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Die Hard (1988)
The Plato/Beatles of Action Movies
Die Hard might as well be the only action film ever made. It encompasses and surpasses every action film that came before it, and every action film that came afterwards is little more than footnotes to it.
The peculiar sort of reality that Die Hard brings into existence so vividly and viscerally has been stretched, grown, shrunk, reflected, sped up, slowed down, and everything in between, but if you don't see the distinct footprint of Die Hard in everything from Men in Black to Brotherhood of the Wolf you just aren't looking hard enough.
Maybe, maybe Terminator 2 managed to carve itself out some territory with its alienating relentlessness and action-interpretation of the passage of generations, but inside the action movie genre, pretty much everything else that's familiar is in or from Die Hard.
It's a definite sign that this movie is essential to the culture and literature of film that it can be watched alongside any contemporary action movie without seeming muted or outdated, without seeming antiquated or technologically backward. If Die Hard hadn't done the set pieces it had done, and some contemporary movie came along and did them, they'd still be considered brilliant and fresh. Of course, if Die Hard hadn't done them, it is unlikely another action movie would have come along at all, and we'd still be stuck watching cops in suits squinting into the camera and the occasional spy movie or western to fulfill our action fix.
Thankfully, though, we have Die Hard, and if you have not seen it yet, and have ever enjoyed any action movie ever, you're pretty much obligated to see this movie, and you're almost certain to enjoy it.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The Matrix: Revolutions is a profoundly stupid movie. It competely disregards all of the questions, philosophical problems, and basic premises of the first two movies and devolves into a boring, wasteful exercise in franchise-killing. The title of this movie is the only thing that is going to keep it from the HBO at 3 AM sci-fi bargain bin, and even that might not be enough.
This movie is less to be understood as a Matrix film, and more to be understood as roughly on the par with the Carrie Ann-Moss flick "Red Planet." This is a movie in which people and robots have a series of nonsensical fights for unclear reasons in which characters you don't like or care about shoot things and blow things up. I'm as much of a fan of robots as the next guy (probably more), but Revolutions doesn't have nearly cool enough robots to justify its huge expense or ponderous pacing. You could have made this exact same movie with only a slight drop in quality for roughly one tenth of what was spent on it.
Keanu puts in a solid performance in this one, doing everything that is asked of him, even though most of those things are the result of either idiodic or inattentive writing. Still, this movie ranks slightly below _Johnny Mnemonic_ (the Ultimate Hard Drive) in terms of quality, with all of the sloppy cyberpunk wankery, but none of the wry humility or charm.
What is most surprising in this movie are the things that do not happen. No new characters are introduced. Not a single point in the movie is there depicted a person inside the Matrix who does not already know it is fake. There are no "bullet-time" special effects to speak of. There is no acknowledgement of the situation presented at the end of the second movie, let alone the situation presented at the end of the first movie (each of which, it should be noted, is entirely incompatible with the other). There are no Twins. There are no vampires or werewolves (which, as you may recall, were promised in the second movie). There is no resolution to any of the problems, nor remotely plausible answers to any of the questions. There are many Agent Smiths, but you never see them fight.
It is a movie in which the only thing that saves the incredibly stupid and useless protagonists are the marginally more stupid and useless robot hordes. Among other silly things, the humans build robot suits that offer very limited mobility and no protection to the wearer. The combat contraptions don't even have doors or windshields. And they don't give the poor pilot guy a helmet, either . These giant robot suits are perplexingly built, not to fire mounted heavy weapons, but to carry hand guns "gangster-style."
The only reason they have even a marginal level of success is because a malevolent artificial intelligence that can construct an entire artificial human world indistinguishable from the real can't figure out how to utilize complex "gun" or "bomb" technology, and instead arms all of his minions with tentacle-knives and instructs them to geometrically swarm like bees in a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. It turns out that "gangster-style" robot suit handguns work pretty well against an enemy that can fly around in large groups, but doesn't know enough to so much as drop a rock on your exposed and easily-crushed head. But well enough? You won't hear spoilers from me.
The previous two paragraphs, as well as an extended sequence in which a hovercraft flies in a straight line for twenty minutes, make up the middle 45 minutes of the movie. At least.
My God, this movie is stupid. I can only wonder what sort of terrible accident might have befallen the original concept for the Matrix Reloaded, because I cannot conceive of anybody sitting down at a table and thinking this particular sequence of moving images was worth making.
Unless, of course, this is an incredibly intelligent meta-movie, and that the tagline "Everything that has a beginning has an end" is a reference to a deleterious view of the progress of the human mind, moving from acuity and philosophical rigor to retirement, idleness, senility, and finally oblivion. Because this is a senile, oblivious movie. If "Everything that has a beginning has an end" is the final moral of the story, the movie is an incredible metafilmic success, because I cannot imagine a movie that would make a stronger case for there never ever being another Matrix movie ever again.
A Guy Thing (2003)
The Character Actor All-Star Game
Romantic comedies can really go either way, you know? You'll see one that's really sappy, and you'll think you want something more realistic. Then, you'll see one that's realistic, but it might be too dull to keep you interested. Or maybe you'll see one that does everything right, but just fails to make you smile. Romantic comedies are tough movies. You go into them with a lot of expectations, and usually, whether you like it is simply a matter of whether the filmmakes was anticipating your expectations or those of the guy or girl next to you.
Of course, if you've got a girl next to you, and you're a guy like me, it probably doesn't matter all that much whether the movie's any good, you've got other things on your mind. For you, I say, "Go get her, Tiger!" For the rest of us, I say, "See _A Guy Thing_." It's a lot of fun.
Because _A Guy Thing_ knows you're going in to this movie with expectations, so it doesn't pretend that its "Guy about to get married meets the woman of his dreams, and it's not his wife!" plot is going to make everyone happy. Sure, maybe you like it, but maybe it doesn't ring true, or you think it's cruel. _A Guy Thing_ covers that. What _A Guy Thing_ does is fill the screen with the best supporting cast I've seen in a long time, so if you don't the main plotline, you've still got something to make you smile.
Whether we're talking about the seasoned veterans of big and small screen, like Larry Miller (Pretty Woman, Best in Show), James Brolin (Traffic), Julie Hagerty (Airplane!), David Koechner (Saturday Night Live and Conan O'Brien regular, Dirty Work, Austin Powers II) or Thomas Lennon (The State and Viva Variety), or new faces like Shawn Hatosy (The Faculty), or Colin Foo (Saving Silverman), we're talking about a bunch of very talented and skilled actors who know exactly how to take advantage of the film's inspired characterisation, steal the show, time after time, and still frame the piece with an energy and a joy rarely seen in romantic comedies these days.
And that's not to detract from the actual romantic throughline and the stars that carry it along, because it's very sweet and terribly well done. Jason Lee (Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc.) is touching as the young professional whose life may be spinning out of control, and Selma Blair shows an understated brilliance in portraying the aspiring socialite and sophisticated career woman every guy wants to marry except for the guy who actually is.
A lot of the success of the movie, though, falls on Julia Stiles, the right girl in the right place at the wrong time, and she wears it well. Not since, gosh, I don't know when, have I seen an actress in a romantic comedy that has made falling in love with her so easy. Of course, it's all in the closeups, the voice, and the subtle smiles, but it's magical, and it's one of the big reasons why we go to the movies in the first place.
But Julie Stiles's slightly offbeat sophistication would be lost were it not for the fact that the rest of the cast is so incredibly dead-on in their classic simplicity. This is a movie that paints a broken world of irreconcilable stock types, makes them fall over each other to make you laugh, and then comes through with a great deal of heart.
A Guy Thing is a movie you've definitely seen before, and the filmmakers clearly knew that when they set down to make it. We haven't really seen any new romantic comedies since Shakespeare; the relative success of this one or that one is entirely dependent upon the execution of the classic story of boy meets girl. A Guy Thing does embrace that with a bit of a metacinematic edge, often taking the scenes into the absurd in order to give the audience a chance to acknowledge the powerful emotions and ancient plot devices at play.
For the record, it also even manages to poke fun at the rather traditional structural notions of sex and gender that form the center of every romantic comedy, so even the feminists out there might get a kick out of it.
And guys, I think we can all agree that we wish our friends are as cool as Jason Lee's friends in this movie. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but when you try to explain to your girlfriend why the pharmacist and the clothing store clerk are among the coolest dudes in cinema, I suggest you just say "It's a Guy Thing," and leave it at that.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)
Corelli on Cruise Control
Several people I know were really excited to see this movie, because the marketing made it look very dramatic and romantic. There were shots of this beautiful, peaceful, idyllic Greek island and of pitched battle shattering the paradise. An intense romance was supposed to emerge from this twisted set of circumstances. If the movie had moved dramatically from peace at the beginning to fury near the end, the romance that emerged probably would have been pretty dramatic. The problem with this movie is that neither peace nor war is actually in this movie. The majority of this movie takes place during an unstable and unpleasant, but not necessarily volatile, military occupation. And because the action cruises at such a middling pace, refusing to commit to one ideal or the other, the idyllic, star-crossed romance people expected never materialized. I was disappointed.
The most fitting word to describe this movie is probably "Petty." The film seems to strive to show how everything that happens on this little Greek island is completely unimportant to everybody involved, but they still act really serious about everything they come across, even when they're supposed to be having fun. The characters all seem to be in vaguely bad moods all the time, as if they wouldn't even bother to talk to one another unless the film required them to in order to advance its plot, slowly and inexorably, toward its garbled, mistimed conclusion.
This movie is a major watch-looker, folks. That is, as you sit and take in this movie, you will look at your watch frequently. Very frequently. And if you don't, you won't have any idea when it's going to end, and the answer you'll want to hear is "Now."
8 Mile (2002)
A Quality Piece of Hard-Hitting Naturalism
8 Mile probably isn't what you expect. Given the cast and premise, you probably expect one of two things, either a silly excuse for self-aggrandizement or an overblown caricature of hip-hop culture. You don't get either. What you get is a brave film that is surprisingly culturally and intellectually rigorous and an aggressive film that is so emotionally intense that it seems to sometimes tear itself apart.
The plot is not a biography of Martial Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, but it is very much informed and guided by the experiences of his early career as a rapper in blue-collar and no-collar Detroit. Eminem gives a compelled, powerful performance that diverges just enough from his public self to inject the story with a strong sense of realism without sacrificing anything artistically. The supporting cast also makes fine use of their considerable talents, carving the Detroit of this film out of the world itself, not out of fiction. Even as they help communicate a hard, unforgiving time and place, they also give rise to deep and profound sympathies that don't come around in every film.
The naturalistic presentation doesn't stop there; most of the film is shot on location in Detroit, and the gritty, sometimes almost frenzied design and cinematography firmly establish that this is not just another Hollywood movie. This is a movie that goes places movies don't generally go where, for good or for ill, many people do live every day. For one, 8 Mile might have the most believable, most powerful representation of an automobile factory of any film in the last twenty years, and it still manages to use the location for sophisticated, plot driving drama. Good stuff.
Of course, the film has its flaws. It's very heavy and bleak, at times it skirts the boundary of cliche a little bit, and the villains, a rival rap group known as the "Free World," are a little over the top, but, time and again, the solid acting and daunting camerawork keep coming back to seize the eye and command attention.
Oh, and, in case you were wondering, there is rapping, and plenty of it. The rapping is really top-quality, cutting edge stuff, for the most part, and it is integrated into the script so well that it is always clear that the characters choose to rap, not that the script forces them to do so. The rapping happens because it must happen to these characters at this time, not because Eminem is a rapper. In an industry where pop music movies are a dime a dozen, this is particularly impressive. This film says something about rap and the human experience that hasn't been articulated this well many times before; it bridges the gap between rap and poetry in a big way, and makes that gap look a lot smaller.
All in all, the thing that really defines 8 Mile is how committed to this idea the cast and crew must have been in order to make this film. Every minute and every second, the cast's intensity never gives up, and the camera never sleeps. The film is detailed, finely crafted, and has a pounding heart the size of a boxcar. If you don't mind the obscenity and violence (and there is a bunch), I'd definitely say this is a movie worth seeing.
Pokémon Puzzle League (2000)
Harder Than It Looks
This is the Nintendo 64 remake of the always excellent and perennially poorly marketed game originally known as Panel De Pon, but known more popularly as Tetris Attack (and, no, it has nothing to do with Tetris).
The difference? Tetris Attack made rather poor use of a completely irrelevant Yoshi franchise in order to spur interest in this very intense, demanding puzzle game. Pokemon Puzzle League makes very good use of the Pokemon franchise in order to do the same thing. The cutscenes are great, the sound effects are classy and well-integrated into the gameplay, and the game graphics not only feature all the iconic Pokemon the kiddies know and love, but sport a head-to-toe Pokemon "feel," recreating the distinctive use of color and shape that has made the TV show immediately recognizeable.
Be warned, though. This game is very difficult. My little sister got it for her birthday, and, upon bringing it to me so we could play it together, found it to be too much for her. This is the ultimate twitch-puzzle; sliding the blocks around looking for matches of three that fall into place, forming "combos" and "chains" that can be over ten moves coming is hard enough, but doing it in real-time can be overwhelming.
You'd expect me to say that the Pokemon franchise doesn't change the fact that the game is out of reach of most players, but it actually does. There's something about the hilariously simplistic voice samples (Pokemon can speak, but they can only repeat their own names) that turns the frenzy of this game away from "maddening" and toward "madcap." And there are all sorts of bells and whistles to make you feel good about yourself; a "combo" causes your "character" to utter some trademark one-liner or other, and a "chain" causes your "Pokemon" to shout in triumph in increasing ecstasy, culminating in a trumpet fanfare for exceptional plays. It all just makes you smile, and that's a good thing, because that is what games are supposed to do.
All in all, I'd say this is a soundly above-average puzzle game, with more to recommend itself in terms of Look & Feel than Dr. Mario 64. So, if you're digging through the Funcoland shelves looking to fill out your N64 collection, give this one a try. Nobody ought to be selling it for a very high price these days.
The Time Machine (2002)
It takes a heck of a movie to get entire theaters to roar with laughter when an innocent young woman gets run over by a stagecoach, and this is that movie. It takes a heck of a screenwriter to write in a beautiful, young woman, the ideal of love across time and space and think, "Okay, so, their love is eternal, and he's come across the very fabric of reality for her, and they're staring adoringly at one another; it's about time she got knocked out of frame by a team of horses." It takes a heck of a director to shoot the scene where the man looks back at the woman with cathartic contentment and say, in the editing room, "Okay, great. That's the look of love and devotion I want, to drive him to do the impossible . . . now . . . cut it . . . there! Make it look like the buggy hits her like Lawrence Taylor after some crack! Excellent."
This movie offers all this and more. It has a woman in a full-length dress, corset, and bustle being run over by a stagecoach in a comically brutal fashion, and then it has a fairly poor science fiction movie. Pretty good, ya?
In conclusion, if you're a fan of brutal stagecoach blindsidings, where the driver doesn't flinch, the horses don't slow down, and the woman doesn't even see the one that gets her, this is the movie for you! I give it ten out of ten hoofprints!
Code of the West (1947)
If . . .
If you've only seen the 1925 version of this movie, you ain't seen nothin' yet. This new version packs in more thrills, more action, and more heartwarming Old West excitement than the original. I mean, let's face it, William K. Howard (I) just didn't cut the mustard as director back in the day; William A. Berke clearly blows him completely out of the water. And James Warren (I) clearly steals the show with his thrilling and deeply moving portrayal of Bob Wade, vengeful cowboy champion.
So, if you want to see an adaptation of Zane Grey's classic story of western justice, don't go see that sorry excuse for a film they made back in 1925. The 1947 version kicks its sorry butt all over town.
A Table for One (1999)
True to the Art of the Late-Nighter
This is not a diamond in the rough. It's also not terrible. Don't go looking for this movie. However, if this movie happens to find you, and you don't have much to do, watching it may not be the worst idea.
The whole picture is very phoned in, but it's not disrespectful to the form of the phoned-in picture. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the best thing about this film is the writing. The acting is competent, but it's nothing special, and the whole thing is shot plainly, like most watchable direct to video, but the writing is just a little bit better. It's unambitious, of course, but it's artful, and it's not too heavily cliched. It plays with obvious symbols and simple tropes, but it does a generally good job of it, and the fact that the story keeps moving in novel directions and does not degenerate into porn or gunplay shows that the writer probably has it in his or her power to write for much better pictures.
There's one or two jumps in the plot, but if you're the unforgiving type, you shouldn't be watching cable TV at 4 AM in the first place. All in all, not a bad movie. Objectively, it can't be said to be of any quality, but it certainly does not offend.
Red Planet (2000)
A Daring Work of Robot-Oriented Spaceman Filler
When a movie's script has nothing to say, there really is nothing that can save it. Acting can't save it. Costumes can't save it. Cinematography can't save it. Radical politics can't save it. Flag waving can't save it. _Red Planet_ is a film dedicated to answering the age-old question, "Well, can a robot save it?"
This a question that has been answered many times before, and by better robots than this one. The answer, conclusively proven, time after time, is, no, a robot can't save it.
"How about Val Kilmer?"
No, Val Kilmer can't save it, either, _Red Planet_.
"But he was in _Top Gun_! Remember?"
Yes, I remember.
"Well, didn't you like _Top Gun_?"
That's not the point.
"You didn't like _Top Gun_? What are you, some kind of Communist?"
Look, _Red Planet_, I liked _Top Gun_, but that doesn't change the fact that you still have nothing to say about anything!
"Okay, let's get back to the robot . . . "
And so on, and so forth. It's a movie without a script. It's got a robot. You know the drill.
Peter Jackson Finally Has Something to Chew On
The acting in _The Lord of the Rings_ is very good. The weak actors are strong, and the strong actors are wonderful. The writing is very good. The adaptation does enough of a job translating Professor Tolkien's work across media as to create a beautiful screenplay that feels very much like the original, which is more important than reflecting it (just ask Robert Fitzgerald). The scene design is very good. The sets and backgrounds are stunning; I have to think back to the original _Neverending Story_ to find a fantasy adventure film with as fresh and as beautiful fantasy settings. The sound design is very good. The sound editing is very good. The costuming is very good. The animation is very good, and its integration into the live action is very good. There are many parts of the craft of filmmaking, and this film does all of them well. However, all of these elements together would have only resulted in a very good film. _The Fellowship of the Ring_ is not a very good film. _The Fellowship of the Ring_ is a great film, or, rather, it is the beginning of what will be, upon its completion, a truly great film. The difference is in the direction. Here, the difference is Peter Jackson's vision and art as a director, and it is Jackson, above all, who deserves credit for putting together a wonderful piece of art.
The difference between a film with many, disparate and diverse virtues and a film which brings them all together with truly artful vision is profound. _Titanic_ is a film with many of the same virtues as _The Fellowship of the Ring_: sound, set, costumes, acting (okay, maybe not), writing (okay, okay, okay, definitely not), the film employed many of the best in the business, but the end product was a film that won a host of Oscars and ended up on the bottom of the Weekly Rental shelf at Blockbuster. The reason why _The Lord of the Rings_ will remain in the hearts and minds of those who have seen it for far longer is because of its coherence as a piece of art and the well-articulated and complex voice of the director, communicated with purpose and skill through all the media that film provides.
Sir Ian McCellan said, after completing the mammoth shooting schedule of this film that, as an actor, particularly as a film actor, he is not an artist. An actor acts; it is the director who must imbue the film with a vision. Peter Jackson's vision is a strong, distinct one that cannot help but burst forth on the screen. See _Dead Alive_ (_Braindead_) if you don't believe me, but only if you know you do not require sleep or sanity for a good 36 hours. It is a rampant beast of a film, assaulting the intellect, the psyche, and the eye with equal and determined vigor; it manages to conceal the obvious in terrible suspense and to juxtapose images of unparalleled depravity with those of terrible and hilarious simplicity. It manages to render the watcher powerless in determining the fate of the characters. Predictability and cliche simply cease to exist, because the force of his voice is enough to command the audience. _Dead Alive_ was a cheap horror flick. Here, Jackson wields the same tool in the translation of a powerful piece of intellectual and imaginative work, and the results are of such richness and power that I would definitely need to see the film two or three more times in order to appraise them fully.
Of course, to some, the three hours necessary to watch the film will be too much. The continually serious tone of the film will be discouraging. The unwillingness to gratify the audience with continual buildups in a string of one-lined, music-swelling climaxes (a la _Independence Day_ and the like) will be discouraging to some. Yes, there is complexity in the rising action, and I am overjoyed to say that the number of characters pumping their fists and shouting "Yes!" is truly inordinately small for a three hour adventure movie. Some people like that sort of thing. Heck, I like it from time to time. A bunch of years back, when I watched _3 Ninjas_ on a babysitting job, I enjoyed it. What casual watchers will confront is the fact that this is not an epic action movie. It's not even really an action movie, and if one goes into the film expecting an action movie, one is likely to not have that expectation met in full. Some people may find this frustrating. I do not deny that. However, I do believe that the beauty of this film is strong enough to overcome that frustration in all but the most dedicated and prejudiced of cases.
The action scenes in this are extremely well-crafted. Usually, in films of this scale, action scenes rampage across the scene, glutted with gory images and landed blows. Usually, armed conflict on film becomes a singular beast, where the individual characters are swallowed in the fury of the moment. This is true even in most high quality war films. This is not true in _The Lord of the Rings_. The violence in _The Lord of the Rings_ is in service to the drama, and that is a truly remarkable feat of directing. It is effortlessly clear who is being killed by whom at all times, and the violence is often placed against some far more important scene in such a way as to imbue the latter with a beautiful urgency. And, of course, Peter Jackson does violence as well as anyone in filmmaking, so, even though the PG-13 rating, with its prohibition of spurting blood, prevents Jackson from showing everything he learned in _Dead Alive_, the battles are brutal, deliberate, and largely devoid of romance (with a few brilliant exceptions). For some, this will disappoint. For those wrapped up in Jackson's vision, it all becomes part of the world and the journey Jackson is trying to bring to the audience.
If I must ennumerate the flaws of this film, the first is that, although the film does a good job of masking how abominable an actor Liv Tyler is, Liv Tyler is still an abominable actor, and her scenes are somewhat wasted, if not actively detracting from the film. The second is that the combination of CGI and bluescreen to create photorealistic composite images is overestimated, like it is in every single film in which it appears, and sometimes the characters exhibit a little fringe or the CGI characters move unrealistically. Of course, the overestimation is not of very great magnitude, and the special effects, as a whole, are excellent, but the audience will generally be more impressed by the camerawork than they will be with the CGI. Thirdly, there are two or three individual occasions where the film breaks its own character (I'm talking about any and all occurances of the notion of "dwarf tossing" as well as the single attempt at a Jerry Bruckheimer-style one-liner), but, of course, they only last for a second or two, so they hardly consist of a problem. The purist in me wishes the movie did not take such breaths, but, in Jackson's defense, the film is dreadfully serious, and that most of the audience probably needed a respite when these lines came along, which were generally at the grimmest moments in the film. And, of course, there are a few very minor continuity errors which will probably be corrected whenever the film is rereleased, if not for the DVD, but these are difficult to spot and generally do not affect the film.
All this notwithstanding, I saw this movie in a packed theater of two to three hundreds people. I sat right beside the door, and only four people left to go to the bathroom during the entire three hours, despite the occasional sound of running water. This film will capture your attention, and it won't let it go until it is done. This film will teach you something, take something from you, show you something you never knew you had, and all the other good stuff that anything that actually succeeds in being art can and will do. This film will make you say to yourself as you leave, "Why can't all the movies I see be good?" This film will make you see the hype for the empty gas it actually is. This film will make you realize just how little Harry Potter did to challenge you, and how depressed that made you. This film will probably make you want to read the books.
However, most importantly, this film will not make you regret spending $9 on it (or less, if you're lucky), which almost every other movie you will ever see will not be worth. Heck, for quality like this, you can even afford to spring for some popcorn! Seriously, see this movie in the theater. It really is that good.
And, if you need another reason, the Spider-Man trailer is awesome! It was the first time I've ever seen a film audience greet the end of trailer with a round of amazed applause.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
_Searching for Bobby Fischer_ is possessive of a certain wonderful insight; it is a film that offers no heart-warming premeses and still manages to ease the soul.
The characters dwell in an utterly contemporary world; you will find no neighbors hauling in bags of money, chiming churchbells, perfect families, or million-dollar smiles anywhere in the film. At the same time, this world of this film exhibits a resilience against its crueler realities that most of the art of the twentieth century eschewed in favor of probing the darkness of existence. Yes, the main characters are prosperous, but the spectre of Fischer hangs over the world as a daunting warning of things to come. The mood of the piece, enhanced by the excellent cinematography, sets the film up to succeed wonderfully, and the actors and text deliver.
One of the things I like the most about this movie, superficially, is that it does not insult the game of chess as it depicts it. The depiction of the chess world is insightful and accurate, from the sharp division between granite-hewn chess scholars and colorful tactical wizards to the truly unequaled awe and gravity accompanying the notion of the Grandmaster. Perhaps these are things that can only truly be appreciated by those who have ventured to this world, but, thankfully, the film integrates these elements seamlessly into a universal story that is original and poignant in its detail and elegance.
Every actor in this film is spectacular, without exception. That is a bold statement, but it is completely justified. At no point do any of the actors miss a step; all the performances are smooth and appear to be utterly effortless. In their featured roles, Ben Kingsley and Lawrence Fishburne put in performances that match in art, craft, and intensity, if not in length, any of their more prominent film roles. Joan Allen is mind-bogglingly wonderful, considering how precise she has to be to fit such a massive character into such a truncated part in the script. This is Joe Mantena's very finest performance, and, of course, this movie contains child acting to match any film ever made. Even the bit parts are acted with intensity, depth, and elegance. A lot of this is easy to miss because, on the surface, the film is so even-handed, but repeated viewings continually bring to attention wonderful nuances of these performances.
Any summary or synopsis will fail to accurately relate the "message" of this film; as in any great work of art, the quickest, most efficient way to word the resolution of the film's ideas and conflicts is to watch the film. This is where _Searching for Bobby Fischer_ really shines. There is no way these characters could have ended up where they are from any other sequence of events than the one that took place; this is a wonderful example of how a plot is woven into a story rather than imposed on it. The flipside of this is that there is extremely little to be found in this film that can be applied universally without reservation, and yet it still manages to be convincing. There is something mysterious about this movie that rises toward the staggering mysteries of life, and repeated viewings are really the only means toward a full understanding of these ideas.
Undoubtedly, this is the best film made in the 1990s based on a true story (if you, like me, discount _Schindler's List_ from such assessments. It hardly seems fair to compare _Schindler's List_ to any other film due to its unique purpose.). If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It may just change your life.
Highlander: Endgame (2000)
Decaf Highlander is no Highlander at all
If you are looking for a Highlander film, forget about it. The core of the Highlander film is a brooding, montage-filled contemplation of violence and individual identity filled with passionate flashbacks full of beautiful women. This is not a Highlander film.
If you are looking for two hours of the Highlander series, get the Four Horsemen two-parter instead, because this one is lame. The main strengths of the series are threefold: Duncan has complex and enduring friendships that result in compelling choices and situations, Duncan always fights colorful, challenging, and well-written villains that usually carry interesting historical aspects, and Duncan frequently confronts difficult questions concerning the natures of the Good and of existence in a very direct, sensible manner.
All of these factors are notably absent in this film. Duncan's friendship with Connor in this film is meaningless, a waste of everybody's time, and Methos and Dawson make only cameo appearances. At least Richie is still dead; that's a plus.
The villain in this movie is bland in the extreme. Apparently, he has killed lots of immortals. We are given no reason how he did this, or how he, more than any other villain, has specifically benefitted from this. He has no special powers, and he isn't even that impressive a swordsman. There is no reason to believe that Duncan cannot take this guy in his sleep. All he has going for him are some LA Gears with crucifixes on them and the attitude of a stereotypical Brit with a nagging skin rash. He doesn't even have a colorful historical background. Lame.
The film also avoids addressing with any scrutiny any of the rather startling notions that must be held by one character or another in order for this poorly-crafted plot to take place. The desire to follow a formulaic "psychotic out for revenge" plot also causes the script to place the most compelling situations off the main action of the storyline. This, of course, does not permit any Duncan-esque Scottish problem solving. The Highlander series generally benefitted from fine writing; it is unfortunate that the script for Endgame is so amateurish.
Of course, Highlander has never been a refuge for masters of the Method, but even the things Highlander usually does only adequately are done poorly in this film. Adrian Paul turns in a dull and uninspired performance, Christopher Lambert's skill is wasted, as his part is devoid of any reasonable causal relationship among his actions, the villain is flat, obnoxious, and forgettable, and Kate, the love interest, manages to be utterly and completely unattractive, which is an amazing feat of acting ineptitude, considering her considerable physical assets. Even the swordsmaster did poorly in this film; the fight sequences show none of the flavor or attention to detail and form that was always present in the series.
The film suffers from such a general lack of energy and clarity that I can only surmise that director Douglas Aarniokoski had no clear vision of the film he wanted to make. It is his first (and so far only) film as a director, and he has shown a lack of command of the medium both as a storyteller and filmmaker. Remember, we are talking about the first assistant director of The Faculty and the man who wrote Puppet Master 4 and Puppet Master 5, so it may not be fair to lay all the blame for this general failure of a film at the feet of Adrian Paul or Christopher Lambert.
All in all, Highlander: Endgame is not worth the trouble of pushing the play button. It's not an offensively terrible movie, but it is lame, and lame Highlander is just depressing.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Aggressively, Aggressively Terrible
This movie was so horrible it made me weep. It wasn't even really a movie; it was an insult aimed directly at everyone who paid $9 to see it.
You see, they wanted to do a musical, only they knew people wouldn't go see a musical unless it featured a random assortment of unrelated, canned popular music. Well, I ask, what's the point? Why bother? If you "put together" a musical without writing any music, have you really "put together" a musical? The answer is no.
This is the kind of idiocy that _Oklahoma!_ displaced, where the songs are unrelated and the "action" and "character" don't even rise to the level of formality. Only it's worse, because it specifically targets songs which are attached to your memories and butchers them. When I saw them quote out of context the song U2 wrote to commemorate the life and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an idiotic scene on the back of a big fake elephant, I almost walked out. I should have. It only got worse.
The only way this would be even permissable would be in parody, but this is no parody. It clearly wants to be taken at least marginally seriously, apparently without going to the trouble of having anything at all to say, unless you count the apparent reality that people are very, very stupid, are essentially devoid of any and all merit, and are not worth watching.
Do not believe the hype. Do not see this movie! If you do see it, at least have the good sense to get really, really high first, so that, even if it takes itself seriously, you don't make the mistake of doing so.
Wonder Boys (2000)
Fell asleep . . . twice
Yawn. Movie is long, boring and pretentious. This is the worst movie about writing and writers that I have ever seen. I know the pointless verbosity is supposed to be "illustrative" of the characters' journeys, but it still bored me to tears. Don't believe the hype; stay away.