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Grizzly Man (2005)
Not about bears, but the delusions of a self destructive man
I find it interesting that so many people have criticized this movie because it doesn't focus on the grizzlies. This is a doc about Tim Treadwell, and like his own footage it has more to say about him than the bears. They seize the chance to deride what they see as an out-of-touch hippy environmentalist, when in fact many environmentalists (including this reviewer) were appalled by his behavior. The idea that he is some sort of cult hero for environmentalists, or somehow representative of them as a whole is ridiculous. The image of him walking freely through the wilderness trailed by wild foxes seems romantic until you realize he's been feeding them and therefore acclimating them to human contact.
A lot of people just write him off as a sick outcast from society who wasn't doing anything valuable and therefore not worth their time, but personally I found his story to be a fascinating look at a very sad, lonely, and mentally disturbed man. Its pretty obvious that he wasn't doing any research, that he wasn't protecting the bears from poaching, etc.. If anything he was doing the opposite of respecting the bears.
It becomes clear that he is out in the park to escape reality. I think this may have had something to do with his failed acting career and being a closeted homosexual (something he denies but admits would "make things easier"). His rant against the park rangers and tourists, contrasted with his naive idealization of the natural world and his place in it, underlines this.
At the outset of the film, one might buy into the image of Tim Treadwell that he tries to create for himself (that of the fearless "kind warrior"). But as the film progresses (and in spite of the mockumentary interviews that feel scripted and badly acted), more intimate and personal footage is revealed that was never intended for public consumption, painting Treadwell as a bi-polar manic depressive with a self destructive streak. What once seemed like bravery around the grizzlies dissolves into a game of Russian roulette, and in fact he had several uncomfortable encounters before he would finally meet his end.
Unfortunately, his suicidal tendencies not only ended his own life and that of his girl friend, but also the lives of two grizzly bears - magnificent and beautiful animals who would probably have avoided humans and their camp had they not become accustomed to Treadwell in the preceding days or weeks. If you can see past the hideous interviews and form your own conclusions about Treadwell's personal footage, I think you'll come away with a deeper appreciation for the old adage, no man is an island.
Oh, and I can't end this review without mentioning something. Werner Herzog, who directed and narrated this film, is constantly insisting we hear his opinion on things. He says at one point that he believes "the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder". He also states he sees nothing but indifference in the eyes of the bears. Maybe Herzog should take a look at some of the wonderful BBC documentaries that show the incredible harmony that exists in nature, or the tender care that a mother grizzly gives her cubs. If anything, those statements are true only of the universe of men.
Worst sequel I have seen in awhile
The first one was much better than I thought it would be, given that it was based on a Disney Land theme park ride. I didn't really feel like it needed to be turned into a trilogy, however when the sequel was announced I thought what the hell - maybe it will surprise me. Sadly this film falls into the category of over produced Hollywood cash grab. Which is too bad because there's plenty of potential for a good action adventure movie. I probably should've guessed something was fishy when they announced Keith Richards would put in an appearance as Depp's father (though not in this film, lucky us we have something to look forward to in #3).
The first movie was great because of the actors. Unfortunately it appears the directors and producers got a little too excited about special effects and have crammed the movie with pointless and redundant action scenes that don't really give the actors a chance to do their thing. I felt like I barely saw anything of Will Turner or the others. Johnny Depp managed to recapture the general attitude of Captain Jack but the terrible script fails him time and again. Bill Nighy "virtually" steals the show as Davey Jones, though there's not much left of him besides his voice and penetrating eyes.
Granted the visual effects are some of the best I have ever seen, especially the animation on Davey Jones tentacle beard. But the scenes with the Kraken drag on endlessly when they should be heart pounding, and the swashbuckling action scenes are often so badly choreographed you never feel they are actually fighting. And how about the offensive cannibal natives? What was that all about? Too many scenes are nothing more than cartoony gags fishing for cheap laughs, you could practically hear a pin drop in the theater as the actors were put through infantile slapstick routines. Many jokes concerning secondary characters are shamelessly rehashed and its just plain boring.
People who compare this to Empire Strikes Back apparently forgot that Empire was full of revelations. At the end of Empire we're left wondering if Vader is really Luke's father and if we'll ever see Han Solo alive again. At the end of this one we feel no closer to any resolution, having learned nothing of our heroes, without even a second thought as to whether or not Jack will make it out of there just fine. Its so painfully obvious where this is all headed. Its really quite a bad comparison to make because Empire was the strongest of the three Star Wars films and this will likely be remembered as the weakest of the Pirates trilogy.
From the trailer I assumed we'd see Will Turner and Miss Swann rejoin Captain Jack aboard the Black Pearl for more swashbuckling adventures on the high seas. This movie somehow managed to deliver this wrapped in a boring and convoluted mess of a package. Waste of my time and the first film's potential.
ironically I give it 3 stars for the special effects, which ruthlessly drown the rest of the production
Baraka "lite" (shorter, perhaps a good intro to this sort of film)
In Greek mythology, Chronos is said to be the personification of time. Taking that into consideration, you might assume that this would be the longest of the films that Ron Fricke was involved with but actually the opposite is true. Chronos comes in at just under 45 minutes making it a short but sweet trip around some of the world's most beautiful man-made and geological structures.
For those looking for a longer trip as well as more to think about when the film is over, I highly recommend Powaqqatsi at 99 mins, Baraka at 96 mins, and Koyaanisqatsi at 87 mins - but you should probably skip Naqoyqatsi at 89 mins because its the weakest of the Qatsi trilogy. Whereas Naqoyqatsi's seizure inducing mechanical/digital messages drench the experience, Chronos is the exact opposite.
Chronos is sort of a Baraka "lite". This does not have the music of Philip Glass or the socio-political messages, but the beauty on display should make up for it. Additionally Fricke experiments with different exposures and filters (not seen in the other films) to create some striking effects. If you get the chance to see it, definitely take this one for a spin.
Fricke has a new film coming out soon (should be sometime this year) called Samsara which is a sequel to Baraka, and if that doesn't fill the gap you can check out Anima Mundi (by Reggio about animals), Microcosmos (about insects) and Atlantis (by Luc Besson) which is like a scuba dive.
Unfortunately anyone interested in Egyptian culture will likely want to turn this off...
This movie had quite the potential to be something special. Afterall, outside of movies like The Mummy you don't see much about Egyptian culture on the big screen, and this being a sci-fi movie I had high expectations that we'd see some new ideas. Unfortunately it appears its just the Mummy with a slightly different skin...
The first time I saw this in theater, back when it first released. I was young and naive but even then I saw through some of its clichéd plot devices. Still, it was hard not to like some of the effects and action sequences, even if they seem completely out of place for this kind of setting. I remember being blown away by the stargate sequence itself, but seeing this several years later I could probably whip the whole sequence up on my home PC in less than a day. Some props for the pretty cool masks that partly explain all the animal headed Gods worshipped by the Egyptian people.
Too bad the writers felt the need to disregard any research (would it have been too much effort to hire an Egyptologist to look at actual writings and myths within the culture itself?). Had the Stargate shown us a time when the Egyptians were in full bloom it would've made for a much more enjoyable film than veering into alien territory. Lets take a look at the legend of Osiris and Isis for instance, now there's an area that could bear fruit.
On the surface it may appear a great film to show an aspiring Egyptologist (in early teens), and maybe thats OK. But you could equally show them The Mummy and its sequels and achieve the same effect, or better yet just show them some documentaries that go into detail about the real deal!
Wu ji (2005)
They broke the promise... and made a BAD movie.
OK, I've seen my share of Chinese films, mostly thanks to a friend of mine who makes it his mission to expose me to them. Most of the time, things turn out OK but lately it seems directors in China seem to think that, because Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers and Hero did well around the world, they should emulate that style and thus become successful themselves. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a couple of very talented directors giving us movies that betray their own personal styles (and better judgement) - 7 Swords being the other stinker to stay away from.
The story is garden-variety fantasy, basically emulating the other movies I mentioned. To the untrained eye it may look like it is based on some sort of folktale but (from the comments on here) we can assume it is not. So the story is highly derivative. The acting isn't horrible, but the actors fail to draw you in emotionally so you really don't care if someone lives or dies.
The main strengths lie in the production values, but like everything else in this movie its a mixed bag. Some of the costumes and sets are quite beautiful, others look like they belong in a bad TV movie. Some of the cg effects can be cool, but most of the ones involving actors doing special moves look terrible, unconvincing. First of all, there are many of the wonderful flying/running/jumping scenes in this movie similar to other movies in its genre. Unfortunately, they didn't quite nail the special effects so instead of looking cool (like the Matrix), it tends to look comical (like old Warner Bros Road Runner cartoons). Why didn't they hire the same people who did the effects for House of Flying Daggers?
So in the end, I give it a 3/10 because some of the special effects, costumes and sets are good. But that doesn't really add up to spending more than an hour and a half to watch this. It really drags on, mainly because you will be wondering what the hell they were thinking when they were writing it. There is virtually no logic to most of what you are going to see. Also, if you have seen the three movies this one is attempting to copy, you will get the uneasy feeling you are watching a knock-off. So... stay away at all costs.
Classic fairytale without the need for cg effects? Is this legal?
This was one of the first fantasy films I ever saw growing up and it had a lasting impression on me for many reasons, least of all the visuals, which are (like all of Scott's films) well-crafted and almost illustrative in their design. What really stuck out was the mythic quality of it all, and even at a young age the undeniably sexual overtones in the exchanges between the Lord of Darkness and Lily. I think people don't give kids enough credit but they do pick up on these things. I remember being taken aback when Lily's character dons the rather revealing dress late in the film and being shocked at her general demeanor afterwards; how her personality seems to change. All seemed right in the world when Jack and Lily return to their platonic relationship at film's end!
Having viewed the director's cut recently I've found my own perspective has changed dramatically with time but I still like this movie for much the same reasons. A lot of the intensity I felt seeing it back then must've been due to my age, and feeling one with the character of Jack -- something I can sadly no longer do. The fight scenes play out to me rather comically now but back then they were frightening. Its a testament to Scott's direction that this film wasn't too violent for children, while really walking the line of what is acceptable.
The Lord of Darkness make-up is simply outstanding and has only recently been topped with the likes of Hellboy. Once I was old enough to understand it was in fact an actor in a suit I was blown away to learn its actually Tim Curry underneath all that. There's no shortage of wonder on display here, but I think his was just the perfect idealization of evil, or Satan, EVER put to film.
Overall the director's cut leans a little towards the over-long side, and while I haven't heard the tangerine dream score in years I'm sure it suits this '80s fantasy better than a stuffy orchestral score. But as Scott says in the commentary, it is an operatic film and that is how I see it now; almost more like a ballet or a play than a historical fiction like Lord of the Rings. Thank god I was in good hands, or I may have been turned off of fantasy forever! This is one to be passed down, and I look forward to seeing it light up the eyes of my future children.
Poh wai ji wong (1994)
Its a bird... its a plane, its... Garfield?!
Stephen Chow is a comedic genius. Sure, Love on Delivery can at times be childish or even banal, but the overall effect is one of sheer insanity of the best kind. One of my favorite scenes is the satire of the Terminator. The characters are genuinely funny caricatures of the down on his luck loser delivery-boy, the dreamy lover girl, the penny-pinching boss, the cocky martial arts instructor, the dirty cheat out to make a quick buck, and many more.
Like Shaolin Soccer, Chow manages to create a mindless romantic comedy mixed with chopsocky martial arts and it works, but expect something more like a cartoon that your typical western comedy.
The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998)
Modern day take on the vampire, with a twist...
Immortality (or Wisdom of Crocodiles as its known across the pond) should be classified as a vampire flick, but I think to see it as nothing more would be missing the point. Just as the original Dracula carried powerful sexual undercurrents in its own heyday, so too must the current crop of vampire stories reveal something of the carnal desires in us today.
Jude Law plays the vampire who lives off the blood of others. In human terms he's a real charmer who (en lieu of love) lusts after the women he's with - only to toss them aside when someone new catches his attention - leaving an emotional car wreck in his wake. But this selfish and cruel heart-breaker may finally meet his match when against the odds he finds love with a woman who ultimately rejects him.
This sort of man or woman fits well with the vampire archetype, and makes for a nice twist on the genre in the vein of Anne Rice's work. Jude Law was on the rise to his now household name status when he took this on and as always delivers a stellar performance. I would've liked it more had they delved into some of the creepier parts of his character, such as the crystallized shards of blood he painfully removes after a kill (somehow like the purging or catharsis one undergoes after any relationship, revealing he suffers something if not a crisis of conscience). Or the fact that his strange last name has no vowels and can't be traced to any heritage or country of origin.
The casting is not without its flaws however, for Jude's foil is not the most interesting choice and I imagine could've been better with a more recognizable actress. I'm just not sure I'm convinced of her charms in the face of a man who we can assume has been treating women as nothing more than a life sustaining meal for many years.
But no matter. Law carries the film, delivers an excellent performance in this stark but classy production. If you're a fan of his films or the vampire genre, Immortality is definitely worth a viewing or two. May have been even better with a female in the role of the vampire.
The Frighteners (1996)
Not all that frightening and not all that funny either
Peter Jackson certainly made a name for himself with Heavenly Creatures and since then Lord of the Rings, so I was curious about checking out some of his older ones. Passing over Meet the Feebles I went with The Frighteners.
Michael J Fox is great, and the effects are mostly pretty good. But the story logic and gags are kind of off, as if Jackson was unsure what to give his audience. Should he be true to his roots and give us a real slasher flick, or a mainstream comedy with a few scary bits? In the end its sort of like Ghostbusters crossed with Scream. I mean, on one side of the coin you've got a bunch of ghosts making sexual jokes, and on the other side you've got a homicidal killer who likes to carve numbers into people's foreheads after murdering them. Every now and then it veers off in one of these directions and I can't help but feel it would've been better if it was more to the extreme one way or the other.
I watched this primarily to see Jackson's pre-LOTR work and I wasn't too impressed but if the mood strikes you for something really off the wall, you could do worse.
Wonderful Nonsense (a forgotten classic?)
A young Sarah Polly is swept on a grand storybook adventure when her father's theater is visited by the source of its drama; the real Baron himself (perfectly played by John Neville). The town is under siege by the Turks and only Munchausen and his band of curious adventurers can save it, so long as Death or a doctor doesn't catch him.
Terry Gilliam, having hit his stride with the 1984-and-a-half classic Brazil, went on to fulfill his ultimate fantasy film with a great cast of actors (Jonathan Price included), beautifully detailed sets and costumes, and a very strange yarn of a tale indeed. Bit parts are filled out by Robin Williams, the late Oliver Reed (seen most recently as Proximo in Gladiator) serving up a fiery Vulcan - husband to a young (not to mention stunning) Uma Thurman as Venus.
A great deal of the magic that sparkled in Brazil seems to have been rekindled here, and while it may have been panned at the time of its release, time has treated it well. The effects have that pre-cg feeling that makes me warm and fuzzy inside, and while its a little slow to get started, it surprises around every turn.
Fans of Gilliam's work (and those who still possess that curious inner child) will find much to enjoy here - even if it is nothing more than wonderful nonsense.