Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No. 44: Kingdom of Heaven

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness."

Two Ridley Scott flicks back to back? Yes, he is that good.

It is unfortunate that the studio executives pitched this movie as another Gladiator, and marketed it as such. It is also unfortunate that they cut a good half hour out of the movie once they realized it wasn't Gladiator. Unfortunately, I've never seen the Director's Cut of the movie.

I am very confident that the meaning behind Kingdom of Heaven will be not be rendered irrelevant in my lifetime.  It's a movie about the Crusades, and the motives behind them.

Orlando Bloom plays Bailian, the hero. He has lost his child to illness and his wife to suicide and at the beginning of the film is visited by a Baron(Liam Neesen), who informs Bailian that he is his father and begs forgiveness for his absence from his life. He also informs Bailian that he should come to Jerusalem with him, as it is a land of opportunity and forgiveness. After murdering a priest who taunts him that his wife is burning in hell, Bailian takes up the Baron of Eberlin on his offer. 

Liam Neeson is of course impeccable in the mentor role he is so often cast in. He trains Bailian on how to fight and the principles of being a Baron and, before he dies, implores Bailian to become "The Perfect Knight". Bailian travels to Jerusalem, and meets the rest of the key players on both sides.

The movie is fair of its depiction of Christianity and Islam and there is a constant undercurrent throughout the movie about the similarities of both religions. On both sides there are is the fanaticism. And the actors that play them are excellent. For two of the Knight's Templar, one uses the Crusades as a vehicle to gain power, the other, to satisfy is blood lust.  

Much criticism has been thrown Orlando Bloom's way for his understated performance as Bailian.  Bloom could've tried to turn this into an Oscar performance, but that would do a disservice to the character. The character is not the typical action hero, but perhaps he should be. He speaks the truth and little else. As a man with little use for religion, he gives an outsiders perspective on the Crusades. Is Bloom's performance in line with other historical epics? I guess not. The character doesn't desire being heroic, he seeks redemption and is driven by doing the right thing. This isn't sexy. But humility never has been.

Here are the ratings:
Music: 3/5: The music is solid, and seems nearly lifted from the Gladiator soundtrack. Nothing spectacular.
Cinematography: 4/5: This movie is wonderfully shot. That is all.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: I didn't care much for the love story, and it lags at times. But for the most part, very entertaining.
Rewatchability: 7/10: Ask me in five years, this may get a 9 or a 10. This movie gets better with every viewing.
Acting: 8/10: Bloom is solid. Edward Norton as the King may steal the whole movie. And I've already professed my love for everything Liam Neeson.
Great Scenes: 7/10: Much of the battle scenes happen off screen. But the final battle is suitably epic.

Total: 37/50


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Random Bad Movie Review: Shrooms

This movie sucks. No other real way to put it. It has an interesting premise, "Kids take shrooms on a camping trip in Ireland and try to distinguish the weird shit that happens to them from hallucinations or reality".

This film may have been shot in Ireland, I haven't checked. But you really can't tell. It could've been shot in the backwoods of Maryland. If you are choosing Ireland as a setting, use Ireland, I'd like to see something that makes Ireland Ireland other than a red herring to the inbred locals which causes the viewers to start having nightmares of the Wrong Turn series(at least there we felt like we were in Appalachia).

Of course, the main character is a woman, with her own set of problem and likes the token "perfect guy"(no one will match up to Ted in Friday the 13th Part III and his sweaters in this department). The rest of the characters are window dressing, the horny couple, the stoners, the bitch, all there.

The shrooms scenes are lacking, they could've done a lot more and the characters don't act any different once they've taken the shrooms other than "seeing things".

It ends with a lot of running around and screaming, a weak back story and an even weaker surprise ending that stretches continuity ideas to the absolute brink.

To conclude, I repeat myself, this movie sucks.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Social Network

"I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing."

David Fincher has been on my bad side ever since I saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. So, take this review with a grain of salt if you are a David Fincher fan.

The Social Network has all the ingredients of a good movie, and that may be why it fooled so many people into thinking it actually was.  It looks good, its a compelling story that writes itself, the music is solid and not overbearing, and the acting is very good in spite of the script.

Aaron Sorkin wrote The Social Network, and he has a lengthy resume of creating entertaining movies as well as The West Wing. His scripts typically have an easy flow to them and The Social Network is no different. There are some issues, of course. This is not a story that can be adequately told in a two hour movie, The Social Network was two hours, draw your own conclusions.  Usually studios refuse to let movies go over two and a half hours(See Kingdom of Heaven, a travesty of mandated studio edits butchering an all time classic into just a very good movie).  The whole movie felt rushed.

They also threw in some standard thematic tropes that are both cliche and annoying. Mark Zuckerberg is painted as an insufferable ass for nearly the entire movie, but of course, they had to throw in a little human emotion story of him developing as a person to underpin his characters whole saga. And they created a fictional girlfriend who breaks up with him, which prompts him to make Harvard's Hot or Not and opens the door for Zuckerberg to create Facebook. Must we throw in a human emotion story to make the creation of Facebook for palatable? The story sells itself!

 The twins, who sue Zuckerberg, are hilariously entertaining, and are the highlight of the movie. But they seem more charicatures than actual characters. Doing some research, they might actually be this way in real life, so, an addendum to the criticism.  Sean Parker, of Napster fame, comes off as a manipulative loser, but they cast him with Justin Timberlake, a guy almost universally likeable. 

I don't remember the name of the actor, or the character he played, but the original Facebook C.F.O. was the most sympathetic, and relatable character in the film, and the acting was superb.

Some closing thoughts, this movie is worth a viewing, because its a good story.  But what makes it a good story is not what the movie chooses to focus on. It dances around the relevance of facebook and hones in on the human element, or, the human element that they choose to focus on. 

It's a reoccuring theme, the story, isn't THE story.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Answer Man

"I'm just a guy who crawled back to civilization on all fours."

I watched this movie because I think Jeff Daniels is hilarious. Especially when he's angry.

Daniels plays Arlen Faber, a bestselling author of the book, "Me and God", where the premise is that he is asking God questions and relaying his answers.  Arlen lives in relative seclusion because he has learned to despise people over the last twenty years. He spends his time reading self help book and trying to meditate, albeit unsuccessfully. He is, a miserable curmudgeon.

One day, he throws out his back, crawls into the nearest chiropractor(Lauren Graham), and his life begins to change. He befriends her son, and also advice for book with a recently sober bookstore owner.

This is a good movie, is it spectacular? No. Does it stick in your mind as anything life altering? No. But it's worth a viewing, mainly for the moments when you can see Jeff Daniels explode at the Fed Ex guy, a school teacher, and a piano man at a fancy restaurant. The storylines tie together well and you believe the intentions of the characters. Definitely worth a watch.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No. 45: Gladiator

                              "Death smiles at us all, all a man can do, is smile back"

Gladiator is a Ridley Scott film. It's long, it's violent, and claws away at actual meaning unlike most action epics. It's plot, in essence, is similar to that of Braveheart, where a skilled warrior overthrows a government because they murdered his family. Much like the other films from its time, its liberal use of CGI hasn't aged well. But this movie is still damn good. 

Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimis Meridius, a general in Rome's Northern Army and trusted confidant of the Roman Emperor Marcus Auerilius.  The film begins with an epic battle scene where we figure out two things, the Roman's are clever, and Maximus is a badass who is never rattled and quietly gives ominous orders like, "Unleash hell".  After a swift and easy victory over some angry German tribe, we meet Joaquin Phoenix's insufferable and evil character Commodus, the Emperor's son, who yearns for his time on the thrown.  After Auerilius informs Maximus and Commodus at separate times that Commodus will not be Emperor, and it's Maximus's job to give Rome "back to the people", Commodus kills his father, sentences Maximus to be executed and orders the murder of Maximus's wife and son.  Maximus escapes, gets picked up as a slave/gladiator by the greatest character in the movie, Proximo, and the epic tale of revenge begins. 

Russell Crowe does an excellent job as Maximus.  Joaquin Phoenix is deplorable, despicable and downright creepy as Commodus and the two are perfect foils for each other. There is a fringe love story, that is key to the plot, but not essential to the review.

Gladiator is an epic, its a better movie than Kingdom of Heaven, Scott's other epic he made soon after, but not quite executed as well. Nonetheless, the film captures its setting marvelously and the scenes inside the Coliseum are the highlight of the movie. 

Here are the ratings:

Music: 4/5: Hans Zimmer comes up with an epic and memorable score for an epic and memorable movie.
Cinematography: 4/5: As I said, the CGI hasn't aged well, so the wide shots of Rome now look like a video game, but the scenes in the Coliseum and in the little arena's they fight in all across the desert look fantastic.
Entertainment Value: 8/10:  Very few parts of this movie drag, its tense, its exciting, and even a little bit unpredictable.
Rewatchability: 7/10: This is a movie you can jump in at any time and ride till the end. So many memorable and great scenes really make this flick.
Acting: 7/10: 7? Really? Might have been the one note fringe characters, but Joaquin Phoenix should've warranted a 7 on his own.
Great Scenes: 7/10:  "Am I not merciful!" "Unleash hell" "Are you not entertained?" All great scenes with memorable lines. My favorite scene of the movie is the speech given by Maximus to Commodus after he reveals that he is still alive. One of the greatest in movie history, no hyperbole.
Total: 37/50

Monday, March 12, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No.46: It's A Wonderful Life

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

I saw It's A Wonderful Life many times as a gangly youth, but didn't really get it till I was in college.  This is a wonderful movie with a wonderfully simple theme, is it a little preachy? Yeah, but it works.

The film follows George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, all through his life.  George Bailey had big dreams, he wanted to move out of the small town he lived in, go to college, travel abroad, but his innate selflessness always ended up causing him to stay in town, help his family's business, or help his friends and put his dreams on hold.  He takes over his fathers business, relieving his incompetent, cheerful, but consistently drunk Uncle Billy from the duty and fighting off the evil businessman Mr. Potter(played impeccably by Lionel Barrymore). He skips out on his honeymoon because their is a run on the bank and therefore a run on his Building and Loan company.  The resentment builds in him until Uncle Billy misplaces all of their money from the business. Feeling disillusioned, trapped and desperate, George wishes he never was born and plans to jump off a bridge and commit suicide.

Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings tries to save him by showing him what life would be like if he never was born. After seeing the demise of his town, and the terrible turns peoples lives had taken because he wasn't there to help, he has an epiphany leading to the famous scene of Jimmy Stewart running through the streets joyously wishing everyone and everything Merry Christmas.

I've heard it argued, in the Ayn Rand sense, that this movie leads people to believe in a life of mediocrity and to not pursue or excel their own goals and ambitions. I would counter that this movie shows the importance and value of doing good deeds and fostering human relationships. 

Here are the ratings.
Music: 3/5: The music isn't spectacular, but not dreadful.
Cinematography: 4/5: Despite its age, shot very well, and I won't hold NBC colorizing it against the actual film.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: Entertaining flick throughout.
Rewatchability Factor: 7/10: Despite the fact that this movie still gets watched a lot around the holidays, more than one viewing a year doesn't seem to happen.
Acting: 9/10: Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore steal this movie, their clashes and arguments are scenes I've never tired of watching and truly excellent acting.
Great Scenes: 7/10: The final scene gets things a little dusty, and there are a lot of other great scenes. When George says he'll slingshot the moon, when the dance floor opens up into a pool, and one of my favorites, the scenes in the alternate universe bar. Hilarious.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No 47: Rocky 3

"What happened to you is the worst thing that can happen to a fighter, you got domesticated"

  Rocky 3 is the most polished, ridiculously entertaining and unpredictable Rocky sequel made.  It makes this list because of an unparallel soundtrack, a great story, and an actual decent script.

 After Rocky 2 stumbled along for a painful hour and a half, before Rocky defeats Apollo Creed in a thrilling final half hour of the movie, Rocky 3 starts off with a bang with one of the great movie montages ever assembled and never lets up. I don't want to spoil things, but Rocky's whole world comes crashing out after he loses the title to Mike Tyson-errr, Mr. T.  With the help of his former nemesis Apollo Creed, he regains the "eye of the tiger", finds his soul, and regains the title.

The movie tells the story perfectly, Stallone doesn't play Rocky with the same punchy stupidity as in Rocky 2 and it pays off. Stallone used Rocky to illustrate his own feelings of losing himself as he became a huge star and it permeates the whole movie.

What am I doing? Trying to add some real meaning to a movie where Rocky takes on a pro wrestler named "Thunderlips"? Where Apollo and Rocky share the most awkward beach hug in movie history? Where Rocky and Adrian have an argument so horribly written and poorly acted it single handedly murdered this films rating for acting?

Some may argue that Rocky IV was the best sequel. But I cannot put IV ahead of III when Rocky flies to Russia on Christmas Day, for no money by the way and Paulie complains that he's going to miss the Rose Bowl game?? That line has bothered me for years, the Rose Bowl is played on New Years day! Compare that with Rocky III, watch this whole thing without feeling envigorated and tempted to shadow box in a dingy gym and do wind sprints on the beach! It's just good, solid, entertainment.

Rant aside, here are the ratings.

Music: 5/5: The Rocky movies always had great music, "Eye of the Tiger" takes it to another level
Cinematography: 3: The movie is well shot enough, and abandons the sprawling look and deliberate pacing of the first two movies
Entertainment Value: 8/10: Few scenes in this movie aren't entertaining, and even when they are terrible, they are still entertaining!
Rewatchability Factor: 8/10: Of all the Rocky movies, this is the easiest to watch.
Acting: 5/10: Like I said earlier, the scene between Adrian and Rocky on the beach is just awful. "I'm afraid! You want to break me down! You want to hear me say it! I'm afraid! What are you putting me through Adrian" all said in Stallone's yell that sounds like a dog that overdosed on Benadryl yelping.
Great Scenes: 8/10: Thunderlips, the opening scene, the training montage, "Mick! Mick! Mick!!!", Mr. T. hitting on Adrian at Rocky's retirement ceremony, the final fight, the last scene, I could go on all day.

Total: 37/50