November Summary
















ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Mad Max
Sin City
The Killer
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
X2: X-Men United

Best: "The Lord of the Rings"....take your pick of which one.
Worst: "The Killer"—entertaining but still mindless.


AVANT-GARDE:
Funny Games
Hold Me While I'm Naked
L'Age d'Or

Best: "Funny Games"
Worst: "L'Age d'Or"


CLASSIC:
Carrie
Dracula
Earth
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
My Fair Lady
Notorious
Persona
Roman Holiday
Saturday Night Fever
She Done Him Wrong
Spring in a Small Town
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
The Bank Dick
The Great Escape
The Sting

Best: "Steamboat Bill, Jr."
Worst: "Earth"


COMEDY:
Frances Ha
When Harry Met Sally

Best: "When Harry Met Sally"


DOCUMENTARY:
Bridegroom
The House Is Black
The War Game

Best: "The House Is Black"


DRAMA:
12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Black Swan
Michael Clayton
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red
Three Colors: White
Trainspotting

Best: "12 Years a Slave"
Worst: "Michael Clayton"


KIDS:
The Little Mermaid

Best! It's not great, but it is fun.


SCIENCE FICTION:
The Man Who Fell to Earth

Worst! This movie is absolutely terrible.


When Harry Met Sally (1989) (R)
















For the casual movie goer, "When Harry Met Sally" is a movie wrapped around an infamous scene in which Meg Ryan fakes sexual climax in a crowded restaurant. To the critic snob, the film is playing off the success of Woody Allen films and holds nothing drastically original in it. The film appears, to the cynic, to be about how women cannot resist men and how they are too emotionally clingy. But to me, "When Harry Met Sally" is a movie about life and then love. It's about truth, it's about humor, and it's about romance...and it is stunning.
The unexpected turns the film has, the humorous bits—they are all seamlessly blended into perhaps one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made.
Harry Burns is going to New York...so is Sally Albright. Harry's girlfriend knows Sally and suggest that the two ride together from the University of Chicago to New York. It's a long drive and the two don't see eye-to-eye. Harry is a depressing character, he says he ponders about death hour after hour. He will start a book and then skip to the end to find out what happens just in case he dies before he gets to finish the novel. The dialogue between the two quickly turns to sex during a scrutiny of "Casablanca" (a note to any: please watch "Casablanca" before seeing this...it makes the film so much more enjoyable). Harry comments that Sally is a very attractive woman—she balks at this. She tells him that she will not, under any circumstances, sleep with him. After much arguing and back talking, she finally concedes that the two can be friends but no more. He tells her that men and women can never be friends...all the men want to sleep with all the women and that turns everything sour.
Infuriated by his bleak look on love and relationships, Sally wishes Harry good luck once they are in New York and she hopes to never see him again.
Five years later, the two bump into on an airplane. They are subtly different. Harry has settled down and married and Sally is in a new relationship—a fact that brings more snide comments from Harry.
They don't hit it off that well again and then it's another five year gone by. Sally has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and Harry has just gotten a divorce.
They meet again and this time they both have matured from the loss of their loves ones. They gripe to each other, complaining about how unfair life is and what jerks their ex's were.
They slowly become friends, friends that can talk about their love life and how their day went...they become girlfriends.
This is Rob Reiner at the top of his game. Each shot is filled with comedic precision and a great sense of purpose. There is not one dull moment in the film, and both stars shine with class.
This is the movie that made credible household names out of everyone involved. Reiner had previously made "This is Spinal Tap" and "The Princess Bride". He was well established as a cult director, but from this movie he would go on to make universally appealing movies like "Misery" and "A Few Good Men".
Billy Crystal would host the Oscars the next year for his first time...starting what almost become a tradition. Meg Ryan went on to star opposite Tom Hanks "Joe Versus the Volcano" and "Sleepless in Seattle" which would reunite her with the real star of "When Harry Met Sally"—Nora Ephron.
This woman crafted one of the best scripts in movie history. It's funny, fast-paced, and deeply human.
It's really interesting to think that the script for "Dead Poets Society" could beat out both this one the script for "sex, lies, and videotape", and "Do the Right Thing".
The most famous scene is funny—but the picture is so much more than that. I consider it to be a masterpiece...rarely appreciated like it should be. Perhaps it's Rob Reiner's finest film...and that's saying a lot.






Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Saturday Night Fever (1977) (R)
















If you go into "Saturday Night Fever" as I did—not knowing much about it—I'm sure you will be surprised. To many, it's the movie that reaffirmed the disco craze; to others, it's a film that boosted John Travolta's star-power name...but to me, the film is a crushing black oblivion of the teenaged years, lined with the sentimentality expected. It plays out more like something Scorsese would direct.
Tony Manero (Travolta) is at the top of his game. He's charming, good-looking, suave, and a killer dancer. What he doesn't realize is that he's wanting something more out of life. He will go to the club, 2001 Odyssey, and he'll dance until the sun comes up. He and his close-knit groups of buddies will cruise the streets looking for girls and booze.
"Saturday Night Fever" begins feeling like a dance movie—the point of the film would be that Tony and a partner (presumably the girl he will fall in love with) will dance in a competition and win five hundred dollars. If they don't win, please assume that they will learn some invaluable life lessons along the way. There are so many movies like this—"Strictly Ballroom", "Billy Elliot", and even "Silver Linings Playbook"—yet this is not what "Saturday Night Fever" is about. There is a great darkness to the film that never gets spoken about—death, rape, street violence—it's amazing that the only thing people remember from the film is Travolta strutting down the street to a Bee Gees' tune.
Tony loves to look good, he loves the attention. Girls follow him around, asking to wipe the sweat from his forehead, begging to be danced with. He's a super star of his own little world.
But then...he meets a different kind of girl.
Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) has done all of her growing up. She is spotted by Tony dancing at the club and he is instantly drawn to her. He follows around, ditches the girl he was dancing with, and tries to woo Stephanie with his smooth moves. Sadly, she is not amazed by his cockiness...which only irks Tony. Eventually, the two start hanging out and it's clear to see that Stephanie evokes some change within Tony. He starts realizing that he can be a mature adult, he can live on his own, he can be an independent soul without the world crushing him.
But still, there's the dancing...and then the violence.
"Saturday Night Fever" is filmed with a dance-like precision. It's well-timed, well-executed, but now and again it feels like the movie missed a step or two. I was not drawn in by the characters, I didn't understand what the obsession with Tony was, and I was completely and totally ready to write the film off. But the moments in the film that are good and really good. The ending scenes are full of terror, horror, and stifling fear.
Adding to the dark themes is the home-life surrounding Tony. His mother and father don't really get along and are always griping at him for something or another. His brother is a priest who then comes home and renounces his religion. This puts the family in a tailspin, but provides for some of the most compelling scenes in the film.
In a way, "Saturday Night Fever" is about growing up...yet the movie seems to be saying that true adulthood is something that is never attained. When do you fully become mature? When can you really be fully trusted? These questions may be depressing but I think they're refreshing to see and necessary to ask.
I didn't love "Saturday Night Fever"; but I was surprised by it. It's dark enough to be haunting; but, in the end, I found it too safe.







Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Trainspotting (1996) (R)
















A movie about betrayal, withdrawal, and—most of all—addiction, Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting" is a brutal movie about heroin uses. The movie balances between a comedy, drama, and horror film many times. The result is an entertaining, frightening, unapologetic work that seems to be one of the inspirations for Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream".
Drugs are common in movies, cocaine use can date back a long time; but in this time period cinema started seeing films that pulled back the facade of drug use. It was no longer a controllable affliction...it was now portrayed as a commanding personality that forced all who partook in it to obey its whims. To put it in perspective, look at how Tarantino handles drugs in "Pulp Fiction" and then look at how Boyle handles it in "Trainspottting". The difference is staggering, even though the films were only separated by two years. Of course, four years after Boyle's film would come Aronofsky's and Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"...then drug movie sub-genre would slowly die off. This isn't to say that there aren't drug movies still being made, just none have received the popular and critical acclaim like the films from the late 90s and early 2000s did.
And if we're talking about drugs—which, if we weren't, we are now—you can't have a conversation without talking about "Trainspotting". It's a vicious little piece, not hesitating from showing almost everything...which also adds to the controversy surrounding the movie.
You see needles penetrate skin, careless nudity, the process of getting heroin into the bodies, and the ramifications of taking the drug.
The main character is Renton (Ewan McGregor), a young man wanting to be rid of his addiction, yet looking for just the next fix. His whole life is revolving around his drug use. He has no job, no girlfriend, and no reason to stop him from plunging head into the deep wonders of drugs.
He likens a the highs and lows to sexual climaxes...except exponentially most potent. There is a slight Freudian style to the way the movie is shot.
The film is based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, concerning the doings of drug addicted friends.
True to its source material, Renton is surrounded by junkies and losers. They are his friends and cohorts...they understand what he's going through.
As Renton struggles with giving up his drugs and reclaiming his life, obstacle after obstacle is thrown at him to prevent him. It becomes a movie about survival.
For all intents and purposes "Trainspotting"is incredibly visual and disturbing in that way. There are babies whose heads turns around, "Exorcist"-style; a scene that involves a toilet; and many, many moments of shooting up.
"Trainspotting" contains burtal moments, funny moments, and all those in between.
It's hard to really connect with the picture because the emotions swing from high to low so quickly...but I think this is what makes the film great.
It's about life...as corny as that may sound; but life seen through the eyes of a heroin addict. Some moments are depressing, though seen filtered through humor...others are vice versa. Renton has to cope by using heroin....when tragedy strikes, it's the first thing he reaches for.
This film is pre-Anthony Dod Mantle. The cinematography is by Brian Tufano and it's perfectly Danny Boyle-esque.
The film is inherently sad, with a lining of happiness...it rings true of Boyle's newest film "Trance".
Whether it be the actions of teenager junkies, or the reckless habits of an adult madman..."Trainspotting" is shameless in what it shows. It's also much harder to watch than I remember it being.
The feud between McGregor and Boyle is infamous by now, yet it seemed to have happened post-filming. Whatever the reason was, it didn't impact the performances. The movie loves the thick accents and the rapid speaking...it borders on incoherent many times.
Still, any reference to drug movies would be incomplete without mentioning "Trainspotting" and when you witness the hypnotic and colorfully grimy world that Boyle creates, you understand why.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The Little Mermaid (1989) (G)
















The not-so-grim movie based on the too-grim-Grimm fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid" is a superbly animated and completely airy piece of work that demands little. It's a fun movie, but it does nothing to boost the spirits or let us know what real love looks like.
I feel like I keep extolling "To the Wonder" as a poet's version of what love really is—"The Little Mermaid" is certainly not trying to make a philosophical comment about love; but you have to compare how different movies handle the subject matter...it lets itself down, I'm afraid.
The movie begins under the sea where the mer-folk live in human-less harmony. Above the waves, a ship is traveling and on it is Prince Eric, the good-looking and nice boy with a heart of gold. Below him is Ariel, the gorgeous 16-year-old princess who'd rather trade her fins in for some...what are they called?....legs!
King Triton is a father who seems to love Ariel more than his other daughters. The mother (typical of Disney, wanting a fractured home) is not present...leading us to ask the question where mermen kill their mates.
Anyways, the movie's opening sees a gala where a small crab named Sebastian has made a musical number to showcase Ariel's broadway debut...seriously I'm not sure why this was such a big deal. So as the number starts, Ariel misses her cue and we cut to the young princess swimming out in the deep blue sea and having a grand adventure. She is accompanied by a young fish named Flounder (who, incidentally, is not a flounder). They traverse to a shipwreck where Ariel scans the damaged vessel for knickknacks that she takes back to her private collection. In order to better understand the human world, Ariel goes up to the surface to meet the seagull named Scuttle. This bird is just plain dumb and annoying.
Everything seems to be going okay before Ariel remembers that she has neglected her musical appearance. She returns to her father who becomes irate when he learns that Ariel has been on the surface...mer-people and humans aren't supposed to get along.
But Ariel is determined to see more of the surface world, so she follows a ship and peers inside—voila love at first sight. She sees Prince Eric and gets the hots for him, but his ships catches fire after it is struck by lightning in a storm and the vessel explodes. She brings Eric back to shore and waits there while he recovers, slipping away before he can see that she's a mermaid.
All this time she is being watched by the evil sea-witch Ursula, an octo-woman who is hell-bent on revenge against King Triton.
When Triton learns that Ariel has fallen in love with a human, he does what every sensible father who doesn't want his daughter to run away would do—he wrecks her room.
Ariel hears stories of Ursula and goes there to make a deal with the witch. Ursula offers her a bargain and she takes it; but the result of this deal will be harsher than Ariel could have ever expected.
"The Little Mermaid" has a likable protagonist who doesn't need saving, a love interest who isn't a complete air-head, and a villain who is completely believable and wonderfully creepy.
The songs are catch, the best numbers include "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Kiss the Girl", and "Under the Sea".
The voice acting is pretty perfect here and the cast includes Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll (as Ursula...amazing), Paddi Edwards, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, and Samuel E. Wright.
My biggest problem with the movie—besides the fact that its portrayal of love is staggeringly poor (then again, it's mermaids in love with humans...so they're not going for reality here)—is the sidekicks of the movie. Disney movies are fond of having comedic sidekicks and the fish, crab, and seagull that make up this one are not that great. Sebastian is fun...the other two got on my nerves.
Still, the father-daughter relationship is exaggerated but true and the film looks great. It's not my favorite, but it is entertaining and lovable.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Earth (1930)



















One would think that, simply based on the title ("Earth" or the original "Zemlya" depending on the level of snob you are), that Aleksandr Dovzhenko's silent poetic film would try to encompass life itself. One assumes too much. Instead of a Malickian look at all of humanity and history in a short film, we get rich and poor farmers and a reminder of a line from a Robert Frost poem—"good fences makes good neighbors".
For instead of being about life, death, love, heartache, and marriage; "Earth" is about life, death, industry, and insanity. 
The movie opens to a death scene, edited with shots of toddlers playing on blanket...aah, the circle of life—so much better when wildlife sang about it in Disney movies. Anyways, a man is dying, his inevitable passing is making the people around him reflective.
Shifting times—once the man is dead, we go into a industry drama. The poor farmers need some way of competing with the rich farmers so they decide to buy a tractor. When it gets to the village, everyone stands out and welcomes the sight of the machinery. It's like a celebration, until they realize that there's no water in the radiator so it won't run.
This is where it got confusing...or maybe it always way. Aleksandr Dovzhenko uses actors that look alike to convey his story. I couldn't tell who were the "rich" and who were the "poor" farmers. Also, there was the political undertone to the whole movie. The farmers needed permission for the tractor...or something? It was very muddied and that was helped out with the fact that the movie dragged. It's only an hour and change long...but it feels like an eternity.
Much like "Man with a Movie Camera" we see the process of a day in the life of the farmers. Their lives are bustling and they start using the tractor (so I guess they got permission for it.....maybe?). We see how the grain gets turned into bread through a very interesting and completely pointless montage.
The film seems to imply that the new technology has turned all men into criminals. A murder turns the small town into a hive of gossip and worry.
The ending images are quick striking—a woman, crazed with grief throwing herself against a wall, pleading for the return of her lover; a priest trying to make God strike down his enemy; and a mad mad seeking retribution, heckling a funeral. 
So in the end, what is "Earth" good for? It's an interesting piece, if only to show a snapshot of how times past were.
If you were trying to glean any entertainment from it...move on.







Score: 2 stars out of 4

My Fair Lady (1964)





















It would horribly easy to brush off "My Fair Lady" as a piece of fluff cinema, existing only to pacify viewing by bludgeoning them into submission with corny number after number—indeed, that's how much of how the film feels. The movie tells the story of a woman, rising from the slums to embrace her inner lady and claim true independence; but amidst the three-hour film is a lot of singing, dancing, and deliciously malicious one-liners. So yes, "My Fair Lady" is fluffy, but there is much more to it than that.
Take for example a song sang from one bachelor to another, which turns into blatant homo-eroticism. Then there's alluding to prostitution, obsessive stalking, women being the providers in a relationship (gasp!), and everything but the kitchen sink. It's a musical remarkably ahead of its time...yet still tip-toeing on the threshold of unbearably boring.
Perhaps the most famous trivia that captures the attention of those obsessed with Audrey Hepburn and the film itself is the infamous omission of Hepburn from the Oscars that year. The lead actress award would fall to Julie Andrews for "Mary Poppins"; but this glaring oversight has fans still furious.
The movie begins, cementing a common theme that holds throughout—the impoverished versus the rich and opulent. The rich snobs pay no attention to the gutter children, the beggars, or the common drunks. They stand in a small shelter while rain pours and hold their noses high.
Enter Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), a girl who sells flowers for a living. She's not well-spoken and completely adolescent in her interactions with other people. Eliza is paranoid and freaks out when she's told that there is a man writing down everything she says. Turns out that this man is a phonetics professor who is disgustingly entranced by her "vulgar" accent and the way she butchers the English language. This man is Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison)—the predecessor to Jack Donaghy.
Higgins is unashamedly vocal about his thoughts, completely misguided about people's perception of him, and in love with himself.
He makes an offhand comment that he could turn the flower girl into a proper lady in six months and it would fool even the most trained eye.
Hearing this, Eliza gets haunted by the idea of living a rich life. She tracks down professor Higgins and demands that he honor his word. The professor is so delighted by the show of unsophisticated manners and brash opinions that he whole-heartedly accepts the request. Eliza Doolittle will be made into a lady.
As far as leading ladies go, Hepburn is a safe choice—yet is exceedingly annoying in the first half of the movie. Her childish tantrums and whining are enough to make anyone sympathize with Higgins and the verbal barbs that never cease to flow from his mouth.
Once she starts becoming a lady, it gets exponentially more bearable.
Higgins has a metal tongue, his insults are such a guilty pleasure to here. Yet he may have bitten off more than he can chew with Eliza, who proves to him that she is more than an experiment...she is a lady.
"My Fair Lady" doesn't indulge in the 'typical' types of story lines for a musical. The lead character isn't full of grace, the lead man isn't a hero, and there is no clearly defined romance. It's adult in what it alludes to, perhaps drawing influences from "Tom Jones" which won best picture the year prior.
The style of the film is great, the sets are huge and impressive, and every scene takes long lengths to show off the costume designs and the make-up. It's a gaudy show...but not a mindless picture like "The Greatest Show on Earth".
I think the true star of the movie is Rex Harrison, who gained a well-deserved Oscar for his biting and sarcastic portrayal. He's magnificent in every scene he's in and completely convinces you of his character. He commands the camera.
Winner of a staggering eight Oscars, "My Fair Lady is a fun movie. What makes it enjoyable is that underneath the frills and the spectacle, the film actually has a mind and a heart.








Score: 3 out of 4 stars

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (PG-13)
















Peter Jackson closes off his adaptation series of Tolkien's fantasy books in astonishing fashion. So great and incalculable was the success of this film that it landed the movie eleven Oscars, tying for the most with "Titanic" and "Ben-Hur". It reopened the world's eyes for the third time to the land of fantasy, carving the way for other movies to make their mark, most notably "The Chronicles of Narnia" series and the TV show "Game of Thrones".
Courage and finality—these are at the center of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King". The movie begins as Sam and Frodo are still struggling to get to Mount Doom to rid Middle Earth of the ring forever.
True to the second film, the movie makes time jumps and leaps from character to character without hesitation. The editing for all movies is sensational because it splices battle scenes with soft dialogue sequences and there is not a beat missed.
We have to take a moment and acknowledge everything that went into this series—the costumes, the CGI, the sound editing, the film editing, the choreography, the set design, the cinematography, etc. etc.
Re-watching the series, I was reminded that Jackson was a big fan of horror...the influences are not hard to spot. I think the most notable likening would be to Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" for the shots that shift from protagonist to ghostly antagonist.
Indeed there is a deep spiritual undertone to the film, not just because the characters travel from the afterlife and back. It's a quest our heroes went on, a quest that they know they might not come back from.
Jackson swiftly introduces new characters, stays true to the books, and makes you empathize with the characters you grew to love.
Much of the entire trilogy is shot in a dream-scape like stupor. The vocals fade in and out, the camera bends at odd angles, and voice-over is used liberally. You would think that you were witnessing a Malick film from the amount of characters that speak in their own minds.
Yes, it's true that this movie gave a new meaning to nerd fandom; but what is often overlooked are the small moments of surreal beauty that punctuate the film: Frodo falling to his feet and being helped up by an ethereal elf that he is hallucinating; a two-sided conversation in one character; and the most strong loyalty imaginable.
In "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" we got the battle of Helms Deep, but in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" we get the battle of Minas Tirith and if anything Jackson outdoes himself.
It may seem like an easy win in hindsight—turning a classic book series into movies. But you try making three movies that total well past nine hours in length combined, stick them in a theater filled with people who have never seen anything like it before, and see how you fare for yourself.
The dark lord Sauron now preys on the men of Gondor. The company must flee to them in order to better protect man. Elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, and men all meet once again...this time the results will be final.
For the last time, Elijah Wood and company gives stellar performances. For the last time, Andy Serkis amazes as Gollum. For the last time, we see the fade out on Middle Earth...this is where Jackson should have stopped.
Fantasy, in this trilogy at least, belongs to Peter Jackson. This is the man whose film feature debut was "Bad Taste" about aliens that eat people.
He was most known for a movie called "Heavenly Creatures" before "The Lord of the Rings"—but he became in instant success and a household name post-Tolkien.
His trilogy is immaculate, staggering, and epic.
I consider it to be one of the best trilogies ever made. The three movies comprised give such a vibrant meaning to literature and—though I be criticized for doing so—I think Tolkien may have been happy to see them completed in such inspiring fashion.







Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


















If "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" peeked behind the curtain of fantasy, its sequel reaffirmed that fantasy was something not to trifle with...an unexpected power.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" picks up, almost seamlessly, right where the first one stopped. There are jumps in time, backtracking, and memories that remind the viewer of how the first movie concluded. Then, we are dropped in on Sam and Frodo as they are desperately trying to get to Mount Doom so they can throw the ring into the fires and be rid of evil forever.
The land of Middle Earth is under siege, a massacre seems inevitable with Saruman and Sauron's forces growing by thousands every day.
Men are the target of the evil lord's wrath and greed. He wishes to control all of Middle Earth, and that means wiping out the last allegiances of elves, dwarves, and men. We are told of a land known as Rohan, ruled by a kind whose mind is manipulated. He sits idly by as his kingdom is slowly overthrown by orcs and the newest breeds of man-killers.
Unlike the first film, which followed the single group around—"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" sees the nine split up into many groups and we have each of them vying for our attention.
Frodo and Sam are trying to get the ring to Mordor, Merry and Pippin are trying to escape, and the trio of orc hunters are trying to track them down.
The first movie was about loss of innocence, realizing that the world is much bigger than you are and having to find your own way. This movie is about hope versus despair. By all accounts, the road to Mordor seems filled with death. Obstacles jump out of the rocks, the sand, and the air. Every step taken forward sees another taken backward.
Yet "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is also about temptation and resilience. Once again, I am reminded of how amazing a villain the ring is. It rarely talks, only 'speaking' in whispers, it cannot move independently of its host, and for all intents and purposes is useless. But the viewer is forced to believe that the trinket has a soul, an evil soul. We believe in the ring—that is an astonishing achievement.
I also took notice of Elijah Wood again, because I think he performs a drastically underrated role one more time. He carries the trilogy, if it weren't for him it would crash and burn.
The movie, as with the first one, has a sensational cast and a smashing budget.
These films are iconic, not only for the stories they tell, but for the influence they had on pop culture. Everyone has seen these films, it's almost impossible to find someone who hasn't. The lines are repeated often, the films are classic, yet the biggest thing to come from this film is Andy Serkis' undeniable talent.
Featured only briefly in the first installment, Serkis brings vim and vigor to Gollum, the creature from the mountains who, at one time, held the ring. The technology used to bring the creature to the screen was state of the art and still looks pretty good; yet beneath all the lights and sets there is a performance there.
Serkis would later work with Jackson again on "King Kong" and reprise the monkey status with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"; but it all started here. His voice acting talents were finally recognized and his physicality surprised many. This man had to play a creature bound to the ring, dependent on all its movements...a creature with two minds. There is no MPD here, Serkis makes you believe in both sides of the creature. It's quite impressive to see.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" also sees the battle of Helms Deep, one of the most famous fantasy battles made, reintroducing the idea of war violence for the sake of entertainment. "Braveheart" did it, but Jackson perfected it.
Through the darkness, there is light. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" improved upon the first movie, cemented Jackson's instant success, and upped the bar once more for any film that would follow it.









Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) (PG-13)




















The road wasn't easy for Peter Jackson to turn Tolkien's classic novel series The Lord of the Rings into movies. To condense the words into visuals, to omit characters, to run the risk of being rejected—it must have been thrilling to start shooting. But everything came together in a magnificent way and when "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was first released there was the same genuine reaction all around—jaw on the floor.
Barreling into fantasy (a genre that it usually steered away from with hesitancy, lest movies be thought of as lesser or mindless crowd pleasers) with a vigor that no one could have expected "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy begins with an unprecedented and unequaled prologue accompanied by Cate Blanchett's airy voice.
It began with the forging of the rings...
We are dropped in on Middle Earth, a place inhabited with wizards, hobbits, wraiths, sorcerers, elves, goblins, orcs, and dwarves. In an effort to bind all the races and species together in horrid servitude, the dark lord Sauron crafted a ring and poured his hatred and his pure evil into it. The ring became so powerful that it commanded the creatures of Middle Earth to its will; but there were some that resisted the change. A few lonely survivors tried to fight the power of the ring and soon a man crippled Sauron's power by taking this ring. But this ring should never be viewed as any ordinary trinket. It has a mind of its own, a will that is tied to its master's soul.
Because the ring has the unbreakable connection with Sauron, part of him lives on and decades later...he is assembling an army.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" begins as thus, letting the viewer see the impeding doom and showing them the power of the ring.
The ring found its way to a hobbit's hole—Bilbo Baggins has the ring. It has given him an unnaturally long life and erased all signs of longevity from his face. But the evil and sick power infested within the jewelry is far more for a simple hobbit to hold on to...slowly, surely, it is corrupting Bilbo.
So as he sets out for a last leg of an adventure before his inevitable death, he leaves the ring—after much persuading from a wizard named Gandalf—to his nephew Frodo.
After some time in an ancient library, Gandalf confirms that the ring is indeed the ring of power...it has to be destroyed. Sauron's now lives as a single eyeball, hanging from a tower, great and fiery—his influence lives on as well.
Frodo and companions Sam, Pippin, and Merry set out to meet with Gandalf at the borders of the Shire to form a plan..but the agents of evil are already on their trail.
They must form a fellowship of nine to trek deep into the boundaries of evil to throw the ring into the volcano where it was forged and forever destroy its evil power.
The critics of "The Lord of the Rings" franchise bring up an interesting point: there are too many characters and too many similar names. Indeed, this is true. But Peter Jackson assumes that the viewer will have some knowledge of Middle Earth before entering into it...perhaps this is erroneous; but it works remarkably well.
There is much to say about "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and not enough space to say it all.
The film gathers an incredible ensemble cast: the credits go far beyond extraordinary. The effects, which now start to seem jaded, were revolutionary. But I think the most incredible thing to come from the franchise is Elijah Wood...let me elaborate. His role as Frodo is too underrated. When all three movies are finished, the one thing that carries them is Wood's performance. If it had been anyone else, or any different, the films would have collapsed.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is about a loss of innocence. The gates of adolescence being shut behind...becoming an adult in a world that wants to kill you. The film is also a quest and at this, it ranks with the biggest epics ever made.
A huge budgeted film, whose influence spread way too far to even be measured. From "my precious" to the re-introduction to the genre, to launching careers into stardom..."The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is truly a great movie and it begins one of the most powerful trilogies ever made.








Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Bridegroom (2013) (R)


















Even though it was a limited release and shot on almost no budget, starting out as a Youtube viral video, "Bridegroom" has become one of the most talked about documentaries of the year...why is that? It could be because of the narrative tone—the mournful, weeping style that the movie sometimes overindulges in. It could be the fact that a current political issue is tackled without hesitancy and a completely biased opinion is given without shame (perhaps justifiably so). But I think the real reason that "Bridegroom" is a success is because of the connection it makes with its viewer. It's not a perfect film, far from it in fact. It feels like an amateur work, carried out by friends and family...and for that, it is great. It doesn't need the big-budget feel, it doesn't need the huge orchestras, the intimate feeling that the movie generates is encapsulating...to the point of being hypnotic. And yes, it is tragic.
The movie tells the story of two men who were in love. Both came from a small town setting where being gay was not a thing to be proud of. Both of them moved to California...their names were Shane and Tom.
The film's opening, which is a pretty clumsy prologue lets us know what's coming later on in the story—on a sunset evening in 2011, a man fell off a four-story roof to his death below. What he left behind were memories and heart-ache...this was Tom.
We get backstory of Tom and Shane, which will lead up to the death. Most of it concerns Shane, since he is the surviving of the two. In this regard, "Bridegroom" could be seen as a love letter from Shane to Tom, because of how it begins and how it ends.
Shane was a troubled child. He tells us his own struggle of coming to grips with his sexuality, ironically involving the Tom Hanks movie "Philadelphia". When he was growing up, he was stuck inside a shell, blanketing all his emotions. Several times he would become suicidal and he often called 9-1-1 during severe panic attacks which would leave him breathless and gagging. When it came out to his cohorts that he was gay...the results were less than desirable. They bullied, teased, and harassed him.
So he moved to California.
Then there's Tom—the almost-all-American boy. He went to military school, was athletic, good-looking, and a person of infectious joy. Everyone loved Tom.
These two met and started a relationship. Tom saved Shane.
Then came the death.
"Bridegroom" could have felt like a rally for gay marriage, in fact that is the whole point of the film; but instead of pounding that idea into the viewer's head, the film is more about a painful loss and the results thereof than a political movement. The devastation that people have because of Tom's death is palpable and entirely grief-striken. It probably hit Shane the hardest.
Tom's family refused to acknowledge their son for a long time, but things were looking better before Tom's death. Yet as soon as he had passed, everything went back to "normal". Shane had no legal standing because the two weren't married, even though they had exchanged rings and pledged marriage to each other when it became legal. Tom's family came and took everything of Tom's away, leaving Shane missing a large part of his life.
This is where the marriage argument begins—if they were only married, the resulting chaos and tragedy could have been avoided. Shane was not invited to the funeral, wasn't mentioned during the burial process, and was cut off completely from Tom's family.
"Bridegroom" tells a story that is so filled with pain, that it's impossible to not watch it without tearing up. Parts of it feel overstated, some of it is awkward, but most of the film is surprisingly solid.
When the final frames are going by, the viewer questions themselves—if the most important person in your life died, how could you handle it?
Shane deserves respect for turning his mourning into something better. You don't have to agree with the film's politics to understand the misfortune.
Perhaps it's best said by a woman interviewed, who says offhandedly: "It's not a gay thing. It's not a straight thing. It's a human thing."
The beginner filmmaking feel the film has is due to director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. She has no directed many things, but her writing credentials are quite impressive. She has told that she was captured by the original viral video (entitled "IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU") and knew she needed to tell this story.
As depressing as the film is, there is a sliver of light that creeps in and reminds us, however cliche it might be, that life moves one...slowly and surely.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Frances Ha (2013) (R)
















More than just being a movie about a woman discovering her true, independent self, "Frances Ha"—the indie darling of the year—is a film about laughter, love, and (dare I say it) life.
The movie, directed by Noah Baumbach, is a insightful look into today's society and the average adult, struggling to make ends meet. Set in New York for the majority of the film and shot in a sleek black-and-white, what really holds the movie together is Greta Gerwig's star turning performance as more than the title character.
The film opens to two friends, the closest of buddies...what is referred to in the "Anne of Green Gables" movies (which my mom watches periodically) as "bosom friends". Their names are Frances and Sophie and they share everything. They live together, eat together, sleep together, and, most importantly, laugh together. Everything is fine with their lives at the movie's opening. Sophie is working at a book publishing company and Frances is chasing her dreams of being a modernist dancer with a company.
The humor of the film is apparent right from the beginning and is embodied in Frances' movements, statements, and personality. She describes her and Sophie as being the same person with different hair, also claiming that they are like an old lesbian couple, minus the intercourse.
The frankness of these two is refreshing to see, but not that original...but then again, it's not an original movie. There have been hundreds of films made about young adults trying to make their way in the world, trying to catch their dream and nail it down.
For the moment, everything seems fine—Frances is with her best friend, there isn't a care in the world, and all clouds have a silver lining.
Then her boyfriend asks her to move in with him; but she doesn't because she feels tied to Sophie. They have a connection and Frances fears what will happen if it breaks...but, of course, it will and it does.
Sophie moves in with another friends, leaving Frances alone...and this loneliness slowly creeps into every part of her life.
She's a single, 27 year-old dancer with no income and no friends. She was always in Sophie's circle, Sophie's friends liked her...now she is isolated. But she's a perky soul, a damaged person with a horrid self-consciousness who has a cheery exterior.
Reeling from the loss of Sophie like it was a death in the family, Frances stumbles around, wrestling with life. Her job starts to fall apart, she moves in with two guys who are living the "good life", and she becomes rather blue.
Why is it that so many comedies are rather tragic when you look at them objectively? I think it's the need to laugh at how pitiful and despicable our lives can be. It's either that reaction, or crying...and I think both would be appropriate. Woody Allen realizes this with his films, and in "Frances Ha" so do
Baumback and Gerwig.
Frances dances her way through borderline poverty, immaturity, and self-discovery. She was only half of a person before Sophie left...now she has to reinvent herself.
Sophie's not gone entirely, but she has become serious with her boyfriend and that throws Frances into a fit of jealously. She wishes to hear of every funny encounter, sad memory, and mediocre moment of Sophie's life...but she can't.
"Frances Ha" is about romance, friendship, and identity. It is smarter than the average movie; but is in no way a masterpiece. Though it is the popular title to pick of indie films of 2013, it's definitely not the best. It boggles my mind that this movie can see such critical acclaim while a movie like Shane Carruth's "Upsteam Color" fades into the background, though it is twice as challenging as anything I've seen made in the last decade.
Whatever you want to say about it, whether you criticize the seemingly unnecessary use of black-and-white (I would disagree here...I think it adds to the film) or whether you don't "get" the way that Frances acts—that's fine. Still, I would think that you're missing out on an emotional journey, a lighthearted comedy—it's a delightful and incredibly warming film. You shouldn't miss it.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The Great Escape (1963)

















This review contains SPOILERS!
For a movie known for its title, its big named actors, and its catchy tune; it's amazing how little actually happens in "The Great Escape".
Taking a page from David Lean type pictures ("epics", if you must confine them to a genre), "The Great Escape" loves the two sides to every confrontation. There's the prisoners versus the jailers, the Americans versus the British, and (at the very center) Steve McQueen versus Richard Attenborough.
First of all, "The Great Escape" is one of the cheeriest movies about WWII that you can find besides a comedy. It's not too heavy, the actually power of the movie is lost through the jaunty one-liners and the stiff-uppers lips.
A prison camp in Germany has become the housing for several flight risk prisoners. The man in charge here is positive that his lenient approach will make the prisoners feel more at home, therefore not try to escape as much; but one of the British officers assures him that this is not a possibility. These men have taken a vow to try to escape as many times as possible and if that is unattainable, to distract as much of the enemy's forces as they can.
The men are organized, like the prisoners from "The Bridge on the River Kwai". They follow strict orders and they are incredibly militant in their escape attempts. They are headed by Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), a suave man of intellect who will do whatever he must to escape.
He is opposed (though not in a combatant sense) by Hilts (Steve McQueen), the American who would love to escape and tries as many times as he can. He keeps getting sent to solitary confinement, which the Germans cheerily refer to as "The Cooler". Time after time, he runs out and gets brought back.
Bartlett and his men have decided that they should dig three tunnels—with the code names Tom, Dick, and Harry—in an orderly fashion. If one is discovered, the other two can be used.
So the men pretend to be happy in the prison camp and their ingenuity is shown here—the viewer's mind recalls the beginning statement, which told us that "The Great Escape" is based on a true story. Simple tasks demand much respect, like gathering wood or dumping dirt in the yard.
The problem with "The Great Escape" is that it's way too long. Much of the time is eaten up with scenes that reinforce the idea that it's really hard to get out of the camp. The men are smart, smarter than the Germans. Yet, in this respect, the film is also immature. It lets the head German officer be borderline anti-Hitler, a pragmatist who doesn't see the worth in killing innocents. It's hard to not dislike the guy, so the film also doesn't have a villain.
It's vwey stylish and filled with good performances; but there is nothing incredibly special here.
Steve McQueen, who gets top billing in the movie, is not the main character; the movie drags; and it's not an action film...so on every count, the movie is misleading.
What I do give the movie credit for, is the severity it carries. People's lives are actually treated with respect, and the final moments of the film may surprise you.
Yet, as the film comes to a close, I am left with two thoughts: "The Great Escape" is neither an escape, nor a great film.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

The War Game (1965)



















It's ironic that Peter Watkins' movie "The War Game" won the Oscar for best documentary, since the entire film is based on a premise...or rather, hypothesized. As the cold war raged on and the thoughts of thermal nuclear warfare were on everyone's mind, Watkins used some heavily influential creations to show what the next world war would look like.
This film is entirely plausible, and actually still remarkably relevant considering the nuclear comments that never seem to cease in the news. Yet even though the film is entirely made up and comprised of suppositions, there is an unshakable core which, at its most naked state, is frightening.
The movie begins with an explosion of facts—Watkins focuses the most on Russian's chance of attacking Britain and what consequences that would have. There would be massive evacuations, which would result in thousands upon millions of people sharing houses with not enough food or medical attention.
The film is short, running less than an hour; but Watkins manages to pack grisly images and haunting thoughts into every second of it. From a woman explaining to the camera that all the water her family has left is in a bathtub, slowly running out; to a re-creation (or would it be pre-creation?) of an apocalyptic fire storm accompanied with damaging winds—"The War Game" is a shockingly good movie.
Now this isn't to say that Watkins doesn't indulge himself too deeply. In fact, certain scenes drag on longer than they need to—the director is just insuring that the point of the film isn't missed by drilling it into his viewers' brains. It's condescending, yet completely forgivable.
There is a dark humor that is tacked onto the end of the film, at first it seems like something that would predate Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". This thought would continue as Watkins uses quotes from priests and preachers telling their congregation that nuclear war could be a good thing because bombs are our friends.
Retaliation is a point that is brought up. Watkins and his team ask people on the street if they would want to kill 2 million Russians if Russian first killed 2 million of them. Most people indignantly said yed. But some thought they might want to see justice done; but it probably isn't the wisest idea.
Shot in a stunning black-and-white; "The War Game" is sensational and dizzyingly brilliant. For such a simple premise to be turned into a film that transcends its genre and becomes simple "a war film" is a staggering achievement.
Watkins seems to draw a lot of his inspiration from Kubrick because several of the scenes in "The War Game" ring true to "Paths of Glory".
It's a movie about the time we live in and the time we left behind us. If anything, "The War Game" proves that the past haunts us...something that we are never rid of.








Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The Killer (1989) (R)

















As per usual of the typical "shoot-em-up" style of movie there are impossibilities that line up nicely one after the other. The massive carnage wipes away from one shot to the next, letting wave after wave of bad guys spill into rooms without tripping over the tens of bodies strewn about. The protagonist—ergo, 'the Killer'—isn't that bad, in fact he has a conscience and he only kills the 'bad people'. Lastly, the police figure has enough screws loose that he sympathizes with the killer and soon we see that they are the same person.
This is what you're going to get if you watch John Woo's action-meets-sentimental-whirl-and-hurl film "The Killer". Woo nicely takes several genres and sticks them in a blender and turns it on. What the result is, is a sometimes chunky, viscous film that is quite easy to digest at some moments...others feel like Woo accidentally dropped the spoon in the blender.
The movie begins with an acknowledgement...our main character is a mercenary. He is given the task of taking out a "bad" man in exchange for money. He does so at a night club where a woman sings a song that puts him under a spell. She must have noticed all the bullets ricocheting from the back room and does what any sensible woman would do—she goes and investigates. This little faux pas earns her borderline blindness and a damaged murderer with a guilty conscience who hangs around like a little puppy.
We are introduced to a cop, a man who prizes justice about legality. He doesn't mind a few dead bodies here and there...because if the sucker got what he deserved—all's well that ends well.
These two men's lives collide when the killer knocks off a politician that the officer is guarding during a public event. What ensues is a motorboat chase and a massive shootout on a beach. The officer gets the first glimpses inside the ooey-gooey heart of our exploding-head-bullet-shooting psychopath—while on the beach a little girl gets shot (of course not by 'the killer' but by one of the 'bad' men) and the killer just has to save her or else his conscience will eat away at him.
So he takes said injured girl to the hospital, being tailed by the cops all this time, and gets her the lifesaving medical attention she needs—cue piano music.
After he (duh) escapes from the cops, the officer makes the comment: "There's something heroic about him. He doesn't look like a killer". Ba-dum-dum.....important part.
The killer is a man who knows where everyone will be five seconds before they know. He can turn corners, shoot through walls, be incredibly perceptive, and still manage to be pulled in opposite directions as far as morality is concerned.
The killer is the man that Alex Jones fantasizes about.
Yet, with all its complicated layers of understanding the killer and the officer (who keep crossing paths and turning into each other), "The Killer" is a remarkably safe movie. It doesn't take the risk of making the killer a bad guy, who kills for money...no, that would be too risky to ask us to empathize with him. Instead, we get a very, very emotional man who occasionally shoots a gun.
Feeling indebted to the woman who lost her sight in the first scene, the killer returns and tries to make everything nice-nice with the girl. This girl is despicable and is only used as a plot device. She is a flat character who would look better off screen. She cries and gets shaken and Woo indulges in some heavy stereotypes.
But the movie is not remembered for its sentimentality and its subtle statements, urging the viewer to enjoy the notion that they too could kill someone if they needed to—instead, it's the action.
The bullets rain down from the heavens in this one, the cars explode like angry Rob Ford, and no body stops to question all the violence.
I'm not saying that these guys aren't incredibly amazing and well-trained...but I have a problem believing that they could evade the amount of men that they do and survive the amount of shrapnel that sinks beneath their skin.
For me, "The Killer" is entertaining but too full of holes.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Funny Games (1997) (Unrated)


















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Funny Games" is a curious movie—brutal and nasty. It urges the viewer to think, and think you do. My mind was racing, trying to keep up with the movie's levels of reality, the way it switches narratives, and how it seems to both justify and condemn the vulgar acts that are portrayed on screen.
The film comes from director Michael Haneke who, I would argue, is more known for his dramatic works; but here he creates a blend or horror, thriller, and commentary. "Funny Games" is—first of all—not funny at all. Many have deemed the film as an eccentric and satirical look at "torture porn" films. This is not what I see. It could be satirical, but in the loosest sense. "Funny Games" instead, plays out as a realistic, gritty, nasty little piece that hits you like a slap in the face.
We all hear about situations where there are innocent little families being taken captive by the bad guys. We all would like to think that we could outwit the villains...after all, they are the "bad guys"—how could they best us? Maybe that's just my own pride that thinks that, but I would like to assume that it's a universal feeling.
"Funny Games" demolishes that feeling...yet lets you keep thinking that way until the final frame which blazes amidst the punk/rock music blaring from the film.
The movie starts as a family of three are traveling to their lake house for a vacation. They stop and wave to the neighbors and ask for help getting their boat in the water.
A few minutes later, the neighbor shows up with a college aged boy and they help them out. Soon, as the wife is preparing dinner in the kitchen, another boy shows up asking for four eggs. He accidentally drops them and asks for four more, bumping the mobile phone into the sink while following the wife around. Now ticked off, the wife gives him the eggs and asks him to leave.
The family's German shepherd stops the boy, breaking the extra four eggs. He ducks back inside the house and now the other young man is there too. This duo is wrong from moment one. They help themselves to the lay of the house and get offended when asked to leave.
It becomes clear very quickly that things are going to go downhill. Golf clubs, knives, and pillow cases later the two boys make a bet with the family—in 12 hours, the family will be dead.
Let the games begin.
There is so much hope in "Funny Games"—it allows the viewer to really hope, to wish for a different circumstances...and then it denies them that.
Take for instance, the golf club. There is a pile of clubs in the corner. The bad guys have already given the dad a good whack on the leg and he is immobile the rest of the movie. There is no rush of adrenaline that helps him overcome his pain...he retches in agony. Yet you wish for someone to grab one of the clubs and defend themselves...they never do.
As the night wears on and the hours tick off, the pranks get crueler. We never really know why the two are doing the things they are...it could just be for kicks.
The young boy escapes in the night and the skinnier of the two tracks him down and brings him back. It's not what you wish for, because you think the boy will get loose...no, Haneke keeps you guessing and hoping.
The main bad guy, the skinnier one, breaks the fourth wall frequently. He refers to the movie in a way that crosses into Kaufman...yet staying very true to the feeling of the film.
Haneke likes long shots that feel stifling—here they are in rare form. It's a thrilling, chilling, and frustrating movie.
Yet what Haneke manages to do is give the viewer a huge slice of humility. There is a reverence that you step out of the film with and that is a rarity.
It's not a pleasant film; but I think that it's a necessary one. Keep this in mind, should you see "Funny Games"—it's the thought behind the film and not the actions that makes it great.







Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Mad Max (1979) (R)

















Set in the not too distant future, "Mad Max" employs a liberal amount of car chases and crazy psychopaths to ensure you get the point—don't. freakin'. mess. with. Mel. Gibson.
Naturally, the plot is much more sophisticated than that and the style verges on surrealist on more than one occasion; but that's what it all boils down to if you're looking in with a severely critical gaze. What you don't see then is the fact that "Mad Max" is a terrifically entertaining.
The movie begins with a riveting car chase between a crazy dude who calls himself Nightrider" and the law. These cops are super cool and not to be trifled with. They all wear leather, ride fast, and live dangerously. But this guy they are chasing has them topped on the insane factor by at least ten. So our title character is called in to stop the man...and he does...because he's the title character.
Max is played by Mel Gibson who turns in an average performance for an average character. Whether you like him or not, you can't deny that Gibson is extremely talented; but this isn't one of his stronger performances.
So Nightrider gets it right in the fender...and that's putting it nicely. To be more technical, there's not much of him left for an autopsy.
Enter a group of bikers, and you know their bad because of the screech-fest of violins accompanying their arrival and the fact that they're bikers. These men are hell-bent on revenge for Nightrider's death; but they don't really know who killed him. They seem more interested in hunting down one of the Max's co-officers, a man named Goose.
The biker rebel group is led by Supreme Crazy-Man, who calls himself "Toecutter".
Really? That's what you're going with?
Besides having a terrible name, Toecutter depends on the allegiance of his men who all seem way too happy to sign their life away to a lunatic. I'm harping on the insane thing, but that's because every person in "Mad Max" is pretty crazy.
For being not as creepy as he should have been "Mad Max" earns minus points for a bad villain—here the problem is clearly seen.
The movie doesn't have a great villain, doesn't have a great hero, and doesn't have a good plot. Essentially we are just given two characters who hate each other so that we can zoom from one epic chase scene to the next. The stunts are amazing and elevate the movie from "somewhat-entertaining-drivel" to "wow-that's-cool".
I liked how "Mad Max" looked, it was almost like "Brazil" in the way that it was unapologetic about its style and it seemed to tip over into a genre by itself on many occasions.
Most people view this film as a revenge movie; but I don't. It's not until nearly the end that Max goes on a rampage of revenge...the rest of the time is him trying to evade the coming onslaught of bikers and death—holding his family close, oblivious to the peril that faces him.
The motivations are weak, the acting is so-so.
But "Mad Max" gives way to incredible action. It's unadulterated and spine-tingling good.
There's not much to be said about the movie...it's a great lot of fun and—in the end—it's quite shallow.








Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Michael Clayton (2007) (R)


















Michael Clayton is a man whose life is on hold. He hangs in the balance, between titles, jobs, work, and family. It's impossible for him to grasp his identity because it's always shifting. He jumps from here to there and eventually, we get an overdone and sentimental version of "The Fugitive"...which was better with Harrison Ford.
The movie's beginning is absolutely terrific, is begins with quick edits, fast-paced music, and a great voiced over tantrum/narration given by a man whose clearly reached the edge of his sanity.
Enter Michael Clayton (George Clooney) the 'fixer' of a law firm who some times can get in far too deep. We never are given a crystal clear definition of what Michael does, but it's clear that whatever it is, it is slowly sapping his life force.
When an attorney goes completely crazy and strips down naked during a deposition, the lives of three will intertwine.
Michael is already accounted for, his unnecessary backstory and kid problems are brought into the picture. We have him being the best at his work—he always manages to find some loop hole or know some cop to squeeze whoever he needs out of a tight situation; but we also have his depressing family ties slowly dragging him down. Near the end of the film, we get a haunting shot riddled with symbolism that shows Michael slowly descending down an escalator to a lower level of a building, darker and more mysterious. Perhaps that's all the film is about, a man who is is trying to ward off the building pressures around him before it all swoops in and crushes him to death. Then again...I'm getting ahead of myself.
The second character is the naked attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). This man is a train wreck of a soul, an emotionally unstable, mentally unbalanced man teetering on the edge of complete psychosis. He has uncovered a large secret while dealing with an agricultural company...and this secret is worth killing for.
Lastly, we have Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton in an Oscar winning role), the head of the agriculture company and a ruthless woman with no moral code. She has a job to do and she will do it in whatever way she sees fit.
For a movie that is about the interaction of these characters, they rarely share any screen time with each other—always one step behind, one step ahead, and in search of the other. They each leave wakes that can be traced and each of them has a huge part of the story to tell.
But let's be honest, for a movie called "Michael Clayton" I found that I didn't give a hoot about the main character. The parts without Mr. Clayton on screen were far more interesting than those with him on it. George Clooney does a good job, because I feel like he was true to the script...and since the director and writer are the same person (Tony Gilroy) this would make sense.
There is a great doom in "Michael Clayton" that is impossible to escape. The title character is moody and flawed, and I would have preferred to see a shallow character who takes more risks. I would have liked more action, more suspense, less time spent with horses...and less of the incessant need for anti-climaxes. Because of the switches in points of view and the time jumps, there are only a few moments that create actual suspense...and in the moments that do, I find myself cheering for the villains.
It is incredibly well-made, well-acted, and well-directed; but I felt a disconnect from "Michael Clayton" and I can't understand why. Perhaps it was the "Drive"-like way it lengthened scenes, or the retribution that could be spotted a mile away—I think it all boils down to a character that I couldn't sympathize with because he was too darn damaged. It's the kind of movie that's been done better before and after.







Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)




















What starts out as satirical and bubbles down into a psycho-melodrama may just be the film that changed how women appear on screen forever. "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" is probably Russ Meyer's best known work, but certainly not his most controversial. Since he never shied away from being bold on the screen, "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" is actually one of his tamer movies in comparison.
The movie begins with a man's narration telling us that females are weird creatures that will kill a man any chance they get. They are unpredictable and not to be trusted...and they are everywhere. These crazy women could be secretaries, wives, or go-go dancers.
Thus begins the film.
We trail three go-go dancers as they wreck havoc across the American west. They drive fast cars, wear skimpy clothing, and find pleasure in killing men.
These three are led by a supreme macho female named Varla (Tura Satana), she easily fits into the typically male role as the ring leader of the crew of misfit girls.
Then there's Rosie (Haji), a girl who doesn't really have a point in the movie. She's Varla's right handed man (or woman). Then there's Billie (Lori Williams), the typical dumb blonde.
We are given no reason for why the three women are driving recklessly across the the country or why they seem to find sadistic pleasure in torturing other people...there are just doing it for the sake of doing it.
Their driving brings them to an open plain where Varla demands a game a chicken from the other two girls. She drives towards their two cars and they speed towards hers. Both of them pull away before a collision—cue Varla's maniacal laughter.
But then, a cute couple happens upon them and the two people try to make small conversation with the three stripper-killers. Varla does the talking, though perhaps she shouldn't because she seems to always provoke a confrontation or offend someone in some awful way.
She challenges the guy to a race around the track, one that she cheats at and wins. The girl of the couple, who is always seen screaming or crying, dressed only in a vulnerable bikini, gets her stopwatch taken from her by Varla. When her fiance comes to protect her, Varla kills him by karate chopping him to death...yet, it's really that simple.
Now on the run from the authorities who may never find the body of the man they just killed, the three take the screaming boyfriend-less dame in tow and head out for who knows where.
They make a pit-stop at a gas station and hear about an old chauvinistic cripple who happens to have a pile of money sitting around—the gossip is that this hefty sum is in cash. Naturally, this interests Varla and the foursome now head out to an old ranch where they hope to find the green.
On the ranch is a trio of weird—the crippled father who seems to be seeking revenge on all angelic, innocent women; a son whose muscles bulge from beneath his tight shirts, but is an abused and tormented soul with a mental handicap; and another son who seems to have his mind wrapped around things—he sees the world for what it is, not through a filter like his relatives.
This other son is the only sane character in the film, maybe with the exception of Rosie (but I just see her as an accessory and not her own character).
What is the film saying? Is it saying that men are women? Women are men? It is satire? Is it nothing?
There does seem to be a deeper meaning to "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"; but I don't really care what it is. The movie is entertaining enough to stand on its feet without analysis.
From the insanity, to the odd spurts of violence, "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" is a memorable movies if only for the over-the-top performances and the swingin' music.






Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Roman Holiday (1953)



















It might have seemed like a risky move for William Wyler to place an unknown actress at the center of a love-story/fairy tale movie that depended entirely on its two leads—but anyone can tell you that it paid off well. Wyler should be credited for finding and showcasing Audrey Hepburn's talent, making a film that would earn her an Oscar (her only one) and launch her career into mega-stardom.
The movie begins as a princess is making a tour of Europe. She is obviously bored by all the formalities that come with being a royal, so she does little things to make entertain herself. She stands on one foot and takes the other out of her heels, naturally this doesn't end well; but she has enough grace to save the situation.
But then, it all boils over and Princess Ann (Hepburn) decides to take a leave of absence. She runs away in the middle of the night in Rome, determined to experience life a little more before returning to strict schedules and dreaded severity. Yet there's a hitch in her plan, she was given a shot of sleeping medicine right before her midnight adventures which leaves her asleep on the side of the road, giving a terrific appearance of being smashed.
Enter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), a news reporter who's set to interview Princess Ann the next day before noon. He finds the drunken woman and doesn't recognize her as a person of importance. After much deliberating and arguing with a cab driver, he dumps her on his couch and lets her spend the night at his place.
The next morning turns into the next afternoon before Joe wakes up. As the clocks chime noon he awakes from his slumber and realizes his mistake. While he was sleeping, the royals have discovered of Ann's disappearance and they invent a story of illness and influenza. The newspapers all run the story that the princess is very ill and will clear her schedule for that day.
When Joe gets to his work, he tries to make up a story that quickly unravels. But then he sees a picture of the 'sick' princess and knows that he accidentally hit the jackpot.
He rushes home after promising his boss an exclusive interview with Princess Ann and finds her waking up, with a much clearer head.
There is a little tension at first, but then he takes her out for an 'average' day in Rome. All the time, she doesn't realize that he knows she is the princess; and that he's exploiting her circumstances.
If we're being brutally honest, "Roman Holiday" employs stilted dialogue, an impossible romance, and characters that feel flat.
Peck and Hepburn are likable enough and their chemistry is good; but I couldn't help feeling that their meeting could never take place—not necessarily because of the situation that occurs; but because neither of them act like their characters.
Bradley is a starving journalist who just wants to get back to America; and Ann is a rigid girl looking for a little fun. She doesn't flinch as she lights up a cigarette and chugs champagne...it seemed a little forced.
But the film looks great...so there's the visual appeal.
I've found that I really don't care for any of Wyler's pictures (the ones that I've seen). He seems to cheerful for my taste. His grittier and more realistic films, like "The Best Years of our Lives" come across very stereotypical and generally unpleasant.
"Roman Holiday" is sweet and harmless enough; but it is no masterpiece. It's reminiscent of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" which would be another big Aubrey Hepburn film. She's a good actress, Peck is a good actor; but "Roman Holiday" is not that great of a movie.
Still the ending was nice to see, because it strays so far from the "traditional" finale.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Sin City (2005) (R)
















Visually striking and stinking of faux noir, Robert Rodriquez with the help of Quentin Tarantino, made Frank Miller's graphic, graphic novels into a film. "Sin City" is about Basin City in an unknown state, in an unknown time. By the look of things, we are in the 20s or 30s, but that's subjective. It's entirely possible that the movie represents a society that has degraded from where we are in the 21st century—yet that is giving the movie more intelligence than it has.
"Sin City" has been called 'brilliant' and a 'masterpiece'; yet I find that the film is just entertainment with nothing past its face value.
Corruption, murder, prostitution, greed—it's like "Chinatown" except twice as gritty.
"Sin City" is shot in heavy digitalized black-and-white, with splashes of color thrown in for good luck and charm. I'll give it this, it certainly looks like a comic book, and for that it is commendable.
"Sin City" has three story arcs that rarely converge. The characters mingle from one arc to the other, but there is no real connection besides a bar where the three main characters end up.
The first story concerns a man named Marv (Mickey Rourke) , whose strength seems superhuman. He falls in love with a prostitute named Goldie (Jaime King), who is just using him for protection...a ploy that doesn't work out to well. After a night of passion and drinking, Marv wakes up to find that Goldie is dead and the police are barging in on him. He realizes immediately that he is being the fall guy for a crime much larger than this single act of murder. Hell-bent on finding the truth, he kills and tortures his way towards a knot of politicians and priests, tangled up in a horrible scandal. There's cannibalism, revenge, determination, and—naturally—a whole lot of murder. But underlying this is the incredible believability of Mickey Rourke as Marv. It's the best performance in the movie and it's also my favorite story arc.
Then there's Dwight (Clive Owen) a man who likes to stick his nose in other people's business. In love with more than one prostitute, Dwight ends up following and woman beater to Old Town—where all the prostitutes lives and chauvinism reigns supreme—getting embroiled with cops , robbers, and unexplained bad guys. Here is the weakest link of "Sin City" because it's completely unexplained. Why is Dwight following this guys around? Why does he help the ladies of the night? Why does he say that he never hits women and the backhands a woman in the next scene? Frankly, this middle section, which goes on far too long, is a hot mess.
Lastly, there's Hartigan (Bruce Willis), an ex-cop who got locked away for eight years for saving a girl's life. Hartigan saved a young girl from rape and murder, but in this town that's not an honorable thing...particularly when the potential rapist/murderer is an important politician's son. Hartigan always receives communication with Nancy via unclear letters she sends him every week in prison. Then, the letters stop and he has to get out and find what happened the girl that he's fallen in love with...yeah, it's kind of creepy. The fifty year difference between the two seems unimportant to their borderline pedophiliac love. It's a strong story line, but gets corrupted by the corruption...and the yellow dude.
But my largest qualm with the movie was how it treated women. It was certainly misogynistic, but they seemed to try to skip around the issue by having all the women be "strong women". Every single female character is a prostitute, minus one. The exception is a parole office who is also a lesbian; but don't worry because she's not clothed in a single scene. The hookers have guns and then defend Old Town with an iron fist and fuzzy pink handcuffs. It's 50 shades of stereotypical, placating to every man's fantasy. Yet, I appreciated how unashamedly they did all this...these "strong women" never had some redeeming quality, they were just hookers with guns. The movie went for its point with gusto, and even if you don't agree with it, you have to admire that.
"Sin City" is creepy and visceral, but ultimately sensationally entertaining.






Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Dracula (1931)





















The original bad daddy......maybe that's a bad way to start.
Though it's the most famous translation of Bram Stoker's novel, the Bela Legosi "Dracula" is not the first movie based on the work. Before this there was "Nosferatu" in 1922 and after it would come "Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night".
Yet everyone remembers Legosi pausing on the crumbling and somehow majestic staircase of his castle, listening to the wolves howling. He says: Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!"
This iconic line should have been clue number one for the poor bumbling fool to hightail his skinny behind out of there...alas, no such thing occurs.
"Dracula" begins much like "Nosferatu", minus all the back story of the realtor. There's a guy who is selling a plot of long to Count Dracula from Transylvania. Ignoring the advice of the villagers, he plods on through the night towards the eerie castle.
In the silent and the Herzog adaptations, we get a whole lot of backstory on this guy. He's leaving his virginal wife at home (who would later sacrifice herself for the villagers) and he is kept throughout the entire movie.
In "Dracula", this guy is just food. Quickly after his introduction to Count Dracula, he passes out after seeing a bat (what a stud!) and Dracula sucks him dry.
There is no rat bringing to London, though that is alluded to. In the other films Dracula was the cause of a widespread pollution.
Still, we gets shots of a boat suffering on the open sea against a ferocious storm. Also included is a crazy devotee who is so in love and inspired by Dracula that he eats small animals like flies and rats to mirror the vampire's habits.
"Dracula" explores vampire mythology more than either of the "Nosferatu" movies do. Vampires can change into the form of a wolf or a bat, they must slumber the day away in the soil that they were buried in, they can be killed with a wooden stake, they do not have a reflection, and they hate wolfsbane.
The story is slight in comparison with the other renditions of the book. Personally, I am most in favor of the 1922 silent version. The acting is melodramatic and the set pieces are quite stunning.
If this was going on looks alone, "Dracula" would be a home-run. Alas, we have side plots of men who want to be vampires, vampires turning women into vampires, and scientists who want to learn about vampires.
There is no real tension to the movie, you realize shortly into the film that everything is going to work out fine. Who doesn't love a happy ending? That would be me.
It would have been nice to see some carnage instead of those dreadful cut-aways and cheesy bats. Yes, I know it was early cinema and they did they best they could...frankly, I don't think that excuse is good enough. People have been making ground-breaking special effects well before this movie was made. Just look at "Wings" which appeared to blow up an entire village just for the sake of the movie.
There is no sacrifice to the movie—there is no grit...and I wanted a little bit more of both.







Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Notorious (1946)




















Hitchcock knows suspense. It's ofter quoted by most of film society that Hitchcock may not have invented the suspense genre, but he perfected it. When you see a film such as "Notorious" you can certainly understand why most everyone thinks that way.
"Notorious" is revolutionary in more than one way—it introduced an incredibly strong female lead, like Hitchcock's "Sabotage" did; it enveloped the espionage craze; and it nicely wrapped up the post-WWII feelings...now add Cary Grant and the great Ingrid Bergman, cook up some intense situations, and you have a incendiary film that still remains effective.
After her father is convicted of treason against the United States, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) decides to live a little larger. No longer does she care about who she sleeps with or how much she drinks. Who cares about prudence?...let's have fun.
At a party that she throws, she meets a mysterious man named Devlin (Cary Grant). This man is a secret agent that is here to convince Alicia to be a spy for America...but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.
On a speeding, drunken car ride, Alicia finds out about Devlin's identity and is not too happy about it. She thinks that he's only there to spy on her like all the media and to con her into prison with her father. Although her father is German, Alicia considers herself American and Devlin taps into those patriotic feeling and convinces Alicia to fly to Brazil to help Uncle Sam spy on some good-for-nothing Germans.
While in Rio, Alicia and Devlin start a casual affair. They are both mature, both adults, and both in need of companionship—logically they know that nothing can come from it...but emotionally it's clear that they're both invested.
The chemistry here is good, yet what Hitchcock chooses not to show is more powerful than what he actually displays. There are no long conversations filled with sexually charged dialogue, nor is there Hitchcock's usual Freudian eyes—instead, the few moments the two characters have with each other are almost meaningless...and this is the foundation that the film is built upon.
It feels more natural than many of Hitchcock's other films.
Then the assignment comes in and it doesn't sit well with Devlin. Alicia is to seduce an old friend of her father's in order to gain access to his house where intelligence thinks that there are covert meetings occurring.
The man's name is Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) and he is easily manipulated. Alicia is no fool, and she agrees to the job. Perhaps she sees the opportunity as redemption for her family name...though Sebastian sees it in reverse. She is working for the U.S. and he thinks that she's working for Germany.
To clear a few things up, the film isn't about nationality, though that is seen quite a bit in it. Instead, "Notorious" is about suspense and, at its most sentimental core, a love story that seems doomed.
Shot in black-and-white and filled with star-power, "Notorious" is a huge success. The camera work is sensational, as is the script by legendary screen writer Ben Hecht.
There are so many moments in "Notorious" that are filled with tension...it adds on to the misery that overcomes the picture from moment one.
Something about the way the film is directed gives an unnerving look at survival instincts and the minds of the predator and prey.
"Notorious" is a great movie, no doubt one of Hitchcock's best.








Score: 4 out of 4 stars