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Flandersui gae (2000)
I almost skipped this one because of the comments above...
and that would have been a real shame. This movie was thoroughly enjoyable. I think this would make an excellent introduction to Korean cinema because it was MY introduction to korean cinema and I didn't find it inaccessible in any way.
It was not as gruesome or hard to stomach as I was expecting, nor was it really as dark as mentioned above. If you could sit through Fargo, you could certainly sit through and really enjoy this film.
To say it does not have many jokes misses the point, because some of the situations that characters find themselves are quite hilarious--especially the chase scenes. The acting and directing are excellent. If you get a chance to catch "Barking Dogs Never Bite" don't miss it.
Last Man Standing (1996)
Kill the voice-over narration already!
If it weren't for the incredibly bad narration that was thrown in all over this film, I think it would be a first-rate action film. Like most action films, it doesn't have all that much in the way of plot surprises--you can see this one coming a mile away. But instead of leaving you to figure out the already obvious plot, they had Bruce Willis comment on EVERYTHING! My guess is that the first screenings produced comments saying that it was a quiet, desolate film and they decided to throw in the narration at the very end... it would be interesting to see a cut of this film without the narration.
Well... Jericho is a desolate place. It's a dusty ghosttown! A little more silence would have been appreciated.
The visuals were top-notch. Acting wasn't bad--it was just the annoying voice-overs that constantly invaded with some trite drivel. Christopher Walken was a menacing (but underused) adversary.
Blood Simple (1984)
Try to watch this without talking to the characters...
I think this film, probably more than any other, causes me to talk to the characters on the screen in an exasperated way--something akin to the way you want to yell at the characters in a slasher movie not to run outside to investigate sounds.
The only difference is that this film is fantastic, whereas cheap slasher movies are not. Blood Simple is emotionally involving and the suspense is played to perfection. While the characters are completely clueless as to what has gone on around them, we know everything. What we don't know is what the characters are going to do next.
As in every Coen film, things quickly get out of control. Some people have commented that the characters here acted unbelievably, but I'd have to say that when you think about their situations, the reactions are completely compatible with the way the characters are set up. The problem is that nobody knows what's going on except the viewers.
Coen fans will notice many recurring themes from their other films (especially Fargo and The Big Lebowski) such as the use of headlights, passing motorists witnessing a crime, shower curtains and bathroom windows, detectives driving VW beetles, husbands hiring the wrong people to carry out a crime... I had a longer list in mind earlier while watching it but I've forgotten some. It's almost like these films all go together as a series of films depicting how similar situations would end up in different locations in America.
Wonder Boys (2000)
Has some great moments but doesn't ultimately ring true
Michael Douglas was fantastic in this film. The rest of the cast was good but Douglas was ever-present and carried nearly every scene.
Many of the plot elements seemed ingenious to me when they were first introduced, such as the novel that ballooned to thousands of single-spaced pages or the pompous novelist (Q) at the college's gathering of writers, but as these situations were expanded upon they no longer rang true with me. Maybe my experience as an english major was abnormal, but much of the film just felt wrong to me, and I couldn't really point out exactly why. Many of the big scenes were entirely predictable.
The second half of the film definitely ran out of gas, but luckily by that point I was already drawn in and it didn't really matter. The end felt a bit forced in its attempts to find a neat resolution but that's fairly normal. If it was good enough for Shakespeare's comedies, it's probably good enough for a film about a writing professor's writing. :)
Wonder Boys isn't a classic film. It isn't even a very thought provoking or realistic film. It is, however, quite an entertaining romp where everything can and will go wrong.
I hesitate to make comparisons with "The Big Lebowski," but I would put this film into the same type of loose-knit films that polarize audiences--either they let loose and enjoy where the film takes them, or they're put off by the drug use and free-running plot and feel like walking out. "TBL" is an all-out masterpiece (in my view, at least) because of its perfect dialogue, acting and smart use of history. I like to think that future audiences will see "The Big Lebowski" as a period piece set in the LA of the early nineties. "Wonder Boys" felt like an attempt to create a lightweight "TBL," and that's what they got: a lightweight.
"Wonder Boys" is a good diversion for a few hours and little more. It is highly entertaining at moments, but any take-home message (other than a reminder that Douglas is a great actor) seems forced.
A Bug's Life (1998)
A return to childhood imagination
I have no clue exactly what it is about this cute movie, but watching it has to be one of the most fun things to do that I can think of. Throughout the whole movie I have this stupid grin on my face (I must look like some kind of mental patient). The ants are perfectly animated (no, perhaps not realistic though) and their feelings and emotion seem to come through as though they were human characters. The humor is great for all ages. Quite a good film.
Big starpower, Big disappointment
I was impressed with all the big names that were in this film and figured that it just HAD to be at least marginally entertaining. And I was right--it was sometimes marginally entertaining. I just couldn't help thinking that this could have been a much better film by doing one of two things: making this completely a childrens' movie, or making it a "grownup" movie. As it is, Antz wobbles back and forth and just doesn't do either job very well.
The animation just wasn't consistently good. Sometimes the screen was filled with beautiful eye candy, and other times it was just a plain screen with an unmoving, undetailed head of an ant that looked like something from an old video game on my old computer.
The supposedly deep underlying social messages just didn't work for me. I wasn't inspired by the emotional music and all the references to other movies just seemed to fall flat. The film's big adventures didn't seem all that adventuresome or exciting.
If they wanted to make a dark comedy for adults, they marketed the film wrong, and definitely didn't put in very much dark comedy (although the potential was definitely there). If they wanted to make a kids' movie that adults would enjoy, they somehow missed that mark as well... Next time out I hope Dreamworks has a more coherent plan before they start "filming".
Shichinin no samurai (1954)
Stands the test of time
There aren't many movies made as long ago as this one that don't seem dated at all. It helps that the movie takes place in 16th century Japan (so there aren't cues such as cars or clothing to tip you off as to when it was made), but there is really very little that could be done to make this movie any better. Kurosawa had all the necessary tools at his disposal.
If this movie were made by Hollywood (today) it would've been crammed into about 120 minutes, had a lot of gratuitous scenes of men being impaled with bright red guts spewing out, and there would have been at least one "explicit" sex scene. But none of that is really necessary for this great film and it is probably better without them. The violence seems very real and not fakey like in some other older movies.
Despite its length, this film was very gripping. Midway through the first half I felt like it was going a bit slow, but it soon picked up and held me through the end. The general formula has been used so many times before that I knew full well how it was going to end, but despite the lack of surprises I felt very involved and riveted to the screen.
This really wasn't a dialog-driven film, and I didn't feel like conversations were all that impressive, but this may be mostly to do with the fact that I was reading the subtitles and not natively understanding the Japanese. The actors all play their parts well, and it is surprising that I was able to keep track of so many characters and not feel confused at all. It didn't feel convoluted.
The reason this film was great when it was made, it is great today, and it will continue to be great in the future is the fact that it keys in on universal themes that will always be present: the archetypal good vs. evil, honor, war, relations between men and women, parents and children, wives and husbands, individuals and their communities, and even attitudes that groups of professions hold for each other (military vs. farmers, for example). I'm sure you can find many other themes to add to this list as you watch.
I watched the 208 minute VHS version and haven't seen any others. I can't imagine that the 141 minute version can feel like a coherent whole.
Three Seasons (1999)
A beautiful film
Even though we've seen all of these plot elements before in other movies, this portrayal of modern Vietnam worked for me. I felt like I could understand and empathize with the characters even when they weren't fully fleshed out (how fully fleshed out does Harvey Keitel's character have to be--even as a relatively one-dimensional character he has a huge presence onscreen as the allegorical "American" that had so much effect on the recent history of Vietnam as well as on the history of the movie's characters. everyone in the audience understands this... nothing else is needed).
The highlight of the film has to be the cinematography. I probably would have sat through the entire screening that I saw even if it hadn't been subtitled--I was transfixed. I left the theater with images that remain with me to this day. This is not a perfect film, but definitely one worth watching.
A great film adaptation
Although this film retains the feel of a stage production, this seems to heighten the tension and emphasize how amazing these performances really are.
I've always felt that the play is well-suited to being filmed in black and white. The lack of color seems to bring out even more of the dreary agony that the characters are going through, as well as making the fog seem even more dismal and real.
Because O'Neill's play is apparently autobiographical, the suffering is amplified intensely. This film is a fantastic drama--but because of the length (around 3 hours) and the anguish that the characters go through, you need to be sure you're in the right mood before you sit down to watch it.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
I don't think I'll ever get tired of this movie
Since I got the Big Lebowski on VHS several months ago, it's been in my VCR almost constantly. This rich, multi-layered comedy just seems to get better with each additional viewing--perhaps because no matter how hard you puzzle over the film, you'll never quite be able to understand everything about it at once. I equate The Big Lebowski to 12 Monkeys in that regard--both films are wildly entertaining on the surface, slightly ominous underneath, and have moments of pure genius throughout.
Each of the Coens' films seems to be their take on a certain part of the country, in particular criminal activity gone awry in each area--with numerous references to their favorite movies thrown in. The Big Lebowski seems to take L.A. head-on and show us the city as something "every bit as stupefying as in any of those other places". If Fargo and The Big Sleep are combined with modern L.A., The Big Lebowski would be the result.
Jeff Bridges and John Goodman seem to be perfectly cast because their back-and-forth banter is hilarious. I actually can't think of a character that I would have cast differently--every character is memorable and thoroughly entertaining in its own way. The way they play off one another and affect the Dude's travels is just crazy. There is some really great writing in this film and the soundtrack is really great (especially the dream sequences). If you only watch the movie once, you're probably missing a lot of things.
I tend to like movies that break "conventions", and this is definitely one of those films. The main characters aren't glamorous at all, the film's only sex scene is hilarious in contrast to the typical hollywood scene, and there isn't a coherent plot that can be outlined in a nice simple layout that everybody will understand. Just like the main characters, the film seems to bumble around aimlessly--but all the bumbling somehow resonates with coherence by the time it's all over.
You'll either love this movie or hate it. If you're offended by drug use (even though the film hardly glamorizes the use of drugs--it shows what happens to the "Dude" after years of drug abuse... he's an unemployed former Roadie for Metallica...) or profanity (I think this movie probably set the record for the use of the F-word--but it's always sort of melded into the conversation and you hardly even notice it after a while) this may not be the film for you. But I bet if you give The Big Lebowski a chance, it'll get under your skin.
Still terrifyingly exciting after all these years...
Nearly 15 years after its initial release, this film still seems just as fresh and scary. How many other films in the sci-fi genre can say that? Aliens definitely made use of some fancy special effects and elaborate sets, but nothing was there just for eye candy. It all adds to the effect and as a result, it still works today.
I hadn't seen this film for about 10 years when I rented it the other day, actually expecting it to look silly and dated... the kind of film that scares you to death at 12 but seems silly at 22. Instead it was just as intense as I remembered. The only possible thing that seemed to take away from my enjoyment was that it has been so widely (and unsuccessfully) copied over the years that we've all seen this before.
Just as amazing and gripping as it ever was. When the closing credits make their way onto the screen you feel as though you have just gotten off a roller coaster--somewhat exhilarated, but also slightly disoriented and still trying to absorb everything that you've just experienced.
Best film of the series, Aliens really shines quite well as a stand-alone film. Script alludes to the first film and leaves openings for future films, but does this unobtrusively so it isn't annoying.
A great film to watch late at night with all the lights turned off. Just be sure to barricade the doors and keep one of those motion sensors handy...
You're going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.
This film must require a certain sense of humor combined with an understanding of the cold war and the nuclear arms race. It always strikes me that people that don't quite "get" Dr. Strangelove and I'm not really sure why. There is a lot of subtle humor inserted into this black comedy and I suppose you have to be paying attention to really find it all. During my first viewing I thought it was fairly slow and while there were clearly moments of genius, they seemed to be relatively far apart. Now when I watch it, it's a series of ridiculously perfect scenes put together without a single wasted frame.
Dr. Strangelove is the strongest indictment of war and militarism that I have ever seen. Kubrick somehow created for us a film that sums up the absurd peril that the world faced during the cold war and also allowed us to laugh at the men who were responsible for keeping the world from falling into chaos and destruction. The fact that this film seems somehow plausible and possible makes it all the more scary.
Dark City (1998)
Quite an engaging film with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the final quarter of the film just seemed like such a huge let-down. It should have been exciting, but instead it just turned into absurdity. (granted, I had suspended belief long before that point... it just jarred me into the "yeah right" state of mind at the end)
Films like the Matrix have their share of plot holes (and then some)--but the Matrix is thoroughly entertaining throughout, if somewhat predictable.
Dark City's acting is not especially good and the characters are fairly unmemorable. The underlying premise is quite ingenious, but the plot seems to unravel at the end and tie things up a bit too easily. The "happily ever after" tone of the end definitely seemed uncalled for.
Dark City tries to be profound but just leaves you with the feeling of dissatisfaction at what could have been a great film.
(and no... I don't know how *I* would've ended it, either) :>
A big disappointment
My girlfriend and I rented this one expecting a lot of fun and hilarity about sex and relationships ala Annie Hall... and ended up with a movie filled largely with unfunny sketches. It wasn't long before we started hoping that the "next one will be funny" and it really never was all that funny. The main reason for renting the film was what I had heard about the final sketch about ejaculation. While I admit that bit was pretty hilarious it certainly wasn't worth sitting through the rest of this to see... if only we'd fast-forwarded through the first hour or so...
The Third Man (1949)
A great and widely influential film
Not only do critics and viewers seem to love this movie, but other filmmakers seem to love it as well and incorporate elements of the Third Man into their own films. Some of these newer films are less than all-time greats (The James Bond film The Living Daylights borrows elements such as the old friendships, the fake death, the ferris wheel, a performing girlfriend with forged papers and even the "Ein Balloon mein Herr?"--although in normal fashion Bond gets the girl instead of having her walk away)--but some other films that nod in The Third Man's direction are much better such as the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (the characters have been shifted around and the setting is very different, but the same themes echo throughout--I only wish the final scene was as amazing as in The Third Man.) I'm sure there are many other films that have been influenced but I can't think of any at the moment.
An incredibly rich film
Everybody's already commented on the ingenious screenplay and the amazing characters, acting, direction. I've only seen the wide-screen version, but I can't imagine that a formatted version would be able to retain the full beauty of this film. The film makes ample use of the whole screen and the film comes across remarkably refreshing all these years later. The use of sound is also very effective--whether it's a dripping faucet, the buzzing of insects or the endless other tiny details that have been crammed into Chinatown.