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Terminator Genisys (2015)
Has many faults, but is nonetheless watchable and admirably ambitious
Terminator: Genisys is admirably ambitious in how it attempts to play with the mythology of the first two classic films by altering and combining crucial plot details within the first two Terminator films while extending upon them by having the heroes travel forward, rather than backwards, in time. I also felt that Terminator: Genisys was truer to the underlying premise of said films than the third or fourth: that there is no set fate. This may have been why James Cameron was more enthusiastic about this film than he was Terminator 3, which outright obviated that premise. However, incorporating and combining plot elements from the first two films will inevitably invite comparisons to them and regrettably Terminator: Genisys is a far worse film than either.
The first problem is with the plot, despite having some interesting twists and variations on existing themes (such as the T-800 protecting rather than trying to murder Sarah Connor). The plot in the first two Terminator films was free of any plot holes. Unfortunately, the same is not true here. In this film, both the T-1000 and T-800 demonstrate capabilities that should have been beyond these models (being able to repair disabled Terminators, for example). Kyle Reese and John Connor both seem remarkably healthy, both physically and psychologically, given the inevitable trauma associated with losing family members and fighting an apocalyptic war. Plus one billion people pre-ordering an app is hard to accept.
Additionally, the plot squanders many potentially interesting devices. For instance, the T-1000 is underused and the T-5000 is barely seen. The concept of the entire Connor family fighting Skynet, or even teaching it that annihilating humanity is wrong while it is in its more suggestible child-like state, is intriguing, but is never explored. Even the idea of the villain fighting his brainwashing would have made his potential death even more poignant given his relationship with the protagonists. The differences between 1984 and 2017 are also not remarked upon as much as one would expect from two people who have just travelled forwards in time. Also, the moral hazard associated with killing a blameless child-like creature is not reflected upon by the heroes.
The direction is generally acceptable, with the viewer being able to clearly understand what is happening, but the CGI effects do not work quite as well as they did in Terminator 2. Some, like the T-3000, were indeed quite impressive but other scenes overused CGI, such as the helicopter chase, thus detracting from its believability.
The dialogue tries to pay homage to the first two films by reusing lines, but it is also marred by some inconsistencies. John, if you are more than a mere machine, how can you say that the machines will rule the world? Are you saying that you will not rule the world on account of you not being quite a machine?
The acting is a mixed bag. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a welcome addition. He is clearly no longer in his physical prime but he nonetheless adds some much needed levity to a serious film. Jai Courtney on the other hand is not great. He is physically impressive but that detracts from his credibility in the role given the travails his character endured would likely affect his physical health. Additionally, while he has some of Michael Biehn's intensity, he doesn't bring any of Biehn's humanity to the role. He simply doesn't behave like a normal human being and so lacks chemistry with the one-dimensional Clarke, who plays a generic 'strong woman'. Jason Clarke is a bit better, transitioning reasonably effectively from an affable hero into a menacing villain, but again his character seemed a little too well adjusted given what he endured. Matt Smith and Lee Byung-hun are underused, but both are purposeful and menacing in their roles. JK Simmons is just a novelty.
In the end, while I've been critical of this film, I will say that I actually enjoyed watching it despite its many faults, not least because the pacing was quite good, with action scenes intelligently being placed throughout the film. Normally I would give a film this flawed a bare passing grade on the grounds that it is at least watchable, but I admire this film's ambition in playing with the first two classic films (with some success), even though it doesn't fulfil its boundless potential. Hence, I award:
Die Another Day (2002)
Entertaining, but saddled with serious faults
My feelings towards Die Another Day are quite mixed. As a piece of entertainment, I rank it quite highly. As per the dictates of the 'Bond plot structure', it does sag a little bit in the middle after an explosive beginning and before a similarly dramatic ending, but there are enough action set-pieces to keep the film flowing more smoothly than any other Brosnan-era Bond film. However, technically the film has serious deficiencies which prevent me from appraising the film in an especially glowing light. In a sense this film reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando, insofar as the deficient technical quality and over-the-top entertainment balance each other out.
One serious deficiency is the plot. There are some promising elements: the topic of choice (North Korean renegades causing mischief) is quite topical if not especially original and there are plenty of twists and turns throughout. If nothing else the plot keeps you on its toes. It is also not afraid to poke fun at itself (Bond's reaction to the invisible car) and its references to prior Bond films are actually quite subtle and clever at times.
However, the plot also lacks logic and restraint. For instance, the notion of a North Korean transforming himself into your everyday Caucasian through the magic of gene therapy stretches credibility even for a Bond film. It is also not properly explained how someone can possibly change their entire appearance, create a new identity and form a successful, world-renowned diamond company within the span of just 14 months. Would such an individual's past not lead to scrutiny? Other plot devices range from flawed (Brosnan's complete and quick mental/physical recovery from being tortured, plus why wouldn't Zao have his most distinguishing feature removed first if he wanted to disguise himself?), to laughable (a character named Mr. Kil, the goofy power suit), to just plain unbecoming for a Bond film (the invisible car, with its sci-fi overtones).
The dialogue similarly lacks restraint. It was as if the screenwriters recognised that Bond's penchant for double entendres and witty quips was one of the series' defining features and so decided that the audience would love it if conversations were crammed with them. However, excess soon renders such repartee tiresome. Jinx's references to her own nickname were also gratuitous while her blaxploitation one-liners don't really suit a Bond film.
The direction also warrants some opprobrium. The camera angles and frequent cuts at times make it more difficult to comprehend what is happening, especially during the action scenes. The CGI shots also look surprisingly cheap and tacky at times (notably the infamous Brosnan surfing scene) given how lavish and expensive the production was. The choice of theme song was also uninspired given its autotuned mien and...unusual...lyrical matter.
Additionally, the acting warrants some criticism. Brosnan himself is in fine form as always, bringing a suave, sophisticated air to the otherwise somewhat silly proceedings. However, Halle Berry is saddled with a poorly-written character and so is difficult to take seriously as Bond's equal beyond her physical appearance. Stephens tries to inject some vigour into proceedings but the premise behind his character and his power suit just make him look ridiculous instead of being a menace. Madsen is an awkward fit as Jinx's NSA boss given his past roles. Rick Yune and Will Yun Lee are pretty chilling but they are also underused, while Madonna's appearance is nothing more than stunt casting. Rosamund Pike fares better, cultivating an icy personality that is not overly weighed down by double entendres, while Judi Dench allows some sympathetic moments to creep into her otherwise stern personality. John Cleese firing barbs at Bond is also a welcome sight.
In summary, Die Another Day is more entertaining than any other Brosnan-era Bond film due to its explosive action scenes and plot twists. However, the film almost collapses under the weight of its technical faults. By all means see this film, if only to understand why the franchise was rebooted, but don't expect a masterpiece.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Not brilliant Bond but decent nonetheless
Tomorrow Never Dies is a perfectly decent film, but it never touches anything resembling greatness. Indeed, it is probably my least favourite of the Brosnan Bond films.
Part of the problem is that, like all Brosnan-era Bond films, it is weighed down by what I call the 'Bond plot structure', with a comparatively dull middle section following a spectacular beginning before the movie goes out with a bang.
After said spectacular beginning, which involves Bond making a literally explosive entrance at a Russian arms fair, the plot examines the media's drive to achieve ratings and the lengths that they will go to achieve them. While said plot is not necessarily original (media outlets engineering war for ratings does have historical precedent), it is very topical and generally executed in a fairly competent manner.
However, there are a few issues. For example, unlike in other Bond films there are no plot twists and while there is some exposition (with Carver boasting of his past misdeeds at his party) there is not much character development. Bond having past off-screen romances is hardly a novel concept, while the media mogul - Carver - and his associates are obviously evil from the outset.
As noted earlier the middle section is comparatively dull. Bond's attendance at Carver's party doesn't make for particularly compelling viewing, while the romance between Brosnan and Hatcher is completely forced and should have been written out completely. Luckily the film has enough sense to incorporate an amusing cameo from Schiavelli, Bond's escape from Carver's facility, a fairly exciting car chase and also a subsequent bike chase through the streets of Saigon. As such, this film flows better than The World Is Not Enough.
Additionally, with the exception of Michelle Yeoh's character, the Chinese perspective regarding the incident is not explored in the film. It may have been better to remove the rote romantic elements and instead explore said perspective in a bid to elicit sympathy for or against the Chinese.
There are also some plotholes. For instance, why Britain's admirals would think it was a good idea to start a war with China has me mystified, given that it was a great power even in 1997.
The dialogue is sporadically amusing, with Bond's usual quips punctuating the film and providing levity in otherwise tense situations. The revelations that Stamper's henchmen engage in torture as a hobby are so ridiculous that they arouse amusement.
The acting is a mixed bag. Brosnan is as assured and witty as ever, but he has no chemistry with Hatcher, who herself seems to be going through the motions. His interactions with Yeoh also frequently seem somewhat forced, with their romance being especially unconvincing. Yeoh does however, acquit herself well during the fight scenes and her combative character provides a point-of-difference to the usual stereotypical damsel-in-distress Bond Girl. Judi Dench plays a stereotypical stern authority figure, though she does display chemistry with Geoffrey Palmer during their acerbic interactions (not unlike in As Time Goes By).
As for the villains, Pryce is eloquent and entertaining, but it is difficult to regard his cartoon character as a serious threat. However, he does contrast effectively with the more effective Gotz Otto, who besides being a real physical presence has the cold, malicious purposefulness which makes for a great villain. Ricky Jay is wasted - his tricks could have been used to good effect, but his character is instead a forgettable technician. Similarly, it is a shame that Schiavelli doesn't feature more because his cameo elicits genuine mirth.
To summarise, Tomorrow Never Dies is competent, but its flawed and predictable plot, comparatively dull middle section and mixed performances prevent it from being anything more than that.
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
An aggressively mediocre blight upon the Die Hard franchise
As an action film, A Good Day to Die Hard is aggressively mediocre, containing lots of noise and spectacle but little in the way of engagement or heart. As a Die Hard movie, it is incontestably a blight upon the franchise's respectable name.
Why? Well, although there's plenty of action punctuated throughout the film, said action scenes are surprisingly dull despite all of the carnage being wrought upon the screen. Indeed, I often found myself looking out the window during these scenes. It may be that the abuse of CGI, especially in the finale, requires the viewer to suspend too much disbelief. Perhaps the various close-ups of actors and vehicles during the action scenes make it more difficult to understand what is happening. Maybe the indiscriminate damage and destruction overwhelm the viewer's senses and accordingly repels them rather than attracting them to the film. Compare this film to the original Die Hard - there was a great deal of tension punctuated by moments of memorable action. Basically, great action films use action, noise and carnage judiciously rather than trying to overwhelm the viewer with them.
Additionally, in the original Die Hard Bruce Willis suffered serious, but believable, injury. In this film, Willis' character goes through tribulations that would have killed most people several times over and yet emerges comparatively unscathed, further undermining the film's credibility.
Unfortunately, said credibility is further undermined by the film's decision to reference and therefore remind the viewer of this film's inferiority compared to older and better Die Hard films. This is seen by the manner of the villain's death, the use of a helicopter during the film's finale and even the shooting of nearby glass to inflict pain.
If the action in an action film is mediocre then the plot is rarely better and regrettably the same is true here. In truth, the plot does have some twists that are theoretically intriguing (such as the revelation of the film's true villain) but they're executed in such a way as to elicit dull surprise rather than genuine astonishment. Beyond that, the plot is not much more than a typical action rescue film and there are a number of plot holes. For example, the villain's motivations are never made entirely clear and so it is hard to feel anything towards them. Additionally, why are an American drone and a military helicopter allowed to remain unmolested in Moscow airspace? How did Willis and Jai Courtney get from Moscow to Pripyat so quickly?
As for the dialogue, a few Willis wisecracks brought a smile to my face but beyond that there's little to note. The new Willis catchphrase "I'm on vacation!" doesn't exactly have the impact of "Yippee ki yay mother******!". Plus my version doesn't have subtitles for the Russian dialogue so you have no idea what they're saying to one another. The sheer noise and carnage further obscures the dialogue.
The acting is dragged down to the film's mediocre level. Willis' intermittent wisecracks elevate him above the rest but he still seems like a tired, grey shadow of his usual bustling self. Courtney has plenty of physical presence but little personality, being saddled with a one-dimensional 'tough guy' character that, beyond one vaguely touching scene towards the end, has little chemistry with Willis. As for the villains - who cares? Yuliya Snigir looks nice, I guess, but beyond that they're all interchangeable.
Ultimately, this film might not inspire hatred but it just isn't recommendable to anyone. Action film lovers will find the film surprisingly dull despite its excess, Die Hard fans will simply long for the older, better films, while regular movie-goers will wonder why they are even watching.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Imperfect but nonetheless powerful and even essential viewing
Mississippi Burning has cultivated a well-deserved reputation as a powerful but nonetheless imperfect film. It is powerful not only because of the emotionally charged topic (civil rights and racism) but also due to some effective acting, strong characterisations and also a shudder of drama and tension throughout. However, it is imperfect because it is slightly overlong, somewhat historically inaccurate (the FBI's role in promoting civil rights was far more ambiguous than portrayed here) and even clichéd at times. Luckily, the film does neither abuses those clichés nor plays them entirely straight, allowing the film to retain its impact after many years.
The film's power and tension is conveyed even during the very first scenes. The car chase is unnerving and the murders themselves are even moreso, with the merest splatter of blood hinting at the violence which occurred. Not a single moment is wasted on unnecessary blood and gore, which would otherwise have been unfitting for a historical drama like Mississippi Burning.
Tension in the film is built even more effectively by intertwining the more sedate scenes with conflict and even outright violence. For example, Agent Anderson's quiet dialogues with the deputy sheriff's wife are punctuated by churches blowing up and arguments between Agent Anderson and Agent Ward.
Speaking of Agent Anderson and Agent Ward, their characterisations are quite strong, in that the film provides a substantial backstory explaining their involvement and motivations (particularly Anderson) but also somewhat clichéd. This is because they both represent the perennial conflict between the renegade hero (Anderson) and the by- the-book, obstructive police chief (Ward). These roles are subverted though because Anderson sometimes does call Ward out for not properly following procedure, while unlike most police chiefs Ward knows exactly who the enemy is and does not resort to dramatics as readily as your average police chief type.
The characterisations of the supporting cast are predictably less substantial. Much insight is provided into the wife's reasons for sticking with an obviously unpleasant husband, but the villains are broadly painted as hateful racists. The reason is likely to make it easier for the audience to oppose them and on that level such broad, simplistic characterisations work well.
In addition, such characterisations do not necessarily prevent the actors from providing good performances. Brad Dourif does well representing your average bully; able to beat up on weaker people but impotent against a powerful adversary. Michael Rooker is even better; his Frank Bailey is comfortably the nastiest, most menacing character in the film, with none of the blustering of Stephen Tobolowsky's character. Tobolowsky's character is suitably provincial but was he really meant to be that blustering? R. Lee Ermey, Gailard Sartain and Pruitt Taylor Vince basically play good ol' Southern boys, with Ermey infusing a little Sergeant Hartman into his performance when he argues with Ward.
On the other side of the coin, Willem Dafoe is cool, clinical and professional, while Frances McDormand plays the beleaguered housewife very well. However, it is really Gene Hackman who steals the show. Jocular one moment to physically violent the next, every scene with him is essential viewing because he raises the tension and drama. Badja Djola also warrants a mention, for his character veritably oozes hatred and menace.
The dialogue is suitably provincial, with some rather zany lines ("cornhole ******?"). The plot plays much like a standard cop drama, with police being required to solve a mystery. Luckily, such a premise is exploited for maximum value, not only because of the tension and drama, but also because of the high stakes (freedom for a hitherto oppressed people).
Ultimately, Mississippi Burning has its clichés and historical distortions, but ultimately the acting, characterisations, drama and tension make for a potent film and essential viewing.
More middling fare from Dean Devlin
Dean Devlin has a long history of producing sci-fi and disaster flicks that place visual spectacle on the holy grail to the detriment of almost everything else. It is therefore unsurprising that he would direct a film which impresses visually but falls short in most other regards, and that is exactly what Geostorm does.
In fact, when I was watching this movie with friends I couldn't help but think how similar this movie was to a typical Devlin/Emmerich film. It was to my utter lack of surprise that I discovered when the credits were rolling that this movie was directed by Dean Devlin.
Anyway, the plot is relatively simple. Jake Lawson, the brains behind 'Dutch Boy', an international system of satellites which control the world's climate, gets expelled from the program for insubordination and duly replaced with his own brother, Max.
Even during these first few minutes, you see some very familiar cinematic clichés, with the rebellious rugged hero facing off against obstructive bureaucrats.
This truly set the scene, for the movie appears to subsist almost entirely on clichés. Things predictably start going wrong, the rebellious rugged hero's expertise is suddenly required, the rugged hero reluctantly agrees to assist, a few rousing speeches are made, there is a political conspiracy and of course the hero survives with help. Surprisingly though the hero does not develop a romance with his female assistant (although his brother does). I suppose Devlin determined that he already had enough clichés to prop the film up for 90+ minutes.
Luckily though, the clichés are presented in a way which makes the film quite watchable. Time didn't drag and the visuals are impressive enough to distract the undiscerning viewer from the film's faults, which are many.
For example, the acting is utterly undistinguished. I suppose Gerard Butler isn't terrible, but any middle-aged man could have played his everyman character simply because he has little to do but appear alternately authoritative and sulky, maybe raising his voice a few times. Jim Sturgess was described by my friend as resembling a typical TV actor and I have to agree with such sentiment. You get the impression that his character (Max) is meant to inspire contempt for being a 'weasel' (Max's words) and usurping Jake's authority, but instead he arouses no emotion at all. Similar could be said for the likes of Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish and Andy Garcia.
Similarly, the dialogue lacks distinction. The rousing speeches fail to leave an impression and there is little in the way of witty banter or genuine humour to lighten the rather intense mood. There are some stabs at characterisation as the complex relationship between Jake and Max is fleshed out and Ed Harris' character explains his motivations, but the characters are not made more memorable as a result. Even Max's romance with Cornish's character is not properly explained.
Ultimately, my friend gave his opinion of this movie while we were driving home. "Nice spectacle, bad acting, bad dialogue, all the usual disaster movie clichés". I hate to admit it, but he was well and truly on the right track. Geostorm gets a pass from me for being watchable but nothing more.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
An intriguing exercise in building and diffusing tension
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a curious movie in my ways. The pacing is fairly slow, progressively building up to key moments within the film, while the relatively simple plot is essentially just a mystery with a few twists.
However, where the movie excels is in building and diffusing tension. For example, up until the girls disappear into the rock, there are a few hints that something bad, or unusual, will happen. Firstly, there are Miranda's cryptic comments to Sara about needing to find somebody else to love, Miranda's almost ashamed look downwards when Sara waves to her (as if she knows that she'll not be returning), the birds and the horses being startled when Miranda opens the gate and time seeming to stop at the rock. That, plus the eerie atmosphere and music, builds the tension quite nicely. The same thing happens later in the film, when Sara's reaction to Miranda's disappearance, Mrs Appleyard's increasingly abusive behaviour towards her and revelations about her troubled past let you know something unpleasant is about to happen.
The film also diffuses tension quite nicely. You can almost FEEL the tension among the students, teachers, townspeople and police after the disappearance of the girls and the pervading atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust makes the film more compelling. As the film progresses, tension affects these people in increasingly unpleasant ways.
Moreover, while the film only has a few key moments, these moments are exploited quite effectively to the point where they are indelibly etched upon my mind. Edith's blood-curdling scream when the girls disappear into the rock and Mrs Appleyard being in full mourning dress, with an accompanying death stare, after Sara kills herself.
The dialogue is both novel and quaint, as one would expect from a period piece set in 1900.
The characterisation is mixed. The girls are mostly fairly flat characters whom exist more to serve the plot than anything else. The mystique around Miranda and her cryptic comments and behaviour somewhat obscure the fact that we learn next to nothing about her and find it difficult to relate to her or the other girls individually. However, Sara and Albert are fairly well-developed characters whom are easy to sympathise with in light of their struggles. The contrast and interplay between Michael, the high-brow Englishman and the ocker Albert also adds colour to the film.
The cinematography is superb, with some evocative landscapes, some creative shooting angles (we never know what lures the girls into the rock, adding to the mystery) and some novel shooting techniques (placing bridal veil fabric over the lens to make the picnic's atmosphere seem more intoxicating). The film also looks very crisp and the costuming is well done.
The actors and actresses effectively serve the plot by performing their fairly limited roles quite well. The late Rachel Roberts in particular does very well portraying an otherwise tightly-coiled, disciplined woman who slowly cracks under pressure. John Jarratt also does a good job playing the every-man ocker. Weaver, Morse and McDonald are other reasonably well-known names.
Ultimately, Picnic at Hanging Rock is an intriguing film. I'm not sure I would call it a classic - at times the film's slow pacing does frustrate and the characterisation and plot are on the whole fairly thin. However, it masterfully uses tension to keep the interest and filming techniques to keep viewers watching. The actors and actress involved appear to understand the film's intent quite well and perform accordingly. On the whole, a comfortably above-average outing.
Navy Seals (1990)
Cuts the mustard as mindless entertainment, but that's about it
Navy Seals is just another action film, for mine. It's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours or so because the action scenes are entertaining enough and Charlie Sheen's 'loose cannon' shtick is oddly compelling, but it should have been better. It has a cast that looks pretty decent on paper: Sheen, Biehn, Paxton, Rossovich, Haysbert and even Law and Order's Merkerson. However, with the exception of Sheen and Biehn, they are underutilised, especially Paxton. Paxton is a good all-round actor, but here he barely gets to say anything at all! Even Sheen and Biehn play fairly shallow characters. For example, what turned Sheen's character (Hawkins) into the loose cannon that he is? As for Biehn's character (Curran), is he motivated by the loss of his friends in Beirut or by his sense of duty? I'm not sure the movie makes it entirely clear.
Another weakness the movie has is that it lacks a particularly strong villain. Kadi, as Ben Shaheed, tries to paint a vaguely sympathetic picture for Shaheed's cause, but he simply doesn't appear enough. The main villain appears to be the Stinger missiles, if anything.
The plot is a bit thin, but substantial enough to keep the movie going. Basically, Hawkins and Curran lead a bunch of Navy SEAL's in a quest to find some Stingers that are used against civilian aircraft. Curran woos a half-Lebanese reporter so she can help them out. One obvious plot hole is how this reporter can know more than the CIA, but I digress. The plot is good enough to be a vehicle for firefights, some obligatory friction between Hawkins and Curran and for Sheen to act stylish. For an action movie, that's probably enough.
Also, although none of the actors have that much to work with, Sheen and Biehn almost make the film worth watching by themselves. Sheen does his 'loose cannon' act well, reeling off the odd vaguely humorous one liner (though his character is thoroughly unrealistic for a SEAL), while few people are better than Biehn at playing military characters. Indeed, he received praise from the US Navy for his calm, composed performance.
As for the dialogue...well, who cares? Lots of profanity, some bravado, some one-liners - standard action movie stuff most of the time. Biehn does provide the odd noteworthy line: "you just toasted a man you put in the grave", but that's about it.
It doesn't make Navy Seals a bad movie though. As mindless entertainment, it delivers. However, considering its nearly 2 hour movie length and reasonably strong cast, it should have been better.
Hard Target (1993)
Competent action thriller
As with many action movies, Hard Target's strengths and weaknesses are fairly simple to analyse. It's a competent action thriller, notable for some stylish action scenes that have John Woo's touch; one particularly memorable example is when Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) quite literally blasts a bikie thug out a window with a shotgun and a petrol can! These moments pretty much make the film worth seeing by themselves, despite the usual weaknesses in the plotting and JCVD's ever wooden countenance. As JCVD himself noted however, viewers paid the money to see him waste bad guys and he does plenty of this - sometimes in more inventive ways than expected (using snake traps). It very much makes the film worth seeing for action buffs, even though I'm reluctant to give a really high rating based on this alone.
The plot is not too extraordinary: a homeless veteran gets murdered by a team of mercenaries led by Emil Fouchoud (Henriksen) and Van Cleaf (Vosloo), after which his daughter Nat (Butler) comes looking for him and commissions Boudreaux, a homeless Cajun merchant marine (!) to help her out after he rescues her from marauding thugs, raising the ire of the mercenary team. A few plot holes are obvious (shouldn't this mercenary team have been dealt with a while ago, police strike or not? Why is JCVD made a CAJUN?), but it works well as a vehicle for blowing stuff up and killing people.
The dialogue is pretty standard stuff: some profanity, some hilariously cringeworthy lines ("don't worry about Randall; he's all ears!) and some macho stuff.
As for the acting, the villains are better than the heroes. Of course, when JCVD is your hero, that's bound to be the case, with his unconvincing delivery. He has recently shown that he is capable of acting, but he was a long off that in 1993. Still, English is probably his third language (after French and Dutch); Yancy Butler has no such excuses, being quite wooden in a role that doesn't demand that much. Vosloo and Henriksen are much better though. Vosloo has that quiet menace that always makes him a good villain, while Henriksen goes from menacing and purposeful to merrily nuts as Boudreaux causes him more difficulties than expected. Even Wilford Brimley is amusing as Chance's crazy uncle, reeling off some zany lines.
In the end, Hard Target is not a great movie, but it's a competent action thriller with some nice stylistic touches from John Woo during the action scenes. Henriksen, Vosloo and Brimley compensate somewhat for JCVD and Butler, but you still shouldn't watch this film for the acting and especially not for the plotting. Action fans generally don't really look for either that much though, so that's alright. Movie- goers looking for a bit more will probably like some of the style, but won't find that much else.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Consistently funny, but carried by an over-the-top Adam Sandler
You don't have great expectations of a movie like Happy Gilmore. You see the cast and you realise that how much you will like the movie depends on how much you like Adam Sandler and his antics. Sandler would become a far more rounded actor later on, but at this time he rarely played anything over than a clownish idiot. Here is no different...but most of the time, it actually works quite well in this movie because Sandler takes that shtick to new and sometimes shocking levels. He does all sorts of wildly over the top and absurdly stupid stuff - whacking people off their balconies with golf balls, throwing tax-men out of houses, fighting with celebrities and coaches, threatening rivals with beer glasses. However, most of it works BECAUSE of its absurdity. Even the other characters sometimes get in on it, with Carl Weathers' character melodramatically falling out of a window at one point.
The plot also works as a fairly simple underdog story. Happy Gilmore is a failed hockey player who has to try and get his grandmother's house back after it is repossessed, causing him to take up golf more seriously and face a fancied pro to get it back. However, at a deeper level, the story is all very predictable, replete with the failure, the requisite love interest, the lovable little grandmother, the mentor, the largely humourless golf director and the twisted villain. Nonetheless, the plot does enough to make you get behind Gilmore and laugh as he does absurd things.
The acting is often about as predictable as the plot. Indeed, Sandler largely carries this film BECAUSE he is so over-the-top, with deliciously pig-headed lines of dialogue like "you eat pieces of s*** for breakfast?". I suspect that if he tried to be a bit more understated, the film would not be as funny so we therefore could not ignore the film's otherwise basic plotting and acting as easily. However, basic acting doesn't necessarily mean BAD acting - everybody else, from Bowen to Bay to McDonald to director Dugan, perform their relatively one-dimensional roles pretty well. Even Ben Stiller and Richard Kiel are a nice surprise as the twisted nursing home warden and Happy's old boss respectively, while the fight scene with Bob Barker is hilarious. The likes of Trevino, Lye and Lundquist provide well-known faces and nothing more.
The scenery is quite nice, while I don't take serious issue with the product placement because it makes the tournament a bit more realistic, even if there wasn't any big need for a SUBWAY ad. The music used was also good.
Ultimately, the film's basic nature DOES mean that I can't rank Happy Gilmore as being anything more than an above-average comedy despite it being consistently funny. I would also not recommend it for those who dislike Sandler. However, I would recommend it for most other people.
P.S: Some of the deleted scenes are as good as the rest of the film.
True Lies (1994)
Quality action film - Arnold hasn't bettered it since
True Lies has pretty much all of what defines a good action film - a rapid beginning, plenty of pyrotechnics, several exciting action scenes where Arnold (literally!) avoids death by a few metres, spectacular stunts and plenty of ass-kicking by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, there are a few other things that set True Lies above the pack. The first is the director: James Cameron. However you may feel about him personally, the man has a proved pedigree when directing action movies with Schwarzenegger. He shows that pedigree here by inserting some classic 'Arnie' humour to relieve otherwise tense scenes (Schwarzenegger criticising the horse for being a 'bad cop' and telling his wife that the guys he killed were "all bad").
The second is the effective 'buddy cop' interplay between Schwarzenegger and Tom Arnold (?!). Sometimes they're as thick as thieves, sometimes they're quibbling over their wives. I especially laughed when Schwarzenegger shattered the SUV glass after Arnold's character wouldn't give him the script of the interplay between his wife and the used-car salesman.
The third is the examination and development of the relationship between Schwarzenegger and his wife after Schwarzenegger learns of her 'extra- curricular' activities and after his facade his exposed. Many action movies use some sort of hokey, cringe-worthy romance with the main character. This is more interesting though, because Schwarzenegger's character (Harry Tasker) is already married and has to rekindle a romance to save his marriage. It's funny to see how he uses all of his agency's resources to do so.
However, is the film perfect, or on par with the first two 'Terminator' films? No, not quite. For one thing, Art Malik and co. fail to convince as villains the way that either of the two bad Terminators did. Malik's character comes off as a nut-case, but he lacks the menace and cold sense of purpose that makes a great villain. Tom Arnold is still a limited comedian so sometimes his routine falls flat, while Bill Paxton is more of an all-round actor than a great comedian. As such, he is sometimes funny as a used-car salesman (especially when it is implied that he wet his pants), but sometimes he's just irritating. The likes of Carrere and Dushku are fine but don't need to do much other than be sexy and act like a hysterical teenage daughter, respectively.
On the other hand, Jamie Lee Curtis is good: firstly as a wife, secondly as somebody who wants an adventure and thirdly as a fish out of water in Arnold's 'real' life. She conveys a whole range of emotions here. I could've done without the strip-tease though; what was she, in her mid- 40's by this time?! It must also be said that Tom Arnold is probably at his peak here.
The movie doesn't always pace itself perfectly; there's certainly a spectacular beginning and end alongside ample action, but I feel that they spent a little too much time in the middle examining the relationship between Tasker and his wife. Perhaps it would've been better for Schwarzenegger to discover what his wife was up to when he was in a more action-packed situation or some such. The movie may have dragged a bit less.
However, these are relatively minor quibbles. True Lies is still a quality action movie which stands up well above the pack. It is probably not one of James Cameron's best movies, but it's a mark of his quality as a director that Schwarzenegger has not starred in a better film since. As such, I have no problem giving it:
Vanishing Point (1971)
Vanishing Point is quite a flawed movie in conventional terms - but it is interesting and intriguing partially for that reason
Vanishing Point is a difficult film to assess in many ways. As a movie, it is quite flawed. The plot is obvious but ultimately quite shallow - centering around Kowalski trying to deliver a car across the country in record time. Kowalski's back story is hinted at, which makes the film a bit more interesting, but his back story takes up only a few minutes of the film.
The characters and performances are often vacuous, failing to leave an impression. Barry Newman is the chief culprit, turning in a most colourless, emotionless performance where he personally offers little insight into his character. The exception is Cleavon Little as the hyperactive DJ Super-Soul; his interplay with Newman is novel, some of his dialogue is memorable (indeed, his rambling about Kowalski and the 'police Nazis' was quoted by Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses twenty years later) and his input gives the film some badly needed impetus.
Luckily though, Vanishing Point works better on other levels. For instance, it has that early 1970's style that makes the film more compelling than it should be. Newman is chiefly responsible for this; he is certainly emotionless, but that allows him to develop an air of 'cool' that suits the film. The white Dodge Challenger is a very nice touch.
The early 70's style also allows it to work as a period piece; Kowalski encounters counter-culture hippies, religious fanatics in the desert and the police. The fractious state of race relations between blacks and whites at that time is also highlighted. On the downside, it does substantially date the film. It's a cult classic for a reason; as the failed 1997 remake demonstrated, a movie like Vanishing Point would not work nearly as well in another era.
It also works reasonably well as a straight driving film. The film is punctuated with enough car crashes and chases to move the film forward.
However, the film's real saving grace is in its many allegories. The largely empty plot does ironically enable this, because you can read whatever you want into the film. I therefore understand why the plot is so empty, because the many allegories punctuated within the film make it intriguing to watch. For instance, why did Kowalski's face shine towards the end? Why were there so many STOP signs? Was Super-Soul a spiritual guide to Kowalski? You can also have fun inventing allegories that weren't even intended - why was the Dodge Challenger white, for example?
Ultimately, Vanishing Point is not the easiest film to assess. In conventional terms, I would not rank the film particularly highly because the plot, characters, acting and dialogue are often unimpressive. As such, the casual movie viewer may not particularly identify with it. However, Vanishing Point is not a particularly conventional film; like most good films it moves itself forward well, but it is the film's style and allegorical nature that largely keeps the interest and pushes the film above the ruck of many other driving movies. I also admit that the film could not have been as effective as an allegory if the plot wasn't so insubstantial. With this in mind, I have decided to give it:
Hard to Kill (1990)
Passable revenge thriller with obvious flaws
There's not a great deal to say about Hard to Kill; it's a passable revenge thriller with obvious flaws, but this shouldn't necessarily put off action film buffs and most certainly not fans of Steven Seagal. Indeed, nobody would seriously expect great acting and plotting in your typical Seagal film: the moviegoers flock to see Seagal kick ass and take names (sometimes quite brutally). Hard to Kill certainly delivers this, with ample bone-breaking action scattered throughout the film. However, films don't usually deserve high ratings based on action alone; Hard to Kill is no different.
Why? Well, there are many other flaws, starting with the plot. On a very basic level, the plot just about works; Mason Storm's (Seagal) family was torn asunder by assassins working for a corrupt senator and police lieutenant and he went into a 7-year long coma as a result. Now he wants revenge. Fair enough, I say.
However, there are many obvious plot holes: if Storm's would-be killers were led to believe that Storm died 7 years ago, how did they know it was HIM that awoke from a coma? How did Seagal know that Jack Axel killed his wife if he was masked and O'Malley (Coffin) never told him? Would Senators REALLY meet with criminals directly? Why didn't Jack Axel try to shoot Storm in the hospital?
The acting was also very much a mixed bag. Seagal is Seagal; in other words, he is unconvincing when doing anything other than talking and fighting despite his solid screen presence. Kelly LeBrock looks good, but that's about it. Coffin is alright playing a role that often doesn't demand much in the way of emotion bar a brief altercation with Hulland (Bloch). Bloch is more or less in the same boat as Coffin regarding his role. However, the other villains are a bit better: Sadler is suitably slimy despite his limited screen time, while Boswell and Richmond are suitably callous and evil.
The dialogue was often fairly typical action movie stuff, with some profanity, some hilarious lines ('blood bank') and some of that subtle bravado that Seagal specialises in ('we're gonna win because we have a superior attitude etc.').
On the other hand, it was quite watchable. Time rarely dragged.
Ultimately, this film is probably worth a view if you're an action buff. I also think that Seagal fans would enjoy this, given that this probably looks heavenly compared to most of his later stuff. It's not like Seagal fans would necessarily expect competent acting or good plotting, anyway. Not from Seagal, at least. However, it's ultimately nothing more than an adequate, standard-issue revenge thriller, so I'd be hard pressed to recommend it to anybody else.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Better upon the third viewing, but still no more than decent, really
My opinion of The World is Not Enough has varied over the years. When I was 10, I loved it, despite the dull middle part. When I was somewhat older, I watched it again and found it to be mediocre, with long stretches of tedium in between the pyrotechnics, with Pierce Brosnan the only one to really make an impression (my Casino Royale review had a few unkind words to say about it). I've watched it again. I do think it is a little better than mediocre. Although there are some sizable dull periods, the middle part is somewhat more interesting than I remember (as the true nature of Sophie Marceau's character is gradually revealed). The ending is clichéd, the quality of the acting is inconsistent and I still maintain that the movie adheres to the 'Bond plot structure', only to not as detrimental an effect as I remembered.
Well, I must say that, no matter when I viewed it, the beginning was always spectacular and, IMO, the best part of the film. Not only does Bond get himself into an altercation within the first few minutes of the film, but after an assassination takes place, Bond pulls out all of the stops in chasing down his killer, including firing torpedoes, going underwater, travelling on the roads...in a rocket-powered boat, no less! The middle part, like I said, does drag for long periods, but there are a few isolated spots of excitement, like when Bond goes and kills one of Renard's top henchmen. The development of Elektra King's character in this part, given what she would become, is also interesting. She appears to be a damsel-in-distress, but as Bond analyses her actions and intentions, her demeanour gradually changes and the facade begins to slip.
The fight scenes at the end are entertaining. Given the adherence to the Bond plot structure, this is to be expected. Not much more can be said.
The acting was uneven. Renard (Robert Carlyle) was not amongst the best Bond villains, but he was creepy enough, I guess. Coltrane, from GoldenEye, is OK, whilst Sophie Marceau was actually pretty good. She is, IMO, beautiful and she certainly turned on the sex quotient effectively. Indeed, the scene with her and Brosnan when he was tied to a garrote was compulsive viewing. As for Brosnan, he makes for a fine 007, making his character seem suave and self-assured without looking like a knob. Judi Dench too, was actually better than I remembered - she was more fluid and inventive (witness her using an old battery clock at the end) and less stereotypical. Denise Richards, unfortunately, is both a terrible casting choice and unconvincing as a nuclear scientist (I mean, come on...).
Ultimately, The World is Not Enough is a decent film. It's no classic - to me, it's just another Bond film. However, it's still worth seeing once (or maybe more if you're a Bond buff).
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sometimes a cinematic dirge with some shallow characterisations, but ultimately chilling, thought-provoking and surprisingly easy to identify with
The Virgin Suicides is ultimately quite a fascinating cinematic piece, despite its faults. Why? Well, it provides a reminder of the damaging effects of suicide on families, neighbours, friends and so forth. Not only that, but the title itself is indicative of the mystique which surrounds the film - not all of the girls were literally 'virgins'. However, they were figuratively - the fact that the girls had barely experienced life and yet had given up on it so abjectly is harrowing, indeed. The fact that I can identify with this, having been through a similar experience myself, sends a chill down my spine. The movie isn't flawless; it can drag, the characterisations of some of the characters are surprisingly shallow and the background music only intermittently adds to the movie. I'm not sure whether the ploy of giving away the ending in the title worked, either, because it makes the movie somewhat predictable. Nevertheless, I still rate the movie highly, especially as the ending demonstrates the bewilderment and longing that can accompany the suicide of friends or acquaintances.
The movie ultimately focuses on five mysterious, (variably) beautiful yet somewhat unstable young girls, with a religious nut and a metaphorically emasculated maths teacher as parents. The lives and perspectives of the neighbourhood boys who intently watch them, plus the high schoolers who get more intimate with them (like Trip) are also detailed. As the movie progresses, the youngest, Cecilla, finally kills herself after trying to do so before. Ironically, however, from here on in we get more of an insight into the lives of the Lisbons, through the eyes of Trip and his buddies, who take them to the prom. Trip predictably leaves Lux after doing it with her, leading to a parental lock-down and a final attempt by the boys to save them - which ends tragically.
I've already mentioned how the girl's youth, yet indifference to life, was somewhat shocking, so I'll touch on the positives. The narrator really enhances the movie, recounting the events with total clarity, as if the suicides had happened yesterday, rather than 25 years ago.
This, in itself, demonstrates the marked effect that suicide can have on the human psyche, even as you try mightily to forget about the disturbing events. You cannot, however, for you need to know the reason as to why the event occurred. This is arguably a commentary on life - although we sometimes deny it, if we cannot find a reason for an event occurring, we become mystified and try to drum up a reason for ourselves (witness the reactions to the Iraqi invasion, for instance). Try as they might, neither the narrator nor his chums could understand why the girls killed themselves - and it haunted them for the rest of the lives.
The 'bad news is good news' mantra of the media also appears to be on full display, as the media outlets shamelessly take advantage of the suicides in order to gain ratings. Indeed, one of the reporters even comes to the Lisbon's door, before rightfully being told to leave.
The narrator's delivery is superb - he reads his lines as if he's speaking at a funeral, which is ideal given the sombre context of the movie.
The various insights into Trip's life and his retrospective admiration of Lux (even though he obviously descended further into drug abuse since the 1970's) are also interesting. Perhaps his drug use intensified as a result of Lux? I almost feel myself identifying with this - my suicidal feelings increased last year because I worshipped an older girl I knew was too good for me.
Now there are some faults. As I've mentioned, the film can drag. The lead-up to the prom is not particularly interesting. Indeed, I often find myself skipping over this part. The characterisations of some of the characters also lack depth. Mystique can sometimes do a credible job of hiding this, but some of these characters resemble stereotypes. Mrs. Lisbon is just your stereotypical religious nut, like I said. You cannot sympathise with her character a great deal. Even though she didn't deserve what befell her, you cannot help but feel that she brought some of that grief upon herself, simply by ignoring her children's wishes. I'm not sure whether that's Kathleen Turner's fault, or the script's. James Woods' character is somewhat more likable, but there's little beyond the facade that he presents at school. Trip (as played by Josh Hartnett) generally just comes off as a lout, except during the aforementioned scenes. The neighbourhood boys, with their obsessions and their internal struggles, are more interesting, but the focus of the film is obviously on the five girls.
So? Well, the characters of the girls are not always fully fleshed out. Only the narrator's embellishments stop them (with maybe the exception of the promiscuous, conflicted Lux) from resembling blank slates. As for Kirsten Dunst (who plays Lux) she would, IMO, never look better than what she does here. Her appearance has sadly disintegrated since.
In the end, The Virgin Suicides is, despite some failings, a deeply intriguing film that serves as a great psychological terror.
4.5/5 stars (although this rating may be a little generous)
Man of the Year (2006)
Man of the Year tries to appeal to thriller, political satire and romance lovers. Sadly, it only ever hits as a political satire, although it's a passable flick
Man of the Year is akin to a cinematic equivalent of a politician - it attempts to appeal to a broad demographic by encompassing the conventions of a thriller, political satire and a romance. Unfortunately, like a politician, it fails to deliver on several counts - namely, as a thriller and a romance. As a political satire, however, it is occasionally effective. In particular, I liked the initial debate, where Robin Williams' character, Tom Dobbs, pointedly foregrounded the clichés that politicians spout out in order to appeal to voters who love to hear good news, no matter how impractical and inane it may be. I also liked how Dobbs himself, through his actions, demonstrated how populist nonsense is bound to win you votes. In this way, the movie (correctly) signifies the trap that all politicians, no matter how well-intentioned, inadvertently fall into the trap of becoming chameleon-like demagogues - and why they do so. Sadly, aside from some (possibly unintentional) stabs at the conservative leanings of American voters (electing someone as unorthodox as Dobbs? Nah!), as well as the inherent flaws of the American electoral system (if you win Texas, you have a good chance of winning the election), it doesn't really measure up as a political satire anywhere else.
To be sure, Man of the Year does NOT work as a thriller. Many of the scenes involving Eleanor being pursued or attacked by agents from the software company are not even vaguely titillating. The scene involving a combination of a potentially lethal syringe, a struggling woman and sadistic goons would have been good, had it not been much too short. For you see, this has the effect of making an audience ask "What the hell just happened there?", as opposed to putting them on edge. I couldn't even derive a thrill from seeing the agent's car slam into the phone booth. Indeed, this represents a plot hole, as I didn't think that they actually wanted to kill or physically cripple her - slamming your truck into a phone booth would surely do that.
Speaking of plots, let us discuss that right now. Tom Dobbs is a talk-show comedian who decides to become President. Aided by Christopher Walken's character, Dobbs builds up a head of steam by ridiculing the cliché-ridden campaign speeches of his Democratic and Republican opponents through his 'unique' brand of histrionics. Surprisingly, despite TV polls having him at a mere 17 or so percent, he picks up a stack of votes and emerges victorious in the election. After some shock, he accepts this. However, due to a software error, as pointed out by Eleanor, an employee of the software company concerned...Dobbs was wrongly elected. I've already indicated what happens next - Eleanor contacts Dobbs, whilst she is being pursued by disproportionally sadistic software company goons.
As does occur so often in movies, Man of the Year uses this 'damsel-in-distress' plot device to whip up a fledging romance between Dobbs and Eleanor. I'm not sure why they decided to do this; the movie was long enough to begin with. Plus, the romantic aspect of the movie is introduced too belatedly to have much impact. Even if the romance was introduced earlier, it still would have seemed unnatural, even clichéd. It doesn't help that Williams is an actor who is naturally inclined to be comedic, not romantic.
Another element that detracts from the movie is the predictability of the plot. I could sense that Dobbs wasn't REALLY elected president before it actually came to pass. Dobbs relinquishing the presidency would've been a real bombshell...had I not predicted the occurrence of such an event 45 minutes earlier.
Perhaps I'm ragging on Man of The Year a bit too much. I refer to it as a passable flick, so what's so decent about it? Well, aside from the occasionally effective political commentary, the film itself was surprisingly watchable. Time didn't drag. Plus, there were no moments which made me want to go to the bathroom. I suppose this partially comes down to the acting. Christopher Walken turns in a decent performance as Jack Menken - he elicits some laughs and plays the role of a professional manager quite well. His calm demeanour also allows him to express emotion without seemingly overly sappy and insincere, as evidenced by his reaction to Dobbs' unprecedented success. Laura Linney is good as Eleanor, presenting her character appropriately - as a paranoid, anxious employee. The fecklessness of Man of the Year as a thriller cannot be attributed to her performance. Jeff Goldblum plays the role of a snide bureaucrat well, although one wonders whether his response to Eleanor's discoveries is a little too sadistic.
What about Robin Williams, as Tom Dobbs? Well, occasionally his populist, overblown nonsense is funny, often due to its inherent stupidity and hypocrisy. As an added bonus, Williams rarely annoyed me. However, for lengthy periods, he failed to make me laugh. Some of his other jokes, while intermittently being funny, seemed to be oddly unrealistic and inappropriate (i.e - his lesbian joke). The movie makes us believe that Dobbs is an immensely popular comedian because he is consistently funny. I don't think I'm alone in saying that, given my reactions to his humour, would not occur in real life. He wouldn't entice the crowd into a wild uproar. At best, he would have a cult following.
I was torn on what rating to give this movie, but Williams' inconsistency, the plot's inadequacies and its inability to deliver as a romance and a thriller offset the decent acting and the occasionally effective political satire. This has left me no choice but to give it:
The Crucible (1996)
The Crucible is a very good film - a near-perfect translation of Arthur Miller's classic play. As a movie, it is even better.
Arthur's play, The Crucible, was meant to denote, with some historical inaccuracy, the witch trials of Salem in 1692. However, Miller used the Salem witch trials as an allegory to the McCarthyism which pervaded throughout the United States during the 1950's. I'm sure the majority of the American IMDb users have a vague idea of what happened during that era, so I'll get to the movie. Anyway, the film adaption of the Crucible is indeed a faithful adaption of the play. Given the masterful nature of the play, this is obviously a compliment.
The Salem witch hysteria, as documented in the film, first occurs when Reverend Samuel Parris (Bruce Davison) finds a group of girls dancing naked in the Salem forest. Parris is later led to believe that the girls were holding a séance with Tituba, the slave of Parris. This leads to mass hysteria and the resultant witch-hunt. John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), a respected figure, finds that his wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) has been accused of witchcraft. His involvement in the witch-hunt grows deeper when he finds that Abigail (Winona Ryder, future shoplifter), his former teenage lover, set Elizabeth up. I admit to not seeing the ending of the film, but I read the play, so I expect it will be similar.
I don't often speak about the directing, since I don't know much about what makes a good director. However, Nicholas Hynter's direction is smooth, as is the cinematography, leading to the plot being fairly easy to follow. The costumes also appear to be appropriate to the era (1692). The plot is obviously competent, as it is an adaption of Miller's play, which is a well-constructed allegory. However, the transition to the film could've easily resulted in the implementation of some sickeningly saccharine scenes, particularly where Abigail and John interact. Thankfully, this doesn't occur.
Adding to the effectiveness of this film is the fact that it arguably demonstrates how the boundaries of guilt and innocence are altered in a culture of fear, guilt and malice (which was prevalent in Salem). It also gives us insight as to how authority figures may act in these times of adversity. The events in Salem (and indeed McCarthyism) were also the result of an ideological conflict between the puritans and non-puritans (Salem was a puritan community), as the film amply demonstrates.
This doesn't make the film perfect, however. The acting, while rarely being bad, is decidedly mixed. This is in regards to the correlation between each actor's portrayal of their character and the personality of the character within the play. In this regard, Ryder plays the addled 'whore' that is Abigail quite well. Joan Allen also portrays Elizabeth Proctor appropriately (as a sullen yet kindly woman). Paul Scofield portrays Danforth the way he should - as a cold-hearted human being. Jeffrey Jones also brings out the vindictive side of Thomas Putnam.
However, Bruce Davison portrays Parris as too much of a tyrant, rather than the whimsical, petty church leader that Miller constructed him as. Similarly, Rob Campbell turns in a wooden performance as Reverend Hale. In my mind, he does not demonstrate enough of the hysteria that punctuated Hale's personality later on in the play. Peter Vaughan also can't help but make Giles Corey look more irritating than he actually is. Daniel Day-Lewis is, as far as I can remember, a mixed proposition as John Proctor. When he is meant to be hysterical, he pulls it off perfectly. However, in his interaction with Abigail and even Elizabeth to an extent, he occasionally seems wooden and unconvincing.
Anyway, as an adaption of the film, The Crucible is near-perfect, with a few sub-par acting performances marring an otherwise spotless picture. As a movie, it is even better, as it also acts as a sociological study with some aplomb. I have no hesitation in rewarding The Crucible:
Casino Royale (2006)
Intriguing in places and better than any other recent Bond film, but still predictable in places and overrated to boot
I had originally wanted to see Casino Royale at the cinema, when it first came out. However, the screening was delayed, so my friend and I had to see another movie instead. 5 months later, I finally saw Casino Royale. I dropped what I was doing and went to see it in high hopes. I have heard repeatedly that it is one of the best Bond films ever. It is better than any Bond film made since 1995, but I still found it to be overrated. Sure, it was intriguing in places and had its fair share of action. However, it also dragged in the middle like other recent Bond films and had some predictable plot twists which seem to have been borrowed from The World Is Not Enough (like the traitorous female ally). The ending, while admirable in that it wasn't a clichéd 'happy ending', seemed anti-climatic. The acting was, on the whole, pretty good, improving on past Bond films.
I may as well start by detailing the plot. We start off with a scene where Bond suddenly shoots a man. For some strange reason, the scene made me laugh. We quickly cross to some African country, where Bond gets himself in a bit of bother for blowing up an embassy and killing an unarmed hostage. This is where most of the action ends. Up to this point, I thought that Casino Royale could've gone anywhere. It had such potential.
However, in the middle, it really dragged and mostly revolved around several card showdowns between Bond and Le Chiffre, a businessman with some dubious ties. I suppose many people found this to be intriguing. I did too, initially, because it is such a novel feature in a Bond film, but the whole premise outstayed its welcome, so to speak.
Already, I can see a correlation between Casino Royale and past Bond films, despite Casino Royale's relative superiority. For instance, we have an exciting beginning, a relatively dull middle and a quick-fire ending, just to keep the audience happy. If you notice, this plot structure has been closely adhered to by every Bond film since Goldeneye in 1995. The film, however, which interpreted this plot structure most literally, would have to be The World Is Not Enough. The beginning of that movie was spectacular, yet the middle dragged for long periods, before picking up towards the end. I'm not saying that following this structure is necessarily bad. I just think it's a shame that Casino Royale would borrow elements from inferior films.
But perhaps I'm being unfair. Despite the fact that the middle is bloated, it is still less boring than those of the aforementioned films, as it does have a few deliciously scattered moments of real action (like when Bond strangles that black guy to death).
However, this is ruined somewhat by the predictable plot twists which arise as the film nears the end. For instance, we learn that Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is a traitor. I could also sense that Bond's sidekick, Vesper (Eva Green), was out to betray him ten minutes before the event actually occurred. Like the plot structure, these twists also seem to be derivative of other recent (and inferior) Bond films, making their exclusion in this movie seem unnecessary.
I'm also leaning towards the conclusion that the ending wasn't that great. Casino Royale does its utmost to disassociate itself from the other, more inferior Bond films of late by having the film end abruptly with Bond standing over his ultimate nemesis after losing his female sidekick. This is a definite diversion from the clichéd Bond ending, which as far as I can recall involves Bond and his female sidekick revelling in their victory over an adversary. This may be seen as a positive. Despite this, however, the ending, as aforementioned above, seemed to be anti-climatic and left me feeling utterly bewildered, uncertain of what to think.
The aspect of Casino Royale that definitely lifts this film above any other Bond film would be the acting. The acting in the more recent Bond films has been anywhere from good to decidedly substandard. In Casino Royale, every actor of note delivers turns, which are, at the very least, acceptable. With this in mind, I have to say that Judi Dench does play M a little too much like a stereotypical boss. However, she is not particularly irritating, so I'll let that pass. Daniel Craig, on the other hand, reinvents Bond completely and does it successfully. I find it amusing that he was initially christened 'James Bland' by the British tabloids. Admittedly, there are moments when he comes across as a little too colourless (for instance, the beginning), but these are few. For the most part, he is so cold and calculating as to be almost frightening, as opposed to the suave Bronson-type Bond. Mads Mikkelsen turns in a competent performance as Le Chiffre, with his stereotypical 'ice king' villain approach being somewhat effective most of the time. Giannini and Green are also respectable.
In the end, Casino Royale is the best Bond film in recent memory. However, it is not as good as the majority make it out to be. It is indeed, quite interesting and the acting is quite good, but its adherence to the bloated and uneven 'Bond plot structure', along with some predictable plot twists, detract from its appeal and leads to Casino Royale being somewhat overrated. Nevertheless, it is still an above-average film, so I award it:
EDIT (10/6/09): Actually, the ending makes a lot more sense once you watch Quantum of Solace. So consider this movie to be close to a 4-star rating (even though it still isn't quite there, IMO). My opinion of The World is Not Enough has also been heightened.
EDIT (21/11/18): Some minor edits to better reflect my current opinion of prior Bond films.
Night at the Museum (2006)
A serviceable film which has enjoyable aspects - however, it is wholly formulaic and occasionally cringe-inducing
When I first saw A Night at the Museum at the movies, I didn't know whether I really liked it or not. In fact, my reaction to it was so mixed that it confounded me. Now that I have managed to formulate an opinion, I can proceed with writing this review. That being said, my expectations for A Night at the Museum were hardly great. Indeed, my friend and I only saw it because we had, much to our chagrin, arrived too early to see the critically-acclaimed Borat or Casino Royale. We decided to see it because of the presence of the usually steady Ben Stiller. Despite his star billing, I expected A Night at the Museum to be standard family fare; not bad, just predictable and formulaic. My expectations were fulfilled. There were bad scenes, mostly involving Stiller and his son, which introduced overpowering, cringe-inducing sentiment. The plot is also uninspired, revolving around a stereotypical loser with a downtrodden son and marital difficulties. (wait on - is this a reprise of the appalling Jingle All The Way?) The saddest part is that my friend and I managed to telegraph key areas of the plot and also many of the various subplots. The rap music which was dubbed over the credits was also out of place with the rest of the movie. Not only can I see the presence of the rap music potentially turning off parents from seeing the movie, but the rap-c*** also left a bad taste in my mouth.
The acting is a mixed bag; certainly not the worst I've seen in a family-oriented movie, but hardly consistent. For instance, while Ben Stiller is his usual steady self, he manages to deliver few funny lines due to various limitations in the script. He is also forced to engage in some slapstick, which contradicts his usually wry, understated sense of humour as seen on Meet the Parents - the monkey scene is not only predictable, but it is probably the worst scene in the movie. The son (Jake Cherry) does not have to do a great deal other than mug for the camera. Mickey Rooney is saddled with the most poorly-written character in the film, resulting in him spitting out a plethora of lame buzzwords (Butterscotch?!). However, Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, as the cowboy and Roman general respectively, inject some life into the proceedings, being responsible for most of the amusing parts (for example, their individual stoushes). Robin Williams, for once, decides not to revert to slapstick, attempting to play his character in a more understated fashion. And you know what? He isn't annoying! In fact, I didn't realise it was him until later. Dick van Dyke, while not particularly funny, uses his oft-likable personality to hold the movie together. Ricky Geravis also plays the stereotypical pedantic, whimsical boss to perfection.
It became evident to me that A Night at the Museum is very much a movie of moments. Fortunately, these moments usually came at just the right time, just when my interest in the film was flagging and my eyes were being diverted towards my watch. For instance, I couldn't help but laugh at the Sacajawea tracking scene. I have already discussed the stoushes between the cowboy and the Roman general, so I will discuss the most interesting part of the movie - the only part of the plot which displays any real innovation. It was always going to be interesting watching how Stiller would go about overcoming his problems in the museum and he came up with some entertaining and left-field solutions for doing so! For instance, there was the fire extinguisher which he used on the cavemen - alongside others. I've also seen less amusing endings to family movies - as silly as the disco scene was.
Ultimately, I find A Night at the Museum slightly difficult to rate. It is certainly a passable movie with its fair share of well-timed and enjoyable moments, however, this is offset by the overbearing sentiment, the predictability of the plot and to a lesser extent, the credits and the less desirable acting performances in the film. All things considered, this is far less banal and money-grubbing than the more insipid family fare, such as Scooby-Doo or Garfield. This is saying nothing, though.
I guess I will have to tie my review up with a rating, so I will give A Night at the Museum 2.5/5 stars (perhaps a little higher for those in the target genre)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is far better than I expected - but I had low expectations. Enjoyable but not critically appealing
I was quite surprised by The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. Of course, I expected it to be a pile of steaming garbage, particularly with the formula of increasingly dodgy sequels. So when I went to see it with some friends, I had obvious misgivings. These misgivings, or at least the worst ones, such as the movie being unbearable to even look at, were fortunately unfounded. I kept my eyes on the movie the whole time, mainly because of the souped cars, but the fact that I went through the movie without flinching (a lot, except at some of the bad dialogue that was prevalent), says quite a lot. Maybe my view of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift is heightened by the fact that I cracked a few jokes during the movie.
Now down to business. Sean, a 'dude' who loves to race at high speeds for no apparent reason, is sent to Tokyo to live with his military dad and ends up being drawn to the racing circuit again, witnessing a new style of race called 'drift' (as seen in Need For Speed Underground, to those that don't know). Sounds stupid? Well, it is, the casual viewer can detect a plothole or two from even reading those two lines. To go on, except to state that Sean ends up making friends with a guy named Han, is pointless. I will admit that no-one looks for a good plot in a Fast and the Furious movie, but still, the less said, the better.
The dialogue, as I stated, can be funny - because of its stupidity. This is shown by one piece of dialogue where some guy asks Sean: "You know what DK stands for?" and Sean replies "Donkey Kong". At least its original, I guess.
The acting is OK - far from turgid, which I expected it to be in the first place. The guy who plays Han is surprisingly good, going through the movie without looking as if he was hired from a nearby sushi bar. Brian Tee as DK is a bit of a joke, he is more comedic than menacing. Lucas Black is OK as Sean, but his Southern accent makes his character more irritating to watch. The love interest does well as eye candy. That's about all that matters I guess.
The most important part of The Fast and the Furious is inarguably the racing sequences and their overall effectiveness. I will admit that the sequences themselves are well-filmed and eye catching, highlighting the cars, as they should. However, except in a few fleeting moments, they are not as enthralling as they should be and this is one of the most disappointing aspects of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The final confrontation, for me, is pretty good to watch, but only arouses the senses once in a while.
Time didn't drag though, which is a clear sign that The Fast and Furious is indeed quite watchable, despite its other pre-eminent faults. I admit that I didn't really get bored during the film, which may lead to my rose-tinted view of it (compared to my original perception of what it would be like).
So let me summarise my thoughts: "Didn't expect much, got more than I bargained for." The acting is satisfactory (for a racing film, otherwise it would more or less suck), the plot and the dialogue are predictably terrible, the racing sequences are satisfactory and the cinematography is somewhat effective, with frequent close-ups of the cars. What compels me to give The Fast and The Furious a pass grade is the fact that it is, like I said, quite watchable. However, it is still little more than satisfactory, so it's rating cannot therefore rise above:
Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max is a quality low-budget action film which keeps you hooked most of the time
Mad Max has had something of a stigma attached to it over the years. Most people perceive it as some sort of ultra-violent film set in a wasteland. It is set in a wasteland: post-Apocalyptic Australia. It is something of a cult hit and helped to launch Mel Gibson's career. The perception I mentioned above is not completely correct: it is not graphically violent so to speak; most of the violence is either hinted (such as the road sign at the beginning involving 57 deaths or something like that) or off-screen. The background music is very effective however and helps add suspense and an air of eeriness to the film itself. It is decidedly low-budget; no special effects, just crashes and explosions, but I am not averse to this, so lets move on.
The plot is pretty simple, although it does not have any real plot holes to pick at. It revolves around a cop, Mad Max Rockatansky and the murder of his wife and young child by a group of sadistic biker thugs. There. That's it. Add a few crashes, explosions, motorbikes and cars to that and you basically have Mad Max. It is a bit hard to follow at times; it took me a while to figure out who died and why the Toecutter was wreaking vengeance. I am not particularly bothered by the Australian accents, as I am one myself.
What Mad Max does well is get your attention with a haunting introductory sequence. We flick to a scene where this guy in a black car is being chased by cops. 5 minutes into the film. I thought: "This is gonna be a mad film!" I was, for the most part, correct, although Mad Max does have drawbacks.
Mel Gibson looks pretty good in what must be his first major movie role, but the same cannot be said for some of the others. Joanne Samuel has little chemistry with Max, save for a few brief moments. The villain is both weak and hammy - that's why it took me a little while to figure out he was evil and then only because he was part of a biker gang. Without the haunting background music, he would not be even the slightest bit scary, or even creepy.
All up, this is a quality film which does its best with what it has; which is to say, not a lot. George Miller has managed to turn what could have been a stupid camp film into a memorable cult film. See it.
A pretty good movie with good animation and excellent characters - but it's not quite top 250 material
Don't get me wrong, Shrek is a pretty good movie. But in my opinion, it is overrated. It is in the Top 250, although I do not think that it deserves to be there. Shrek has got good animation and decent characters, but it meanders a bit in the middle and it is outdone by its sequel. Nevertheless, it is a nice romantic tale which involves Shrek, Donkey, Princess Fiona and Lord Farquadd. Shrek is a stereotypical ogre at first glance: ugly and unpleasant, but he is a complex character and is decent deep down - a bit like Nelson Muntz if you ask me. Mike Myers does a good Scottish accent too by the way. Donkey is FUNNY - Eddie Murphy brings out the best in him and acts with a viguor not seen since Beverly Hills Cop. Cameron Diaz plays Fiona like she should - tough and bitchy, yet soft and fragile at the same time. John Lithgow, as always, makes for a strong villain (see Cliffhanger), as he plays Lord Farquadd with the right amount of menace - even if there are constantly clever puns made at his expense, such as: "There are those who think little of him."
This odyssey all starts when Shrek wishes to evict fairy-tale creatures from his land; however, in the process he ends up rescuing a princess. He is unwillingly accompanied by a talking Donkey, who constantly shows off his verbal ability. Like I said, its a good plot and the fairy tale creatures add a bit of life to proceedings, but it meanders a bit. The animation is pretty good - not up to Pixar's standards, but arguably Dreamwork's best. Too bad they have regressed over the years to making unpleasant-looking stuff like Shark Tales.
In the end, Shrek is comfortably above par for an animation film. It is not quite excellent, however, and does not really deserve to be in the Top 250, alongside better movies - like the two Toy Story's for example. It also pales in comparison to it's sequel. Still, see this, then go see Shrek 2 to get the most out of this trilogy - whether you are young or old.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Slick action and good comedy - too bad about Eddie Murphy, though
Out of curiosity, I decided to get Beverly Hills Cop. Let me tell you...it doesn't disappoint. It is not particularly original - I have seen this sort of cop-buddy movie done about a thousand times before, along with the 'renegade cop' thing. But Beverly Hills Cop stands out as one of the better ones of its genre. One reason for this is Eddie Murphy. Lately, his presence has been a waste of screen time - look at him in The Haunted Mansion! But here, he seems in his element - he's fresh, he's likable and he's pretty funny at times. He always seems to inject his humour at the right times, like when he rants on about Michael Jackson and defuses a potentially awkward situation.
Beverly Hills Cop is a slick movie, it must be said. It may just be Beverly Hills, but there is a slickness about the movie which is noticeable. For example, the expensive hotels, the luxury cars - yes indeed, Eddie Murphy's character, Axel Foley, is really out of his element here. A real...fish out of water. Foley, you see, is used to living in the 'ghetto' that is Detroit - crappy car, derelict buildings - no, Foley doesn't have it easy. Another thing which apparently doesn't exist in Beverly Hills is the unorthodox nature of Foley. I am just thinking about how unoriginal all of this really is - the stupid chief, the renegade cop who is always right, etc, etc. But it still works better than a movie like Die Hard 2. Mind you, Die Hard 2 is not a bad movie (see that review for more), but Beverly Hills Cop has something that Die Hard 2 doesn't...maybe some humour. Or maybe the fact that there is no strip bar scene in Die Hard 2! :) The theme music here is memorable, as well.
The acting was OK I guess. The only one who really does well, like I said, is Murphy. Steven Berkoff is somewhat cold (although not really menacing) as the villain of the piece, while the rest are adequate.
As well as being a good comedy, Beverly Hills Cop also delivers on action. There is a good shootout near the end of the film, at what I believe to be the same mansion which was used in Commando. The chase scene at the start is also eyecatching and I couldn't help laughing when Foley threw one of Berkoff's thugs into a buffet. And what about the banana trick?
Overall, this is a good action movie which provides some good comedy as well. It does not score any points for originality, but it does deserve it's reputation as one of the better cop-buddy movies. Although I would never call Beverly Hills Cop great as such, it is still definitely worth a watch or two. I could definitely watch it again.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
This Toy Story is truly excellent and continues the legacy of the original
Toy Story, when it came out in 1995, was something of a revolution. It was a definite groundbreaker, on the level of stuff like Star Wars, for nothing like it had been seen before and since then, it has had a slew of followers, none of which have quite lived up to it's greatness (even from Pixar themselves). To date, I have seen story around as often as I have seen Terminator 2 (six or seven times) and, fittingly it ranks up there with my favourite films. So you could imagine my surprise back in 2000 when the sequel to Toy Story, Toy Story 2, continued the legacy of the original. Sure, it isn't quite as groundbreaking, but hell, whatd'ya expect, it's a sequel! To think that Disney was going to make this one straight-to-video. That would've been disgraceful for a film of this magnitude. I have 'only' seen Toy Story 2 around three or four times. As fate would have it, I saw it again last night. As a teenager, I am almost ashamed to be enjoying this film, but hey, that's Pixar for you...not only do they appeal to little kids, they appeal to adults and teens as well. They've always had that mystic quality about them (with the exception of the disappointing A Bug's Life).
The plot is decidedly interesting. Woody winds up with a few old collectables from his old show, The Roundup Gang. Turns out that he is of a lot of value. There's Stinky Pete (look for a hilarious outtake at the end credits which shows why he is called 'Stinky Pete') and Jessie the cowgirl. It is here that, us, as the audience, witnesses a somewhat overly sentimental yet interesting deconstruction of Jessie. How she was abandoned by the girl who loved her. Woody, it would seem, will have to face up to a similar problem when Andy grows up. Buzz Lightyear and his crew get caught up at a toy store. On the way, some funny pratfalls do ensue, such as the regimented wackiness of the 'replacement' Buzz and those three aliens ("Look! It's the mystic portal!"). The outtakes at the end also give us a good reason to stick around.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen show their funny sides. It is clear here that Tim Allen can be a funny guy sometimes (shame we rarely see this) and he appears to have found his calling with the character of Buzz Lightyear. Tom Hanks plays Woody like he did in Toy Story; as philosophical yet somehow optimistic cowboy who does not know where to go. They are well supported by Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammar, who play their characters, Jessie and Stinky Pete, appropriately.
There is of course, the animation to discuss. As usual, I will not discuss Pixar's animation in any great depth, since you, the reader, will know what I will say: about how dazzling, clean-cut and colourful it is, etc, etc.
In short, Toy Story 2 is a wonderful film which should not be missed for the world, by kids, adults or even teens. It is right up there with the best of Pixar, second behind only Toy Story. That is only due to the fact that the first Toy Story is more groundbreaking. Try as they might, Dreamworks' best, both of the Shreks, cannot realistically match up to either of the Toy Story movies. Time will fly by as you watch this. Trust me on that!
First Blood (1982)
The first of the Rambo series is also the best - First Blood is a good action and survival film, but it has notable faults
First Blood is a good, albeit largely forgotten, action and survival film. Nowadays, when people think of Rambo at all, a M60-toting teeth-baring, Commie killing tank comes to mind. This only comes to pass in the last two Rambo films, which were either mediocre (Rambo II) or poor (Rambo III). First Blood, however, surprised me greatly. I expected this film to kick off the modern Rambo legacy which lives on in the minds of many teenagers' today. Instead, I got a film which was more about survival than about pure action. A lot of the time, we see Rambo prowl through the jungle in a game of cat-and-mouse, being stalking and stalked by a few unwitting cops. We observe Rambo's incredible resourcefulness, as he uses all things available to him to create ingenious booby traps for his enemies while subsisting on things that "would make a billy goat puke". (He even uses a paper sack as a shirt!)
Anyway, now on to why John Rambo is prowling through the jungle. He does not prowl through there because he wants to - no my friend, the 'system' is out to get him. (Where have I heard this excuse before?) You see, Rambo is a war hero of the highest order. After walking into a small town, the local sheriff, who seems to have X-ray vision, kicks Rambo out again. After walking back, Rambo is arrested for vagrancy. This is a ridiculous plot hole, as you cannot arrest anyone for being a 'suspected' vagrant, particularly if you have not seen the guy before. The plot mostly consists of hide-and-seek games between Rambo and said Sheriff; other than an interesting twist at the end, there is not much to it. I also do not understand why you would aggressively pursue someone for an offence as minor as vagrancy.
However, the hide-and-seek games are enthralling to watch, due to the eerie music score which always seems to resonate in the background. I knew what would happen at the end, due to my prior experience with Rambo II, but the uninitiated will not guess what will happen until Rambo's commanding officer, Col. Samuel Trautman, arrives on the scene, 'to save the cops from Rambo'.
At this point, First Blood has already firmly established itself as a survival movie, but up to this point, there has not been a lot of action. This quickly changes, as Rambo, who is by now 'on the edge', goes into town and blows a couple of buildings up real good. He also does everything possible to damage the town, including shooting up the police station. In the police station, his mission comes to an end...one way or another.
One of First Blood's main failings is it's construction of the main character, John Rambo, who, on first glance, is seen to be terrorising a few cops. Rambo appears to be little more than an uncultured thug, which is why I did not like this film the first time I saw it. I could not for the life of me understand why Rambo was attacking a few decent cops who were merely following orders from a fanatical, obsessive Sheriff. Another failing is it's dodgy moral stance: that people who served in the Vietnam War are all schizophrenics and psychos and as such should be hunted down.
The construction of Rambo could more or less be put down to the performance of the lead actor, Sylvester Stallone. Let's face it, when he plays anyone who has a deeper personality than that of a heroic muscle-man, he usually sucks. Thankfully, he utters precious few lines until the end, when he goes into a rant about Vietnam. The rant has absolutely no effect due to his lack of coherence. Luckily, he is backed up well by Richard Crenna, who plays Trautman with remarkable assurance, along with Bill Dennehy, who attacks the role of the local Sheriff with aggression, as he should, given that the Sheriff is an authoritarian character.
Anyway, I have said enough. First Blood is a good action and survival film which has largely been forgotten, due to the omnipresent insanity of the two films which followed it. It is not what I would call excellent: it's plot and moral stance are both dubious and this is quite telling. It is still, however, above average and better than many action movies going around today. If possible, make sure you see it before seeing the other two, otherwise it loses some of its sting.