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The Scarlet Letter (1995)
20 Years Later, It's Still Just Fine
I'm not going to lie and say I didn't enjoy this film. It's faults I found forgivable. I saw it when it first came out and liked it, and I still like it. I have read the original Scarlett Letter by Hawthorne and liked it too. I believe this film serves two useful (perhaps unintended) purposes. One: it's hopeless as a "cheat" for kids who try to do a report on the book and watch this instead. Two: It will perhaps make teens more interested in reading the book - something I was usually not interested in in high school. The most frustrating aspect of the film for me is that it exactly contradicts Puritan teachings when it tries to damn Hester for saying she speaks to God. The whole point of Puritanism was to remove clergy and government from between Believers and God. It would have been more outrageous for her to say something like, "All believers in Jesus Christ are saved from this sinful world." Puritans believed a select few would go to Heaven, even of their own flock.
Great costumes, cinematography, lighting, and locations.
The Hanging Gale (1995)
Utterly Depressing Story
I am partial to stories that teach something or reveal something to me as a life lesson. No one in this story learns any lessons. They all pointlessly reject offers of help and solution until it is too late. Not only is it not uplifting or bittersweet, even, it's hard to follow! All you can realize is how unhappy, ungrateful, stupid, and hate-filled everyone is. The most sympathetic character is the Agent, Townsend (played by the riveting Michael Kitchen) who is tasked with upholding unjust laws and has no means of protecting himself or the tenants he tries to do some good for. Apparently, this is based on some facts from the family history of the McGann family who star in this production. An unrewarding viewing experience. Lots of tears, threats, and hand wringing.
Black Sea (2014)
Lacks punch and overall credibility
It's a guy movie, but most guys will laugh at the technical problems, I think. This film puts a short pile of lesser-known actors on the submarine equivalent of the storied Star Wars ship Millennium Falcon and tries to make us believe that adults who've ever seen a submarine movie would be willing to get on such a vessel. The plot is simple, but tediously executed - essentially fulfilling fears voiced in warnings from early scenes. Also, the Russians have more subs than any other country. This film assumes that surface ships are the only ones sharing the water with this crew. Military types will just be irritated by this film - actual submariners, I suspect, will find it eye-rollingly silly.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Eff-word laced, fist festival for British 10-year-old Boys.
You cannot convince me they are not paying people to give this terrible film high ratings on the internet. People gave it 10s??? It is unwatchable. I don't worry about foul language for the most part, but a lot of eff-words in a movie clearly targeted at 10-12 year-old boys is a bit much. It was just plain retarded from the get-go and the performances from the actors was not even remotely up to snuff. And I love Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth - I figured, "How can you go wrong?" I truly can't figure out who the audience is for this. Garbage. Total waste of $11 bucks. Wouldn't have even watched it free on the internet.
Very Well Acted - Not Perfectly Written
I'm no historian. I've never been to Russia or seen the crew of a 1968 Russian Navy sub. But I remember the 80s and I'd say within the first 10 minutes of this film you had a content veracity problem. An early scene shows a hasty church wedding. A naval officer who knew about a religious wedding and didn't report it might subsequently find himself in conversations with KGB at minimum, I'd have thought. Add that to a very casual communication style on the sub and several naval crew being unshaven? Hard for me to believe. Despite all of that though, I loved the acting. A choice was made to dispense with any Russian accents, which may hurt the story cred, but not the acting itself. Ed Harris has a challenge playing a captain with a past who has been demoted to his old sub, a diesel - not a nuke for a special assignment. He manages an admirable job of maintaining a haunted, nothing-left-to-lose demeanor in his role opposite David Duchovny, who should have been in shorter hair for this role. Duchovny plays cool emotion well, but missed some opportunities for more dimension to the ruthless edge his GRU character requires. William Fichtner's loyal and pained performance is my favorite of them all, however.
Daughters of Satan (1972)
Drive-In Mash Up of Rosemary's Baby and Portrait of Dorian Gray
Cultural context matters here. You need to know that the Church of Satan was created in 1966, the film "Rosemary's Baby" was made in '68, and what the whole point of drive-in movies is, to start. Second: familiarize yourself with "Portrait of Dorian Gray" and "Painting" movies such as Rebecca, Ghost and Mrs. Muir, et al. This film tries to be a swinging, drive-in version of all of those, and on a budget that wouldn't pay for the first reel of "Vertigo". So why is it crappy? The acting is mostly fine, but notice how the worst performances come from ladies willing to go topless? The manic "3rd Witch" Kitty who channels Cat Woman throughout has an AWFUL seduction (?) scene that poor Selleck has to slog through which pretty much destroys the picture. Overall, an enjoyable way to see that Tom Selleck's skills were solidly in place before Magnum. Full marks for VERY low-budget, but clean visual effects.
Happy to see the Issue Adressed, but this is not a Classic
Sure, pilots have big egos - and when it comes to portraying a bad-boy with over-blown self confidence, Denzel Washington always seems to fit the bill. The drawback is, that when it comes to realism this film can't hold a candle to Lost Weekend - a very believable tale of an alcoholic who decides to turn over a new leaf when he meets a woman worth quitting for, only to prove to himself a hopelessly addicted alcoholic who CAN'T quit. "Flight" shows the can't-quit stuggle, but never shows an ounce of the self-loathing that alcoholics feel when they fail at serious areas of performance. The ending is a farce and totally unconvincing, although it's dramatic. I would have preferred Chris Cooper or Ed Harris in this leading role and made the character FAR more emotionally unstable in order to make the "redemptive" ending work. I did not find the ending believable in any way. So. GOOD movie? Yes... brilliant or classic? Not so much.
The Pacific (2010)
Sad that More Pacific Veterans Were not Alive to See Their Story Told
I admit this series is not perfect as entertainment. Frankly it's more of an experience. The project is very violent and has a lot of language in it and very few happy moments. However, I appreciated the emphasis on the hellish aspects of fighting in this theater and de-emphasizing the story of the bomb that ended the entire war. The camera work very much places you in the scene with the men in combat, and it generates a fatigue on the audience. I must say, by the time the story gets to Okinawa, you are very tired of the pattern of mud, rain, exhaustion, and putrid filth. Contrast the uninhabited islands and total lack of sympathizers of the Pacific War with the European theater where the occupied peoples under the Nazis and Fascists were glad to see American troops and gave them shelter and food in a few instances. God bless the men who fought the Japanese Imperial Army. Our enemy were absolutely going to take it all the way to the last man standing. My grandfather served in the Navy in the Phillipines in this conflict.
The Detective (1968)
So Much Potential for Story - Thrown Away
Part of the Film Noir genre is the romance angle with a powerful female lead. This neo-noir fails on that point offering a watered down, trifling character portrayed by a non-threatening Lee Remick, whose eyes the director seems obsessed with capturing long expressionless shots of. Sinatra's acting is fine, but the film technique... I can't explain how it makes him seem uncool, and the character of Leland is extremely cool and wildly open-minded for the time. Trouble is, they go very far out of their way to make him seem at once overly modern, and decidedly anchored in his values. Doesn't work. I didn't care for the camera work at all. A brilliant performance by Tony Musante as the basket-case ex-lover of the murdered gay man in the opening sequence is dminished by not properly photographing it. Great story and plot. Very sadly executed in a "message over story" way.
Black Swan (2010)
I Thought It Would Be Depressing, but It's Not
I avoided this at the box office first-run. I just watched it (9/2012) on HBO. It is is very well made. The main reason I am writing this review is not only to let people know that it's interesting and moves along well. It's nothing like I thought it would be. More importantly, I have seen the film characterized in a number of ways in other reviews or summaries. There seems to be a consistent pattern of declarative statements being made about characters in the film in areas where the movie is ambiguous. One of the reasons I LIKE the film is because you can't be sure where reality ends and Nina's drug/pressure-induced imaginings begin. Mila Kunis's character of Lily is key in this area of uncertainty I am describing, but certainly not the only one. The thematic touchstone of people encouraging Nina to "Lose(her)self" sets the stage for this psychotic metamorphosis.
American Dreamz (2006)
Don't blame the cast. Bad script, bad directing.
Really badly paced, with a weak script. Lots of hate-filled messages and non-stop unfunny stereotypes that a teenager would dream up. Big-time hate going on for George Bush, which radically dates the movie. Too bad because there is some decent talent here who could have made it funny if only the producers were so focused on mocking American Idol, and perhaps more specifically - its audience. Which... is exactly who would have bought tickets to this film if only it were a loving poke at Idol, instead of a mean-spirited disdain. And for the record, I don't watch the show or care about it. The only reason I am not giving it a 1 is because the cast didn't write this piece of S.
The Ides of March (2011)
I thought this was going to be interesting, or exciting, maybe intense and it was none of those things for the first HOUR. Unbelievably talented cast - Clooney, Giamatti, Tomei and even the great character actor Greg Itzin. The most thrilling of which to watch on screen was the never-disappointing Phillip Seymore Hoffman. I spent a buck-thirty on my rental, and I kind of want my buck back. The story is about a very left-wing Democrat, running against another Democrat for President. His true-believer campaign speech writer is offered a position with the competitor's campaign. These leads to an unfortunate series of events which makes him seek revenge. The revenge plot doesn't really start up until 3/4 of the way through the movie. Too slow and vague for my tastes. Found my mind wandering. Wanting to get up and do other stuff. Ryan Gosling unfortunately could not hold my attention. I very much hope other people enjoyed this movie, but I just couldn't stay interested. Although I did stick with it until the uneventful ending.
Swedish Version is Darker and More Violent... but
Swedish Version is Darker and More Violent... but don't kid yourself, the American film *clearly* required a serious edit to pull it under an X rating for violence alone. I'm not put off by the way the filmmakers have presented this material; it is tasteful and not gratuitous. Sensitive persons will be bothered by the violence and implied violence against humans and animals, however. The Swedish version has better costuming for Lisbeth, but it's easier to work with the romantic notion of Daniel Craig's Blomkvist. Most importantly, the American ending leaves in a scene that clearly demonstrates Lisbeth's emotional state. This becomes important for the subsequent stories. For the above two reasons alone, I would advise viewers to see the American version if they are only going to bother with one. On style, I prefer the grit and darkness of the Swedish version. It's more noirish. Absolutely not suitable for kids.
Skillfully Made, Not Just a Bunch of Mindless Action
It's not an intricate plot like a thriller, but it's also not a tedious chase film with no substance. Yet, it has the most brilliantly conceived and choreographed action gags, very much in line with what you would expect an animation writer to be exceptional at.
The production values are high, but it's not just a bunch of mindless action and karate chopping thugs that bore you to tears; it has a story involving launch codes. It's a fun ride, wonderfully edited. Very hard to tell the real shots from the fake, except in one obvious visual effect scene, where I personally would have chosen to combine miniatures or models and combine it with CGI, instead of just going all-digital. Enagaging, without being unfamiliar or taxing. NOT a Cruise fan, but he does a nice job.
Great cast including Anil Kapoor for you "24" fans, and Slumdog admirers. "The girl" is played by the beautiful Paula Patton and what modern movie is made these days without Tom Wilkinson, who gets a day and a half's worth of work in as a D.C. poltical operator.
I saw it in IMAX. Worth it!
War Horse (2011)
Too "Lassie" for Adults; Too "Platoon" for Kids.
The first half hour of War Horse is so golly-gee and baby-ish that it's silly. It turns into a different film in Act II, but doesn't improve. The director daftly chose to present a very violent war with men slashed with sabers, blown to bits, burned with mustard gas, and mowed down like grass by the terrible Maxim guns, but no blood. It's so P.C. to eliminate the blood, but the violence is really loud and violent, so I don't get who wins? The story very predictably plods along with this "miraculous" horse being relayed from one loving caretaker to another. Emotionally, they do "get you" with some great tear-jerker scenes, but I just can't figure out how they are going to market this. What age of kid wants to see a depressing movie about a boy losing his horse? What adult wants to see a predictable, kid-like horse movie with no mojo to it? Animal lovers, especially horse owners may have a hard time with a few scenes, but don't worry! A scene where a live, but injured horse is crushed by a tank is ... not shown. Huh? that's right. It's edited out. The scene makes no sense, but at least it's P.C. If you want to watch a brilliant horse movie, see Secretariat instead. I guess your mileage may vary, but I wanted to warn people that this must not be thought of as family fare for smaller kids. Too violent, long, and emotionally intense for young viewers. I wouldn't watch it again nor recommend it.
The Descendants (2011)
I Didn't Connect with This Material, but Good Acting
I assure you I have enough tragedy in my life to match or best this film's theme, but I couldn't feel anything for the characters. I wanted Matt (Clooney) to get a "win" in, amongst his tragic and overwhelming circumstances - but that's about all the passion I could muster. I welled up in the right scene, but I left the theatre feeling unmoved. The characters never felt real. The actors conveyed the material beyond what was really there, but for me that didn't rescue the film. For the record, Clooney in Michael Clayton was nothing short of perfection. "Up in the Air" very emotional and real. Big ups to Judy Greer the skilled character actress who kills it in everything she's in. Her performance in this as Julie Speer is no exception, but again, her big scene plays like the production minimized it rather than amplified it. For those who got something out of the film, glad you did. But had to speak for the minority.
High Time (1960)
Tame on Content and Shallow on Story
The story: An older wealthy businessman who's a widower goes to college to get the education his own spoiled kids never bothered with. It's not BAD it's just uninteresting. Bing Crosby is a HUGE star and is not appropriate for this project; he's too hip for this film and simultaneously too square for this bit of fluff. Further, the notion that a man at 51 (who is interested enough in life to return to college) is not interested in a romantic relationship with an available and beautiful woman is so far beyond foolish it won't stand analysis. On a technical note, perhaps using the iconic facade of Royce hall at UCLA, and further locations at Valley College was not the smartest move when the story calls for ice skating and snow scenes. VERY confusing. Again, not BAD, just not worthy.
The Tempest (2010)
Not Wild About the Soundtrack - Directing is Great
I freely admit that I did not sit through the whole thing. I was being driven mad by "comfortable" stadium chairs that felt like the 9th hour in coach on a non-stop to Cairo after the Trinculo scene. BTW, not a Russ Brand fan (who plays Trinculo), so I shaved a star for that bit of weak casting, add it back in if you are at all charmed by him. Since he always plays himself, I had no use for his hammy interpretation. Great to see Chris Cooper thrown in; lovely surprise. The no-kidding cast carries pretty much all the weight. However, the most important thing is the interpretation of the verse and THAT is very good and easy to follow. Again - the credit goes to the director for providing the unified feel for the actors to shoot for.Looks like they put a LOT of greens work into dressing some hillsides and landscapes. I had no trouble hearing the dialog,as another reviewer mentioned but personally found the soundtrack somehow not in the right vibe for me. The didgeridoo particularly seemed the wrong effect to me. A very good interpretation of Shakespeare's story and a very smart idea to turn Prospero into Prospera. More interesting story.
Dempsey and Makepeace (1985)
Classic Formula with High Calibre Chemistry
This little 80's-era cop series was elevated by the performance and (obvious) skillful additional writing done by the cast. It was one of the earlier U.K. imports to be played on commercial TV for U.S. audiences (as opposed to public TV like PBS). Those that saw it loved the over-the-top action and smooth, seductive style of Michael Brandon's no-nonsense Brooklyn cop, Dempsey. His counterpart, Makepeace, is the Sloaney skirt who is annoyed by the brash New Yorker's style, but can't quite seem to hate him because he's not only witty, but has good police skills. The chemistry between the Bensonhurst Badboy and the Upper Crusty Lady Makepeace heats up as the seasons progress. The other critical ingredient to the success of this project was (Ray Smith) Gordon Spikings character who is consistently yelling and dropping the hammer on one person or another, as the commander of the unit. Lots of gunplay, explosions, and stunts. Character-wise, it has a flavor not wholly unlike Scarecrow and Mrs. King, which is of a similar vintage. Ironically, the Brits espouse an anti-gun sensibility and create a cop character that fires his .357 revolver at absolutely EVERYTHING - even if he doesn't have a clean shot. As of 2010, there is no region 1 (USA) DVD commercially available from the series. An unfortunate oversight on the part of the owners, since even a small fan base here in the U.S. is as big as a large fan base in another country. They are overlooking the opportunity to re-purpose this content.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
In Technical Respects Only, A Fine Film
Bottom line: I was not entertained by this film. Yes, I saw it in 3-D, yes the effects are interesting, but I do not feel they supported the story in any meaningful way. The story's telling felt soul-less and more like an obligatory Christmastide money-grab than any coordinated creative effort. Part of that comes from the cold nature of the effects, which interrupts the actor-audience connection. WAY to violent and intense for kids. I would NOT bring kids under 10 to this myself.
Having said that, the lighting work done by the animation team is something very special, as was the texture of the backgrounds (i.e. bricks, cobblestone, snow.) The fire in the fireplace also looked fantastic. So the animation is brilliant, but there's just no "happy" in the story.
Lots of hard work by Jom Carrey, don't get me wrong. I just thought it was too over-the-top intense and overwrauht in some places and did not compensate for the dark nature of the film with redemptive balance. It was "and they lived happily ever after" sudden redemption. Not my cup of tea. See the live-action version. Your mileage may vary.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
Not Anywhere Near as Good as Gervais' Other Work
Ricky Gervais is a British comedian and actor known for his darkly comic and edgy taboo-with-taste material. Ordinarily his screenplays mock the artless way in which his now trademark "loser" protagonists encounter the world. This film has a very few of those kind of laughs mostly toward the beginning, but the laughs fall off as the film grows increasingly preachy and snarky in it's pro-Atheist bent. The script is a hot mess with stop-and-start transitions and emotional content that seems to go nowhere. (Although the never-serious Gervais gives up some respectable emotional scenes.) It is crystal clear to me why this particular investment in celluloid never even got started at the U.S. box office. It's not especially romantic, or funny. It's a one-joke movie, and I also did not respect the cribbing of another British comedian's standard reference to "jam". Anyone who wants to see some decent Gervais material should try "Ghost Town" instead which is extremely funny, makes Gervais look good, and deserved much more recognition for its craftsmanship than it got. On a positive note, there are a half-dozen or so cameos that add interest to the film, not the least of which is Gervais writing partner Stephen Merchant and Shaun "Barry" Williamson - who makes you smile just hearing his voice.
A Demonstration of the Power of Self Belief
Eddie Izzard stumbled around stages aimlessly for years before he sorted out his skill set and how to play an audience. His self belief and dogged determination set him apart from doubtless scores of others you've never heard of because they gave up too soon. This film charts his glacial rise from obscurity to toast of the town and offers a bizarre media story that heretofore escaped notice on this continent. Some dirt box at a Brit TV show no one in the U.S. cares about called out Eddie as a "fraud" for saying he was using new material on his latest tour, when what he does (which had been pains-takingly spelled out for major media outlets) is start with big pieces of his old tour and introduce new material as the tour progresses. But it turned into a whole big kerfluffle and the ratings grab put Eddie on ice for a while as he tried to absorb this unjust accusation. (Many comics do the SAME EXACT material for YEARS or for the LIFE of their career. Eddie is a champion of fresh material.) "Believe" is full of clips from Izzard's shows, his childhood, and some archival footage of some of his first attempts at taking the stage. Intercut with all of these is present-day narrative of what Izzard thinks the key to his success thus far has been. The task of editing this material seems simple compared to how hard it must have been to source it all and figure out what to use where. One scene in particular casts the Pin-Drop Effect on the whole auditorium. My mascara ran. It's a great combination of self-revelation and self-promotion. Very inspiring. 10/08/09
Brilliant British Production of Swedish National Treasure
Detective Kurt Wallander, a man in perpetual need of a shave and a healthy meal is a noir-by-day modern gumshoe fighting for justice. His dedication has cost him. His wife left him after finding out he's already married to his work. His daughter is an earnest and dutiful supporter of the detective, but oblivious to the evil his eyes see daily. Not sure how he's doing it, but Kenneth Branagh OWNS this role and he's *really* appealing as this frayed-at-the-edges public servant. Shot like a mini-series, or a movie for TV, I admit I am impressed with his ability to flex into this role that is so utterly unlike his Shakespeare work. Frankly, he acts circles around the other cast members. A must-see for the mildest Branagh fan and good enough for any mystery/detective story lover. FYI: Disc 1 has two episodes. Disc 2 has one episode and special features that has spoilers if you don't see the other shows first. I was disappointed that I saw the 3rd episode before the first two. I understand there are 3 more episodes ordered for 2010. 07/09
The January Man (1989)
Like a bad TV Show - only with a bigger budget.
Basically this film couldn't get out of its own way. The screenplay wasn't anywhere near as tight as the genre requires. It has a very "TV" feel to it. I couldn't help feeling certain scenes needed to be cut and the information contained in them shown a different way. I liked Rod Steiger screaming and threatening his way through the movie. It provided contrast to the placid and implausible faux-cop dialogue they cobbled together. Whoever wrote this script _does not_ know cops. I guess they figured having a gunless, New York maverick detective who does things the "feng shui" way was somehow hip. Investigation work is plodding and requires a lot of phone calls, evidence, and leads. You deal with a lot of liars and people who hate cops. That's why cops are like brothers because you have to be down for each other to stay sane, if not safe. Most gum-shoe stories convey this sentiment to some degree. Nick just sits back and gets "a ha!" moments and figures out the whole thing with these improbable crime scene and victim photographs (That, BTW, the art department really let the director down on creating - But they did a great job on the snaps found in the book at Nick's apartment). I didn't buy into the romance angles they tried to play, mainly because nothing led up to them other than some lonely writer's fantasy of how he wishes women were. An ex-girlfriend coming "back to her ex's place" for a home-cooked meal for no apparent reason? And then some "23 year old" (really? she looks 30!) gets into bed with Kevin Kline merely on his say so? Well... okay maybe that's not so improbable. And he's got this phony angst like he's too old for her? PUH-LEEZE! Since when has Hollywood (or any man) not been fine with 23 year olds in bed with 40 year olds? The whole thing is a study in how actors can only do so much. C'mon: Danny Aiello (Oscar nom./Gold Globe nom.), Kevin Kline (Oscar winner, Gold Globe Nom.); freakin' Alan Rickman (Golden Globe win, BAFTA win)and Harvey Keitel (Oscar Win, Globe nom.)is in it, how'd they screw the pooch so bad? Watch it on TV if it shows up some night. MST3K fodder, especially in the 3rd act's fight scene. Craptacular!
Ultra-violent and just plain DUMB
If you find the depiction of violent murders and wanton police brutality expressed in a plot less film with glacial pacing entertaining, then you're bound to enjoy Surveillance. This film was garbage for both the mind and spirit. The notion that this is a "thriller" is comical; that would imply some kind of tension and twists. You kept waiting for the story to actually finish "starting". It never rises above a glorification of weak-minded violent criminals and individuals from all walks of life. Picture all of the violence of "No Country for Old Men" without any kind of chase or sympathetic characters. Thrill-killers run amok. The acting is good, mostly, but the script is a pile. Don't bother, and tell your friends to don't bother.