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Miami Vice (2006)
Ugh - Not Worth the Price of Admission
Once a picture is on the screen the role of the director is subtle. For example, Spielberg uses a lot of crane shots, but only in advancing the picture. Michael Mann, the director of Miami Vice, seems to be shouting: "Look at Me - I'm the Director". Well, some advice: Just because there are cameras that can be hand held, it doesn't mean they should be used beyond all reason. Second, dialog is meant to be heard. Unless you read lips, half the dialog in this picture is fuzzy or inaudible. I know that's not an accident. The director is there while doing the re-recording mix. Somehow Mr. Mann thinks it's more suspenseful when you don't know what's going on. Actually it's more confusing.
My final gripe is the film is too long by at least 20 minutes. Mann is known as a director who doesn't take kindly to advice or criticism. If I were making a movie tomorrow, he'd be the last on my long list. The short list is for those who can tell a story.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Ugh - The Case Against Sequels
Having written a three part novel, it is my firm belief that before the writer begins the first novel, he or she should have a firm idea of how the third novel will end, as well as the connective tissue that holds the three together. I don't care what the Warschawsky's Press Agent would have you believe, but when the first Matrix was completed and awaiting release, nobody was thinking sequels - and it shows. There are some movies that deserve to stand up as one time only. The first Matrix was a ground breaker in look and f/x. The next two were boring high budget films which require a cheat sheet to keep track of the plot.
The best that one can say, is if given the choice of producing large scale crowd effects, the job should go to WEDA. Their software is positively awesome. As for the Reloaded and Revolutions, they are clinkers, pure and simple. A good rule of thumb: if a movie relies on special effects more than cinematic story telling, it means there is no story, and the movie isn't worth your valuable time.
Moby Dick (1998)
The Most Powerful Movie Made for Television
Usually I don't expect much out of movies made for TV. They're seven acts, instead of the traditional three, which makes plotting difficult. They work on miniscule budgets, and usually use actors on their way up or their way down. Not to be compared with theatrical motion pictures - apples and oranges. However, the exception proves the rule.
This is an epic telling of the Melville story. Okay, most of you probably had a bad experience reading the novel. You end up asking why Ahab was prepared to give his life for catching or killing the great albino whale. The answer is that Ahab and the Whale are inexorably bound in life. The whale is Ahab's grab for the eternal brass ring, one that eludes him time and again.
First: Best motion picture score I've ever heard for a TV Movie. Second: This picture is filmed like a theatrical, meant to be projected on a large screen. Third: My dear friend, Patrick Stewart who doesn't know how to give a bad performance. Patrick, like the whale is a force of nature, not to be denied. I've directed Patrick on a number of occasions and there's none of the nonsense you hear about the whims of great actors. Patrick comes to work prepared and when he makes a suggestion you take it very seriously.
I don't care about the other online reviews putting the knock on Melville or his story. What have any of us done recently that will live for more than a century and a half. That my friends is the mark of greatness. It's an elusive butterfly that anybody who gives their life to the creative arts covets and strives to achieve. I give it a ten and defy any reader of this review to tell me why it deserves a scentila less.
National Treasure (2004)
Pop Corn Movie not to be take seriously
National Treasure could have been a quasi-Indiana Jones film, but the story had more holes than a prairie dog metropolis, the dialog was lame, the acting was wooden (n-1 dimensional), and basically the flaws could only be compensated by lots of noise and plenty of boinks. This film reminds me a little of Disney's "Black Hole". Great concept, horrific execution. Where is the production supervision? How can a Jerry Buckheimer film get re-edited down to 100 minutes and come out so vanilla? If you're wondering why it finished ahead of Sponge Bob Square Pants I can think of two reasons. People were ready for a more adult movie (ha ha) and much of Sponge Bob's following is too young to go to the movies. I give this a five for a good sound design, and a one for everything else. Ugh.
The Great Escape (1963)
A Film that Defines the term Classic
The Great Escape is certainly among the top 5 films ever made of World War II. Steve McQueen is superb, even though his part was written as they went along. You've got to love James Garner the scrounger and helpmate the Donald Pleasance (The Forger) and interestingly a prisoner of war himself. John Sturges the Producer/Director had just come off "The Magnificent Seven" so he was as hot as the core of the sun. Basically the film is about the indominable will of the human spirit. It chronicals the greatest escape attempt of the war, what it doesn't tell you is that it diverted the attention of nearly a million German soldiers from the landing on D-Day. A magnificent epic, gorgeously transfered in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a score by Elmer Bernstein that will ring in your ears for a good week after watching the film. 10/10
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Michael Moore Once Again Gives Documentaries a Bad Name
Documentaries: I've made 32 of them, and I'm ashamed of the way Michael Moore has hijacked the genre. This film is so propagandistic I can only speak of it in terms of "Triumph of the Will" the well known propaganda film made by Leni Reifenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker. Moore is so selective and spins his private take on the tragic events of 9/11 that truth is carefully obfuscated. Give me the same footage and I can make a totally different movie. Moore is counting on the infamy of the event and a polarity in the body politic to insure a big success on a low budget piece of garbage. What he's doing in fact, is spinning a spider web over nearly 3000 unfortunate souls to advance his political agenda. His title should have been Fahrenheit 200, the temperature at which film negative burns. Disgusting. Moore get a life.
The Terminal (2004)
Spielberg and Hanks - It's Magic Time
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks may just be the best director/star team going. Once again they light up the screen with a terrific quirky portrayal of a man stranded at JFK because his country no longer exists. Hanks character is mesmerizing as he goes from a "not acceptable" to the hero of this city within a city. Spielberg, as usual, has crafted a superb visual experience. His patented crane shots sweeps the architecture of the Terminal, giving us an extraordinary view of this world within a circle. John Williams score once again proves he is the dean of film composers. All in all, this is the best film I've seen this year. Hanks gives an Oscar level performance, Spielberg will undoubtedly be on this year's DGA ballot. This picture could shine come next year. Further it is just the kind of film to weather the summer box office, where one blockbuster after another is knocking each other off top dog spot. This film has legs! 10/10
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Mother of All Disaster Pictures and one of the worst
Look, let's get one thing straight. This isn't a movie. It's a blog on the questionable issue of global warming. Frankly, climatologists will tell you they know less about the science than Larry Flynn knows about good taste. In fact, my friends at NASA tells me there is no science here so it's just a work of fiction, meant to capture your attention, for those of you who know no science, an attempt to jump on the Al Gore bandwagon. You remember Al Gore, the man who told us he in invented the internet.
This is a political season. The concepts put before you simply have no basis in science. The producers had a political agenda and it shows like a pretty girl in a celophane nightgown. The real truth is that periodic warming and cooling of the atmosphere has been going on for 4.5 billion years, and that predates Al Gore and the Internet. If you want to believe this picture is an acceptable depiction of global warning than please call me because I have a well known bridge to show you.
Wolfgang, you stole Dead Zone from Lynda, and made a mush of it. Karma Wolfgang, Karma. You're going to make a fortune, but you have sold your artistic soul, assuming you ever had one.
The Black Hole (1979)
A Great Premise that Disney Destroyed
Okay, so it was the last gasp of Ron Miller as head of the studio, but the premise of passing into a black hole was very badly handled. The characters were, well unreal, the science was non-existant, and Ernest Borgnine wasn't exactly Marty. Still the trailer, if you ever get a chance to see it, is one of the best ever made. Somehow, they ruined the picture.
If you're under 12 it's a romp; if you know anything about science you'll want to vomit. I give it 3/10 because Ron Miller had to give back his Corniche when the studio fired him and replaced him with guess who? Michael Eisner. A genuine mogul who learned as did the great Roman emperors that all glory is fleeting.
Wing Commander (1999)
An Awesome Accomplishment on a Minimal Budget
I've read the negative comments. Now let someone inside the business tell you that the degree of difficulty to create this film was Star Wars level, considering most of the CGI was done on spec. Say what you want about Freddie Prinze, Jr., but the real star of this film was Tchéky Karyo, a superior actor with more facial expressiveness than almost anyone on the "A" List. Comparing it to the game is like comparing a novel to a film. They are not in the same ballpark. This film is exciting, engaging, and I'm sorry if it didn't have enough major stars to thrill you. The battle sequences were A+ all the way. Congratulations to Digital Anvil for giving ILM a run for its money.
King of the Rocket Men (1949)
A Treat as long as you don't take it seriously
While I don't want to date myself, this is the first film I actually saw made. It's a 13 part chapter play, aka serial, that fifties kids enjoyed on Saturdays at the movies. All serials had a formula. They ended with a cliffhanger, they began with the "take out" of the previous week's episode, and featured lots of action and lame dialog. This one also offered the best human flying effects to that time. In fact, nobody surpassed them until Superman: The Movie. You can thank the Lydecker Brothers who not only created the effect, but nearly sunk NY City with a tidal wave. 4.5 hours of film on a budget of $175,000. You can only shake your head in amazement. I've seen the series a dozen times. I can recall seeing a screening of it in a local theater where they played all 13 episodes back to back. It got so that one section of the audience would cheer the producer and another the director. Everybody booed the actors. When did you last have a movie going experience like that?
One Solid Adventure
Don't wait for this film to come out on DVD. It needs a really big screen and a full 2.35 aspect ratio. Viggo Mortenson gives a strong if albeit muted performance, Omar Shariff has more charisma than any man deserves, a beautiful score by James Newton Howard, and a magical movie moment in the last few minutes of the picture made this a must see flick. Too bad it was overshadowed by the Gibson picture, hopefully it will make it back in home video. If you ever craved adventure without it resorting to comic book formula, this is your picture - at least for now. 8/10 downgraded for some pasteboard bad guys. Kudos to Joe Johnston for his best directorial effort.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
An Interesting Story Whose Cinematic Version Fails to Hold Up
I'm a Robert Wise fan, but this wasn't his finest moment. This film has so much a movie of the week look to it that it's scary. All those zoom shots, the cheezy looking set constantly being redressed in various shades of color. The question that never got answered was this: Was the Government looking for microbic life in outerspace, or did it plant some kind of Earthborne life and allow it to mutate into something else? Imagine sending a scoup into orbit and hoping it will find a living form of matter 2 microns (2 million's of a meter)? Also the science is all wrong. The characters talk about intelligent life the size of a microbe. What a joke! It takes ten trillion neural connections in the human brain to make us intelligent, how do you suppose a microbe can manage that? Lastly, the dialog is punctuated by silence. A music score was needed for the pacing which is erratic. I knew Doug Trumbull (the last time I saw him was at a conference held at Windows on the World at the Trade Center a year before 9/11). He was still wet behind the ears and lost money on his special effects bid. Corners were cut and they show. This movie doesn't hold up as well as Forbidden Planet, made years before. The acting is wooden, the direction ill-conceived. It's a 130 minute waste of time and talent.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
A Dangerous Film Made With Good Intentions
I know I'm in the minority on this one, but everybody has an opinion. Mel Gibson's interpretations of the Gospels and his gory exploitation of it didn't sit well with me at all. First, unless you're one of those Christians who believe every word of the good book came from the hand of God, you must then open yourself up to some interpretation. The four Gospels were written two generations after the crucifixion. They don't all square with each other. The film has to be put in an historical context. There were many fighting for the heart and soul and land of Judea. Jesus was a pacifist, Barrabas was a militant. The elders of the Temple weren't pleased to have someone around who was preaching what they deemed heresy. Keep in mind, the Church used to burn heretics at the stake, so the early Church was no bastion of virtue. It was a bloody time. I saw a lot of anti-semitism in the film and those who missed it did so because they didn't want to see it. Now we have churches whose markees read "The Jews Killed Our Lord" (see LA Times). Even the Catholic Church no longer teaches that canard, if this film starts a wave of anti-semetic behavior here or in Europe, then Mr. Gibson could find himself with blood on his hands. I pray that doesn't happen, but there are those just waiting for an excuse and this film provides it.
A Waste of Film and Computer Time
Last night my daughter rented this monstrocity posing as a fantasy film. It was terrible. Just because an effect is possible during this computerized era, doesn't mean it deserves doing. First and foremost there's this thing called "story". Without it you have nothing. Was there a story here, because if there was I missed it. This film had more holes in its plot than a village of gophers. You could drive a Ford Expedition through the many non-sequiturs and continuity errors. One nearly drove me crazy. During the blizzard sequence there was a cutaway to a line by Sir Sean, in which there was no snow. It is said quite accurately that film requires the willful suspension of disbelief, but this film requires the viewer to be brain dead. At least Plan Nine from Outer Space is amusing in its stupidity. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was just a waste of film, money, acting talent, rendering time. The DVD will make a nice coaster on the coffee table since that's the best use I can think of.
Perhaps the Most Enjoyable of the Star Trek Movies
Okay, I'm not a Trekker, but I knew Leonard Nimoy when he was Lenny Nimorovsky. This is a one of a kind Star Trek Movie. No Klingons, Borgs (wasn't that a scale), no real bad guys. The Enterprise is just trying to help out an endangered species. Leonard Nimoy gave the directing performance of his career by letting his actors go with the flow of the characters they had spent years developing. For once, Roddenberry allowed the story to be as much funny as it was technowizzy. The only other Star Trek that bore as fine a sense of humor was David Gerrold's masterpiece, "The Trouble With Tribbles". So why not put aside the space opera for a little bit of harmless fun. This film has so many great lines it would take more words than I am allowed to account for them all. My favorite was Chekov asking a 1980's San Francisco policeman if he knew where there were any nuclear wessels. Also the scene in the bus when Spock uses his neck pinch to silence an annoying punk was a highlight. When I originally saw it in the theater the entire audience applauded. Enjoy this film for what it is. A romp and not a bad one either.
A Play is a Play; A Movie is a Movie
I saw a marvelous performance of the play at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Now I've seen the movie. The screenwriter was not Oscar Wilde. The Director in opening up the play dropped the pacing, crucial to the verbal humor that made Wilde a great playwright. The acting was passable, but remember film acting is nothing like playacting. I give the play a 10 and the movie a 5. In so doing, I'm stretching generosity like spandex on a portly man's derrier. Incidentally, screenwriter, how dare you drop some of Wilde's wittiest dialog. Aren't we fortunate that the theater doesn't have a cutting room floor.
The Color Purple (1985)
Wow Spielberg at his best, no F/X
If you've read any of my other comments you know I'm a filmmaker. There's a saying that if you get to make three authentically great films in your lifetime, you've made it to film nirvana. Steven has achieved that with ET, Shindler's List, and The Color Purple. At the time of its release, there was a huge outcry from the left wing elements of the African American Community that it negatively depicted a black man. Well, how many white men have been negatively depicted. Bad people come in all colors. Jerkdom is an equal opportunity employer. Danny Glover was superb as the man you love to hate. Whoopi Goldberg gives a career defining performance. Oprah Winfrey shows she could have been a superstar actress instead of a billionaire talk show host. Now, if you think actors work in a vacuum you know nothing about film, television or video. It takes a great director and an excellent actor to deliver a fantastic performance. Anybody out there that thinks Mr. Spielberg isn't great, is simply ignorant of the demands of directing. Opinions are like rear ends, everybody has one. Informed opinions, ah, that's something else.
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
My Favorite Documentary
There's a book called "The Greatest Films Ever Made" by the Editors of Entertainment Weekly. They gave me the honor of being named the 6th Best Documentary of all time. Yet, I like the Atomic Cafe better than my own title ("The Voyager Odyssey" if you must know. This documentaries captures everything I remember about growing up in the 50's. It begins with the Trinity Test and takes the viewer through the effect that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not only on the Japanese, but on the Americans and Soviet Union as well. Told using Public Domaine US Propaganda Films and Army Training Films (one even starring Joseph Cotton) it documents the paranoia and insanity of that period. In one memorable shot troops are shown entering a hot zone immediately after an atomic explosion, while their colonel assures them it's safe. What it doesn't tell is that in the early days of the Cold War, the Russians were rather impotent. While we built the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line of radar stations in the arctic, expecting hundreds of Soviet Bear Bombers to travel over the pole through Canada to blast our country to smithereens, it turns out the Soviets only had four working bombers. How did they convince us otherwise. At the 1954 Mayday festivities, they flew their four bear bombers past the American deligation, continued out of eye shot, then flew them past the officials again and again. We were faked out and spent billions. This is documentary telling of the most difficult type since there is no narration. Is it a better documentary than my "Voyager Odyssey"? That's a matter of opinion. I just am not about to give back my award. 9/10
Prepare for a Great Ride
Whoever the genius is that decided to make a movie out of a Disneyland ride, instead of the other way around, thank you. This movie is a ride. Don't look for anything other than a lot of action, fun, a few funny lines, and a riveting performance by Johnny Depp. Costuming, sets, music, sound all deserve nominations. This is Depps best performance. He's an actor I respect because he's willing to expose his career to off beat roles. His supporting cast, including Orlando Bloom is fine, but this is clearly Depp's movie. Enjoy it, like you would snack food. For me, it's the most watchable film of the summer. Good cross-over should mash it past the $200,000,000 mark with ease. It leaves itself open for a sequel, but I don't know how Jerry Bruckheimer would top it. The summer belongs to Disney. After five losing years they are back at the top of the ziggurat. Congratulations, Michael, you teamed up with a winner and a winner is what you got. Can't wait for the "making of" DVD.
Phone Booth (2002)
Best Movie Experience I've Had All Year
Some good films you miss for one reason or another. Thankfully, I picked up the DVD, not knowing what to expect. This is a sensational piece of filmmaking. I speak as one who has spent his life in the business. First Colin Farrell's performance is career defining. His range is huge. He has superstar written all over him. Second, Kiefer Sutherland, the voice on the phone gives a vocal performance reminescent of Orson Wells during Radio's Golden Era (if you've ever heard Lucille Fletcher's "The Hitchiker" you know what I mean). The direction was a combination of MTV and the best of Oliver Stone. It rivets your attention for the relatively short 81 minutes of the film. The only other actor I can imagine in this film with the range necessary is Al Pacino, and I'm afraid he's a little long in the tooth. 99% of what gets on the screen is formula. This was about making a film in ten days on one set. The director's challenge, same as in "12 Angry Men", how do you keep the pacing up on a one set shoot. It's all about cutting, and one fantastic tracking shot that begins the film. This was the work of pros. I'm a pro and I should know. I give it a 10/10. If you haven't seen it, run, do not walk to your local rental store or buy it, which I'm going to do. I'll put it next to "Any Given Sunday" another filmmaker's masterpiece and "Dog Day Afternoon". This is what our industry should be turning out instead the "The Incredible Bulk"
A Great Ride but T-2 is still the one to beat
Science Fiction like Jello comes in many flavors. T-1 was an amazing film in that it looked like five times the budget. T-2 set new standards in Special Effects and a time travel narrative that eluded to quantum time theory (that is the future doesn't exist, we create it millisecond by millisecond). Both films featured great action set pieces. T-3 is a wonderful way to spend 109 minutes (thank goodness it was no three hour LOTR). It's a bit dumbed down, the film makers knew their demographics and didn't try to over-reach. If you like the other Terminators, you'll totally enjoy this one. Arnold is, well, Arnold. He is a one of a kind and all the others are pretenders. I know the man personally. He is as intelligent and thoughtful an individual as you will ever meet. But no one wants to see that Arnold on the screen. They want "I'll be baaack". Yesterday I watched the first two films to prepare me for this one. I knew what to expect. I wasn't disappointed. If there is a 4th sequel don't expect Arnold to be in it. At 55 he's in the words of Danny Glover: "Too old for this ----." The other players are adequate, but no one ever gets as passionate as Linda Hamilton in T-2. SPFX were excellent, they've had 12 years to benefit from five new generations of CGI equipment. My advice. Go see it. It's great fun. Please don't take it seriously, the cast doesn't. The only one's who do are the bean counters at the studio, and with $175 million dollar budget who can blame them. 7.9/10
City by the Sea (2002)
Robert DeNiro Saves a Drama that leans towards bathos
Question: Does DeNiro ever give a bad performance. His range is as great as any film actor alive. This is a highly layered story, where good and evil become relative, a quality possessed by three generations of men. You can read about the plot in other reviews. What I'm here to tell you is that a great actor can elevate a mediocre story. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the scene where he asks his kid to give up the gun. This monologue is of the same quality as we find in "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull". The nuanced performance is something to see. If you are looking for a great movie, this isn't it, but if you want to see perhaps the most talented screen actor of his time, it's all there, waiting for you.
Changing Lanes (2002)
Brilliant Movie That Will Hopefully Find Its Audience
If you've ever read my comments before, then you know I'm in the movie industry. I recently submitted a screenplay to one of the majors. The comment came back that it was good but needed another layer. I thought about it and realized they were right. Changing Lanes is about layers. Layers of character, layers of situations. There are no stereotypes in this movie, thus it appears to reflect the reality I have come to know in my lifetime.
This film wasn't created for the 16-24 set. It is not about simplistic revenge, which can be brutal (pick a Michael Douglas movie) or funny (pick a Laurel and Hardy). This is about real people with complicated issues. The writers understand that money alone doesn't make you happy. That most families are dysfunctional only varying in the level of their dysfunction.
It is about playing hardball in the game of life. Most of us have played softball, but we can't even conceive of what it is like staring down a 95 MPH hardball with 0.2 seconds to react. Such is the life of a Wall Street Lawyer who has it all, and yet has no self respect, as it is the life of an insurance salesman, who only wants to keep his marriage together and his children around.
This movie choked me up. I don't choke up easily watching a film. Anybody who thinks this film was a waste of celluloid had better re-think their world-view. Because this movie was ultimately about life.
9/10 Samuel L. Jackson - Superior Ben Affleck - Better than usual Sydney Pollock just continues to amaze me as an actor and director and don't forget William Hurt, the very essence of humanity. See it, believe it.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
A Phenomenal Sequel That Never Fails to Disappoint
First let me make it clear that I loved the original Matrix. It's opening should be watched by every film student as to how to hook an audience. The Reloaded version tried to pull out all the stops, f/x and philosophy. As a piece of pure film making it is in a class of its own. As a movie I would watch multiple times it falls short. Why? Well, the story gets bogged down in its own circuitous philosophy. What is real and what is memorex was dealt with nicely by French Philosopher Rene Descartes. I think therefore I am. Also the Socratic dialog wears thin after about thirty seconds. You can't continue dialog when nobody makes a statement. Frankly, the whole movie reminded me of a Salvador Dali painting. Interesting, but you wouldn't want to hang it over your bed. Keeanu Reeves minimalist star turn gets boring, when he isn't beating the snot out of Mr. Smith clones. The freeway sequence makes Steve McQueen's Bullitt look like a game of paddy cake, but there's so much mingling of real and CGI that anybody with a lick of intelligence knows you're looking at an impossible sequence. It all reminds me of the age old show business legend about the actor who believes the stories fed to the papers by his own press agent. As I left the theater, I think my own misgivings were summed up by a woman who asked her partner, "It was an incredible movie, but what was it about?" Her partner responded, "If you have to ask the question then you will never know the answer." I think they should both chill out on a smoothie and have a good night's sleep. The rating is overblown by the fans. I give it a 6 on a scale of ten. It will make a lot of money, but in the end it was merely sound and fury signifying nothing.