst of its type, this is satisfying for what it's worth, and most importantly of all, there are a couple of laughs to be had along the way. My IMDb rating: 5.5/10.
Phone Booth (2002)
Cerebral, high concept thriller plays well on the big screen.
Intriguing concept isn't it. A film that takes place entirely in a phone booth in which a man will be assassinated if he leaves the area. And then the police attempt to negotiate when he is thought to have shot someone. From the start, you can tell that this will be a good movie. The concept in itself is worthy of 80 minutes of your time. The movie gets all of its power from the long high-octane thrill, which carries on from start to finish in a deadly one act. The premise never wears thin and ends just at the right moment. It is very strange that instead of being a small-scale A grade flick, this is a large-scale summer blockbuster. And that is one of the films downfalls. Schumacher completely overplays the effect, which bogs down, what should have been, plot subtlety.
I'm not saying that `Phone Booth' was bad. I'm just saying that it had the potential to be IMDb Top 250 material as a landmark in cinema history. But too often does Schumacher rely on 'outsider' help. The creation of modern era New York is perfectly realistic, but did this really need a narrator? This isn't helped by fast edits, split screens and flashbacks, which do nothing but lessen the effect. It must have been very easy to make. It might have been slightly better had they done the entire movie in one take and perhaps degraded the shots to make them look slightly less Hollywood like.
The small details are occasionally impressive, but others are un-necessary. Case in point is the fact that they fiddled with the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning. This was a neat idea when directors first started doing so, but here it just seems pointless. And they gave the opening a glossy `Broadway musical' style Barbershop score. But they have a dazzling `zoom in' on New York City. The outcome is accelerated by a shock ending which is followed by yet another shock ending which de-shocks that which we thought was true. That sounds confusing, but watch the film and you'll understand.
Colin `I've been in a million movies this year' Farrell quite frankly overdoes the `look at me! I'm an asshole' act in the opening moments but once he's in the booth, the performance kicks in. They should really have an Academy Award for `Best Voice'. If they did, Keifer Sutherland would be a shoe-in, as the menacing, antagonistic vocals are right on target. It's just too bad they made the inexcusable mishap of putting him on the front cover, as it answers the question of `Will he show up or not?'. Supporting turns are good from Radha Mitchell, Forest Whitaker and Katie Holmes.
Of course then there's all the symbolic, philosophical hokum that just doesn't work. Schumacher shouldn't have tried it out in the first place. You've probably noticed that most of what I've done in this review is complain about the picture, yet I still claim to like it. `Phone Booth' is great high-octane, thrilling fodder, but it had the potential to be a classic. My advice is to go in with low expectations and you won't be disappointed. My IMDb rating: 6.4/10.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Artificial, vacuous but highly skilful supernatural chiller.
It's ironic that a movie be entitled `What Lies Beneath' when it is so shallow. Not as much shallow' as opposed to empty'. This picture is typical Hitchcock suspense. There are plenty of creaks and jumps and `look behind you' scenes, but there aren't enough full on scare sequences. And much of these are just overused clichés. That said, there's a good deal of fun to be had along the way. Zemeckis is clearly having a blast behind the camera and successfully masters yet another genre. He puts a tremendous deal of skill into the proceedings.
But there simply isn't enough material to work with. The film uneasily balances between domestic drama, supernatural chiller and all-out thriller, and the three sub-genres simply don't gel. While it starts well and ends well, there is a huge dissipation in the mid-riff. With the `horror' being reduced to a series of talky conversations, it's just too slow burning. But the closing half-hour is a skilful succession of high-octane moments that never wear thin. The less you know about the plot, the better. And whatever you do, don't read the tagline, as it will only spoil things.
As the neurotic housewife, Michelle Pfeiffer is perfectly cast and brings depth to her first good role in a long time. And she holds her own against the more popular Harrison Ford, who curiously avoids the limelight for most of the movie. It's just surprising that he was credited first. Miranda Otto and James Remar on the other hand, are totally out of place. No that the performances are bad or anything, but after a revelation in the first 50 minutes, their characters are totally and utterly irrelevant to the plot.
As soon as the emotional hokum gets going, the film loses a good deal of momentum, but the shear suspense of it all is what keeps `What Lies Beneath' going. But with the uneasy mixture, the bogeyman material seems out of place when in tone with the thriller aspect. While it is very slow-paced, my advice is to stick with the movie and you'll probably be rewarded. Zemeckis and Pfeiffer make a deadly combo and almost overcome the bogging down of sentimentality and a slightly shallow script. Eerie, creepy and surprising, `What Lies Beneath' is flawed, but generally good. My IMDb rating: 5.9/10.
Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)
Veritable, glossy small-scale character study from Neil LaBute.
Famed for dark satirical styles and cutting edge controversy, director Neil LaBute (`Nurse Betty', `In the Company of Men') has produced an intriguing, though not thoroughly compelling study on human activity and relationships. Subtle in manner and narrative, the main problem is that it lacks bite. Where a different director may have highlighted key moments and plot points, LaBute keeps things at a slow pace for the entirety. While this adds to the realness of it all, it's hard to tell how scenes are to be interpreted. And this superficial presence is hardly felt.
Virtually without a plot other than examining people's marital and adulterous lives, it simply doesn't lead anywhere. While similar films are usually given a shock ending to bolster the effect and/or go out with a bang, the overall effect is curiously underplayed. The film starts at a random point and then suddenly ends. That said, there is a nervy authenticity about it that brings humane depth to it all. All is played out in a perfectly sombre and believable manner without taking its material too seriously. And there is also a heavy dose of irony thrown in for good measure.
Did you find it strange that none of the characters names were mentioned? There's something not right about that. And I was surprised to see that the characters all had similar sounding names- Jerry, Terri, Cheri, Barry, Cary and Mary. It's hard to tell if LaBute was trying to be symbolic in doing so, as it's hard enough to concentrate on the film at face value. Another case in point is the fact that there are absolutely no supporting characters- the closing thing to represent support are the extras that occasionally stand around in the background. Perhaps this represents the seclusion of suburban life- I don't know. But the exceptional casting certainly pays off as the six characters are brilliantly personified and defined.
Arguably the best known of the cast is Ben Stiller. It's surprising how he can blend in with the other `lesser' actors and seem perfect for the neurotic part that he regularly plays. Also very good is Jason Patric who isn't afraid to risk his reputation and play an arrogant misogynist (not to mention the fact that he uses the c' word). As the only `good' person of the bunch, indie regular Aaron Eckhart is also quite good. Amy Brenneman's persistently nervous and philandering wife is an excellent creation, while Catherine Keener's power b*tch is well interpreted. Also in there is Nastassja Kinski who probably gets the least development. The performance is fine, but the way her character is written is a bit sketchy.
Another strange aspect is the repetition in which Kinski attempts to seduce the four other characters, minus Mary. Strange is the fact that they use the exact same dialogue in each of the four scenes. This may represent how all of the characters are alike despite their different personas- who knows? While it is bogged down by the occasional narrative flaw, `Your Friends and Neighbours' is a polished take on modern life. Sometimes confusing and mind numbing, it is best interpreted as a satire. I thought it was generally good and give it an IMDb rating of 6.1 out of 10.
Swashbuckling action flick is a good summer blockbuster.
I have to admit I was hoping this film would be bad. Never really been a fan of pirate movies, and judging by the trailers, I thought this would be phoney and shallow. `Pirates of the Caribbean' has been receiving mass critical praise since the opening week and I can see why. It has that certain charm about it which is very hard to resist. The plot follows a very familiar outline, but the film comes to life in the swooping visuals and brilliant fight scenes. Essentially, `Pirates' is a B movie but a rather good one at that. While it is immensely enjoyable, is this really a five star movie? It's a big-budget large-scale blockbuster in the vein of `The Hulk' and `Terminator 3' but it hardly pushes the limits of cinema.
The movie is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer- the helm behind similarly themed efforts such as `The Rock' and `Pearl Harbour'- so I can't say I'm surprised that there are so many big bangs throughout. Technical credits are top-notch all across the board. The cinematography, in particular, is a huge stand out. The CG work is good as well, but over showy in parts. Case in point is the scene in which Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa) turns into a skeleton and then drinks alcohol that we see as if we were wearing x-ray specs. While the animated work for that scene is good, the `It's-the-21st-century. -Look-what-we-can-do' effect comes across in an overtly preachy way. But this part is brief so there's no need to go into too much detail with it.
And as your classic adventure movie, there are the three main characters- the hero, the significant other and the hammy villain. Also in there is a jilted lover/ hero #2, but he's perfectly relevant to the plot. Of course, the media are constantly saying `the film has everything! Action, comedy, drama, romance'- virtually 90% of all movies have all those factors. As I said, it all comes down to the action. The cheesy jokes, romantic subplots etc. are okay, but hardly what `Pirates' will be remembered for.
Johnny Depp has the charisma and quirkiness to carry the role of Jack Sparrow. Better yet, he makes the role his own. With the offbeat swagger and cheesy one-liners, no one could have executed the role better. And the hammy villain is perfectly portrayed by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, who does this comic-style part just as well as the tougher ones. Keira Knightley (I hate that name) would seem like the perfect stereotype, but her character is well written and she brings life to- what could have been- a very flat performance. But Orlando Bloom seems out of place. His character has no charisma, no characteristics, no quirky one liners. And the lines are delivered without credibility. There's such thing as `playing it straight', but this is more wooden than the plank which he walks off of.
And while the closing moments may go on for a bit too long, there's enough treasured moments to be able to forgive all that. And while there is no emotional core that elevates above the level of `a flashy action packed adventure-fest', you probably shouldn't expect one. So if you want an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, you won't go far wrong with `Pirates of the Caribbean'- a film which I'm almost ashamed to say that I enjoyed. My IMDb rating: 6.9/10.
Wacky, stylishly goofy comedy on the fashion industry.
In about 1997 a new genre was invented with the coming of `Austin Powers'. While it was a spoof of such, it wouldn't be considered in the same vein as the ZAZ/ Mel Brooks movies. And after hits like `Scary Movie' and flops like `Scary Movie 2', the latest in line is `Zoolander'. And this is easily as funny, if not funnier, than the second two `Austin Powers' movies. Written, directed and headlined by Ben Stiller, this was quite a hat trick to pull off. But the job was done and a good job at that. At the same time, this is hardly groundbreaking material. And in retrospect it's only laughing gas.
From some perspectives this is a satire on the style-crazy fashion industry in the same light as `Pret-a-Porter'. But the film is too stupid and inaccurate to be truly realistic, so this is best thought as a just-for-fun barrel of gags. As is the usual case, when the jokes hit they can be hilarious. But when they miss, they leave you staring blankly at the screen. And it does get a little carried with itself towards the end as it becomes to hip and trendy for all tastes. A slightly limp third act is well compensated for by hilarious proceedings. The central plot of the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of Malaysia is a mere skeleton for the plot to stick to, and hardly the strongest point. But again, this isn't to be taken seriously.
The character of Derek Zoolander represents the vapid male model of today and is hilariously portrayed by Ben Stiller. In most of his other comedies (`Meet the Parents', `There's something about Mary') he played the protagonist who is the subject of the jokes, and it's great to finally see him as the antagonist as he has a good flair for comedy. Particularly funny is his part as a merman in the informecial for water. As the over-flamboyant opposition, Owen Wilson has rarely been funnier. Will Ferrell's obnoxious fashion designer Mugatu is a half-realised character. He starts out funny but towards the end becomes increasingly annoying. The rest of the support is decent all round from Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, John Voight and David Duchovny among others including a host of celebrity cameos.
The real star is the script that holds many memorable one-liners. And while many of the lines are delivered with impeccable gusto, others just fall flat. A good example is the classic `You can't think for yourself' `You're right, I can't' line. It isn't bad, but it's been used many times before and seems a little slack when attempted here. While it is shapeless, absurd and just as shallow as the subject matter itself, `Zoolander' is also one of the funniest movies around at the moment. If you want a good `stupid' comedy `Zoolander' is a passive and entertaining bit of gas. Just don't expect anything else. My IMDb rating: 6.4/10.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Glamorised, violent account of the porn industry of the 70's.
PT Anderson's docu-satire on the hardcore porn industry of the late 70's and its collapse over the conservative 80's is a bold and daring tale. It also establishes him as one of the greatest young directors around at the moment. Anderson creates a unique style in the visual aspect of the film. It maintains the look and feel of a low-budget porn movie, but also the un-graded look of a documentary and the over-lapping, interweaving narrative of a satire. Indeed, he really should pay his dues to Robert Altman as he creates a similar effect. `Boogie Nights' certainly isn't for the easily provoked. There's an awareness of explicit sex as well as an aberrant sexual content, throughout. It's actually surprising that the film didn't receive an X rating (i.e. the kiss of death) from the MPAA.
But one thing that `Boogie Nights' may have missed out on- perhaps intentionally- was heart. All of the characters have such high degrees of bad attitudes, it's hard to really sympathise with them or understand what they're going through. The movie follows an unusual pattern. While it is ultimately compelling, it lacks the overall dramatic shape and comprehensiveness of what it sets out to be. It also may have benefited from a better- that is more audible- soundtrack.
Much like the style of Altman, the movie creates large visual sweeps as it takes in a variety of events and talks. The sound emphasises on the key elements. The editing is done very seldom in each scene as the camera follows around the characters for long periods of time, adding to the authenticity of it all. These techniques are very impressive and appreciative, but with so many characters on screen at once and the rapid-rate plot, the supporting characters rarely develop. As soon as the camera settles on one character, it quickly moves on to the next, providing us with no new information or background. And in classic Altman sense, sub-plots are briefly glanced upon but rarely explored. All characters are taken at face value.
Having said that, there are tremendous performances all round from a cast made up almost entirely of Anderson's best friends in showbiz. Mark Wahlberg is a suitable lead while Burt Reynolds' turn as porn director Jack Horner is probably his best performance to date, though he takes the back seat for most of the movie. Julianne Moore's Amber Waves is an excellent creation and she perfectly balances sex-goddess with vulnerable single mother. Other supporting parts, no matter how small, are all fine but the real stand-out is John C. Reilly. It's strange how someone can go from saintly nobody (`Chicago', `Magnolia') to egotistical, tyrannical porn-star so easily.
Other technical credits are top-notch all round. The art direction and cinematography are so synthetic to the last detail; it's easy to forget that the film was made in 1997. Of course there have been many complaints about the shocking amount of violence towards the end. While they may have gotten a little carried away with themselves, I prefer to think of them as punctuation marks stressing how important the given scene, and the collapse of the porn industry is.
In my humble opinion, `Magnolia' is the better film as it went into a little more depth with the characters (virtually played by the exact same actors) but `Boogie Nights' is a glistening, gritty and colossal satire on the change of attitudes as the 70's ended and the 80's began. My IMDb rating: 8.0/10.
Glitzy, radiant musical sparkles in glamour and frivolity.
The stage musical- this is a genre that was common in the `MGM Golden Era' or the 40's and 50's. But as time went by, attitudes changed and people became more cynical and focused. And in the high-tech sceptical world of today, such a sunshine, happy smile utopia seems inappropriate. `Chicago' is unlikely to revive this dusty old genre, but it certainly is a welcome attempt. Based on the original Bob Fosse stage play, this plays out like a normal musical. While it is often considered as a `visually impressive' picture, the narrative that follows is a strong one.
Winning 6 Oscars at this year's Academy Awards, I'm surprised to say that this deserved all of its awards. The most attractive feature is the stylish production design and lavish cinematography that give the film a lot of glamour. But it has often been misinterpreted. While the characters are vapid and superficial, the underlying narrative is a much deeper one. The presence of grit has often been overlooked. `Chicago' is an adaptation of a popular musical, but also a bold satire on the shallowness of showbiz and the flaws of the law system.
The weakest point is probably the script. With song and dances taking place every 2-3 minutes, the script must just make up a few lines of dialogue that will signal a plot advance. I'm not a big fan of musicals, but this is thoroughly engaging throughout, right from the big bang of an opening. Perhaps that is because the narrative is bolstered by the visual beauty, but either way, it will have your attention. The feature is directed by newcomer Rob Marshall. He presents a unique blend of the styles of Bob Fosse (the traditional stage play) and Baz Luhrmann (bizarre costumes and numbers) but the amateurish characteristics show. While he does a fairly good job, the camerawork is flawed on occasions.
I have to admit I'm not a big fan of anyone in the cast. But most of them do a glossy, solid job. I think Melanie Griffith would have pulled off the part well, but Renee Zellwegger's ditzy interpretation of Roxie Hart is right on the mark. Yet compared to the heavy dramatics of Nicole and Julianne, the performance comes across as a little shallow. Richard Gere is simply perfect for the part of suave lawyer Billy Flynn. Easily the best performance on show goes to Catherine Zeta-Jones ice goddess, Velma Kelly. She simply makes for the perfect b*tch and was totally deserving of the Oscar. John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah are okay (though the latter is too young a choice) but easily upstaged by Zeta-Jones. The Oscar nom's they received certainly are questionable. The support ranges from the underused (Dominic West, Lucy Liu) to the totally miscast (Taye Diggs anyone?).
Perhaps it's the fact that I'm unfamiliar with the musical itself, but I was very impressed with `Chicago'. As a film, it was (slightly) better than `Gangs of New York', `Adaptation.' etc. but has often been misunderstood. If you like musicals, you'll love this. Even if you don't, there's a good chance that you'll take a shine to Chicago. Or if you just want some good glitzy fun, this is the film for you. My IMDb rating: 8.1/10.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Quirky, delightfully eccentric comedy from the Coen brothers.
Renowned for witty dialogue, quirky performances and bravura styles, the Coen brothers are among the most innovative filmmakers around. And `Raising Arizona' ranks as one of their best films to date. The plot is simple enough- a young couple steals baby when they can't have one of their own-- but it provides the chance for some hilarious situations. And while the running time is a narrow 94 minutes, plenty of laughs are to be had and the story develops quickly enough. `Raising Arizona' is the definitive cult classic. A mass following has compensated for little attention upon release.
The script is as sharp and witty as one would hope for, and you can tell that a lot of work has gone into it- smart, witty and comprehensive. The verbal wit is top-notch, but some of the best gags come from the `Cannonball Run' style visual wit. The demonic `Angel of Death' who kills all little creatures in the most bizarre fashion is hilarious, as are the riotous kids who bring new meaning to `rebellious'. But the funniest scene is definitely the grocery store hold-up sequence that escalates into a slapstick chase.
The performances are superbly comedic all round. Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter flews their comic talents as the white trash protagonists. Even the costume designs (Cage's hair especially) are hilarious to look at. Meanwhile, Coen regular John Goodman is tremendously funny as is his equally dim-witted brother played by William Forsythe. Even the small parts that go to Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand among others are funnier than expected.
One problem that can affect similar stories is that they can sometimes be a little thin. But `Raising Arizona' never wears out its welcome. It sticks to the set-up but brings in plenty of fresh sub-plots that brilliantly coincide with the main story. This is by far the best movie of 1987. While pictures like `The Last Emperor' and `Moonstruck' may have hogged the Oscars in an otherwise mediocre year, they didn't survive the test of time.
If you haven't yet seen `Raising Arizona', you should check it out because you're in for a treat. It works on a small-scale, but brilliantly improvises. Memorable one-liners, excellent humour and impeccable timing make for a classic of less-than-epic proportions. My IMDb rating: 7.9/10.
Tacky, outdated 80's dance flick falls flat in the test of time.
The dance flick- after the professional death of the musical, the `dance' genre took over in the late 70's with `Saturday Night Fever'. Of course the main problem with this new type of movie was the fact that the music would soon become outdated as times and attitudes went by. And `Flashdance' is the epitome of this doomed genre. Cheesy music, tacky clothes, big hair, fuzzy images- 80's enthusiasts only.
In fact the only times in which this is actually good is when Irene Cara's Oscar winning song swoops onto the soundtrack. So, a good 90% of `Flashdance' is absolute drivel. The limp narrative bumbles along and is weaker than one would have imagined. Perhaps it would have been a better picture had it focused on the protagonist and she alone. But too much attention is put on supporting characters and their boring stories.
Weak, unimaginative, thoroughly formulaic directing styles don't help matters either. To put it as bluntly as possible, there is little if anything good about this perceptibly low-budget film. The main character (Alex) isn't interesting or unusual enough to be worthy of anything more than a passive attention. Alex is nicely, though not brilliantly, portrayed by Jennifer Beals. The (then) 18-year-old actress shows talent but has completely wasted her potential on made-for TV movies ever since. Meanwhile, the unrecognisable supporting players, a who's who of `Where are they now?' are the cinematic equivalent of walking, talking clichés. I could go into depth about how mediocre they are, but I just couldn't be bothered.
If you have photosensitive epilepsy, I advise you to stay away from `Flashdance'. You will either have a seizure or you won't make it out alive. One scene carries on with gratuitous strobe lighting for what seems like 10 minutes. Even if you're not an epileptic, you should stay away. Of course it eventually dances its way to a feel-good end that was semi-parodied in that Geri Halliwell music video. It leaves a good-taste, but doesn't compensate for the unforgivable dross that proceeds.
A flat, shallow effort from everyone involved, the only saving grace is an above average turn from Jennifer Beals and Irene Cara's `What a Feeling'. I could go on for another while, but I'll summarise with this statement. `Flashdance' is a near dancing disaster. My IMDb rating: 3.8/10.
Offbeat, sourly quirky comedy of dazzling proportions.
After the success of `Being John Malkovich' Spike Jonze has followed up with another dazzlingly surreal, utterly original and sporadically baffling picture in the form of `Adaptation.'. I guess you could call Mr. Jonze a lite alternative to David Lynch. You have to hand it to directors and scriptwriters when they take the most original approach to the simplest subject. And from an overhead view, `Adaptation.' is one long in-joke from start to finish.
The plot takes on many turns, each as original as the next. It's part satire, part dynamic comedy, part Greek tragedy, part quirky drama, part psychological thriller, all weird. What an original concept- a scriptwriter tries to adapt book entirely about flowers while experiencing writers block, being annoyed by his twin brother, and falling for the author of the book who had an affair with `The Orchid Thief' of the title.
This is all tremendously symbolised on the front cover as we see Cage's head in the form of a flowerpot crashing to the ground. Like `Being John Malkovich', this is too surreal for all tastes and is too perplex for an average audience. Some will think it's too weird and completely miss the point. It's certainly an odd cinematic experience, but there are a few laughs along the way. Mind you, many of the in-jokes about script writing and the film industry will pass over the heads of most people.
The performances are exceptional all round from a talented cast. Nicholas Cage is exemplary in a double role as neurotic, world-weary Charlie Kaufman (who ironically wrote the script) and his fictitious dim-witted twin brother Donald. From what I've seen, he deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor. Meryl Streep delivers a deliciously frothy comic turn as real life novelist Susan Orlean, though the late in the game revelations don't justify her character. Chris Cooper (who won an Oscar for his part) gives such a convincing flamboyant turn as Orchid Thief John Laroche, it's hard to believe this is the same actor who was such a stereotype in `American Beauty'. Fine support is generated from Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton and Cara Seymour.
**SPOILERS** While the first two thirds build up to, what was hinted at as, a superb final third, the conclusion lacks all logic. The fact that they turned Orlean and Laroche into `the bad guys' really is a disappointment to an otherwise excellent movie. And when they killed off Donald and Laroche, things got even worse and surprisingly bleak. However, there are rumours circulating that that was all just part of the `script' and `the movie within the movie'. I sincerely hope so **SPOILERS END**.
But the film ends on an innovative note as we see flowers blooming in the background and hear the song `Happy Together' playing. In typically idiosyncratic fashion, the lyrics `Happy Together' are repeated as the background changes and the flowers die and re-bloom, but the song never reaches the chorus. This is another symbolisation for the fact that the Jonze/ Kaufman team always end a film on a delightfully surreal note. Wickedly entertaining, glintingly innovative and shockingly audacious, `Adaptation.' is a hoot. My IMDb rating: 7.6/10.
America's Sweethearts (2001)
Frothy, poignant romantic comedy with vast star-power.
`America's Sweethearts' must have cost a fortune to produce. Not that there were any illustrious costume designs or tricky visual effects, but the combined asking price of the four main stars, among others, must have been astronomical. Julia Roberts has the highest asking price in Hollywood at present, and John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal, Christopher Walken and, er, Seth Green aren't exactly famed for having low prices. But when all are together on screen, the result is unsurprisingly good. Though what is surprising, is that none of them try to hog the screen or steal the show for what part they have.
The script (co-written by Billy Crystal) is sharp and witty with the best jokes perfectly spread out. The overall effect is that of a likeable, enjoyable but not necessarily groundbreaking movie. While there is the occasional in-joke on Hollywood, this is too soft-centred and conventional to consider a satire. And it certainly isn't a film of `artistic depth' as the interpretation of Hollywood is skin-deep and shallow. But who cares about that? Especially when there are such talented leads on show.
Roberts, Cusack and Zeta-Jones give deliciously bubbly turns in the love triangle of bitchery (the latter greatly sending up her `shallow' reputation) though it's questionable why Julia Roberts is playing the `deep' one. Crystal is as funny as he'll ever be, though this is hardly his best performance to date. Seth Green (`Austin Powers', `Can't Hardly Wait') is also humorous as the nerdy assistant, though could have done with more screen-time. And there are wittily eccentric turns from Alan Arkin and Christopher Walken. The former does a brilliant riff on `Scientology' (though it was done better in `Bowfinger') and the latter is excellent as the reclusive, meticulous director. The real standout is Hank Azaria as bumbling, lispy Hector who clearly has the funniest character.
Joe Roth's directing is as average as one might suspect. But he gives the film an appropriately sour-spirited touch to avoid it being soppy and heart-warming. The narrative isn't bad either- blunt and to the point. Some scenes go on for a bit too long without laughter, but the closing moments are funny enough to make you forget about all that. The slapstick wit works perfectly well but the acerbic verbal wit is top-notch.
While it certainly is a nice way to pass an hour and a half, with all the talent on board, this had the potential to be groundbreaking. I prefer to think of it as a nicely wrapped bundle of laughs, as opposed to a mediocre movie from a cast to die for. My advice is to go in with low expectations and you won't be dissapointed. My IMDb rating: 6.9/10.
Eloquent, voluble sci-fi with stunning fight sequences.
`Gattaca' meets `Logan's Run' in what can hardly be described as a rip-off of `The Matrix'. On the surface, this bares resemblance- cold, sterile future with Keanu Reeves lookalikes in huge overcoats. But the plot itself contains none of the rag-tag gung-ho plot points present in `The Matrix' movies. An intriguing science fiction movie, `Equilibrium' is an entertaining B movie with the credentials of an A-list blockbuster.
Pretty much ignored upon initial release, average fare at the box-office and hit-and-miss reviews from the critics certainly didn't help, but said film has found favour here on the IMDb, receiving an eye-raising score of 7.8. `Equilibrium' (great title by the way) is best when not taken seriously. The emotional hokum is surprisingly convincing, but the fight sequences are where the film really hits a home run. Made sporadic enough to value, instead of thrown in at every possible turn, the carefully choreographed manoeuvring is snappily executed.
The movie has been compared to `The Matrix Reloaded' on many occasions. I can honestly say that `Equilibrium' is, by far, the better picture. `Reloaded' was just so vapid and superficial- clunky dialogue, painstakingly boring fight scenes, distressingly fallacious love sub-plots and over-length were just some of the flaws. This, however, has an intelligent core that is hidden under the cold, sterile surrounding surface; but doesn't go un-noticed.
I'm not saying that the film is flawless in any sense. Supporting characters are undeveloped and the `past the gloss' effect is a bit slow to get going. But the implausibility of it all is a huge factor that pushes things down. The mere thought that the authorities would leave us void of our five senses is too unlikely to contemplate. But as a popcorn sci-fi, this isn't to be taken seriously.
Technical credits are top notch with authentic costumes, cinematography and art direction, though they shouldn't have used a fictitious city. The directing techniques are appropriately artificial and un-stylised. Daring is the fact that it doesn't rely heavily on visual and sound effects in exchange for intellect. The script is well created standard fare.
As far as acting goes, this is Christian Bale's show. He delivers a good performance as the un-charismatic hero (or cleric) of the bunch. As the un-trustworthy `by the books' counterpart, Taye Diggs is upstaged by Bale in every possible way. You'd think that Emily Watson had gone past the `flat female lead' role by now. Think again. She does a good job of her part, but is capable of a better (that is more challenging) part. As I said, support is under-developed and those characters played by Sean Bean, Sean Pertwee, William Fichtner and Angus MacFadyen simply aren't used enough.
All in all, this is a glossy, purposeful and enjoyable sci-fi flick. The intelligent narrative makes for a welcome change from `brainless' action movies in every sense of the word. It probably won't light up box-office records or go down in history for any particular reason, but if you want a good futuristic drama/ thriller, you won't go far wrong with `Equilibrium'. My IMDb rating: 6.4/10.
Creative, unique experiment in audacious, bravura filmmaking.
`Time Code' is the first film to use the method of split-screen quadrants where four stories, done in real time, unfold onto the screen. And an audacious, refined experience it is. This technique was going to be hit-and-miss. With four stories, you can only watch one at a time, and by focusing on one you may miss some key elements in another story. All are loosely intertwined, some more interesting than others. There is no digital grading/ authentication done to the images, so the film looks perfectly realistic.
The sound is emphasised on one of the screens at a time, though sometimes it is hard to differentiate which one. While the stories are perfectly watchable, they aren't invigorating or compelling and are only worthy of a passive attention. The narrative is strong and continued in a series of earthquakes that would rank about a 4 on the Richter scale. This is the first occasion in which I can honestly say that characters get plenty of screen-time (in fact they are in every scene), but barely develop.
Case in point is Saffron Burrows whose character is barely ever emphasised upon and we are offered pretty much no guidance as to what's going on in her story. Jeanne Tripplehorn's part is pretty much wasted as 95% of her screen-time is wasted on her simply sitting in her limo, barely even talking. She shows her true colours in the end, but these revelations are made too late in the game to be indispensable. In the third quadrant, there are many big names such as Holly Hunter, Salma Hayek, Julian Sands (`Leaving Las Vegas', `Naked Lunch), Stellan Skargaard (`The Glass House') and Kyle McLachlan. There are solid, subtle performances all round from the ensemble, but the characters themselves are poorly written.
Still though, Mike Figgis' avant-garde risque direction is suitably original and proves to be a talent to look out for in the future. While it is an accurate portrayal of high-class Los Angeles, there is an over-emphasis on drug use and lesbianism that compromises the originality of it all. `Time Code' must have been a step away from `impossible' to film. As there were no edits and stories took place in real time as they interwove, there's no telling how many takes they had to execute.
If one actor were to forget their line after about 90 minutes, everything would have to start all over again from the top. It's a surprise that the film even finished shooting, but they pulled it off and that deserves admiration. The movie ends on a sourly climactic moment that may leave a bad taste, but seems perfectly in keeping with Figgis' bravura tone. If you haven't yet seen `Time Code' it's best you know the gist of the plot and sub-plots before watching it, or you'll be absolutely lost from start to finish.
One of the most groundbreaking, though not spectacular, movies in recent year, `Time Code' proves to be an intelligent, admirable effort. While this experiment is unlikely to be attempted again, this is the first and undoubtedly the best of its kind. It definitely should have received attention on Oscar night. Curiously enough, the sound effects editing is the film's strongest point. My IMDb rating: 7.4/10.
Vapid, inept B-movie follows up to two A grade classics.
`The Terminator' (1984) and `T2: Judgement Day' (1991) and rightfully considered as classics. Absolute landmarks in cinematic history. And while there have been campaigns against making another Terminator movie, for the sake of preserving the franchise, they went ahead and made a third instalment anyway. Not only that, it turned out to be the most expensive movie of all time. And for a film that cost some 200 million dollars, this doesn't live up to the hype. Essentially, `T3' is a B movie unadulterated popcorn entertainment. Had it not been a sequel to the franchise, I might have a higher opinion of it. But it is an offence against sense to follow up to histrionic classics with `a B movie'.
I think that director Jonathan Mostow was just cowering in the background working with the excuse that it was a B movie, hoping that no one would make comparisons. Well guess what Mostow? They did. No James Cameron, no Linda Hamilton, no Edward Furlong, Michael Biehn, Robert Patrick. The only shred of hope keeping this alive is Arnold Schwarzanegger. And in fairness to Arnie, he does a good job of his character. But it seems as though he is written for laughs given a bunch of jokes to utter- some good, others desperate-and loses the menace and brilliance of his character in the predecessors.
Meanwhile, Nick Stahl gives the worst performance in the entire movie and is a very poor trade in for Edward Furlong. His lines aren't delivered with any believability, emotional scenes are incredibly flat and he simply ISN'T John Connor. Claire Danes on the other hand is a good trade in for Linda Hamilton (I can understand why she didn't want to be involved) and her relevance to the plot is believable. Kristanna Loken is absolutely terrible as the menace of the picture. Completely un-intimidating, instead of `Oh no! Look out' this is more a case of `Show us your boobs!' Also in there, Earl Boen jumps in just to say, `I'm here to explain why I'm still a cynic'.
The script is shallow and dull, conceived in the most immature style. Sarah Connor is written off in the most ridiculous fashion. `I know, let's give her a disease. Cancer? No, leukaemia!' Luckily, the film clocks in at about 102 minutes, so it's fast-paced enough not to bore. Special effects sequences are okay, but a huge waste of money when the finished product is this mediocre.
An insufficient effort that, quite frankly, should never have been made, this is a very poor follow-up. Below average in acting, directing etc. this falls wide of the mark. On its own level, the movie is okay. But comparisons are inevitable and the expensive but brainless `T3' pales. Bottom line: die hard action fans, and those who see `The Terminator' franchise as infallible, only. My IMDb rating: 4.6/10.
Lacklustre, obtuse superhero movie disappoints and repels.
There's been a wave of revival for the old superhero genre in the past 2 years. We have been presented with exciting comic-strip adaptations such as `X-Men' and `Daredevil'. The fifth in line is `Hulk'. You may have noticed that they changed his name from `The Incredible Hulk' to just plain `Hulk'. I suppose the reason for that is because they didn't want the franchise to seem campy. And `campy' is certainly no way to describe the movie. Those expecting a `Batman Forever' style succession of cheesy jokes and stylish action will be disappointed.
For what lies ahead on screen is something that no one was hoping for or wanted in the first place. If you've seen the TV spots/ teaser trailers, you'll find that they portray it in a good vs. evil style, which is totally misleading. If the producers didn't want audiences to be disappointed, they should have been more truthful in the previews. This is different from most superhero movies, but not in a good way. The main problem is that it lacks the feel of a comic book film.
All is done in such a monotonous `what do we do now?' scientific way, that it's hard to believe this could be compared to `Spiderman', `X2' et al. Ang Lee utilises the split-screen technique to achieve a comic style look, but completely fails. The method was totally overused and not once did it remind me of a paper-ish look. It just seemed like Lee was showing off, using that which was completely irrelevant to begin with.
On the plus side, there are generally good performances all across the board. Aussie Eric Bana is perfectly cast as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk. Just as good is Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly who is inspired and substantial as counterpart Betty Ross. Nick Nolte is er, Nick Nolte. Not much he can do about that. And there is also generally good support from Josh Lucas and Sam Elliott. Most important is the CG work on the Hulk himself. Initial doubts that he would look unrealistic have departed. The model work/ conceptual art is solid and ultimately synthetic.
The real flaw here is the script. It lacks first view thrills, jump scenes and the overall effect is deadening and unexciting. Stylised action is put on hold for the most part; opting for psychobabble and poorly conceived emotional sequences. The pay-off is good, but with such a long wait it should have been better. At 138 minutes, there are plenty of `technical' scenes that could and should have been excised from the already lengthy script.
The weakest effort in the comic book revival yet, `The Hulk' shares very close resemblance to `King Kong'. Truly a great concept in search of a script to match. A stylish cover isn't matched up with a cold, sterile core. Far from a total disaster, it still should please those who are fans of the original comic. Nevertheless, this is lacklustre filmmaking and a rather bland effort from renowned director Ang Lee. My IMDb rating: 4.8/10.
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Dreary teen horror bumbles along to little avail.
It's hard to believe that `Jeepers Creepers' was produced by Oscar winner/directorial icon Francis Ford Coppolla. But it's not surprising that his name is presented in big block capital letters on the front cover of the video box. After all, there's nothing else on offer that anyone's ever heard of. As a producer, this is Coppolla's weakest effort. The genre of the teen horror movie is the least to receive critical acclaim. So, in fairness, `Jeepers Creepers' is not the worst of them (`Urban Legends: Final Cut' anyone?). But the `could-be-worse' factor is far from enough to recommend this.
Of course there is the occasional shred of originality to be found here and there. The protagonists of the movie are brother and sister, so the tedious sex appeal is down. The bogeyman itself has an original look but is woefully un-intimidating. Acting is fairly flat all round. Gina Phillips and Justin Long look the parts, but all they do is look bewildered and scream. The plot bumbles along in typically brainless fashion only to reach a bad ending. The thing is, it doesn't reach a conclusion- it just stops. A story that can't be finished is one that never should have been attempted in the first place.
Teen horror movies aren't supposed to match up to `The Wizard of Oz', but there are better ones out there than this. If you've seen several, if not countless, others from this genre in the past, then give `Jeepers Creepers' a miss. It's not absolute drivel, but it's pretty damn close. Try slightly better ones like `Scream' or `I Know What You Did Last Summer' instead. My IMDb rating: 4.1/10.
Hilariously crude mockery/indulge on Hollywood.
You have to hand it to directors when they bite from the hand that feeds, especially when they do it in such a blunt way. Case in point: Robert Altman (The Player). And now avant-garde writer/director Kevin Smith does so with delightful relish. `Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back' is by far the funniest, though not the best, film I've seen in a while. The main characters- Jay & Silent Bob- have featured in all of Smith's movies to date. But the question is, can they carry the film by themselves? The answer is an enthusiastic yes.
While it is rib-ticklingly funny, `'Strike Back' is just laughing gas. In past efforts such as `Chasing Amy' and the ingenious `Dogma', there was a tremendous number of crude jokes, but also an emotional core that made it all worthwhile. On the contrary, this movie is done strictly for laughs which makes it good in some respects (no tedious love side plots) but overall doesn't make it match up to previous outings.
In fairness, the title is very misleading. With a name like `Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back', this sounds like some grotesque teen sex comedy starring Tara Reid. Instead, this is a very funny, though totally unrealistic, indulge on Hollywood. In order to view the film, you must have seen at least one of Kevin Smith's other movies in order to know what to expect. Plenty of racist/sexist jokes lurk within so this is not one for the easily offended. While some of the jokes are completely over-the-top, films don't come less serious than this.
Performances are all okay from a big cast, but the most memorable parts come from the range of cameos. The funniest is Chris Rock's notoriously racist director- Chaka Luther King. Other funny parts go to Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, James Van Der Beek, Wes Craven, Jason Biggs, Sean William Scott (going against type, but nonetheless hilarious) and of course Ben Affleck and Matt Damon superbly bickering about their career on the set of `Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season'. Several others seem out of place, the best example being Judd Nelson's unfunny police sheriff.
This certainly wouldn't win any awards (unless there's a trophy for bravery), but this is crude, rude and blunt entertainment at its best. If you're expecting an epic of cinematic proportions, then look the other way. But if you want some good pointless, superficial fun, then `Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back' is an inauspicious laugh riot. My IMDb rating: 6.6/10.
Cradle Will Rock (1999)
Artsy, elegant manifesto with fascinating sub-plots and details.
Based on the events that occurred in post Depression era New York in 1936, `The Cradle Will Rock' is a spectacular extravaganza of people, places, and most of all, cultures. Truly an exemplary take on the battle of radicals and corporates, art and politics when they could be united in a common bond. Thus, it is only suiting that such a film be directed by uber-liberalist Tim Robbins. This picture simply wouldn't have worked without him.
From an overhead point of view, this is the cinematic equivalent of a protest- a real bite on shady politics. But in actuality it is something far deeper, focusing on numerous interesting sub-plots and taking in everyone's point of view. The backdrop is the closing down of a theatrical play when it is accused of being communist. Throughout the 135 minutes, we take in all of the different `isms'- fascism, capitalism, communism, Nazism, Catholicism and Judaism. Not only does this require a passing knowledge on these people and events; one must have an interest in the proceedings to get the most out of it.
One reason why there have been some negative reviews is because people are confused as to why Diego Riviera, Margherreta Sarfatti etc. are in the story. I can explain. Rather like `Magnolia (which followed on totally dissimilar outlines), you have to read the sub-text. This is a movie about passion for art and music. Marc Blitzein, Hazel Huffman and Diego Riviera (and all connected) had a deep passion for their work that the authorities would soon destroy because of rules and regulations.
Interesting is the fact that all the characters are based on true life people, and Robbins has assembled a fine cast who give noteworthy performances all across the board. One of the hardest to portray has to be Orson Welles. It's a true fact that 21-year-olds from the 1930's look much older than those from the 90's. No one wanted to see James Van Der Beek/ Casper Van Dien in the role. Thus, Angus MacFadyen was a superb choice, portraying Welles as an egotistical, self-centred man. Equally impressive is Susan Sarandon (with an impeccable exotic accent) as a Jewish Fascist art dealer. She knows exactly what she's doing and highlights some of the best scenes. Other standouts include John Cusack's aristocratic Nelson Rockafeller and Cary Elwes' interpretation of flamboyant producer/ soon-to-be Oscar winner (`The Paper Chase'- 1973) John Houseman.
If there were a flaw, it would have to be the last 15-20 minutes. What, for the most part, is an illustrious, brilliant character study later dissipates into a shiny-smiley low glitz `Singin In the Rain' effort. Such a shame, because the film was doing so tremendously up until that point. Then of course, it is 135 minutes long so much of that final sequence could and should have been excised.
Nevertheless, if you can forgive that, you have a remarkable, audacious film on hand. `The Cradle Will Rock' truly is an overseen landmark in ensembles, biopics and interweaving. By far Robbins best movie yet, the sub-plots are equally impressive from Blitzstein's paranoid delusions to Constance La Grange's over-the-top characteristics. If you are in any way interested in fascism, communism etc. then don't miss this polished, spirited picture. My IMDb rating: 7.6/10.
Veronica Guerin (2003)
Harsh, relentless fact-based story given a rousing treatment.
Based on the true-life incidents of Irish reporter Veronica Geurin, this film is a gritty, disparate but continuously compelling take on what eventually led to her violent death. And this is one of the few movies to give an accurate impression of Irish natives, cultures, accents etc. This is also an update of 1999's `When the Sky Falls' starring Joan Allen in the Guerin part. Of course `Veronica Geurin' wouldn't have been made had it not been for the fact that they used fictitious names to protect identities in the former.
The blunt realism of it all is what makes it all the more believable and worthwhile. While on initial appearance this may look like Ireland's answer to `Erin Brockovich', the two films are polar opposite. One is a glamorised, feel-good story of a woman making one of the biggest lawsuits in history, while the other is a gritty, downbeat story of how dangerous journalistic work really is. The conclusion to the movie is pre-determined, so it's what builds up to that point is where the movie succeeds.
The Hollywood interpretation of the Irish has been completely flawed in the past. Films like `Ordinary Decent Criminal', `Evelyn' and `The General' gave out a totally unrealistic impression. But `Veronica Geurin' doesn't make a false move and gives a complete expose of what this country really is. Another huge positive is the sheer engagement of it all. Right from the shocking `didn't-know-it-was-the-ending' opening sequence you'll be hooked. Just too bad that the running time is a mere 96 minutes.
Despite being a slightly young choice (only 33), Cate Blanchett was an excellent choice for the title role. She gets the accent just right, physically looks like the title character, and is always convincing. It really is her show, so support is upstaged for the most part. That isn't to say that the supporting parts are bad in any way. Most characters aren't stereotypes and do well in what little role they have. The only exception being a totally irrelevant and inexplicable cameo from Colin Farrell. The part is very small, but it makes a huge difference and is the only scene in which you remember that you're watching a movie. Meanwhile, director Joel Schumacher has proved to have mastered every genre. Well, not so much mastered as much attempted. Let's just say that he is now officially forgiven for the atrocity that was the previous two Batman movies.
Overall, `Veronica Geurin' is a powerful, rousing fast-based story that leaves an unsurprisingly bad taste. But if you want a new-wave gritty thriller, then this is the film for you. You don't have to be aware of the incident to enjoy the movie, but it would help. My IMDb rating: 7.0/10.
Bleak, ominous gothic thriller spirals into mediocrity.
This is one of those films which gets a fair amount of publicity on cinematic release, but afterwards is never heard from again. I suppose the main reason is that there isn't much here that we haven't seen before. The concept of a demon passing from one person to another is fresh, but the execution is bland and dull. Very hard to engage the mind at first, once it grips it soon loses its way following on from one `it-wasn't-me' event to the next.
Shot in an eerie manner, it nonetheless doesn't utilise all of the potential it has and the overall effect is deadening. Creepy, but shallow underneath the surface. The direction is tense and deeply atmospheric but the script is lacklustre- a throwback of bits and pieces of other horror movies combined with the average clichés. The outcome is a neat idea in search of a smart script to boot. What's interesting is the fact that each cast member gets their chance to play a particular character- Azazel.
And with all this star-power on show, they do a good job of playing `the demon' along with the given characters. Charismatic leading man Denzel Washington is suitably cast as the protagonist and proves to have range, doing these simple roles and the tougher ones with equal va-va-voom. John Goodman is okay but greatly underused while the same applies to James Gandalfini who plays almost the exact same character. Donald Sutherland doesn't prove to have any range, doing the usual gruff routine that he does in nearly all of his movies. Embeth Davidtz is a talented and totally under-rated actress. She delivers a good performance and shows great potential for the future.
I could go on for a while about all the flaws of the film but there isn't much point. Far from the worst of its type, the only major problem is the fact that it is so unrewarding. It promises big and strongly requests that you stick with it to the end, but you'll be left wondering why they make evil seem like such a good thing.
The outlook keeps getting gloomier and gloomier until there is absolutely no hope of revival. Overall- not disastrous, but very little to recommend here. If you want a supernatural chiller, its worth consideration, but you should try `What Lies Beneath' or `The Sixth Sense' instead. My IMDb rating is just a 4.9/10.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Funky, hyper kinetic, ultra-cool satire on crime.
Often deemed as one of, if not the, best movie of the 1990's, Quentin Tarantino's deliberately humorous and violent satire on the sleazy underworld of Los Angeles certainly lives up to the hype. Often, similarly themed gangster movies can be slow in pace and boring in parts, but `Pulp Fiction' is delivered in such a slick, stylised manner that you won't notice the two and a half-hour running time pass by. The Oscar winning script is top-notch and brilliantly conceived. It's the jumping forward and back in time that makes the film work. Only at the end of the film do you realise in what order the events took place.
And the interweaving and overlapping comes in the form of three vignettes. They used the term `series' of vignettes so that it would sound like more than three. It would have been smarter had it one or two more episodes, but as it is, all works quite well. The first is arguably the best. What makes this one work is the close attention to detail and memorable scenes that occur. The second story, `The Gold Watch' is also quite good. This is shuffled in second when it's actually how the film closes.
And the third vignette, `The Bonnie Situation' is probably the funniest of the three. Also thrown in there is the café robbery involving `Pumpkin' and `Honeybunny'. The actors are given tremendous material to work with, but the huge ensemble cast is perfectly chosen and is probably the best since `Magnolia'.
The lead star, John Travolta (Oscar nominated for his part), is always perfectly believable and brilliantly styled as hit man Vincent. But the performance isn't developed enough to consider above support. Samuel L. Jackson excellently portrays his counterpart, bible-bashing hit man Jules. Also lurking in there is Uma Thurman's exceptional delivery as the enigmatic, sassy femme fatale. Surprising is the fact that Bruce Willis got the most screen time yet received the coveted `and' credit.
Along with this, there is plenty of star-power from a supporting cast that would make Robert Altman weep. Harvey Keitel, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Christopher Walken, Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth round up the cast and all give ideal, noteworthy performances. Quentin Tarantino also does a near flawless job in the director's chair, bring just the correct amount of style, grit and humour.
With quotable dialogue, memorable scenes and unforgettable characters `Pulp Fiction' is a near masterpiece. Working better in the more satirical moments, it probably isn't for the squeamish and definitely not for the easily offended. But if you want an offbeat, trendy ensemble thriller, then you won't go wrong with this. My IMDb rating: 8.5/10.
Dick Tracy (1990)
Sparking, volatile comic strip caper with colourful visuals.
`Dick Tracy' is a film that has divided audiences. There are those who think it is too over-the-top to comprehend, and those who regard it as a slick, colourful and enjoyable picture. I fall closer to the latter in terms of opinion. While it is far from realistic, it isn't a film to be taken seriously. The real beauty lies in the polished 2D set decoration that brilliantly resembles the cardboard cut-out look of the newspaper-strip comic. Well done to Oscar winning art director Richard Sylbert.
The exuberantly synthetic streets and glaring reflection of the roads are a beauty to gaze it. Also top-notch is the costume design. Suits and ties are given the appropriately bizarre coloured look, while the images of the gangsters are as grotesque as one could hope for. While it's easy to discard this off as a `technical' movie, there's enough diluted substance to satisfy all genuine expectations. The narrative isn't as limp as one might think. Sure, for the most part it is reduced to a series of stylised set-pieces, but this isn't supposed to be `Casablanca'. Rarely have superhero movies received so much of Uncle Oscar's attention. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards (winning three), surely this has broken a record. Sometimes engrossing, often very hammy, all is done with deliberate intentions.
Seldom has this genre received such a classy cast either. Warren Beauty produced, directed and starred in the picture. Quite the hat-trick, he does a great job on all accounts. Not only does he personify the image of Dick Tracy; he also perfectly balances the two elements that make this film work- charm and style. Hoo-haa; Al Pacino was Oscar nominated for his part as typically cheesy gangster- Big Boy Caprice. I have to admit, that's crossing the line (was the performance really worth the Academy's attention?) but he's not bad.
Madonna is appropriately slutty as exotic dancer Breathless Mahoney. As if this wasn't enough, all is bolstered by fine supporting turns from the likes of James Caan, William Forsythe and Glenne Headly. Also in there are `blink and you'll miss them' cameos from Kathy Bates, Estelle Parsons and Catherine O'Hara, as are eccentric parts for actors who just faded away over the years (Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, Paul Sorvino et al).
The script is appropriately done like one continuous comic strip with twists and tangents at every turn. Clearly, the film is not for all tastes. As I said, there are plenty that just won't see the point and believe it to be another triumph of style over substance. It was one of the first to do so- this war began in the late 80's/ early 90's in pictures such as `Wild At Heart' and `Total Recall'. In the end, style won. Not only that, it loses some momentum and collapses a tad in the final third.
Not to worry- the glittering sets and illustrious props overshadow all. When the cover's this pretty, who cares what's inside. Not saying that the film's hollow or anything. If you want some illustrious comic-strip mayhem, you can't go far wrong with `Dick Tracy'. My IMDb rating: 6.8/10.
Vain, mega-budget popcorn entertainment at its most exuberant.
I must admit that I have not yet seen the predecessor to `Full Throttle'. But I know that the reviews were very hit-and-miss. The action genre isn't always my favourite type of movie, but I do like the action-chick-flicks. `Tomb Raider' and `The Long Kiss Goodnight' are two such movies that spring to mind. And so continues the transition of the campy 70's TV show to the silver screen. In short, if you want a good action movie, then this is the film for you.
Not only that, it is actually quite funny for the most. You might think that the continual sexual innuendo/ double entendres would wear thin after a while, but they remain consistently funny (Boy, it was really pumping me out there. I'm gonna be wet for hours!). That said, this is humour at its cheesiest. Few films take themselves less seriously than this. While there are some sub-plots thrown in here and there, the film is really only a bit of gas. As an equation, this is style over substance, but that's not to say that it isn't a refreshing hour and a half.
And the movie generates most of its energy from the enthusiasm of the performances. The `Angels' are all on top-form and are perfectly suited to their roles. Their undercover scenes are quite funny too. Usually in these similarly themed movies, the villain is highly un-memorable. But Demi Moore's fallen `Angel' Madison Lee is one of the best villains in a while. She may be 40, but she is also super-sexy, convincing, and it's good to see her return to the big screen. The other baddie, played by Justin Theroux, is the exact stereotype I mentioned earlier. Matt LeBlanc (more like Matt lePlank) does his `Joey' routine again, but certainly doesn't prove to be any more than, er, Joey. Then there are good (if not irrelevant) cameos from Bruce Willis, Carrie Fisher and Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen. Bernie Mac (Ocean's Eleven) replaces Bill Murray's original Bosley role. I thought he was well suited for the part, but it doesn't make sense why a white man would have an all black family! The exact same applies to John Cleese as Lucy Liu's dad. He's funny, but why would an Englishman have an Asian daughter? The mind boggles.
Another good point is the soundtrack. It is filled with loads of cool songs that bring the film style and an upbeat sense of itself. The plot is certainly the weakest point. It forms a bare skeleton for the film to stick to. The story of a list of people using the Witness Protection Programme certainly isn't what `Charlie's Angels' will be remembered for. Action sequences and CG are expected to be perfect in today's high-tech world, thus, all visual points are well choreographed and conceived.
A good high-octane summer blockbuster, `Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle' is good guilty fun. It's not `The Godfather', but it isn't brainless and inept either. If you want good popcorn entertainment `Charlie's Angels' is worth a look. My IMDb rating: 6.9/10.