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A Rousing Answer to the Question: Why do They Climb?
The inherent drama of men and mountains has spurred in recent years a glut of TV and film that has blossomed with the technological advancements of our time and the "look at me" attitude pervading society so that everyone with a Go-Pro can film their adventures for the world to see. From Youtube channels of independent climbers filming their routes to big money TV shows that bring the adventurers' lives to our living rooms, the world of mountain climbing and adventure sports in general seems caught in contradictions. Always underlying the contradictions is the simple question of why? Do these individuals risk life and limb for their fame, for sponsors, for a TV deal or out of a unique personal desire and will that drives them into the wild.
The British climber George Mallory who died while attempting Everest back in the 1920s famously responded to the question of Why? with "because it is there". For the next 100 years, many climbers have tried to give better answers, and in Meru, we have a compelling combination of narrative and visual imagery that may result in the best answer of all.
The narrative stands apart from other films and documentaries in that it is not completely linear and veers off course to give the viewers appropriate back stories to inject meaning and under currents to the climbers' motivations. You get to know the climbers as people, and with that understanding, I think it becomes easier for anyone, including people who have never set foot on a snowy ledge, to understand why these people climb mountains.
The technical climbing is filmed by Jimmy Chin (both climber and film director) in a way that I have simply never seen before. As a climbing enthusiast, the shots of these guys on the walls of ice and rock are astounding, gut-wrenching and for me, completely inspiring. The organic relationship of the climbing team, their histories and ultimately their trials on the snow and rock of Meru expand on many common mountaineering themes - mentors, sponsors, risk analysis and contemplating death both yours and your friends.
Jon Krakauer is not my favorite voice in this world, but he is a voice that is adept at translating the mountaineering world to laymen, and his role in this film is served well. In the end, I strongly recommend this film for everyone. For those that can understand the motivation to be the first to stand atop a peak, you will not be disappointed. For those that can not understand the motivation, you might walk away finally getting it.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Excessive in style, lacking in substance
When the final cut spun in some back room, I wonder what Scorsese thought he had here, a comedy, a thriller, a drama. This movie has a little bit of everything, but the sum of its parts adds up to very little. Very little that we as movie goers have not already seen 100 times before and nothing that I necessarily needed to sit through 168 minutes to see again.
The lack of a conscience, the drive to make money at all costs, these are things we all already associate with Wall Street. So when Leo takes his messed up principles and quickly turns his smooth talking ways into millions of dollars, the audience says to itself, OK, now what? How will the story turn dark, how will the greed and booze catch up to these guys, because it always does, right.
Wrong. The plot here floats at the surface to allow the merry pranksters of Leo and Jonah Hill to basically do whatever it is they want throughout the entire movie. The parties and intoxication are normally something I love, its fun to watch people party and do drugs (at least for me). Here, the excess becomes tiresome, and that would be fine, if the film was intended to show the perils of excess. But that's not the intent, the negative effects of the drugs is touched upon, and as the plot slowly veers toward the end for our wild wall street bunch, the drugs naturally move the plot deeper down the rabbit hole, but its too much after awhile and thus the film becomes a caricature of itself. A comedic display of excess that the viewer may enjoy like an exaggerated drawing, but not something that has any staying power.
Scorsese may have realized this, so the plot meanders through FBI investigations, ship wrecks off the coast of Italy and Swiss Bank fraud. Its the classic example of throwing too much at the window and hoping something sticks. I found the plot to be unnecessarily bloated, I found the story to be largely superficial, and I found the actual direction to not be nearly as good as Scorsese's past films.
Leo and Jonah are fantastic, some of the bit actors are good, but there is no real story here. It's just a party with consequences that do not seem to bother the characters and therefore, never really create any tension in the narrative. Its an enjoyable film at best, a plodding, repetitive, shell of a movie at worst. You be the judge.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Another "Not-Easy-to-Watch" but altogether Impressive Coen Bros movie
I saw Inside Llewyn Davis in a sold out matinée in Union Square, NYC last weekend. The city was cold and dreary, much like the 1960s Manhattan depicted in this film. I sat with my friend after the movie and basically railed against the film for the first ten minutes before slowly admitting that my criticisms were obviously the intended result and that the Coen Brothers have once again made a great movie that is simply not easy to digest and certainly not fun to digest.
I'll lead with the greatness. The underlying takeaway of this film is that the actual creation of music - the sound, the beauty and the lyrical story - can embody some of the best attributes about humanity and yet, the creator of such music can nonetheless lack all such attributes and essentially be as ugly a person as his music is beautiful. That is the takeaway, and the Coen Bros intentionally force this upon the viewer. The folk songs song by Lleywn serve as calming beautiful interludes and as stark contrasts to the plot driven by a character who is simply put, a terrible human being stuck in an extremely frustrating, self-made vacuum of an existence.
I assume that most people, like me, gravitate toward wanting to root for the struggling artist. There is a nobility in pursuing your dreams when such dreams consist of the pursuit of an art form. Here, folk music is put on a pedestal and LLewyn's pursuit of it is from the outset, something the audience implicitly will support. In the course of 90 minutes, the Coen Bros force you to question this support, hate the lead character and eventually cheer when he gets punched in the face.
The problem is simple. I did not want any more of LLewyn Davis after 90 minutes. I did not want to hear his music anymore because the lyrics he sung were fraudulent, the beauty of his playing, a guise. And due to his self-made failings throughout the film, I no longer cared where his story went. The Coen Bros could have taken the plot line in any number of ways to give the viewer some foothold to hope that Llewyn may end up on the right track one day. They do not give you that foothold, and for that reason, I was pretty ready for this movie to end when it did. This is admittedly a criticism, but more an observation. I certainly do not need films to end with rainbows and hearts, but this script really forces you to watch a man stuck in a static world where his own actions cause him to go nowhere, and that is a frustrating world to inhabit for 90 minutes.
The best parts of the film are not the Manhattan scenes, but the drive LLewyn takes to Chicago. The Coen Bros have used the theme of "driving at night" time and time again to make some great scenes, usually emotionally charged personal voyages. This is no different. Their cinematography and over all character driven story telling shines when their lead characters hit the road. The bit characters are fun and unusual in the Coen Bro's way, but do little to ease the 90 minutes of crass, immature, self-defeating, out-of-touch and eventually just pathetic life movements from Lleywn's character
For Coen Brother fans, its worth the journey; for general movie fans, be warned, as this is an interesting film, but arguably not an enjoyable one.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Do Not Be Swayed By the Political Fallout...just go see it.
Perhaps this film came out too soon. With the issues of torture and the lingering questions our country is debating on the "war on terror", this film was bound to provide a soapbox for both the left and right side of the debate. I would advise you not to worry too much about what this movie says or doesn't say about torture, and just go see if for yourself.
Why? Because the film provides an engaging, well scripted depiction of the uninteresting, boring, tedious and often unproductive nature of the CIA's tracking down of OBL. I thought this film was going to be like Black Hawk Down in terms of the time line it would follow. I was wrong. The story arc begins with 9/11 and is largely set in Pakistan where you watch a young CIA analyst (Jessica Chastain) slowly obsess over and piece together the leads that get her to OBL.
There are weaknesses in the writing and some poorly developed characters. Yet, over all I preferred the plot which stuck completely to the CIA's base in Pakistan rather than mix and match the DC politics with the ground game analysis. Of course the DC bureaucrats need their say, and the film gets you to DC during the final stages before the strike. In total, this is not a "24" type of film. Its not about the ticking bomb and torturing someone to get them to talk. Its a thoughtful depiction of a very difficult intelligence mission that does not make the mistake of intentionally trumping up any political ideologies nor does it advocate torture. It just gives an admittedly dumbed down view into the post-9/11 intelligence issues this country faced, which include as you will see some pretty brutal methods of culling information from sources.
Lisbeth Salander is the best character of the past 10 years
The real intrigue in Millennium Trilogy starts and ends with Lisbeth Salander. As with the books and the original Swedish movies, I can nit-pick the plots and the films to death like everyone else, but ultimately, the fact that we get to see another depiction of Salander should force most people from the fans right on down to the uninformed to see this film.
To that end, I think Rooney Mara holds are own against Rapace's Salander. I initially found her style a bit too over-the-top as compared to the costume design in the Swedish film, but as the film churns and we see the Salander's army/goth exterior cast alongside her feminine sexuality Fincher does justice to the curious duality of the character. And bravo, Rooney Mara, I thought she was a bit too withdrawn in the first act of the movie, but much of that is plot driven and I really enjoyed the way this film draws more on her physical desires then the Swedish version, whether those desires are for Big Macs or orgasms.
The film itself is good, not great. Apart from the opening credit fiasco that made me think of the worst modern day James Bond films and felt completely disjointed from the tone of the film, I can't find too much to criticize Fincher for. His depiction of the cold Swedish countryside, the little things like the wind in Martin's home and the rough cabin feel were all pluses. The cat's role was a nice warm up and cut down the audience moment. Reznor's score is enthralling, its one of those scores where you acknowledge its power during the movie, it doesn't blend into the background, it comes at you in waves and you feel it hitting you in the face at the right times.
Criticisms include the editing back and forth between Salander and Blomquist's story lines throughout the first 40 minutes of the film. I liked the idea of trying to keep the viewer constantly linked to both characters, but we were literally jumping back and forth in 30 second intervals, it felt too cut up for my liking. Daniel Craig is a good actor, I like him and I don't know another big name actor that I'd have preferred in this role, but I agree with others who lean with the original Swedish actor (name escapes me) for the roll. Craig masters the suave and broken characters in his Bond films and Layer Cake very well, but there is a certain aesthetic missing from his portrayal of Blomquist.
Lastly, I had such high expectations for Fincher's portrayal of the dark, murderous, violent aspects to the film that I felt the final act and the run up to the whodunnit resolution to be somewhat sanitized.
All that said, I still give it high marks and recommend it for newbies as well as fans of the Millennium Series.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Quality Cinema, Fun Movie, But A Few Things Missing.
Its Woody Allen shooting a movie about the struggles of 'the artist' in Paris. It can't be bad, and it isn't bad. But just how good is the film? My answer: pretty good, but far from great.
Allen fixates upon the city as the muse of artists both past and present. His opening shots of Paris set the stage for the ongoing love affair his protagonist Gill (Owen Wilson) has with the city and the city's rich history as fertile ground for artistic endeavor. Owen as Gill, succeeds in playing a struggling writer who is trying to escape his success as a Hollywood actor in cookie-cutter movies. He waxes poetic to his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams) about his desire to leave Pasadena and relocate to Paris permanently. This is where Allen creates the initial tension for our protagonist. Gill wants to walk the streets that Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Picasso walked. He wants to be a real artist, and he is confronted with this growing realization while trying to plan a life with Inez, who is the rich, soulless American caricature of Hollywood emptiness.
On his midnight walks, Wilson delves into the Paris of the 1920s and with each evening he is pushed away from the reality of a life with Inez toward a life of Parisian wistful inspiration. Allen juggles some difficult plot devices that are wholly unbelievable but nonetheless enjoyable. To say that the 20s "come to life" for Wilson would be both physically and psychologically accurate. All the while, his fiancée and her Republican parents and snooty friends question his actions, spurn his artistic flightiness and serve to establish the materialistic sadness that blinds people from the sights that Gill cherishes, the beauty and inspiration of Paris that can't be discovered in the Museum but, instead, must be sought out on its streets, preferably in the rain.
The theme of the present day artist yearning for the past glory periods of art whether it be the 1920s or 1890s is force fed to the viewer. Allen builds this theme up and slowly questions it as the movie drifts onward, but in delivering a verbal and concise conclusion on the issue, I felt he left little to the audiences imagination.
Additionally, the conflict we want from an Allen movie, the inner turmoil, the multiple plot line craziness, the sexual and sensual aspects, all of these cinematic fingerprints that identify an Allen movie are largely washed out in this film. There is a growing sense of flow to the film that allows the viewer to know which way the wind is blowing and how things will conclude, and when they finally do, it makes for a nice story of art winning the day, but it lacks the whirlwind emotions so frequently associated with a Woody Allen movie. For literature fans, for Allen fans, and for general movie fans, its worth a viewing, but its not a mind blowing film.
Powerful movie, great individual performances, a few flaws
The trio of Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Macguire and Natalie Portman got me very excited for this film, and from an acting standpoint, they did not disappoint. The script gives Macguire the most to work with as the family man/Marine, Sam Cahill, whose latest trip to Afghanistan sees him imprisoned by the Taliban and ultimately returned to America with some serious psychological issues. While he is MIA, his wife, Grace, (Portman) and ex-con brother, Tommy, (Gyllenhaal) are told he is dead, and the two grow closer, eventually verging on emotional and physical attachment.
Ultimately, the movie is an emotional ringer. Sam returns to a family that wants to love him, but his walls are up, he's been through a lot and its his brother the fun loving Uncle Tommy who Sam's children want to play with. A quick note, Sheridan the director makes great use of the two daughters as comic breaks in otherwise terribly tense situations. Our theater was laughing at the kids and it felt to me, as though we needed that laughter to balance out the gloom. There are a few climaxes, some extremely tense family dinners and finally a final gripping scene where Sam is pushed to the brink, he distrusts his wife, assumes his brother is sleeping with her, and no longer can see the humor in his elementary aged children, can he hold on?
Its a touching film and a sad film, but it probably could have been a bit better. The script and title of the film suggest a big tension or interplay between the brothers. I found the brother relationship lacking in substance, and I thought the ingredients for some serious tension and emotional pain were in place but were never put to use. Sam Shepard does well as the Vietnam Vet father, but all he really does is establish his love for his son, the Marine, and his disdain for his son, the ex-con. There was so much more that he could have done, his role seems intentionally diminished. Portman is great as usual, but arguably miscast, as she doesn't belong cast into a film where she is not supposed to think. She's a thinking woman's actress and here she is left observing, we know she knows, but her character must play it clueless.
I cried, and wanted the story to continue, as there seems to be a bit left to this story when the film fades away. Both signs that the movie was enjoyable and touching. The growth of Gyllenhaal as the ex-con who is on the rise, adjusting to life on the outside and acting as a surrogate father in the absence of Macguire is nicely juxtaposed with Macguire's devolution into post-traumatic stress ridden torment. Watch the Oscar nods roll in, but I think, if anything, the movie may win individual awards, as the product as a whole falls quite a bit short of award winning status.
The Wackness (2008)
Left Me Feeling Quite Melancholy, but Satisfied
The Wackness is an extremely difficult movie to figure out. On one hand, writer/director Jon Levine paints a captivating story around the friendship of two identifiable protagonists in depressed teenage drug dealer Luke Shapiro, played by an up-to-the-task Josh Peck, and eccentric shrink, Dr. Squires, played by a barely up to the task Ben Kingsley. On the other hand, the script itself struggles to find a tone largely fumbling the 1994 NYC setting and ultimately dabbling with dark comedy, philosophy 101, and drug/party filled 90s teenage musings without really nailing down any thematic voice. The movie does succeed in escaping its hazy plot lines and sophomoric personalities with several great one-liners, some decent character development, and a conclusion that left me satisfied but nevertheless a bit sad --which is not a bad thing. Of the 80% filled NYC theater I saw it in, 10 people walked out, the rest applauded at the end. Its that kind of movie.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is its failure to use the 1994 New York City setting to its fullest. As a product of this time and place I felt cheated because Mr. Levine chooses to exploit tid-bits of the culture without ever really showing any substance. We hear references to Kurt Cobain and Phish, we see Luke playing Nintendo NES, we hear a good selection of Biggie, Wu-Tang Clan, and Tribe Called Quest and several references to the Guliani gestapo police, but Levine failed to create a teenage period piece to rival Dazed and Confused, Kids, or Mallrats to name a few more recent ones. The cinematography is good, and adds a vintage type feel to the NYC background, but as a cultural snapshot of a time in NYC history, this movie falls flat.
However, Levine was perhaps preoccupied with a greater goal than a period piece. Shapiro and Dr. Squires are not easy characters to support. Shapiro is a bulk sales weed dealer, with no friends, and a stunted sex life. I think many people will be able to relate to him either directly or indirectly and will enjoy following his teenage "coming of age" tribulations as I did. Kingsley, as Squires, has a tough role and at times plays the stoner shrink as though he has early onset Alzheimer's disease. Its not an easy role, his character is a walking contradiction who mixes decent psychological advice with occasional moments of idiocy. At times he nails it down, at others he comes across as the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner that we are all a bit embarrassed for, but this was probably Levine's intention. Amidst writing that ebbed and flowed at a mediocre level, the dialog between Shapiro and Squires had some knock outs and worked its way up to a satisfying conclusion. The peripheral characters perform admirably when asked, except for Famke Jannsen who failed to show up for her role as Squires' numb to life wife.
If you have ever turned to the recreational consumption of drugs or any other vice as an escape from life or to just 'deal' with life, you will find both Shapiro and Squires much much much more sympathetic and in some ways touching characters. The story of the young Shapiro and old Squires blends the themes of 'soothing your growing pains through drugs (mostly marijuana)' versus the 'trying to go back to your youth and escape your adulthood' through drugs. People who can appreciate or relate to such plot lines will find this movie much more touching than those who cant.
The Strangers (2008)
Starts with a Bang, but Fails to Maintain
I went to see The Strangers with no background information, just a quiet night, random movie going experience. I knew it was a horror/mystery...thats it. The movie starts slow, but is intriguing nonetheless. We have a small amount of character development with our protagonist couple before things get hairy. As to the suspense, I really liked some of the subtle techniques used in this movie. Hand-held camera work, and a great score that combined eeriness with some old country tunes that worked to create a great tense atmosphere in the theater. This movie starts on par with the scare factor of good Japanese/Korean movies...however.
The actual plot is what left me desiring more. The set never changes. We are in a house and on the property where the protagonists are terrorized by "the strangers" the entire movie. We know the ending as its told to us in the 1st 5 minutes. And ultimately, the scare tactics used early on -the freakishness of being home alone with home invaders who have infiltrated your house, bang and break things, and wear freaky masks -- wears off after awhile. I mean the "strangers" more or less toy with the victims for 100 minutes. After awhile, the movie needs something else to happen because the impending doom is no longer that impending, I no longer believed we'd see the strangers engage the couple until the requisite 110 minutes of airtime had expired. So the tension is lost and the audience just waited for the conclusion which we all knew.
Additionally, there is no tension/release with this movie, the director tries to keep the tension going throughout and ultimately the sails lose the wind. There is no back story, and very little dialogue. The introduction of peripheral characters is short lived, there is never any explanation about the "strangers" -their reasons/objectives/personalities, the decisions the couple make in combating the "strangers" are idiotic, and by the end when you are hoping for a final horrific conclusion, the movie gives you nothing more than the visual of the foregone conclusion.
I jumped out of my seat a few times, and I was a bit 'freaked out' walking to my car through the fog on a quiet street that evening. But this movie was only inspired by true events, meaning the script did not have to adhere to a factual event. Thus there is no excuse for the weak plot. All the atmospherics needed for good suspenseful horror -read-not-torture-porn- were in place, but the plot needed more ingenuity and ultimately failed as do so many other horror movies in assuming that because you succeed in creating a scary setting you can pass off idiotic human decisions without the audience questioning them.
Dying Breed (2008)
Its Tradition....and I like it.
I was lucky enough to catch the midnight showing of Dying Breed at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, and want to get my thoughts down immediately. In short, its a solid horror thriller movie that I would recommend you see, if you are fan of this genre. If I had to try to compare it to any of the more recent horror films, I'd say its 1 part Cabin Fever, 1 part Devil's Rejects, and 1 part Hostel.
The film is based on two bits of historical fact. First there is Alexander "the Pieman" Pierce, who back when Tasmania was used as a prison island for Britain's worst lot, escaped from the prison and resorted to cannibalism to survive. The Pieman's cuisine of choice has spawned a slight tradition in the backwoods of Tasmania, where hikers have historically ventured into and never returned. The film's second historical basis lies with the mystery of the Tasmanian tiger, which most scientists deem extinct. Not our protagonist, Nina (Mirrah Foulkes), who is out to find the tiger and finish the work her sister began before she mysteriously drowned out in the bush.
Enter our two couples, Nina and her boyfriend, Matt (Leigh Whannel), and Matt's old buddy (your standard obnoxious peripheral character in horror movies) and his girlfriend (your standard pretty and clueless body) who are along for the ride. I would say one of the movie's strengths is the great cinematography that takes you along with the foursome as they enter the beautiful but eventually spooky backwoods. They eventually end up in a town that hearkens you back to the West Virginians in Cabin Fever, serious backwoods nut jobs. From a strange girl, to a male only town, to a mysterious figure lurking in the woods you can tell that things are getting weird and that these 'tourists' are entering a sketchy situation.
From the town, the foursome venture via boat deeper into the bush. This movie succeeds because you have good tension building elements; 1) the woods, caves, jungles, etc; 2) messed up locals with a tradition they need to keep alive; and 3) a good bit of blood, flesh flying around, and things called "man-traps", I mean you cant go wrong there. This is not a gore fest, and special effects are minimal. The ending takes you for a good ride, but ultimately this wasn't a crazy adrenaline pumping horror movie. The bad guys are bad, weird, and a bit grotesque but are basically people who act and look pretty weird, nothing that'll make you jump out of your seat. Its cool though, and it works.
Like most movies in this genre you have the "god these people are stupid" moments, there are a bit too many "you stay here, I'll be right backs" and our audience laughed at the idiocy of some decisions, but the movie is not campy as campy horror movies go, it tries and largely succeeds at keeping to a dark, serious undertone. On top of that, the reality of their situation does not seem to ever dawn on the foursome. One brief non-spoiler example is that certain townies end up all the way out in the bush with the foursome, and the foursome never really seem to recognize just how strange it is that these bonified weirdos just happened upon them in the middle of the woods. This realization, the fear that occurs when the character is forced to contemplate how completely screwed/messed up their situation is, is what makes horror movies horrifying. The characters almost seem oblivious to the situation, and honestly I get more freaked out when I see the actors on film freaking out. There is a twist or two that doesn't jive with logic, but Im not complaining. Not a classic, but certainly worth your time if you want to see a horror movie based on cannibalism.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
17 years later, and still amazing
This movie sets the bar. From the acting to editing, from the score to the cinematography, there isn't an aspect of the movie that I'd change, nor is there an aspect that does not stay with me for hours and days after I watch the film.
Hopkins puts on a clinic. The brilliance of his performance is his ability to captivate the viewer and Agent Starling with his gifts of psychological study and underlying aristocratic being while also delving ever so suddenly into moments of sheer lunacy. He lets the animal out of the cage so flawlessly and so momentarily that its just amazing to realize that its all an act.
Then there are the minute details, and side characters. I love Demme's underlying 'woman in a man's world' theme that he never overtly introduces. Instead, he just puts Foster in these great scenes, the best of which is just before she examines the body found in W. Virginia, where she is left in a room with a dozen W. Virginia state cops. Classic. Then there are the characters, like the moth experts or the latest victim's distraught father who lets Foster into his home to examine the victim's bedroom or the cops who try to catch Hannibal when he escapes in Memphis. All are peripheral characters, but they all resonate, they all somehow fit perfectly. I cant explain it, but nothing takes away, everything just adds to this movie, and it truly will be one of my favorites for as long as I live.
The Bank Job (2008)
Above Average Caper Flick
As caper flicks go, all I really hope for is something that succeeds in being both novel and entertaining. My hopes were satisfied by The Bank Job. The plot itself is based very loosely on events that occurred in the 1970s in London. The royal family has some dark secrets. An outspoken activist/petty criminal/drug importer has evidence of these secrets, which he uses as leverage against the government who desperately wants to prosecute him. This evidence is stored in a safety deposit box within a London bank. British Intelligence conjures up a rather reckless plan of employing a bunch of two-bit/amateur criminals to break into the vault, and take the evidence along with whatever else they can carry out. Apart from one intermediary, none of the robbers know the government's secret agenda. Of course, things get complicated whenever the possibility that a bunch of dirty secrets are in the wrong hands, and eventually the movie juggles several interconnecting plot lines, all related to the contents of the vault and their implication on various interests from the royal family, to corrupt police, to the sexual indiscretions of parliament members.
The movie keeps a good pace and never takes itself too seriously. It builds up the plot lines and tries somewhat successfully to tie everything together. There is some good tension, a bit of violence (not much), and eventually, vindication for most of the parties.
The problems with the movie are numerous, but nothing that ultimately destroys the fun. Yes the movie is rife with inexplicably, unnecessary side characters (see female undercover agent in the Caribbean). Yes the movie's dialogue veers into indecipherable 1970s British slang, which gives a comedic undertone to conversations that are intended to be serious. Yes there exist rampant plot issues that make you wonder how stupid cops really are. And yes the acting is OK, at best, lets face it Jason Stracham is meant for British caper movies the way Keanu Reeves is meant to play a clueless surfer cop in Point Break - so while he's not winning any Academies, he fits these rolls just fine.
You could wait for the DVD, or if you are looking for a fun way to kill 2 hours, you should go to the theater for this one.
Boksuneun naui geot (2002)
Very Rewarding Cinematic Experience
I, like many others, picked this movie out after being blown away by Oldboy in hopes of being equally blown away by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. It turns out that both movies hold up against one another, albeit in very different ways. Vengeance is a unique and 'human' emotion. In 'Sympathy', vengeance is the foundation of the movie from the outset. Unlike in Oldboy, where the true revenge only reveals itself at the end, Sympathy builds layers and cross plots of revenge before letting each plot play out in an interplay that most viewers should be able to follow.
I found the emotional pain exuded by the revenge actors added so much to this movie. Although the acts of violence don't pull any punches, there is an underlying theme of dystopia running through the film - there is no pleasure in the revenge, but instead almost a duty each character feels compelled to complete. The subtle inclusions of the masturbation scene, the organ stealing, and the retarded/physically debilitated man by the water offer countless interpretations on society and its disconnect with humanity and life.
All in all, I think the movie provides unique social commentaries for those of us who enjoy films that challenge you to explore humanity, while also offering up a classic revenge/violent type plot line for those of us who enjoy films that stick to a rather linear plot line. I realize every scene adds value to the movie's intended social commentary, and give it an 8/10 only because I think some scenes could have been edited. Either way, its a very impressive movie.
Meth is a tough drug to glorify
I simply want to discuss why I think this movie stands out among the genre of "drug" movies. Unlike heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, or coke, meth is a drug that simply can not be glorified. I love drugs and I love drug experiences. I mean I've grown past much of those scenes, but I appreciate drugs and often appreciate the ability directors have to depict drugs on the silver screen.
Watching Spun makes me thankful that I never resorted to Meth, and I think its a brilliant rendition of what this drug does to you. As for the acting, I found the movie difficult to watch because the acting was so "spun" in a sense. The ADD that meth brings on is so clear in this movie. No thought is finished, no plan is thought out, cause and effect are muddled in a world of sped minds. Its not my favorite movie of this genre largely because I feel like drug abuse should at the very least bring a satisfying high to the user before sinking the user into the myriad of troubles that drug addiction brings. This is the one saving grace for the user, the momentary high. In Spun, the momentary highs don't bring much grace, but instead, bring added confusion, added torment, and added lows. Its not easy to watch, but its respectable nonetheless.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Gripping, Heart Pounding, Intensity. . . and StoryLine almost keeps up.
The Bourne Trilogy having the benefit of Ultimatum as its closer serves up one of the best modern trilogies. The cat and mouse tactics between Jason and his pursuers is what makes the final segment of this trilogy a required viewing. These scenes are at first compressed into a majority of the first 40 minutes. The beauty of these scenes is that they simply take human nature and inject the highest level of awareness, reflex, and intuition. Its not as though Bourne's act is believable, but its not unbelievable either. The movie eventually tries to down shift, but even in the scenes of circumspection where characters try to process and react to the last crazy action sequence, intensity is rarely if ever lost. Bourne is so fluent in the language of covert tactics that we see notions of evasion, manipulation, and anticipation taken to the highest level. Of course, Bourne's efforts, while amazing are stunningly short lived, equally cool is the way Greengrass portrays the CIA as momentarily hoodwinked, but back on the trail within seconds. Greengrass, the director deserves accolades for his use of the hand-held cameras that give the footage a "live" type of feel, and implant the moviegoer into multiple P.O.V's in split second takes. I know this was done in Supremacy, but Greengrass has clearly mastered his own technique, and the manner these scenes are shot in differentiates the movie from your run of the mill action genre.
With the movie taking a running start, filled with action sequences, its noticeable that the actual plot lines were never the bread and butter to this movie. Unlike in Identity"where the omnipresent theme of amnesia acted so as to give Damon a boyish innocence/experience identity crisis, and made his romance and battle with the CIA emotionally significant. Ultimatum is more similar to Supremacy in that the plot is now a more bright line "search for the answer to who I am, and who is to blame" theme. Bourne finds some answers which do infuse some emotional depth into the robotic plot, but it just seems watching Bourne deconstruct scene after scene of entrapment is more robotic, because we know Bourne, and expect as much. Additionally, as Bourne learns more about himself, the mystery of who he is, and the impact this had on Bourne in the earlier parts of the trilogy vanishes.
Lastly, Ultimatum provides a fissure within the CIA in how to handle Bourne. We all know that Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) appears sympathetic to his plight, but now we see Noah Vosen (David Straitham) who is sympathetic to the CIA's plight in keeping secret the truth about Bourne and the program that trains/creates similar black ops. If Landy can see a shade or two of gray, Vosen sees only black and white. This allows for the final match point to develop, in a mad dash through Manhattan. Through all of the location shifts, and cat and mouse games, I think the actual plot and dialogue falter at times, perhaps only because they wind up being truly secondary instruments as compared to the cinematography/action sequencing. I wont hold that against the movie, I still think its top flight cinema that far far surpasses the vast majority of modern day action/thriller movies.
A niche movie that adds to its narrow genre
A movie set around a single night. A movie fueled by the dialect of drug users. A movie that doesn't do much than scratch the surface of relationships, drugs, and the manic lives of new yorkers, is not going to attract mainstream approval. I live in NY. I have done/do drugs. The movie appeals to me. The rambling dialogue hits topics like mortality, atheism, suicide, depression, love, sex, anger, pain, and make no mistake it all occurs over the high strung flow of cocaine use. The movie conveys the sense I get when Im out with friends and we have a great conversation about life. You don't necessarily remember it the next week, but you grow, slowly from experiences like that. Through what appears to be innocuous and skittish conversation, the viewer sees a morality within these characters. Its of course inescapably shallow because most of the pain and suffering is merely the result of privileged kids incapable of understanding why life does not play out like its supposed to. But for me, a 27 year old eastcoast, nyc, professional, much of the movie rings true to what happens in the big city, if its a sad social commentary, so be it....better than a glorified story that no one can relate to in my opinion.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Why do I love this movie?
I don't particularly think this is a classic or anything like that. I say that because Polansky seems to switch again and again between making a serious movie about books, Satan, and myth to making a parody of the very same subject matter. In general, if you like mysterious stories about weird underworlds (i.e. European book collectors and Devil Worshippers) then you should find this an entertaining movie.
I love Depp, and I think he gives a strong performance playing a book collector with very little soul who gets embroiled in a job. His job is to authenticate an edition of the Ninth Gate, one of 3 existing. The owner thinks he has a fake, but in actuality the links between the 3 editions become much more complex. There is a mysterious woman who helps him along the way, I've always had my theories on who/what she represents but I wont spoil the movie for the rest of you.
Shot well, acted well, and fairly captivating, the only negatives are the occasionally weird scenes that don't fit the underlying themes of cerebral, mysterious, and unknowing story lines. At times it seems Roman kinda just breezed through a scene or two, thats my only problem with the movie. Over all its definitely underrated, largely because it never received Hollywood's stamp of approval. Go see it.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
A Bloated, Boring, and unfortunately disappointing movie.
I wanted to like it, I really did. I bought my ticket for The Good Shepard solely based on a few trailers I saw in the fall....Damon, DeNiro, Pesci, Jolie...spies, the CIA, THE COLD WAR!!!!...this had to be good, or so I thought. Unfortunately, in one of the worst editing jobs I've ever seen, DeNiro lets this movie meander into a dismal abyss where the viewer begins to foretell the scenes and even the conclusion well before they happen.
First off, I must clear up a clear advertising ploy performed by the production house. This is not a movie about the birth of the CIA, its a biopic about a fictional character named Edward Wilson (Damon), loosely based on the life of the real CIA founder James Jesus Angleton. The trailers which make you excited to see Damon, Pesci, DeNiro, and Jolie share the screen are a fraud. Pesci has about a 3-minute cameo as a mob boss, and DeNiro stumbles (figuratively and literally) through 3 or 4 scenes as an Army general who recruits Damon and then guides him as the growth of counter intelligence and the Cold War occur simultaneously. Jolie plays second fiddle to Damon the entire movie. She holds her own at times, but the script more or less requires her to crawl into the shell of a marriage and life that her husband Damon makes for her. Its not a poor acting performance, but we are so used to seeing Jolie take over movies, that its almost painful to watch her hide behind Damon.
Onto the film -- Damon is excellent, and he draws fine supporting roles out of John Turturro and Micheal Gambon. The acting is the only saving grace of this movie. Im sure positive reviewers will touch open Damon's ability to hold the screen for 3 hours, and I concur he gives a strong performance as a man who is perhaps misunderstood, perhaps sheltered within his own moral-ism, but ultimately --boring. The life he partially chooses and is partially forced to chose is one of a supposed "higher purpose" and patriotism. The birth of the CIA is manifested by Wilson's ability to choose this patriotic life, and remain true to it in the face of serious conflicting decisions related to his friends, family, and overall morality. Some may call it stoicism, but Damon's portrayal of Wilson, which is intentionally designed to be wooden and singularly devoted to his career, sinks this movie. Its not that its not believable, its that its just not interesting. Wilson's personality is so obvious that the plot never takes on any intrigue because Wilson never waivers from his objectives and thus the plot lines become very predictable.
The first 45 minutes take you through the Yale years, the impregnation of Jolie, and Damon's stint as an intelligence officer in Britain during WWII. So far so good, but already you can see the developing themes: Damon & Jolie = the fraud of a marriage; Damon and Gambon (who serves as a his mentor) = internal betrayal, and the choice between protecting those close to you and serving the interests of the United States government.
The scenes that dominate the middle of this movie are not fluid and failed to perk my interest in the plot. People are promoted, but the viewer does not know why, people move to the Congo, but the viewer does not know why, people become turncoats, but no reason is given for their betrayals, instead you accept them as fact, hope for it all to tie in, and are disappointed when answers either fail to emerge or are predictable when they do.
In the end, the movie is disconnected. There is nothing left to hang your hat on. No great espionage scenes, no cinematic contributions to the spy genre as one may have thought, and very little if any historically significant commentary on what we all know is a time period and subject matter that lends itself to compelling theater.
Within the development of the CIA you see the fact that no one trusts anyone, but you only see brief snippets of true betrayal, or worse yet, the betrayals you do see can be forecast 1 hour before they happen. DeNiro has a bad habit of introducing an obvious problem into the plot, covering the problem up with 45 minutes of filler, and then letting it resurface, -- so you say to yourself, I forgot about that, but I saw it coming. Its no way to make a successful movie.
So with the CIA development and spy stories lacking in all respects, the movie turns back to the family and beats this plot line down over and over again until you just want Jolie to throw herself out of a window, much like some other people in the film and save both herself and the viewers the pain of watching the family continually devolve. In the end some choices must be made, but any half-minded viewer knows what will happen long before it does. Sure you can argue that there are a few twists, but after almost three hours, I was to numbed by sheer boredom to give much credit to any final hour plot twists. This is a boring movie, directed poorly, and acted wonderfully. Save it for a night with the girlfriend or wife when you want to fall asleep in each other's arms at home cause if anything it will serve as a good sleeping agent.
Casino Royale (2006)
Finally!!!!.....a real, modern, Bond movie.
This review is catered toward anyone who either grew up watching Connery and Moore play James Bond in the theaters, or if you are like me watching as a 6 year-old boy TBS marathons that would often have trifectas such as, A Spy Who Loved Me, ThunderBall, and From Russia With Love all on during the same day.
I didn't mind Brosnan as Bond, I minded the scripts, the often ridiculous plot lines, and the blatantly coordinated explosions. I minded the lack of any real emotion in any of the roles, whether they were Brosnan his enemies or his women.
Thus, I walked into Casino Royale expecting more of the same. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. For starters, Daniel Craig, with all the hoopla about a "blond Bond" delivers a subdued and concentrated performance similar to some of Connery's earliest work in Dr. No or GoldFinger. I mean even Connery worked more juvenile smiles or quircky one liners into those scripts then Craig is given in Royale. His face is stoic and at all times impressionless, as if he is playing poker at all times. I like this. He singlehandedly brought seriousness back to the "Bond" character.
Then, there is the script. At first a standard mission to foil terrorist via a high stakes poker game, the layers of this movie are first very simply built up. Good guy, bad guy, love interest, and the impossible duality between falling in love and working for the British Secret Service. Slowly these layers are peeled away, one supposed ending, leads to another, which leads to another. And all along, the plot line is not completely unfathomable like some of the past decades Bonds. Why not? Because the plot lines are driven by human emotions, by deceit and deception, not by crazy villains with incomprehendable plots.
Green and Craig are great. The screenplay is the best since arguably, GoldenEye or to take it back even further, For Your Eyes Only. For Bond fans, GO SEE THIS MOVIE....for people not familiar with Bond, this would be a good start.
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
An Amazing Film, that requires a certain mindset and knowledge to appreciate
Where to begin? Well Im going to begin with the fact that this a sequel to 1k Corpses that goes in a completely different direction and thus is hardly even comparable to its predecessor. Corpses was first and foremost a freak show set around a very generic plot line (2 couples get stuck in the middle of nowhere....horror occurs). Dialogue was non-existent and actual visual imagery of torture was in my opinion normally only displaying the conclusions (i.e. rather than seeing someone get impaled on a wall, you'd see the person impaled on the wall and covered in blood and dirt). In my opinion, Zombie had a good vision with 1000 Corpses but lacked the directorship and screenplay to make it work.
Thus, moving to Devil's Rejects we have a much improved director with a script that removes much of the Gothic/circus like feel of its predecessor and replaces it with a cool cinematographic feel (namely the deep south, creepy backwoods whorehouses and motels). Additionally, Zombie uses color in this movie. Many shots take in the Texas blue sky or barren landscape, it shows he is a director more confident in his ability to fill the screen whereas 1000 corpses was shot in proverbial rain or indoors.
I haven't even gotten to the plot or the acting. Sid Haig and Bill Moseley shine. The characters are given a personal dimension. And ultimately, I think what pisses off so many people about this movie is that you either have to root for the serial killers, or walk out of the movie, and that to me is completely awesome. Additionally, what pisses off people is that this is not a straight up psycho/Gothic/devil worshiping gore fest. And again I think that is the beauty of the film. You don't have monsters terrifying people, you have a script that both hoists the family (devil's rejects) up as a true-blue American family, father, mother, sister, brother, love, in-fighting, jokes, partying....Zombie doesn't force home the disturbed underlying nature of the family. Instead he tries as hard as possible to humanize people who are at the deepest level completely morbid.
And the certain levels of morbid interplay between the rejects and their victims is far more compelling in my opinion than any type of monster-like cannibalism/torture/insert standard horror gore. For instance when Otis is driving the two band members out to help him fetch guns, there is some dialog between him and his soon to be victims where he outright tells him whats going to happen -- they get the guns, he kills them. This provides a great bit of interplay where the band members are not really able to grasp their impending deaths...this is far more interesting to me than if Otis were to just go out into the desert and slowly torture people, which I think is what some fans of Zombie wanted to see. And of course the violence is there, its just preceded by forced human interaction which almost embodies an anti-social mythos. See, Baby forcing the girls to hit each other, see Otis using weaponry to sexually assault. And of course so much of the movie isn't about the cause but the effects of the rejects. See the police chief's devolution, see the girl running into the highway. I mean the world Zombie creates is not as simple as I think many wish it were. Violence and disturbing human behavior emanate throughout, but its not all obvious, things happen that you don't see coming, and its not all directly related to the Reject's ---and to me that is very cool.
Lastly, there is the way Zombie shot many of the scenes in a slow-motion feel. In the DVD interview he pays homage to the old Bonnie and Clyde film as inspiration for the ending to this flick. I think it was fantastic. He tries to offer a new look at gun battles and does so by slowing it all down. And you also have the interesting themes of the movie which I think can be stated as the "exploration/need to employ evil to fight evil" Of course the police chief is the vehicle for all of this, but again Zombie does not resort to the standard protagonist/ antagonist roles so often used to support the horror genre. There is no real good/bad in this movie because the supposed good guys end up devolving into equally morbid people.
All in all, I think anyone who sees this movie will be shocked, albeit for very different ways. I don't agree with any of the negative reviews on this page. I think most people were either
a) disgusted because the general aura surrounding the reject's family is extremely depraved and can turn many viewers away; b) disappointed because they expected a true-blue horror movie which to many is sadly the same old regurgitated violence/lack of character development/and lack of plot.
I for one was overjoyed to have finally watched a movie that makes you squirm, makes you cheer for the killers, and does so with a great soundtrack, and decent cinematographer, this is the horror genre after all. And for all the haters, I will throw you a bone, Sheri-moon zombie, although playfully dumb and thus kinda fitting her role like Keenu Reeves fits so many of his roles, is still out-acted at almost every turn. SEE THIS MOVIE PEOPLE!!!!!!
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
I love this movie. From the underlying theme of addiction to the social commentaries to the sheer beauty of the cinematography. But ultimately, I like movies that force you to either look away or hold on, squirm in your seat and continue absorbing the visual imagery, no matter how beautiful or disturbing. There is rarely a point in this movie when the viewer does not realize that the main characters, although battling different demons are all entering individual downward spirals. Although the uninformed may label this a "drug" movie, drugs are only the catalysts which propel the characters into much deeper and interesting battles with their own souls. When I hear the song that plays during the final and most harrowing shots elsewhere, it always brings me back to the imagery of this movie.