45 responses »

  1. The Impossible:

    I legit cried at this movie…but I can’t legitimately find myself liking it to any great degree. It’s worth a watch, lags in a huge way in the middle, is too specific in its beats to get from point-A-to-B (and the characters accept the beats too much to not make it manipulative…but damn, if I didn’t ball like a baby when the kid selflessly brought the boy and the father together, only to lose track of his mother.
    The tsunami, though…wow. Flawless filmmaking.

  2. The Warriors (1979):

    Is it me, or was I just expecting something different, or is The Warriors kind of a joke? I understand the movie is ‘of a time’, and the era it was presented counts a lot towards understanding the film…but just ‘as a film’…this was ridiculous. The acting, the writing, the staging, the surreal asides to almost a theatrical presentation of these ‘hardcore’ gangs-I very much like the idea of making a ‘modern’ western based in New York City, of the journey of a gang-and did people just really shoot people speaking and the police were powerless and I can’t believe how much the police have changed from how they’re presented here. I can’t even imagine a large group of people congregating anywhere in New York without police oversight and fences and police command centers and maybe it’s just too far removed from the New York I understand to even be able to watch this seemingly over-earnest attempt at badassery.

  3. A Perfect Murder:

    Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.
    A perfectly mundane murder thriller with two of the weakest A-list performances I’ve ever seen. I don’t even remember if Paltrow ever opened her mouth when she spoke (I swear her lips never moved) and Mortensen was even worse than his Hispanic turn in Carlito’s Way.
    I made it through the entire thing, but just barely.

  4. A Perfect Murder I saw at the cinema upon its release. Don’t recall much of it except it was proficient, smooth but disposable.

    I love the Warriors but going by previous discussions on the film, I think I’m on my own on that one.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I want to understand if the problem I had with The Warriors is from something I was expecting it to be, or I really didn’t like what it was, but it felt really cartoonish and absurd, and not at all what I thought it would be.

  6. I have a friend who loves The Warriors and had me watch it a few years ago. I could only get the new Director’s Cut from Netflix and was as underwhelmed with it as you were filmman. I think it was a product of its time and works best there. My friend said the Director’s cut messed it up, and he didn’t like the comic book interstitials, but that was really the only think I liked about the movie. Had to force myself to watch to the end.

  7. 25th Hour:
    What a beautiful, slow burning masterpiece, with a pitch-perfect opening, interspersed with searing dramatic set pieces that builds to an insanely satisfying ending. A criminally overlooked masterpiece in Spike Lee’s canon, and easily his second-best film.

  8. My Blue Heaven (1990) – A downtrodden FBI agent (Rick Moranis) is assigned of a seemingly boring case of protecting a former Mafia member (Steve Martin) who is to testify against former associates in court. Despite being complete two opposites, they become friendly and help sort out each other’s issues.

    While likable enough, this is a disappointingly inconsequential film, especially as Martin had been in a lot of quality films in previous few years and Nora Ephron’s script is bland, especially when compared with her previous year’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’.

    Martin gets a few laughs, but probably the best performance is Joan Cusack as a law attorney in one of her earliest roles showcasing her talent.

    A disappointment, but not surprising considering the generally ho-hum career of director Herbert Ross.

    Rating: C

  9. Funny Farm –

    A serviceable enough comedy with Chevy Chase as a writer who moves to the country to conquer his book and the country conquers him. I enjoyed it, and hadn’t seen it since it was first released, but didn’t remember anything about it. It held up and was enjoyable enough that I didn’t lose interest once.
    This was Chevy Chase at the tail end of his insane popularity and it has some very funny moments.

  10. I was slightly disappointed with Funny Farm as leading in it was considered one of Chase’s better 1980s films. But it fell largely flat to me for the most part except for the finale which was rather more unusual and amusing than what had proceeded it.

  11. That reminds me, that in Life Itself, they include the clip in which Ebert, while sitting next to Chase on the Tonight Show set, tells Johnny Carson that he thought Three Amigos was the worst film of that Christmas season. Chase shows no ill will, but you know, given that we know Chase is one of show business’ biggest assholes, that he was raging inside.

  12. Don’t Look Now (1973) – A British couple grieving over the death of their daughter (Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie) are based in Venice where they encounter women claiming psychic connections with their dead child & someone who looks like the child. What does it all mean?

    A film whose critical rating has grown significantly over the years, although it has its detractors. I can see both points of view.

    Its rating in a 2011 poll as the best British film ever seems excessive imo. For one thing, for a horror-type thriller, I didn’t find it particularly scary (even the ending). But it is generally an exceptionally well-made film, genuinely one-of-a-kind in the mood and texture it creates and has some marvellous moments. An exasperating film in certain ways, but definitely worth seeing at least once.

    Rating: B+

  13. Twelve Monkeys (1995) – Set in 2035, Bruce Willis plays a psychologically disturbed individual living in world where humanity has been largely destroyed by a virus. Sent back in time to the 1990s to find solutions to Earth’s problems, he goes through a dizzying array of experiences which may lead him to preventing the virus ever getting released.

    This is potentially a film I could’ve easily despised. Terry Gilliam’s ‘look-at-me’ “weird” direction with never-ending dutch angles would usually bore me to tears. And the complicated story for much of the film’s length is largely full of disconnected sections that don’t seem to cohere; only in the final quarter does it come together.

    Yet despite that the film works very well. Gillam’s direction (despite, or because of, his indulgences) manages to keep the complicated story interesting and it actually works out very well in its conclusion. Most impressive of all, he manages to get a performance out of Willis that contains none of his trademark smugness and is arguably the best of his career.

    In many ways, it’s amazing such an unusual film got made by a mainstream Hollywood studio (on a decent budget) in the mid-1990s. It’s certainly one of the better films of its era

    Rating: B+

  14. I should add, I didn’t realise until I posted the Don’t Look Now & Twelve Monkeys reviews, but they share quite a few thematic similarities, especially in their finales.

  15. Empire Of The Sun (1987) – Steven Spielberg’s WW2 epic (taking over from David Lean) concerns a privileged British child (Christian Bale) living in China who has to fend for himself once he loses touch with his parents and has to survive amongst the hostile Japanese army.

    When first released, the critical reaction was lukewarm but its reputation has grown over the years to be an underrated Spielberg film; but to be honest I think the initial reaction was correct.

    While well-made, expensive and elaborate, what has the makings of a great film doesn’t make much of an impact, emotional or otherwise. For one thing the film feels rather glossy and artificial and for all the expense doesn’t really feel like a WW2 film; also John Williams’ music score seems far too upbeat and overbearing. And Spielberg seems to be trying too hard to be David Lean instead of making a compelling story, with lots of self-consciously elaborate scenes with multitudes of extras that are technically impressive but little else.

    Not a horrible film by any stretch, but while Spielberg gets a lot of unfair criticism, one can understand after seeing this why some have such negative perceptions of his work.

    Rating: C+

  16. Billy Elliot (2000) – In mid-1980s England, the young son of a striking miner develops an atypical passion for ballet, causing all sorts of conflicts with his family and those around him.

    Despite (or perhaps because of) the unlikely plot, this film works marvelously well. Not only is emotionally moving and compelling, it provides a great insight into working-class British 1980s life and the doomed miners’ strike. It also convincingly portrays how Billy’s dancing skills come in part as a result (and in reaction to) the difficult environment about him. All helped by a terrific Jamie Bell in the title role.

    The film’s only weakness is that Billy’s father is very thinly written and only becomes more than a one-note plot plot in the film’s closing stages. But otherwise it’s easy to see why this film broke out to be a major success.

    Rating: B+

  17. Happy Christmas (2014). Joe Swanberg’s latest film, another small, low-key slice of life tale about when a happy couple’s Christmas season is disrupted by a visit from his sister (Anna Kendrick), an irresponsible but charming mess. Kendrick, who I’m learning has hidden depths, takes on a character that is at times unlikeable and knocks it out of the ballpark. This is isn’t as strong as Swanberg’s last film, Drinking Buddies, but I smiled all the way through in admiration. B+

  18. Being Julia (2004) – Annette Bening plays a highly successful, spoilt theatrical British actress in late 1930s London, struggling to deal with the fact that her peak may have come and gone. But she isn’t one to be underestimated or written off.

    This film got good critical notices and an Oscar nom for Bening, but this film left me cold. Despite Bening’s usual charisma and skill, it was hard to care much for her character (or the silly way she gets revenge in the finale). Indeed, the film as a whole felt uninvolving, not helped by choppy directing.

    Due to a quality cast and lush period settings, it’s fairly painless to watch but is so inconsequential that it’s forgotten as soon as it ends.

    Rating: C

  19. Crossing Delancey (1988) – A professionally successful New York Jewish woman (Amy Irving) in her early 30s reluctantly enters the dating scene where two men from vastly different backgrounds are out to woo her.

    This film made a bit of an impact when released although it’s largely forgotten today. As it is, it’s a pleasing but conventional and insubstantial film. The romance has some mild charm, but the film’s real appeal is how New York is showcased in its depth, its array of subcultures and what a vibrant city it is.

    Irving is OK although saddled with a largely passive and somewhat unlikable character; Peter Riegert as one of her potential partners makes more of an impression.

    Rating: B-

  20. A couple of early 1970s films based on Kurt Vonnegut works:

    Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971) – Based on a Vonnegut play (and filmed like a play) this sees a macho adventurer (Rod Steiger) return to his family after 8 years missing and finds a changed world and not the hero he thought he was.

    Utilising the permissiveness of early 1970s Hwood cinema, the film has a lot of great one-liners and refreshingly cynical attitude, but Mark Robson (a fine director, but past his best by this film) struggles in his direction, making the film feel heavy-handed and uncinematic and the acting is largely one-note and theatrical (although Steiger is good to watch).

    Rating. C+

    Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) – An ordinary American man goes through many extraordinary experiences from the 1940s to 1970s, ranging from the bombing of Dresden to being unstuck in time.and taken to another planet.

    Like HBWJ, the film is an acquired taste but this a superior work because director George Roy Hill compliments the film’s perspective with a technically, highly skilled film (and with a decent-sized budget).

    Rating B

  21. What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966) – Woody Allen’s first directorial credit, although in truth it’s largely him organising some voiceover dubbing of a Japanese spy film for comedic purposes (although Allen does appear being interviewed as himself in a couple of bits;

    I’d heard generally good things about this film over the years but found it a letdown. It does have a few funny moments but also a lot of flat spots and is rather awkwardly constructed. In fact, the original Japanese spy film looks as if it would’ve been more entertaining just with its own subtitles.

    Still, has a very catchy song over the opening credits by The Lovin Spoonful.

    Rating: C+

  22. Identity Thief (2013) – This Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy ‘comedy’ is yet another example in how hopeless mainstream Hollywood is when it comes to making comedies.

    One shouldn’t expect much from the director of ‘Horrible Bosses’ and the star of ‘Tammy’ but this is actually worse than either of those, quite a feat when you think about it.

    Full of illogical events, pointless characters and subplots, needless violence and (inevitably) contrived sentiment. I liked Melissa McCarthy on ‘The Gilmore Girls’ but she has horrible taste in her movie roles.

    Rating: D-

  23. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – A huge hit in its day, a caper film where an all-star cast are lead by ex-con Danny Ocean (George Clooney) to do the seemingly impossible and rob three casinos in Las Vegas.

    Famously (or infamously?) hip and stylish, the film is initially entertaining but quickly becomes tedious. That’s partly because of the smugness on display (something Clooney is especially susceptible to) and throwaway atmosphere which means that despite engaging in a caper which could theoretically cost them their lives, there seems nothing at stake.

    Probably the biggest disappointment is the caper itself. I like caper films as a rule because I’m always fascinated how a group of people will carry out a seemingly impossible task. But the caper here is so lacking in detail that despite it being a one-in-a-million shot, they manage to do it in an uninventive yet unlikely way (a fatal combo for a caper film).

    Despite being well-directed by Sodebergh, he has to take a lot of responsibility for making such a frivilous film. I don’t think I’ll bother watching the sequels.

    Rating: C

  24. Trust Me (2013)

    Clark Gregg’s (Agent Coulson) second directing gig, this one he also wrote. It’s a really well-written and sharply directed film that brought back to mind Mamet movie’s like State and Main but much better directed. The dialogue is sharp, the characters excellently drawn and acted and the dialogue top notch.
    The twists and turns are difficult to see and while a bit murky at the end, the motivations are never misunderstood or unclear.
    The only thing that caught me, though I knew exactly the reason for it, was the way Gregg handled the ending. I can’t tell if it’s too heavy-handed or not heavy-handed enough, as if maybe he didn’t go all the way with it, and really take it to the wall. As it is, it kinda hits and you either wish it were stronger, or that he just left the ending out and hit the ‘cut to black’ button a few minutes earlier. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the ending.
    All-in-all, if you have Starz, check it out. Well worth the watch.

    Rating: B+

  25. Old School (2003) – Three over-30 guys (Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Luke Wilson) stumble onto the idea of creating their own open fraternity at a college to have some good times and forget about the pressure of their current lives.

    I was reasonably hopeful about this considering the cast and its fairly good reputation. However, this was a frustrating disappointment. It has the odd funny moment here and there, but it never gets into groove and far too often relies on crude slapstick and people swearing (yes, even in 2003) to get laughs. It’s silly, slapdash mindset clashes especially awkwardly when it tries for ‘serious’ moments.

    Where it really lets itself down is how poorly structured it is in terms of characterisation, narrative and even stringing scenes together. I’d always thought Todd Phillips was a reasonably capable director based on previous films I’d seen of his but this is his weakest work for mine.

    Fairly tolerable overall, but a disappointment. Rating: C

  26. Three Days of the Condor (1975)

    A fantastic thriller from Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford that is a crackerjack ride which is horribly marred by a terribly shoe-horned love story that not only doesn’t make sense, but is aggressively wrong for the movie, as if Pollack was so pissed that he had to include it, he ruined his own movie to spite the suits.
    But that’s the only really (admittedly large) flaw in an otherwise great New York movie. Watch it for the locations, if nothing else, but stay for the fantastic performances and cinematography.

  27. Mallrats (1995) – I’d never seen a Kevin Smith film till now so, even though this isn’t one of his most highly-regarded films, decided to give this a watch when it popped up on TV

    Can’t say it’s left be interested in seeing any more of his films though. Apart from the occasional bright moment from star Jason Lee and an amusing ending to the Stan Lee appearance, this is an almost total waste of time. Artless, amateurish, immature and lame from beginning to end. That the female leads would not even give the time of day to the obnoxious male leads in real life is perhaps intended as a sly, ironic comment, but that would be giving Smith too much credit.

    Most interesting thing about this film is that how all the comic book and superhero obsessions of the main characters – which made them seem outside mainstream pop culture in the mid 1990s, are now the foundation of which 2010s mainstream film industry is based on.

    Rating: D

  28. I completely agree with this review of Mallrats…but for some inexplicable reason, (perhaps where it fell in my life, and being wedged between Clerks and Chasing Amy) I still love this movie.

  29. You really need to watch Chasing Amy. It’s Smith’s masterpiece. (I know how that sounds,but it’s so well written).

  30. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) – Attempt by Warner Bros to ‘reboot’ their famed 20th century Looney Tunes characters (mainly Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck) in the modern era with a ‘Roger Rabbit’ type setup in a world where humans and cartoons co-exist.

    The film was notorious financial bomb (and got a moderate-at-best critical response) but having seen it, thought it was pretty good overall. It has a terrific first 15 minutes or so which hints its going to match the anarchic hilarity that summed up the best of the Looney Tunes shorts.

    Alas, it gets bogged down whenever the human cast members get involved and the boring spy plot takes center stage. And it has to be said, the standard of the human cast for this sort of film feels a bit second-rate (Heather Locklear? Really?).

    But director Joe Dante (whose career hasn’t really recovered from this flop) has enough moments of his inspired zaniness and meta-humour which characterises his best work to make this an enjoyable film. I’m still chuckling thinking of the bit where cartoon Shaggy & Scooby Doo are admonishing Matthew Lillard for how he portrayed Shaggy in the live action version.

    Rating: B-

  31. St Elmos Fire (1985) – For years I’d heard the reputation of this movie (the peak of the ‘Brat Pack’ movies) was rancid – superficial, inane, full of obnoxious characters and displaying all the worst aspects of mid-80s Hollywood mainstream cinema.

    I finally watched this the other night and you know something? The reputation was well-earned!

    Unless you’re a fan of 80s kitsch, I don’t see how anyone could get much value out of this film. As an examination of well-to-do young types experiencing the world out of college, it’s a total zero. It has none of the observation or insight required for such a film and director Joel Schmacher only has glibness (which would become his stock characteristic) to offer.

    Potentially this film could’ve worked as a trashy soap opera but the film and its cast is too humourless to even consider that.

    Yet another piece of evidence for my belief that the 1980s were the worst ever decade for filmmaking, at least in Hollywood.

  32. The ’80’s were absolutely not the worst decade for Hollywood filmmaking.

    Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Airplane, Raging Bull, Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Friday the 13th, Brubaker, the Long Good Friday, The Princess Bride (a fable, no less than a fantastic movie), Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Scarface, Blade Runner, Aliens, Karate Kid, Die Hard, Terminator, Evil Dead, Raiders of the Lost Ark….I could go on.

    If just that small list of movies doesn’t make you believe this was the decade that fostered modern moviemaking more than the ’70’s ever could, and gave us the templates for all the great modern movies that would follow, there’s nothing to say.

  33. Re: filmman’s list, sure there are some very fine films there but it isn’t exactly the most compelling list overall and it sort of reinforces my feelings about the decade.

    I’ve mentioned this before but Caddyshack (while undoubtedly funny at times) is sloppy and self-indulgent and smug. And speaking of self-indulgent, while it’s entertaining of sorts I’m not a huge fan of ‘The Blues Brothers’ where excess and bombast is supposed to equal fun.

    Many years ago on here I detailed my thoughts on Scarface. And to echo Jackrabbit Slim, using The Karate Kid as the best that cinema has to offer in the 1980s?

    In anycase, my issues with US 1980s cinema that many of the fresh trends and talents that thrived during the 1970s seemed to be snuffed out totally in the 1980s as they seemed ill-suited to the commercial focus of the era (Hal Ashby to use but one example). And it wasn’t until the 1990s that there was a real independent US cinema culture that redeveloped and still exists (for better or for worse) today. In the 1980s, what passed for independent US cinema was the schlock of Cannon Films.

  34. Fatal Attraction:

    A sumptuous, remarkably well-done Blu Ray and great performances can’t mask what is, at its heart, a shallow plot of a crazy woman where character motivations are wonky at best, and a pretty reprehensible protagonist who doesn’t accept the truth until his kid is kidnapped and his family almost dead…and how the hell did she just walk in and take the kid out of the school?!

  35. Netflix DVD is the absolute best. I wouldn’t even be aware of a lot of these without their recommendations.

    The Man Who Would Be King:

    An enjoyable tale that is certainly dated, and has the pacing of a movie when movies were paced to allow you to live within them instead of simply being distracted by them, with two leads who were born to act together and an overactor who was born to play a man who attempts to be a god among savages.
    With deft, sure direction by Huston that veers into really strange art film territory at times, it’s none-the-less a great morality tale about humanity’s need to follow and be followed. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys James Bond because all I could think was that it was an alternate fan fiction movie of what would happen if Bond went rogue in one of those places he’s always operating in.

  36. Drug War (Johnnie To):

    What more is there to say at this point about Johnnie To, the greatest living action director on the planet? A man who can choreograph violence with camera and actor as if it’s a ballet in the most venerated opera house on earth? The man has a preternatural ability to place the camera exactly where it needs to be. While all other directors are straining at the far end of the cliches that hamper superhero films and big budget spectacles that don’t allow the slightest bit of artistic intention, To is making action art films that transcend any pedigree and give you some of the greatest suspense and bursts of action ever put to celluloid. The warehouse gun fight was one of the best action scenes I’ve seen this decade.
    What John Sayles has given to the world in the way of potent, measured drama so has To done for action films.

  37. Man From Nowhere:

    Continuing the Korean action movie festival, this is one from about 2010. MY first impression of this movie was “Holy shit, this is the Korean James Cameron”. The action scenes, the cinematography, the mood of the piece is so assured and contained, and so well done that it reminded me of watching T2 for the first time, of an action movie director at his height, and even more than T2, the cinematography in this was astounding. The movie uses red and blue, in real life without digital fakery to remarkable effect. The story, while a pastiche of all the best revenge chase flicks is never more than riveting, thanks to the stellar performances of the two leads. The little girl especially is remarkably talented. It never bored, it always threw moments of amazing action at you when you least expected it and you cared about each and every thing that happened.

    And then the last two minutes occurred. And it got so maudlin and treacly, I couldn’t handle it. it was riveting right until the end, right until those last two minutes…and it all came crashing down in a sea of soft focus and ridiculous music.

    Other than that, though…a remarkably well-made action flick from Korea. Some of the best cinematography I’ve seen this decade. Even better than A Serious Man

  38. Escape From New York (1981): Having generally enjoyed the John Carpenter films I’d seen, the high reputation this film has and the interesting premise, I was really looking forward to finally getting around to seeing this.

    Alas, I was largely disappointed. The biggest surprise for me how poorly staged it was, considering that’s usually one of Carpenter’s prime strengths. The early scenes are largely in darkness so it’s hard to really get a grip on proceedings and once the potentially exciting search in the New York prison begins, scenes are done so matter-of-factly and without a visual context that it all seems rather ho-hum.

    There is some pleasure to be had from the veteran members of the cast, particularly Ernest Borgnine as a cab driver, but even Kurt Russell’s famed central performance I found almost a parody.

    I guess I’ll notch up this one as another “80’s classic” that I didn’t care much for.

  39. I haven’t seen it in a long time but I loved Escape From New York. It might have been helped by the fact that I saw it with a college audience.

  40. Absolute Power (1997) – Clint Eastwood plays a gentleman-style thief (do they actually exist in real life?) who surreptiously sees a murder committed by the President of the United States.
    This film has the reputation of being pretty good initially (especially the very lengthy scene where Eastwood’s character sees the murder occur) but gets worse as it gets along… and the critics are largely on the mark.
    Actually, I thought it was pretty smart and compelling for the first 75% or so. Eastwood’s old-fashioned directing style suits the film well and it has an excellent cast, with Judy Davis as a Chief Of Staff a standout.
    But it really falls horribly apart in the closing stages. There’s a scene with Eastwood and his injured daughter in the hospital that is laughably absurd and the finale even more so. A pity, as it wastes a lot of good work early on.

    Chariots Of Fire (1981) – It’s opening scene of athletes running on a beach to Vangelis’ music became one of the iconic (and parodied) scenes from the 1980s, but that the film became and enormous criticial and financial success despite its subject matter (centering around two religious athletes and their trials and tribulations at the 1924 Olympics) seeming to be totally ill-suited to early 80s cinema audiences.
    As a film it’s a pretty impressive work – especially early on as through good acting and an especially intelligent script it makes potentially mundane subject matter quite captivating. But I was less enthralled by the second half as perhaps the main characters’ central motives and obstacles didn’t seem as compelling as the film wanted them to be. But it’s a fine film overall.

  41. Blood Father (Mel Gibson):

    i’m pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed this Mel Gibson film that never made it into American theaters. Great performances, better than expected writing, excellent action directing — it was like one of those joint American/French productions with Liam Neeson. If this is the kind of films Mel makes now, it won’t be a bad thing at all. Though super predictable at the end, it wasn’t treacly or overbearing. I’ll certainly watch the three movies just like it that stem from this one.

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