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The Departed (2006)
Scorsese's best in years...
America's greatest living director crafts an ingenious story of deception, lies, violence, crime, sex; all while simultaneously painting a picture of a post 9/11 world of despair and eliciting brilliant performances from an incredible cast of actors, exploring characters of depth and vitality in this cop-crime thriller.
From the very first shot of the film, you will be hooked and drawn into this precarious world of aggression and uncertainty, as both Scorsese and the characters take you on a ride of crime. Structurally, the film is Scorsese's best since Goodfellas, as once more he shows his affinity for innovating conventional genres and creating something quite new and breathtaking in the world of cinema. His ability to use editing, cinematography and various other modes of cinematic technique to consolidate the thematic intentions of the film is nothing short of genius, and in itself enough to garner Marty a best Director Oscar at this year's Golden Globes.
Performance-wise, Scorsese demonstrates his profound ability to truly expose character's frailties, doing so suggestively and eliciting brilliant performances from all cast members involved -- whilst many are quick to recognise DiCaprio for his brilliant performance as the pressured cop-fake-criminal, Matt Damon presents a more subtle and suggestive character of complexity; a task more difficult than given credit for. Nicholson is darkly humorous in his flawless portrayal of Irish Mob Boss Frank Costello, offering a character of unlimited vitality and violent charm (if such exists). Mark Wahlberg makes his best performance yet as the cocky Detective Dignam, oozing cinematic charisma as he takes charge in each scene and grips the audience. Even the smaller performances of Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are extremely competent, and establish a degree of credibility virtually unprecedented within modern cinema. Vera Farmiga is a little inconsistent with her Boston accent, but is subtle as her character brings out the softer and harder sides of her two main counterparts. She does her job well, and does not (contrary to conventional opinion) bring the film down.
Ultimately, this film just needs to be watched; in every facet, the film is brilliant. Scorsese's direction is clear throughout, as he pulls all the strings and jerks the audience this way and that in this crime thriller of lies and deception. The cast is brilliant, all tapping into their characters and doing as much to bring the audience into this cat and mouse game of cops and robbers. Most importantly, as is usual with Scorsese's best and most challenging films, we are thrust into a world devoid of conventional morality. What is good? What is bad? In this world of 'The Departed', perhaps those distinctions aren't that clear. Sit back, and enjoy being entertained and challenged at the same time.
Marty, it's Oscar TIME!
An excellent film, but a little sloppy...
Whilst Peter Jackson's directorial talent and the wonderful imagination of Tolkien himself are the fundamental backdrop of the second installment of the "Lord of the Rings" franchise, I increasingly get the feeling that this film was an excellent one, but one that was a little patchy at times. Overall, a visual and emotional extravaganza, but the film slows slightly and stands as a notch below both its predecessor and its successor.
The CGI is absolutely brilliant, and the ability that Jackson and his team at Weta were able to use state of the art technology to create the character of Gollum is remarkable -- his performance is as strong as Frodo and Sam's, and this wonderful and realistic chemistry highlights much of the film's merit. The expansive battle at Helm's Deep is quite breathtaking, as is the March of the Ents on an unsuspecting Isengard. It is not in the visual effects that the film falls a little flat.
Viggo Mortensen, whilst looking the part of Aragorn, seems to be patchy in his portrayal, representing his fair inexperience within the world of Hollywood. His delivery of lines is, at many times, stale and thus puts a substantial patch on the credibility of what is one of the more important characters within the story. That being said, he does possess a steadfastness and visual courage that is practically unmatched by all of the other cast -- it's when Mortensen is really challenged that he seems to struggle slightly. Orlando Bloom is terrible and remedial as always, once more looking the part brilliantly but not even possessing the basic ability to recite a line without showing conflicting facial expressions, and a real inability to understand both his character and the direction of the story. The other members of the supporting cast are excellent - Elijah Wood is fantastic as Frodo, a hobbit perpetually under the emotional and mental attack from the One Ring. Sean Astin is unwavering as Sam, and Christopher Lee plays an increasingly evil Saruman to a tee. Sir Ian Mackellan is positive and competent as Gandalf.
The score, whilst being quite good, falls flat slightly. The cinematography, especially the wide expansive shots amongst a beautiful and untouched New Zealand countryside, is nothing short of breathtaking. The introduction of new characters, such as those that dwell in Rohan, is excellent. Even the addition of the ENTS is a worthy one, and one posing many thrills and laughs along the way.
All in all, this film aimed for perfection but didn't quite get there. It was not as raw or majestic as the first film, and wasn't as emotionally expansive as the final chapter. Standing alone, the film is endearing and entertaining. However, some patchy acting from main cast members and the patchiness of both the script and the score taint this film from what it could potentially be.
An 8 out of 10 -- a remarkable achievement, standing alone, but quite easily the patchiest and most inconsistent of the film franchise.
Boiler Room (2000)
Bites off more than it can chew...
"Boiler Room" starts off extremely well, and whilst the cover will immediately get you thinking of Wall Street, this turns out to be a rather patchy and half-baked attempt at a recreation of a lifestyle - unfortunately, the lifestyle isn't shown very well, and this is where the film falls a little flat.
A pretty decent cast (albeit a relatively underdeveloped one) do what they can with what is given to them - at various points of the film, you will question what kind of a movie this is. Whereas Wall Street was able to pull off a romantic side, a dramatic side, a comedic side, a political and economic side, and a dysfunctional side, "Boiler Room" is able to do no such thing. At the end, we realise that the film has bit off so much, that it could only present a half-baked story regarding each of these separate avenues, whereas it would have been much better alleviating certain avenues (eg, potential romance) and instead focus on showing the high life, and thus what is tempting our protagonist.
Vin Diesel is quite good in his limited scenes (once more, key characters and relationships were severely underdeveloped, and we have literally no care for what happens to these people). Ribisi is excellent in scenes that challenge him. Nia Long, honestly, doesn't seem to serve much purpose, but makes do with what's presented to her.
Ultimately, you don't really know what to make of this film - whilst you will enjoy many of its parts, it is difficult to really get a grasp on what the film is trying to say, as you get the impression that it may be trying to say SOMETHING. What that something is, is very indiscernible, and is testament to the early stages of the filmmaker's career. Whilst talent is evident in some of the facets explored, this film didn't understand its priorities - it could never be Wall Street, yet it tried to be, and in doing so focused on too much without giving any real development or depth to any one particular part of the story.
A decent effort, but a patchy one - you really won't get anything out of this, but it's worth renting out anyway - just for those few nuggets of gold you see in what is otherwise a pretty ordinary little rock.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Explosive...maybe too much so
Over the previous decade we have seen the emergence of the "Mission Impossible" Franchise - kept alive by Tom Cruise's charisma more than anything else. With any public consent he may have had previously, it's pretty much non-existent now, so if people are going to see this film than they're most likely going to gain something, or see some form of merit. For most people, Tom Cruise just doesn't do it anymore.
That being said, JJ Abrams (Hollywood's IT boy at the moment, although a clearly and unashamedly commercially driven one at that) brings something new to this franchise - instead of intelligence, we are faced with explosions. I think the nature of this movie is summed up very easily by one of the first action sequences we see in the movie, where IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is sent to find and re-obtain a captured agent, conveniently being held hostage in some military facility. In the first film, de Palma would have given us ten minutes of planning, of figuring out the strategic weaknesses of the facility, and would have presented the use of stealth in obtaining the package. Instead, Abrams just catapaults us into explosions, as Ethan's crew literally bomb the facility as Ethan runs in and gets the girl.
And that's exactly the problem -- the whole movie is literally non-stop action. There is not enough room to breathe. After an action scene, most people would like at least ten minutes of discussion, or some form of drama, rather than a lead-on to the next action scene. Thus, it doesn't seem that we're really involved in the story. That being said, the scenes themselves are quite breathtaking. Unbelievable, yes, but breathtaking. Personally, I don't like the direction this franchise is heading, but for those morons who don't feel the necessity to be respected during a movie, then this is probably for you.
Marketing pitches from Cruise and Abrams that this movie is in any way a presentation of a love story is an absolute joke, and all scenes that were attempted at conveying some drama were cheesy, unrealistic, completely over-directed and unintentionally funny to the audience. Cheesy dialogue and editing made the attempted drama more humorous than intended.
The throw in of a twist at the end seemed to fulfill no purpose other than for Abrams to convey some form of intelligence, which is rare, considering that the 2 hours prior to the twist attempts no intelligence whatsoever.
Some extra cast members fulfill no real purpose, and at the end of the experience we're left thinking what we really got out of watching this movie. However, it's an explosive ride, and one worth taking, but don't expect this to really last long -- think Bad Boys 2. This is not so much a cohesive film as it is a bunch of well choreographed action scenes with no real (or realistically engaging) plot - hence, the film will die quickly, as people can get over action scenes but will never got over a really engaging story that will question them following the experience of watching the movie. Of course, that's not what the film was going for, but its disappointing nonetheless to see that intelligence is overshadowed for commercial incentives - a concept, I feel, very VERY representative of the entire film industry at the moment.
Cruise doesn't bring any real depth to the film, although Hoffman as the bad guy is pretty cool. Considering he was really the only capable actor in the film (Cruise was, once upon a time, a star, but now has re-hashed the exact same thing in Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and this), Hoffman should have been shown more. He seems like an engaging character, and not enough was shown of him.
All in all, for what it was going for, MI3 does decently. It will never live on, but will make a lot of money immediately. The film proves Cruise has finally found his penache (something non-existent for any really talented actor), but you'll get over it quickly -- attempts at drama were laughable, and I hope this film isn't a representation of the way this franchise is heading.
The O.C. (2003)
A great piece of entertainment
Despite any allegations of the cliché plot, or the melodrama that is sometimes played out during the course of the show, "The OC" remains the best piece of escapist entertainment that I have ever experienced in my life, and I'd prefer watching a few episodes of this comparative to any Spielberg movie in the world.
The plot itself, in its barest and most simplistic form, revolves around Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), a troubled youth from Chino who's family has abandoned him and who's family's disregard for him has influenced his lawyer - Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) - to take him into his own household situated in the fabulous, wealthy Orange County. What ensues are many riveting episodes involving the new touch that Ryan brings to the pretentious Orange County as well as observing the relationships that he establishes with the girl next door - Marissa (Mischa Barton) - and Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), not to mention the oppression and confusion that he feels when arriving in a completely new world.
What's best about this show is that it doesn't merely fall into the trap of other teen dramas, which primarily focus merely on the lives and events of the kids themselves. Instead, every single character presented on the show has a back-story and the screen time is dealt out in equal force, with plot-lines revolving around the parents and their own personal issues as well as the kids. Thus, we feel more empathy for the characters as we've gotten to know every single one of them, and the show's ability to show us this entire new world is where the brilliance of the show lies, and the characters are more multi-faceted and complex than all other teen-dramas that have come to air on the television set.
The acting, despite patchy at times, is believable and is appropriate for the kind of program that we are watching. The four "main" kids - Summer, Seth, Ryan and Marissa - are played out decently by their respective actors or at least performed in a way that endears them to us. Perhaps the brilliance of the show is that it shows us a world that we can never live in, and gives us characters that we love but that we know we could never meet. Thus, every week, we have no choice but to revisit this land and for an hour, we forget all of our troubles in the world as the show grabs us and transports us to the Orange County. That's why everybody loves it - its a great piece of escapism, and addresses many issues that face us every day in a slightly unrealistic albeit brilliantly played out form.
The older cast, headed by Peter Gallagher as the charismatic and sturdy Sandy Cohen, have constantly demonstrated their competence within the show and do so in a way that allows us to understand them and empathise with them. Perhaps the older actors realise that the show concerns them also, and that the audience cares about them, and hence have thrown themselves into their roles with a gusto and flair that usually doesn't accompany teen programs. It's very refreshing for the show to grant the audience a little bit of respect, and its very rare that it happens nowadays. Yet "the OC" does so, and does it well.
All in all, this show is done very, very well. The melodramatic situations and circumstances works so well that we wonder how we ever fell for it, but the escapism plays out brilliantly and touches a chord in absolutely everybody that watches it. This is a show that you will never forget, and one that many will buy on DVD as soon as it comes out - I know I sure did.
"The OC" is not only good, but brilliantly executed. 10/10!
A pretty decent flick...
With an increasing fan base and a seemingly inherent penchant for making pictures that arouse discussion (whether it be positive or negative), M.Night Shyamalan seems to be making quite a name for himself in the Hollywood sphere and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest directors in history. Not to say he's there yet, but in ten years or so, I truly believe that this man's soft directorial style will be considered genius and his uniqueness for suspense will be rated and compared to that of the master himself - Alfred Hitchcock.
"Signs" is a story about a fractured family's reponse to a bunch of mysterious crop circles that begin to enclose their small farm-house in a remote village on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The film progresses as crop circles begin to appear all across the world, spreading mass panic amongst the populations and indicating an extra-terrestrial threat who's intentions are anything but benevolent. Mel Gibson is excellent in his title role, and Joaquin Pheonix's brilliance shines through as always. Further credit goes to the two main children in the movie - one of whom is a future klidden Rory Culkin - who provide a sense of fear throughout the picture and allow a constant reminder of stakes.
The film itself is pretty decent, serving up the suspense that we've grown to accept as the trademark style of Shyamalan himself, in his soft and elegant directorial style that has garnered critical acclaim for both this film and, especially, the Sixth Sense. And in its direction, Signs never falls short. For a fairly inexperienced mainstream director, Shyamalan has an immensely strong grasp over the medium and portrays this through his ability to direct both the actors and the action on screen. Once again, his choice of elegance in the most suspenseful and shocking of scenes is brilliant and strikes many different chords at once - surely a quality that raises him above many other directors who have attempted the genre.
The cinematography and the editing also serve their purposes in the ultimate aim also - suspense - however, it is within a slightly patchy script that this film falls short. To be honest, it seems that Shyamalan's enthusiasm for directing the film was for more substantial than the enthusiasm he exuberated when writing the screenplay. For one, everything happens too fast. Whereas his other films have allowed it to play out a little longer, and let the crux of the story take as much time as the characters demand, the crucial parts of this film remain a bit too rushed. Perhaps more alien encounters would have dampened the suspense of the "what's gonna happen now" factor, however I still feel that despite all the film's other allusions to faith, fate and God (which were tied in rather nicely), we wanted to see just a little bit more of some of the good stuff - not the sappy stuff. That would have made the film perfect, but in the end we are left with what could have been as good as the Sixth Sense or any Hitchcockian thriller, but its in its steadfast simplicity in alien encounters that the film falls short. And don't misinterpret it, as I am fully aware that at certain points the alien aspect is deliberately overshadowed by the theological elements of Gibson's loss of faith and his hatred of God, but I still feel we could have been shown more.
And I wish we were...
Mystic River (2003)
An excellent film....
Clint Eastwood indicates that he's much more than a cliché Western actor in his direction of "Mystic River", through the immense skill he exuberates while weaving a poignant and emotional tale of personal redemption, greed, love and the brutal loss of innocence that so consistently plagues society.
As usual, Eastwood's unique directorial ability lies within his insane ability to get the very best out of his performers (typified by the Oscar wins for both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins) and furthermore his simplicity. No emotional scene is over-done with dramatic choir music to effectively tell the audience how they should feel, and instead Eastwood indicates a respect for the audience in that he allows them, in every scene, to make up their own mind as to how they feel. Simple cinematography and simple editing allow Eastwood to merely SHOW us what's going on without relying on the basic clichés of an intense drama that are so enthusiastically used and abused within modern day Hollywood.
The acting, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, is absolutely top notch. Sean Penn is amazing as Jimmy Markum, a man with a hope of personal redemption but who internally struggles following the brutal death of his beloved daughter as he attempts to come to grips with his darker and more menacing side. Tim Robbins is excellent as the emotionally traumatised Dave Boyle, a man who is robbed of his youth following a tragic sexual molestation case. Indeed, Kevin Bacon shines in one of his simpler performances as Sean Devine - a man who works on the apparently "good" side of the law and has to struggle with his professional responsibilities as well as juggling the personal responsibility of an estranged relationship and an unknown child. All of these complex characters, with multi-dimensional sides, are portrayed excellently by the three main cast members and cement all three of them as some of the finer actors within modern Hollywood.
Eastwood's direction possesses an emotional subtlety that is so rare within modern day Hollywood, and furthermore indicates a strong grasp of a complex medium - made all the more harder by the difficult task of bringing such an elusive novel to the firelight in a way that is both refreshing and new whilst simultaneously remaining true to the core and the heart of the initial concepts themselves.
With satisfying editing and cinematography in conjunction with an excellent supporting cast including Laura Linney, Lawrence Fishburne, and Marcia Gay Harden, this film was ALMOST perfect were it not for such a dramatic alteration of directorial style in the final 15-20 minutes of an otherwise flawless picture. When the plot knuckles down to who actually was the perpetrator of the vicious crime, Eastwood seems to forget his responsibility to the audience and merely sit back without any input, overall resulting in a messy final 20 minutes and one that, not only confuses the audience, but only provides a limited resolution to a question that has been so brilliantly alluded to in the first two hours of the film. Clearly, a change of pace was intended and subsequently Eastwood needs to change his directorial style a little bit, however the final twenty minutes seems to merely be a jumble of scenes rather than a flowing text - the way that the first component of the film so brilliantly was.
However, all things considered, this is a beautiful picture that will have you thinking about its major concepts for a long time to come. From its consistent questioning about love, friendship and loss, as well as a technical simplicity that Eastwood creates to allow more empathy and emotional input from the audience, this is a masterpiece above most others and full deserving of its various Oscar nominations and its two victories for the consistent Tim Robbins and the absolutely brilliant Sean Penn.
A practically flawless picture.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Viewing this film for the first time after being made aware of its several Academy Award nominations, included the reputed Best Picture and Best Director (Cameron Crowe), I was disappointed in how thin this film actually was. But then again, how deep can you go when you're dealing with a romantic comedy? Still, I am yet to understand what all the big hype is about.
Tom Cruise delivers an excellent performance as Jerry Maguire, a disgruntled sports agent who loses his job and dignity after having an epiphany about the lack of morals within his basic workplace. He falls for a single mother (Renee Zellweger), simultaneously developing a strong bond with her child and hence embarking on a trip of personal and professional redemption. Cuba Gooding JR is full deserving of his Oscar win as Best Supporting Actor, and Renee Zellweger is solid as always. But that's just about it. A fine cast delivers memorable performances, but what else has this movie got? Crowe's direction is very simple, arguably crossing the line from being "unpretentious" to "boring". The more technical elements of the picture are also mediocre at best, with simple editing and cinematography contributing to what is ultimately a fairly simple film all round. At the end of the film, you are left feeling that what you viewed was practically the same as any other feel-good romantic comedy that you would watch otherwise. The only difference: a better cast.
I must say here that this film's critical recognition by the Academy is one of the most ridiculous things that I've ever heard of. Sure, the film was OK and simple, but to claim that it stood up even as a nominee against the likes of the brilliant "The English Patient" and "Shine" at the 1997 Academy Awards is an insult to that year and illustrates a deterioration of the medium. This is not to say that Crowe is a bad director or that this was, by any means, a terrible film, but it is by no means deserving of the critical hype that accompanied its theatrical release.
All in all, a decent romantic comedy with excellent acting and relatively good editing. But, by all means, nothing special.
Decent but severely flawed
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" presents the fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise, illustrating a significantly darker take on the characters we've come to love and allowing us to see the dark Lord Voldemort resurrected to his full power. Easily one of the better books of the entire series by JK Rowling (including books 5 and 6), the darker and scarier take on the story was welcomed by fans of the films and the books everywhere as Director Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco) attempts to attach his name to an ever-growing franchise. But, rest assured, this film has many flaws.
For one, the acting remains a substantial problem that is bound to plague the fans for the remainder of the franchise, including the next few films that are already signed up. The big budget and the excellent special effects can't alleviate the responsibility that the three young actors have to presenting decent performances. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), despite improving immensely since the previous installment, remains stiff and uncharismatic on screen whereas Emma Watson's melodramatic take on the character of Hermione had the entire audience frustrated. She seems to be throwing herself into her role with too much gusto and enthusiasm, resulting in a pretentious and unsatisfying performance that remains a plague on the rest of the film's merits. Dumbledore is pathetic in his role, completely misunderstanding the direction of his character and ultimately illustrating Newell's lack of grasp of what Harry Potter is really all about. The only actor that seems to stand out in a positive light is indeed Rupert Grint (Ron) who takes his performance easily. From his flawless comic timing to his understanding of the more serious scenes as well, here is an actor we will no doubt see after the Harry Potter film franchise has concluded. He stands out as the more talented of the three teenagers.
Newell's direction is furthermore extremely flawed, surprising after the brilliant and entertaining "Donnie Brasco". Not only does he fail to understand the needs and wants of the actors in their respective performances, but he seems to also clutch no grasp of what made this book so amazing. Gone now is the magic of Chris Columbus in the first and second installments of the franchise, and supposedly Newell was to present a darker take on our heroes. He does so, but at what expense? Whereas the book by all means illustrated a darker take, it did so through a compromise with the more magical and "Christmassy" elements of the first few Harry Potter books as well as the scarier elements. Newell completely abandons the magic of the first few films and goes for an all out "noir", losing one of the best bits about a Harry Potter film: magic.
The script remains tarred, leaving out some of the best and most entertaining elements of the novel such as the opening Quidditch World Cup - an exhilarating read and surely an excellent addition to the film? Once again, the elements that made the book so magical are completely left out in the script and are failed to be remedied by Newell's poor direction. The script's inability to identify emotions and character is further exemplified through the completely underdeveloped problem of Ron's jealousy of Harry, as well as the seemingly over-developed problem of Ron and Hermione's increasingly changing relationship. Where the book merely hints at such a concept, the script-writer deems it at the forefront and shows a half-assed attempt at a romantic comedy within a few weak scenes. It doesn't help when Emma Watson takes it seriously, either.
That being said, the special effects are relatively good throughout the three tasks that our Tri-Wizard champions must face - ranging from the amazing sequence of Harry dodging left and right to avoid the Hungarian Horntail Dragon hot on his heels, to the murky depths of the school lake as Harry explores the underworld of the blue. The cinematography of the film is fairly decent also, but by no means a notch above the previous three films. Other technical aspects such as the score and the editing are relatively impressive but again pose no substantial superiority over the previous three films.
To sum up the film ... Different; yes. Better; not necessarily. A darker take definitely, Newell forgets to show the real magic behind the Harry Potter franchise. Poor acting for major characters, a patchy and inconsistent script that seemingly misinterprets the brilliance of Rowling's fourth novel, and Newell's inability to direct both the action and the actors on screen result in a film that is mediocre at best and completely undeserving of the recent hype that has accompanied its theatrical release.
All we can hope for is that the next film brings back the magic.
Wall Street (1987)
Pretty good...but not perfect
"Wall Street", written and directed by multiple Oscar Winning director Oliver Stone, is a remarkable picture that captures the fundamental characteristics of many of Stone's films: greed, ambition, relationships and the seemingly inherent desire to make as much money as possible in the smallest time frame possible. And so emerges the story of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), an ambitious young executive working for a large stock-broking firm situated on Wall Street. With intense aspirations of being a Wall Street "player" like his personal hero Gordon Gekko (an unforgettable Michael Douglas), his pursuit of cash, women and expensive suits lead him to a moral dilemma between his father (Martin Sheen) and Gekko and ultimately to a confrontation of ethics within business and personal redemption.
From the amazing and unquestionably talented Oliver Stone, this film doesn't quite rank up amongst his greatest achievements (JFK, Born on the 4th of July, Platoon) but nonetheless provides a piece of entertainment that is by far greater than the majority of films that end up winding through the reels at your local theatres. Stone's ability to confront controversial issues is practically unparalleled in the generally "safe" and conservative industry of Hollywood, and this film is no exception. With its case study of corporate ethics, and its comments on the concept of insider trading within the American stock-broking community, this film is a success on the professional level of looking at business as well as the more personal elements, including the hard-line philosophies of Gordon Gekko and furthermore the nature of the ambition that eats away at Bud Fox.
The acting is excellent on the part of both Charlie and Martin Sheen as their respective roles as father and son, however the clear stand-out performance throughout the picture is clearly that of Michael Douglas in his brilliant, Oscar-winning portrayal of the ruthless Gordon Gekko. Daryl Hannah, however, remains a substantial dent to the film's overall credibility and poses a serious case of mis-casting on the part of Oliver Stone that is essentially unforgivable when watching Hannah's pathetic attempts at working alongside such greats as Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas. Her complete inability to illustrate even the most basic of emotions is ridiculous, and provides many cringe-worthy moments where you will invariably begin to question the integrity of Hollywood and its casting system.
The cinematography and the editing are indeed top notch, and Stone's direction is brilliant and true to itself as it always is.
Overall, an entertaining picture that is a must-see for any film-goer or indeed anybody interested in making (or losing) big bucks within the ruthless and cut-throat industry of big business. Considering Stone himself, you're pretty sure that the film is going to be good, yet this is unfortunately a little too thin within such a large and monumental context, that can't help but detract from the film. A good film though, and thoroughly enjoyable.
All things considered, a pretty decent film.
Not a huge fan of the Buffy series and completely impervious and unaware that there even was a television show called "Firefly", I viewed this film as a virgin to the apparent talents and abilities of writer-director Joss Whedon in his debut in feature films. "Serenity" was better than what I had expected, and with a B Grade cast delivering solid performances as well as mind blowing special effects that I have been missing since the final installment of the Star Wars trilogy, the film was actually quite decent and no doubt achieved what it set out to do.
First things first, this film is not aiming to garner any Academy Awards and is not hoping to achieve critical acclaim by those such as Roger Ebert. Instead, it hopes to provide a simple story with a mixture and balance of light-hearted one liners and heart pounding action sequences to effectively transport us into another world; however unrealistic that world may appear to us in this current day and age. With this considered, "serenity" delivers all that it promises to be as it transports us into the world and imagination of Joss Whedon for two hours of action. The plot, however, was relatively thin regardless of many Firefly fans dubiously claiming that any complaints whatsoever about this film arise from a lack of comprehension regarding the characters, concepts and story lines inherent in Whedon's original TV show. I beg to differ. The story of a mercenary vessel in a far-away future is by all means an original one and the entire concept of an intergalatic dominating force fits well with the characters we are presented with. Even better is the presentation of a young girl aboard the "Serenity", River, who houses some secret power that the Alliance is willing to do absolutely everything to get their hands on. The Alliance, in their desperation, send an assassin to retrieve this girl who conveniently is a kick-ass Kung Fu master of some sort and can subsequently provide us with many decent fight sequences. There's only one problem: Captain Mal of the Serenity and his odd ball crew aren't prepared to yield to the demands of the Alliance and we see a slug fest occur between the key controllers of both sides. That slug fest is the film.
As can be seen, the plot is a simple one and sets us up for some great action and special effects as well as realistic CGI. That's exactly the problem though. Throughout the film, the presentation of characters and situations seems to be a tool used merely to provide action instead of a tool to further the story and make us care more about what we're looking at on the big screen. It seems like Joss Whedon has said to himself "Hmmm, I want a big action scene in a bar where a young girl kicks ass. How can I do this? Why don't I create a young girl character who can kick ass? And then, why don't I have her walk in a bar? Perfect!" And there's the film. To me, this was one of the fundamental problems with the film and it permeated the entire picture. However, who cares about that when you've got guns!!!
No criticisms can be made on the acting and the special effects, and Whedon illustrates his abilities as a writer and director by establishing characters that we actually care about and subsequently plunging these characters into worlds that we can only dream of. But then again, it's all been done before.
--Space ships battling one another in space (Star Wars) --Weird planets with weird creatures (Star Wars) --Better Kung Fu fighting sequences (The Matrix)
As a result, I walked out of the theatre satisfied with my two hours but simultaneously realising that I had seen everything in the picture before; particularly in Star Wars which seems to be a permeating influence throughout Serenity itself. The film brought nothing special to me as a viewer and as a critical observer of film.
Ultimately, "Serenity" is a fun ride of humour, action and suspense. But if you're looking for humour, action and suspense done in a diabolical and "medium-altering" way then this film will not win you over. Instead, if you're prepared to enter the theatre with an open mind and an understanding of what this film intends to do then you will no doubt leave the film arena with a knowing that your money was well spent and that, for two hours, you were immersed in worlds far distant from your own. All things considered, a pretty fun ride.
Ash Wednesday (2002)
what a simple movie...
When i saw this film at my local video store, i was immediately attracted to it considering that i am a fan of gangster films myself such as Tarantino's early work and of course the brilliant Mr Scorsese and the cover and back cover blurb provided me with the impression that what i was about to be viewing was similar to a "reservoir dogs" style feature and subsequently something that i would be comfortable with. A competent cast including Edward Burns, Elijah WOod and Rosario Dawson not to mention other smaller named yet equally impressive actors also cemented the impression that this would be a good film but at the conclusion of the film and its ridiculously predictable ending, i was left thinking that this was a potentially brilliant film but it just didn't quite cut it.
An edward burns directed feature, "ash Wednesday" is based in 1980's Hell's Kitchen New York in which Francis (played quite solidly by Ed Burns) is a reformed man; reformed from the ways of murder and crime that is so common in his neighbourhood. slowly but surely, through the weaving of time and the painstakingly slow emergence of dialogue, we are presented with the story of his little brother, Sean (Elijah Wood) who had somehow (not wishing to reveal here) plunged himself into a deadly situation where the local thugs of the neighbourhood wished him to be dead. His arm was later found, and the neighbourhood presumed a bloody and horrible demise That was three years ago. Now, Francis has been facing rumours throughout the neighbourhood that his little brother, Sean, despite being accepted as dead, has come back to the neighbourhood and is alive and well. So, what are the consequences of this? Obviously, the thugs that thought sean to be dead now want to know what the hell is going on, and through their somewhat violent nature, are supposedly going to wreak havoc throughout the entire neighbourhood if sean is still alive. that's what I though was going to happen. its a simple plot, and one that i thought would have been developed into many more layers to keep our interest. but i was left with nothing, and the film emerged as simple as the blurb that described it. with sean's old wife being thrown into the mix and an incredibly weak allusion to the mafia and the mob, edward burns has really created a film without much substance whatsoever.
elijah wood is seriously miscast as Ed Burn's little brother, Sean, and is completely unbelievable as a married man, especially betrothed to the likes of rosario dawson who could more believably be cast as his mother. the plot was underdeveloped, and even though this didn't turn out to be the gangster film i was looking for, i was still interested in the emergence of the reunification of these two estranged brothers and the emergence of their love for one another. i barely saw it. no disrespect to Mr Burns because it is quite evident that there was an attempt at portraying the love of these brothers, but when the likes of Good Will Hunting and Raging Bull have set the standards of showing the frailties of human nature, "ash Wednesday" was far from developing interest the way that it had the potential to do.
however, excellent acting from a talented young cast as well as other supporting actors ensured a credible film but an underdeveloped one nonetheless. The dialogue is good, but doesn't tie in enough with the overall plot and hence ensures a thick wad of words that was unnecessary but was nonetheless typical of Burns' slick writing ability. Usually, it works, but that style of writing wasn't appropriate for this film and hence didn't amp it up the way that tricky dialogue generally does for film. the cinematography and camera work was simple yet quite effective, and the editing did its job as well. The narrative structure that was used also worked and burns, to give him his required credit, has used an effective way to tell the story through keeping the audience themselves in the dark and slowly drawing us thicker into the plot. thus, it would have been brilliant, if the plot we were being drawn into was any good. but, like i mentioned before, it was too simple.
all in all, "ash Wednesday" is a simple movie with too much baggage and not enough substance. good acting lifted it up, but the miscasting of Elijah Wood (as talented as he is) as Sean heaved whatever credibility the film had out the window. Burns indicates his tremendous potential as a big time film director, but just doesn't perform with this fairly weak feature film. i just hope that sometime in the future he will have the time to re-do it, and carve a piece of art out of this potential masterpiece. however, i have no doubt we'll be seeing better things out of Mr Burns and, on that note, I look forward to watching his next film.
Raging Bull (1980)
one of the most powerful movies, ever!
From the story of a one time middle weight champion of the world and his apparent necessity for internal conflict and self destruction, America's greatest director in the history of cinema has carved a masterpiece of a feature, teaming up with the greatest actor of his generation in order to establish what will no doubt go down in history as one of the most powerful films of all time. "Raging Bull", directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert deNiro in the brilliant performance that ensured him a well deserved Academy Award, is a raw feature film that will have you stunned at its conclusion and leave you reeling in your theatre, couch or bed until the final credit has finished rolling off the screen.
The film, adapted from another source, revolves around the rise and fall of Jake LaMotta (deNiro), an ambitious middle weight fighter who has struggled for years along with his manager brother (an unforgettable Joe Pesci) to get a shot at the title for the middle weight champion of the world. Frustrated with himself and the life that he's had to lead, LaMotta presents the complex mind of a self destructive man who's inhumanity and self-destructive nature push him away from all the people in the world that love him and ultimately transform him from a prize fighter into an overweight sleaze with nothing but the clothes on his back. From the flawless and gripping boxing scenes to the raw yet accurate portrayal of his abusive habits towards both his brother and wife, "Raging Bull" succeeds on absolutely every level.
DeNiro's performance in the film is unquestionably his finest piece of work in his own personal career, if not throughout the history of cinema altogether. Completely believable as a boxer, he furthermore went on a diet to put on 60 pounds for his scenes situated in the latter half of the film when he has hit rock bottom which is testament to both his dedication and his unparalleled skill of establishing a believable character. Joe Pesci is absolutely brilliant as his portrayal of Jake's brother, Joey LaMotta, and considering the fact that was one of his first feature films in the spotlight, he completely delivers a character who loves his brother unquestionably but who also has internal struggles regarding his own nature and his methods of dealing with his brother. I fell in love with Joe Pesci due to his performance here, and he is clearly one of the more talented and gifted actors within Hollywood.
Scorsese is also in top form, and you can feel his presence, his brilliance and his uncompromising dedication to showing you the real life and times of Jake LaMotta in every single piece of footage presented to you on the screen. Martin Scorsese illustrates the reason why he is considered by many to be cinema's greatest film director of all time as he takes you on a journey of Jake LaMotta's personal and public existence. Scorsese doesn't leave anything out, and his brilliance obviously lies within the fact that he can illustrate everything about a character in the simplest of scenes to make you empathise but simultaneously make you comprehend the various fundamental layers of such a despicable character in cinema history. And on top of that, he can make you like the character and hate the character at the exact same time - a brilliance unprecedented throughout Hollywood and surely testament to Scorsese's superiority to directors such as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood who, despite having tremendous talent, cannot realistically present characters to the extent that Scorsese can.
Further supporting cast members, Cathy Moriarty and Frank Vincent deliver completely credible characters with Moriarty well deserving of her Oscar Nomination for her performance as Vickie. The editing was completely flawless and top notch throughout the entire feature with Scorsese's other partner - Thelma Schoonmaker - bringing Scorsese's incredible vision to life once more without a single complaint in the world. Brilliant cinematography ensured a visually compelling piece of work, exemplified further by an Oscar Nod towards this element of the picture also.
All in all, this is arguably the finest achievement from the Scorsese-DeNiro partnership, and it delivers everything that you would predict from our beloved Martin Scorsese. Love, deceit, hate, an underlying theme of violence, some of the best acting ever put on film as well as some of the most brutal and compelling sequences of boxing you'll ever see: all are shown with flamboyance and an honest brutality that we've come to accept as the trademark of Martin Scorsese in this poignant tale of one man's annihilation of self. And who is the only director who could realistically bring this to life? We all know the answer.
Well done, Mr Scorsese. Regardless of what the pretentious fools responsible for the decisions that the Academy makes, the people are fully aware of who the best director in town is.
"Raging Bull" is flawless and perfect. 10 out of 10, all the way.