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Thunder and Lightning (1977)
Too Much Good Ol Boys and Too Much "Yahoo"
2 out of 10
Contrived good ol' boy, yahoo nonsense that is taken into overdrive. There really is no need to talk about the story since it is very derivative and just an excuse to put in a lot of smash up car chases.
The filmmakers seem compelled to come up with every southern stereotype they can think of. There is the grizzled, uneducated, overall wearing, backwoods moonshiners. There is also the grubby, beer swilling, uneducated, pick up truck driving rednecks with names like Bubba and Scooter. Then there's the virtuous, but spunky southern daughter with a accent that is really annoying. There is even a scene where a couple of down home boys jump into a car and shout "yahoo!" as it takes off. It's all a very one dimensional, uninspired mess that makes you feel completely brain dead after about ten minutes.
The production values aren't too good. The sound is muffled and there are too many quick cuts making some of the action hard to follow. The whole thing looks rushed and haphazard and simply done to cash in on the success of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT.
Carradine's performance is much too subdued. He seems to have no energy and is just mouthing his lines. Jackson is pretty, but her personality is much too strong. The only fun piece of casting is Holloway. He plays the main moonshiner and is probably best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh. This was to be his last film appearance.
The film has a few good moments that are worth mentioning. One is a unique speed boat chase done on a large swamp. There is a segment where a minister preaches his sermon while wrestling with a alligator. There are also hit men who like in PULP FICTION have unusual conversations. Some of the strange topics include too much violence on TV, Captain Kangaroo, and even Norman Vincent Peale. There is also one really good inside joke. Napier is having a fight with Carradine and yells out "Hey as----- knock off the Kung Fu sh--."
A Good Approach That Just Doesn't Go Far Enough
5 out of 10
True story of Aileen Wournos. A prostitute who killed over seven men in and around the Florida area during the 1980's.
The most interesting aspect of this film is the fact that it merges the morality. Nothing is black and white and the Wournas character is portrayed in a sensitive light. In a lot of ways you really grow to have a compassion for her and a feeling for a her rough existence. In fact during the first incident where she kills a man you are actually rooting for her to do it as he has tied her up and torturing her. Wournas is really a victim and is no way the 'monster' that the title infers. This is one of those 'stories behind the headlines' that allows you to see it from a different perspective and have a better understanding about what happened and why.
This also allows for a good commentary on society where the film seems to place the brunt of the blame. We see her trying to go clean and yet when no one will hire her she is forced to go back to her old ways and then punished for simply doing the desperate acts of a desperate person with few if any options. The real monster here seems to be our socio-economic structure and certain puritanical people who underneath are really quite ugly and just as scary.
The atmosphere is gritty and authentic and never let's up. There is also a nice running commentary by the Wournas character, which allows for further insight into how she rationalizes what she does. Some of her observations are right on target.
The film's biggest flaw is that it puts too much emphasis on her relationship with lesbian lover Selby (Ricci). It's a rather offbeat relationship for sure and there are some telling moments about it, but it's only one element. Some of the scenes between the two go on too long and become boring.
The film also completely skip Wournas's childhood, which seems like an almost fundamental stage to examine. The scenes involving the killings of the male customers are pretty benign. Only the one involving Wilson, who was simply a kindly old man at the wrong place at the wrong time, has any emotional impact.
Theron certainly plays the part without fault and was an obvious choice for the Oscar yet some of the credit really needs to go to the make up department. Ricci is usually pretty good, but some of her responses here seem affected. Still she has a real nice innocent girl look here that ends up exposing a dark side you just don't see at the start.
Overall the film doesn't seem too have as much impact as it should. The approach is a little too biased and they seem almost intent at making Wournas into some sort of martyr. Despite an earnest effort it still seems like just an overview.
Secret Window (2004)
Not a Real Good Career Move for Depp
4 out of 10
Strained thriller dealing with a writer (Depp) in a secluded cabin who becomes menaced by a country hick (Turturro) who insists that Depp stole one of his story ideas. The hick becomes more and more vengeful, which leads to some intense confrontations and even murder.
The biggest problem with this film is the fact that it is based on a short story that would make it perfect for an episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, but as a feature film it gets stretched pretty thin. The whole concept is built around a gimmick that comes around the final twenty minutes. It is a severe twist that is unexpected and may be a turn off to some viewers. There are no real 'hints' of it coming and not enough reasons to back it up. The final result is stale with no real scares to speak of. The characters and dialogue are really bland. In a lot of ways this is quite similar to THE DARK HALF, which was another movie based on a Stephen King book. It also starred Timothy Hutton who appears here and also tries to sport a southern accent that doesn't sound to good and wavers a lot.
Depp is known for taking 'daring' roles, but this one backfired. He is completely unlikable from the very beginning. He is self absorbed, snide, indecisive, and even a bit stupid. He is alone in a lot of the scenes, but he can't supply them with any energy. He also doesn't seem to know how to dress himself. He never even remotely resembles a successful adult writer at a cabin retreat. Instead he looks like a college slacker who got the place to himself while his parents where away on vacation. When he puts on his stocking cap he actually starts to look like your average street punk. Even Depp fans might walk away wishing they had skipped this one.
Out of all the characters only the one played by Charles S Dutton is the least bit engaging and of course he disappears way too soon. You gotta love that timer clock that he uses in his office it is the funniest part of the whole movie.
Turturro's hillbilly character is overly cliched and borders on being laughable. It would be amazing if this character could even spell let alone write anything of any coherence. Still Turturro can be creepy when he wants to be in what otherwise looks like nothing more than a leftover character from DELIVERANCE.
Bello is engaging as Depp's ex-wife simply because she looks so much like Tuesday Weld in her prime. It is a uncanny resemblance. It is also nice to see a male character in a Hollywood film that is actually married (or in this case formerly married) to a woman that was his same age and not twenty years younger.
In the final analysis this film is built solely around one twist. If you like the twist you will like the film if not you won't. Personally I didn't like it. The story could have gone in several different directions and many of those could have been better. Here it ends up being just too cold, too calculated, and too unexciting. The filmmakers clearly thought this would end up being a lot more 'clever' than it really is. Hard to believe that this was done by the same guy who did APARTMENT ZERO. That film seemed so much more sophisticated.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Far Superior to the Original
7 out of 10
Agreeable, easygoing actioner detailing a motley group of eleven very different guys brought together to a rob a highly secure casino in Las Vegas.
This is a remake of the 1960 original that starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. This one is far, far better. Of course that film was so boring it is hard to believe that a remake could be any worse. That film did not concentrate on the robbery itself, but instead just relied upon ol' blue eyes and Dino mugging for the camera. This one is much more focused on the heist, which is elaborate and once it gets going even exciting. They also do not fill you in on the complete plan and therefore gives the viewer some real neat intricate twists to the heist as it progresses.
The real drawback to it is just the fact that it seems virtually impossible to pull off especially with the way that they do it. The fact that they do it with such ease really hurts the tension level. It also gets a bit too exaggerated and hi-tech. At times it almost seems more like an espionage film than a caper flick.
The comraderie amongst the group is one of the film's better elements. No one is overly obnoxious and no one is so cool that they can't be touched. These guys are slick, but they can still get nervous and display other vulnerabilities. There is also some genuine concern and support for each other. There is even some snappy exchanges although there could have been and should have been a lot more.
It is also nice that it breaks the age barrier and incorporates old timers Reiner and Gould into the fold. Gould is pretty much wasted, but at least it's nice seeing him back doing movies that are released to the theatre and not just to your local video store shelf. Although I must say his oversized Harry Carey glasses are awful and not even good for laughs. Reiner is good because he proves here that he can actually act as well as write and direct. The ethnic accent he uses isn't bad.
The character of the casino owner who gets robbed is a interesting one. He is a man that carries everything out with a precision and is apparently quite sadistic and violent if he feels you betrayed him. He is written as kind of 'untouchable' character with a mystic like the one in THE USUAL SUSPECTS. However Andy Garcia, who plays the part, fails to bring out even one shred of that mythical quality. In fact Garcia makes the character seem downright dull.
One should also mention the terrific smooth jazz score. It perfectly compliments the laid back style of the film and is distinct. Of course, at times, the film may get a little too laid back. It takes a while to get you involved with it and the ending is just too restrained.
I am usually not too into sequels, but a sequel here seems like a good idea. This is a fun bunch too watch and they should be enjoyable in further adventures. Their robbery schemes are clever. A little fine tuning and it should be a blast. Clooney is always good, but he overshadows Pitt too much and hopefully that will get rectified.
Bank Shot (1974)
Funny, Funny, Funny
8 out of 10
Completely wacky story involving seven nutty people who decide to rob a bank that is inside a mobile home. They do so by stealing the entire building only to find that trying to open the safe is even tougher.
This is the type of comedy that works because although it is built around one gimmick it doesn't just stay dependent on it. Everything is offbeat here. It really is just one laugh after another and it comes at a extremely fast pace. Nearly every scene is diverting and some of it even memorable. It shows a good handle on the absurd with just the right balance of the irreverent particularly with the police and other authority figures. Scott's escape from his prison camp is good example of all these ingredients. He uses a stolen bulldozer to crash through the gate while the police chief tries to 'chase him down' while driving nothing more than a flimsy little golf cart. It all makes for one of the most unique chase sequences you will ever see.
Of course the actual heist of the bank building is still the best. The innumerable and frustrating attempts at trying to open a most difficult safe comes in at a close second. There are also a lot of other fun ironic twists.
Scott is not necessarily the best person for the part of the cunning and audacious criminal mastermind. He looks very old, grouchy, and tired here. He has your grandfathers big bushy eyebrows and talks with a very strange lisp. Yet he is also at his crumudgeon best and the film makes the most of it. Cassidy with her infectious laugh and very sunny disposition makes for a terrific counterpart. James though probably stands out the most in a over the top caricature of the hard nosed police sergeant. It's the best role of his career and a part he looks to have been born to play.
If the film has any faults it is the fact that it tends to be too one dimensionally silly and at points seems almost cartoonish. A little more tension here and there wouldn't have hurt. It also goes by way too fast and the ending isn't very satisfying. Still this is a solid comedy that should appeal to anyone with a good sense of humor. It is also fun for the whole family.
The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
Glossy and Superficial, But Still Quite Interesting
7 out of 10
It is hard to resist this documentary even though it seems more like self promotion. The fact that this man has attained what others could only dream about makes it a must see itself. Robert Evans certainly does seem to embody every stereotype one could imagine when they think of a Hollywood producer. He is rich and suave, he wears big, tinted glasses, dresses in gaudy suits, hosts wild parties, dates beautiful women, and lives in a beautiful, serene Hollywood home. You would think that he would almost have to be a caricature, but he isn't. His stories involving famous Hollywood celebs, both past and present, could alone fill a movie if not several.
Of course that is the problem with the documentary. It all seems a bit too Hollywood. Everything seems a bit phoney and too far removed from the average person. He seems, in a way, to have made a production out of himself. The film, like the man, is very deliberate and highly glossy. It depends almost exclusively on some very well transferred old photographs and elaborate stills. At no time do we ever get someone else's viewpoint or perspective. Evans shows no ability at having any self depreciating humor or humbleness. His determination and gutsiness is inspiring yet it would have been nice to see Evans as a child and a little bit more on his upbringing. Also the dialogue between him and his then wife Ali Macgraw seems really weird and only adds to the mythical quality of the thing.
Evans does all the narrating and proves to be quite a character and showman. His ability to do different accents and voices is impressive. The whole thing is very fluid and it gets you involved in a hypnotic sort of way. You also gotta love his saying, which was taken from an old Chinese proverb "Luck is when opportunity meets good preparation."
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
One of the All Time Best
10 out of 10
British P.O.W.'s at a Japanese island prison are ordered to build a bridge for the Japanese army yet the bridge and the construction of it only serve as a metaphor for human nature and the overall human condition.
This film is actually split up into six very distinct parts. The first and by far the most interesting is the clash of wills between Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito. The second part is the actual building of the bridge while the third is the planning for it's destruction. The fourth is the slow and dangerous advancement through the jungle by the people hired to destroy the bridge. The fifth consists of the actual completion of the bridge while the sixth deals with it's destruction.
It is really rare for a film to grab your attention right away and hold it consistently all the way through. Even through three hours length it never has a slow moment and thankfully is not filled with needless extraneous footage either. It is one of the most compacted, tightly edited three hour films you will ever see. Finally Director Lean has a found a story that is strong enough and profound enough to match his very expansive visual style.
This film is tops in literally every aspect. There is a terrific music score, lush photography, great location, acting, editing, and some really good special effects. It is is also just a great all around adventure that balances it's profound moments with some really good action. The ending is especially powerful and thought provoking. There is also, believe it or not, some really good comedy. Pay special attention to that calender in Hayakawa's office and how it changes from month to month.
Of course there is some strong doubt whether any of this could really happen in a actual P.O.W. camp especially with that big variety show the prisoners put on after the bridge's completion. Yet the film still represents some very universal issues. The animosity between the Guiness character and the Hayakawa one is the best because it shows how even with the greatest of adversaries they are more alike than they are different. It also shows that how sometimes the one thing that really separates people more than anything is nothing more than circumstance. It is also great at how it examines that even with the strongest, most disciplined, and most intimidating of people they can still have weaknesses somewhere. This is also a film that makes terrific use of it's silent moments and makes it one of it's strongest elements.
September 30, 1955 (1977)
Too Melodramatic For It's Own Good
4 out of 10
The title represents the date that the legendary and truly great actor James Dean died in a car crash. His death has an adverse effect on a group of teens in a small southern town.
Thomas is the main character who , along with his girlfriend Billie Jean, seems to get the most upset. Although some of his actions may seem fanatical it is really not as extreme or as a fanatical as you may think it would be or could have been. At no time does he become so immersed in it that he loses sight of reality. At times it really becomes more of a story of lost young souls looking for an identity than it does on celebrity worship.
The story itself is pretty slow and has a lot of long drawn out takes. There are times when the drama gets just a little too heavy. The ending is especially unsatisfying as it doesn't even give us a hint as to whatever became of these characters who are all left in unfinished scenarios. In the final analysis this thing is nothing more than another one of those sappy 70's teen romance tragedies.
Beyond the poor structure there are indeed some good things going on here. One is the just the chance of seeing such budding young talents working together and carrying a film. The other is director Bridges who shows some really good insight into Dean's mystic and why he made such a strong connection with the youth. You have the feeling that Bridges himself was a really big Dean fan. He also makes a good statement about just how many lost, lonely souls there are out there and the stifling nature of small town life especially during that period. He also recreates an excellent 50's flavor maybe some of the best you will ever see. The interactions between the characters seems very real and there is good historical accuracy. Bridges is honest with his assessment of the 50's and yet is not condescending to it like with a lot of other movies. He digs beyond just the period detail. You really feel, at least during the first hour, that you are right there and a part of the 50's experience, which is interesting and fun.
Overall Bridges shows signs of being a serious up and coming filmmaker. Unfortunately he tries a little too hard here. It seems too labored and trapped by the sensibilities of it's era. It is also completely humorless, too talky, and an eventual bore.
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
7 out of 10
Nicholson plays an older man (over 60) who likes to date much younger women (under 20). Things begin to change though when he has a heart attack at the home of his girlfriend's mother (Keaton). As he is stuck their recuperating the sparks between him and the mother slowly begin to fly. Unfortunately complications are furthered by his doctor (Reeves) who also has a interest in the mother.
This is a real fun and charming romantic comedy. This is the kind of breezy film that can be both topical and observant without going overboard on either. It nicely explores both the issue of age and double standards. It has a fresh feel and yet still makes some good points along the way. It also takes the major step of making older single women look not only sexy, but accomplished and fulfilled as well.
The love scenes between Keaton and Nicholson work along these same lines and to an extent almost seem groundbreaking. It is indeed refreshing to see such 'mature' people having such an unabashed little romp. Yet Hollywood has made us very accustomed to seeing only young people doing this on screen and at first it does seem a little bit jarring yet it is all handled in a very light and sweet way. It is also different from most other films in that it emphasizes the romantic side of lovemaking instead of just the erotic.
Keaton really does shine here. She has now fully outgrown her ANNIE HALL persona. In many ways her character here is the exact opposite. She is confident, secure, and opinionated. She has a real nice snappy delivery to her lines. She goes toe to toe with Nicholson and never misses a step. Her performance comes off as believable and everyday an Academy Award nomination should certainly be in order.
Peet, as the daughter, is real good in a different sort of way. Depending on the scene she comes off as either jaded or very child like. It is both keen and funny to see this young women who seems very sophisticated and confident and yet when Nicholson has his heart attack she seems very confused and helpless and even calls out for her mother.
McDormand is wasted and doesn't appear hardly at all after the beginning. This is a shame because she is not only a great actress, but her character nicely compliments Keaton's. Reeves also seems a bit wasted and also a little too dumped on.
There are times when this film falls into the same old romantic cliches and the ending just doesn't ring true. Yet it still keeps things pretty real. It shows how difficult finding true love can be and the many road blocks it entails even after you've found it.
Makes Good Use of it's 'Rags to Riches' Formula
9 out of 10
Inspiring and exhilarating story about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that broke long odds by beating the mighty Russian team and eventually going on to win the gold medal.
This film gives off a rousing spirit that can be equaled to the one given off by the classic ROCKY picture. One almost wants to jump from their seat and cheer. This a very unique brand of movie because you know exactly what is going to happen and yet it only makes it all the more exciting. It has a marvelous structure that takes things from the 'blueprint' stage to the final stage. You see everything from the hiring of coach Brooks, to the selecting of players, their rigorous conditioning and eventual molding. You see how this really wasn't a 'miracle' at all, but instead just good strategy and a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
This is a film that can be appreciated by a true sports fan as well as a player or coach. It sticks to the basic story and by and large keeps things real. There are no unnecessary story threads or exaggerations. On the whole it is accurate and amazingly detailed. It captures the era well and should bring back a strong feeling of emotion and nostalgia to those who lived through it.
Russell at first seems miscast as Herb Brooks. He wears a puffy hairpiece that looks absolutely awful on him. The plaid pants he wears look almost as garish. His Minnesota accent seems a little goofy at first, but by and large he stays pretty consistent with it. Eventually he starts to really melt into the role. His body language resembles the real Brooks and by the end you start to believe he is Brooks. The way he chews his gum behind the bench during the games looks exactly the way a real coach does. This is one of Russell's best acting jobs and deserves Oscar consideration.
It's hard to find anything too critical about this film. The "Dream On" song by Aerosmith, that is played over the closing credits, seems to edgy for the material however the rest of the music is excellent. It would also have been nice to see what the players look like today instead of just reading tidbits about what they are all now doing. The crowd in this film cannot equal the enthusiasm of the real crowd. It might have worked better had it been filmed in the U.S. and an actual American crowd been used.
It is unfortunate that those in Canada dislike this movie because they consider it pro-American. This film is not about politics of even hockey for that matter. This film is about having big dreams and the exhilaration that comes when they are finally met. It's just the same old 'rags to riches' formula, but it's very well done.