Saturday, March 28, 2015
The last group of Mini-Reviews worked out rather well for me, as I wrote each of them as soon as I was done watching the film, as opposed to writing eight or nine of them in one sitting. My first thoughts were a more clear and descriptive and my point on each film was direct. As such, I will keep that up for this batch of Mini-Reviews. If it turns out well with this one, I will make it a regular routine for future Mini-Reviews.
Let's start things off with...
"The Fugitive" (1993)
Fun fact - The 1993 "The Fugitive" is actually based off a 1950s television show of the same name. As such, most critics have said that this is the best film adaptation of a television show, as it stays true to its roots - A wanted man is being hunted down for a crime he didn't commit, all while trying to find who is responsible for the death of his wife - without feeling obligated to pander to the audience of the show.
"The Fugitive" is a logical, suspenseful mystery that has you rooting for both the title character and the lawmen chasing him down. Richard Kimble is a man who would go out of his way to save innocent lives, even if it means risking his own, and is still a quiet and cunning individual. The federal agents chasing him pick up on every little clue that he drops and don't make crazy assumptions, and learn from all the evidence without becoming cocky or arrogant.
It helps that both leads are played by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, with Ford giving us a performances that feels distant from Han Solo and Indiana Jones, yet still with plenty of compassion, and Jones' no nonsense portrayal of the lead federal marshals who will follow-up on any lead and stop at nothing to get his man.
Great fun without going over the top. "The Fugitive" gets a bit stale in the middle as Kimble wanders around the city aimlessly for a bit, but it picks up near the end again with an exciting climax.
Final Grade: B
"My Man Godfrey" (1936)
After watching "My Man Godfrey" I am beginning to understand why the screwball comedy genre eventually died out and was replaced with the romantic comedy.
To the untrained eye, one would note there are very few differences between a screwball comedy like "The Lady Eve" or "Bringing Up Baby" and a romantic comedy like "When Harry Met Sally..." Here is the basic understanding though - A screwball comedy tends to have one ditzy and/or clumsy idiot of a character and one straightforward no-nonsense character and has those two fall in love while also getting into a lot of slapstick and hijinks, while also facing odds from other people who don't want to see them together.
Around the mid-1940s and early-1950s, audiences lost interest in the screwball. This could be attributed to many things, including the end of WWII and thus less of a need for slapstick, the formula for screwball being a bit too repetitive or the need for more serious romances in cinema.
There are great screwball comedies out there, especially "The Philadelphia Story" and "It Happened One Night." Some might put "My Man Godfrey" in that same category, but I found the film to be far too preachy and on the nose at times. William Powell plays the heir to a powerful Boston family but chooses to live the life of a bum for a while and has a lot of time to "think." Namely, that all rich people are selfish, arrogant and know nothing of the world.
I guess this film chooses to ignore any charities created by rich people and the good intentions of good-hearted people who just so happen to have a lot of money.
Granted, by the end Godfrey has found the good even in the people that he has hated and wants to help them find happiness in their lives. Godfrey is certainly a relatable character for his struggle to find his place in life, but he has a habit of insulting those who are comfortable with their lives.
"My Man Godfrey" has a decent moral, good acting from William Powell and Carole Lombard, and a few good laughs. But the plot can be contrived and forced and the message is often forced down the throat of the audience.
Final Grade: C+
There is a reason that I do not watch that many indie movies. Because most of them suck.
Many independent films and filmmakers think in their own creative mindset where they think everyone will understand and accept their work, when there are narrative flaws and logical gaps that make the film hard to grasp and relate to.
The problem with "Melancholia" is rather simple - There is very little reason to relate to our main character, played by Kristen Dunst. On her wedding day, the happiest day of her life, where her family and friends are all around her, her boss gives her a promotion and her husband has just signed the lease on a nice plot of land - and she is absolutely miserable. Why? Never explained, she just is upset.
It could be that she knows there is another planet approaching Earth and is about to collide with it, killing everyone and everything, but the film never fully explains this so that's just a guess. Even if she does know about that, why wouldn't she tell everyone? Or why wouldn't she try to enjoy the little time there is left when all her loved ones are here? Instead, she decides to keep it a secret and be distant from everyone, because that doesn't make sense.
I'll give "Melancholia" this much- the film looks great, especially in the opening sequence. We watch as the world falls apart, birds falling out of the sky, static electricity to the point that we can see it on our fingers, the gravity becoming so intense that walking is a chore and the ultimate collision with this giant planet.
"Melancholia" is a different take on the end of the world. Rather than trying to stop it, the film excepts it as an inevitability, thus focusing on a family that will end because of this calamity. Which is why it is too bad that the main character is so unlikable and removed from this dead reality. I found myself rolling my eyes in annoyance at Kirsten Dunst and her continued need to ruin the lives of everyone around her just because she didn't feel like it.
Final Grade: C+
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2015)
Why isn't this getting its own review? For one, I saw it three days ago while on vacation. Two, I do not have anything interesting to say about "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" other than it was boring and mostly lifeless fluff.
First of all, there are at least eight main characters in this convoluted story, each of which has at least two different plot lines going on. Whether it is Judi Dench trying to make a name for herself in the fabric business and trying to figure out what she wants in her relationship with Bill Nighy, or Celia Imrie becoming intimate with two different men and trying to become "friends" with her cab driver.
There are far too many storylines going on in this film, yet there is a surprising lack of story throughout. Lots of dead air and scenes that ultimately go no where make the film dull, on top of the many predictable storylines.
The only good thing about "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is Dev Patel's performance as he makes up for the lack of enthusiasm and passion of the rest of actors and overact in every single scene. With exaggerated hand motions and always screaming his lines, it makes Patel a blast to watch. No subtlety in anything he ever does, and that is fun to witness.
Overall, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is harmless, but offers nothing. The film is like potato chips - you can feast on it without even realizing what you are eating, and before you know it, you've eaten half the bag. There is no substance to this film and you'll forget about it a couple of days after you watched it, like me.
Final Grade: D+
"In Bruges" (2008)
It takes a lot of coaxing and understanding to make the audience sympathize with a killer, or just bad people in general. It's why I don't care for films like "American Psycho" or most films about assassins - Why should I care about any of these people when they're doing terrible things to innocent people?
For the majority of "In Bruges" this was always in the back of my mind, as we watch two hitmen hide out in Bruges, Belgium until they get their next mission. The character of Ray (Colin Ferrell), whines and complains about being stuck in this town while his friend Ken (Brendan Gleeson) just wants to look at the sites and take in the picturesque atmosphere.
Over time, Ken grew on me as we learn about why he got into the hitman business and his morality code, but Ray was just a pain. He had no code, beat up anyone who looked at him funny and did nothing but complain about his life. Even when we learn why he is acting this way, it does not help his whineness and bad attitude.
Still, "In Bruges" has some good humor and a buddy-buddy relationship between Ray and Ken. At times, it comes across as wanting to be like "Hot Fuzz" without being too elaborate and a less action-packed but satisfying climax. "In Bruges" is not the best comedy about hitmen but it does hit most of the right notes.
Final Grade: B-
"Now, Voyager" (1942)
This one is quite enjoyable for the message of self-confidence is one of the most important qualities to have about yourself, despite what troubles might have happened in the past. That you are not responsible for every bad thing that happens, and that loving yourself is one of the most attractive qualities you can have.
"Now, Voyager" tells a dual story of children that were not loved by their parents because they were unwanted, and the effect that can have on the children. One of these "mistakes" is played by Bette Davis, who has an over-bearing and hateful mother that has control over every aspect of her life. The camera movement and cinematography is used to great effect here, as every scene with Davis' mother is shot with her looking up at her daughter while the lights cast her into the shadows, like a puppet master pulling the strings.
Of course, Bette Davis steals the show, especially in "Now, Voyager" where she gets to play a multitude of roles in one character - the repressed spinster, the beauty that catches everyone's eye, the confident wealthy bachelorette, and the motherly protector. All with the sympathy and passion that we can come to expect from Bette Davis.
The film does tend to drag at times, especially in the middle of the film while on the cruise ship, but we do get to see more of that Davis charm so it balances out.
Final Grade: B
"Superman II" (1980)
The classic example of why super hero films are fun, exciting and captivating, without over doing it, and why there is so much hate on the new "Man Of Steel." Superman has always been a hero that finds joy in what he does, as he attempts to make the world a better place. A respect for the citizens of Earth, and never thinking that he is above them.
That and there is no dramatic tension or character development in "Man Of Steel," while this one has an interesting focus on Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.
In "Superman II," both characters are obsessed with Superman, with Lois trying to prove that he is Clark Kent, and Lex setting eyes on finding the Fortress of Solitude upon his escape from prison. Both characters love the Man Of Tomorrow, but for different reasons, and will do whatever it takes to get at him whatever the costs may be.
However, as the film reaches its climax between Superman and the three Kryptonians who escaped from the Phantom Zone, there become many gaps in logic and confusion, such as how Superman was able to get his powers back so quickly. This is especially strange, considering up to that point "Superman II" was logical and each scene properly built up, with my favorites being General Zod and his goons taking over a small town while discovering their powers.
"Superman II" kept me smiling from start to finish, if a bit confused near the end. I can see how this influences so the Marvel super hero films of today and will continue to be an inspiration of decades to come.
Final Grade: B
"Wall Street" (1987)
Perhaps I was not the target audience of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street." But if that's the case, then so is the majority of the movie-going crowd, because the only people who would understand this movie is if they know how Wall Street works, inside and out.
I'm not talking about just greed, stocks and shareholders, I mean detailed lingo of the era, how the mechanisms of Wall Street work and the concepts behind why inside trading is such a big deal. "Wall Street" never takes the opportunity to explain anything to the audience. It expects everyone coming in to know exactly what it is talking about and leaves those who are confused and uninterested in Wall Street in the dust.
Watching "Wall Street" is like listening to an articulate and expansive conversation on politics and literature, except that all you hear is in French. You might be able to make out some key words and maybe an expression or two, but most of the time you're unaware of the significance and have zero sympathy for any of these people by the end. At some point, you're bound to throw your hands up in frustration, because you don't belong here.
If I enjoyed anything in "Wall Street" though, it was the relationship between the main character, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and his father (Martin Sheen). The love between these two and for their chosen professions is on full display and when these two butt heads it can get scary. This due to the fact that it is a literal father-son relationship, both within the film and life, and both took different acting paths in their career. Any scene featuring Martin Sheen was a nice refreshment, since he didn't give a damn about stocks and Wall Street, just the rights and fair pay of his employees.
Overall, "Wall Street" made me appreciate "The Wolf Of Wall Street" more than I already did. I glanced over most of the stock exchange exposition in Martin Scorsese's film to get the point across and took it for granted. But that film made Wall Street a pretty easy concept to understand, as more than a money-grubbing pit of drugs and sex. "Wall Street" leaves the audience in the dark and never stops to ask us if we are fine with that.
It is very hard to relate and care for anything that happens when I have no idea what is going on or what people are talking about.
Final Grade: D+
"The Public Enemy" (1931)
After watching this post-Prohibition gangster film, it is not hard to see why the genre picked up so much in the early to mid-1930s and why James Cagney was the face of those haunted gangsters. It is not just the way they talk or the power to do whatever they want, it is the absolute delight and satisfaction Cagney gets out of knocking someone off.
In one of my earlier reviews, I mentioned how "Little Caesar" was a time capsule back to the era of Gangs and gats and not much else. "The Public Enemy" is similar, only this one gives an unrelenting narrative that is surprisingly dark for its time yet still knows when to pull it back and give the audience some quiet moments. This is not a loud or boisterous film, but one that wants to remind us that gangsters work on their own moral code.
The film makes it clear that the real "public enemy" is not any one character in the film, but the breed of the gangster. James Cagney represents these dangerous people, who are gleeful to steal, kill and ruin other people's lives. In that regard, "The Public Enemy" is a smart, sophisticated and stylish tale of people who feel they are kings in a land of opportunity.
Final Grade: A-