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Most acclaimed drug films over the years have been very personal tales of addiction and hopelessness. "Traffic" is different. Instead of showing how drugs are bad for your health, it goes one large step further and widens the scope of the issue. It does this by showing the viewpoints of the five most important group of people in the drug "war": drug consumers, drug producers, drug dealers, anti-drug enforcers and the affected families of the people involved. Many people have complained that the interchanging of the stories was too regular and too confusing.. Well that only brings out one conclusion: if they can't watch important & serious movies they should stick to popcorn propaganda i.e. Bruckheimer.
The production isn't perfect, but I don't see how Soderbergh could have done any better. The camerawork was sometimes shaky and amateur but this was only done to give more realistic grit into the film, and also pay homage to the origins of the film: Traffik - the British documentary miniseries which this film is based on. The acting was mostly impressive. Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Don Cheadle give good, endearing performances while Benicio Del Toro gives possibly the best male performance of the last two years. His charisma is limitless, and he showed despair and loneliness with masterful skill while also giving signs of incredible strength and willpower. Director Steven Soderbergh directed this daring film with great courage and determination, and I hope he makes more even better films in the future.
Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
I just saw the world premiere of Gone in 60 Seconds here in New Zealand, and I must say this is the biggest disappointment of the year.
Disappointing in almost every way. First of all the trailer advertised a very fast-paced, cool (not too noisy) heist thriller which stayed relatively true to the original (1974). I was fooled. All the trailer did was create excitement with the countdown from 60 seconds running with cars in the background. Well that sort of thing might work for a two-minute trailer but it won't survive, or work, over a period of 2 hours without having extremely large holes. And also there is hardly any tension when Cage and co. start boosting cars because there are no decent build-up or obstacles.
Some great actors' talents are completely wasted here. Robert Duvall, Angelina Jolie, Delroy Lindo seem to be there with the purpose of bringing prestige to the cast. They have no material to work with and have little influence in the story. Nic Cage as the lead has a cool character and at the start he seemed to be handling it well but he is again held back by atrocious dialogue and unnecessary moral dilemma.
Plus points? I guess there are some funny moments especially at the start of the film but you will forget about all that after you see the tedious middle of the film (Cage conveniently wastes 2 days out of 3 assembling his "crew" when he has to steal 50 cars). If only Dominic Sena/Jerry Bruckheimer kept the cool tension of the original film and extended the pretty good climax/car chase at the end this could have been much better.
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
The most subtle, intellectual of the trilogy
I am very disappointed to hear all the negative comments and the jokes aimed at the final installment in The Godfather trilogy. But I guess it isn't that surprising for the third installment takes a long time jump over the second and is less violent. If the first movie was an introduction to power and a very powerful family, the second was about using that power as protection for the future, the third is about the cost of using power to secure your future, how you may change yourself but can't change your past.
This is Al Pacino's best work of the 90s and probably his final subtle performance. Andy Garcia (the Pacino of his generation) steals the show and is the perfect actor to play James Caan's son. Sofia Coppola isn't as bad as most people think but I really regret that Winona Ryder wasn't in her place. Director Francis Ford Coppola takes a different approach in his direction, shooting much longer scenes with Michael Corleone and much more Italian language. The final climax and final image is haunting and is the inevitable, masterful end to America's greatest saga.
Rain Man (1988)
One of the rare films in cinema history which can boast having absolutely no flaws. Even films like The Godfather, Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane had flaws if you look closely. Rain Man's simple narrative structure and story may create doubt and manipulate you but after multiple viewings it will become part of you. Part of your personality.
Dustin Hoffman delivers an extraordinary Academy Award-winning performance as Raymond Babbit, an idiot savant who has just inherited his father's money, to the dismay of brother Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise in a very underrated performance). Charlie, frustrated at this, decides to take advantage of his brother's handicap and take him on a road trip to manipulate him into getting some of money. On that long journey, Charlie becomes increasingly fond of his new-found brother, especially after learning that Raymond used to take care of him when they were kids.
The story sounds very derivative, I know, but what makes it so unique is the realistic turns the movie takes. First of all Charlie's major character change takes place over a long period of time deliberately so you won't take notice until at the very end. The idiot savant character of Raymond is portrayed in the movie very well and honestly. Idiot savants are incapable of emotional thoughts and the film stays true to that theory by having very little character change for Raymond throughout the movie.
Director Barry Levinson (who has a crucial cameo in the movie) did such a fantastic job in this film. There were so many directing changes in the production of this film it is very surprising Levinson pulled it off. His direction is a very subtle, subliminal direction which from a distance looks very ordinary and traditional but when thought over becomes an intellectually stimulating style (similar to Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola in their prime). The way he slowly changes Charlie's character while making us more sympathetic with Raymond is simply masterful. He puts us in the journey into Charlie's point of view. We first see Raymond as a pathetic, poor individual but at the end of the film we look at him as our brother. Most people would say this film has no theme or message, but they just haven't looked deeply enough. The theme is that the more we learn about someone we begin to gain respect for him and eventually love him. The unchanging character of Raymond embodies this message.
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The best made film of the 70s
While the first Godfather introduced us to a very powerful family and the way they protect their legacy, the second is about how that family builds and protects it's future. Vito Corleone (De Niro) builds it's future while Michael Corleone (Pacino) protects it. By showing father and son doing this, they also show the contrast in character between the two. The film shows that while Vito had a very strong, ambitious character, Michael showed equal strength but underneath he hid sadness and depression.
Of course, a complex character comparison/contrast like this needs great actors to fulfill the job. Al Pacino, fresh from his Oscar-nominated turn in The Godfather delivers one of his most memorable performances while Robert De Niro, a relative unknown then delivers an Oscar-winning performance. The two intercuts between Michael and Vito motionless is probably the most memorable images of The Godfather trilogy and shows what 'star power' really is. Other than De Niro/Pacino, Robert Duvall - one of the greatest character actors of the century - delivers yet another strong performance while the late John Cazale represents the price of power in a masterful, haunting performance.
Romeo Must Die (2000)
Enjoyable but not enough!
Seeing Jet Li star in his first original Hollywood film is a delight, as he is arguably the most amazing martial artist in cinema right now. His skills are shown entertainingly here, and people who haven't been exposed to his earlier Hong Kong work will love it, but for experienced HK fans and people who have seen any of Li's older work would notice this dosen't even show half of his potential. First of all the camera work is atrocious. In the fight scenes, the angles are too close and there are too many cuts during them. Second, the totally unnecessary wires Li used was too obvious and frustrating. It seems as if the makers of the film didn't go with Li's skill and instead went for style over matter. This was a big mistake. If the director saw any of Li's work he would know he could handle uncut 15 minute fight scenes against 20 men with no wires or doubles. What was keeping him from doing it here? The only fight scene I really liked was the one where Li plays football for the first time and that wasn't even a real fight scene.
The plot was overdone and unnecessarily complex for a film like this. Isaiah Washington and Delroy Lindo's characters aren't that important and they take up most of the screen time without Li in it. What would have increased the film's quality MUCH more was more of Russell Wong (Vanishing Son, Prophecy II), an amazing talent who can give off electric charisma, handle the fight scenes and certainly act. It would have been a much-needed boost to the film if his mysterious character was explored more (and the end fight scene was say, five times longer?) instead of giving us 15 minute speeches by Lindo and Washington. Aaliyah is impressive in her debut but watching her while listening to her songs in the soundtrack is a bit distracting.
Overall, Romeo Must Die would be enjoyed by most but hardcore Li fans would know Li hasn't gotten his true breakthrough film yet.
Piece of trash
This movie starts off very well, but slowly plot holes start to emerge and characters become unrealistic and dumber until it becomes just another slasher movie. Director James Foley (who has shown his potential with Glengarry Glen Ross but has made some VERY bad business decisions) made a good effort however, but couldn't come up with the goods. He created some genuine tension in the film's climax and some steamy scenes between Wahlberg and Witherspoon but I guess with an appaling, extremely derivitive script, unconvincing performances -especially by Wahlberg who looks right but just dosen't have the edge- and bad casting (Witherspoon/Peterson) one can only do so much. One way this failure could have been a success was to tone down the violent/scary tone and let Wahlberg reveal his psychosis slowly (Jaws anyone?) instead of revealing it before we can even say RIPOFF!.
pathetic attempt at quality television
This ridiculous tv show started off with some potential in its pilot episode but gradually became redundant, repititive, boring, and totally uninteresting. Why? First of all the two lead characters (Appleby and Behr) have no personality, the main villain is stereotypical and has no reason for his obsessive hate against Max Evans, and every other character's purpose is to either produce paranoia or suspicion. There is no comic relief or a colorful character, the dialogue is repititive and the storyline leaks unoriginality and redundancy.
Asian cinema at its peak
Mixing Hong Kong-style action and Hollywood-style narrative with an old-fashioned yet refreshing story and a cast headed by the Korean equivalents to Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, it is not much of a surprise this ingeniously original action-drama-romance outgrossed Titanic in Korean domestic box office ticket sales.
Yu Jong Won, A super-slick government field agent (played by superstar Han Seok Kyu) is on the trail of a mysterious and powerful North Korean military terrorist group headed by a frighteningly dedicated soldier (Choi Min Sik) and a mysterious woman assassin which has planted a bomb in a stadium in Seoul set to hold the first North/South Korea soccer match only days away. An extraordinary job for Jong Won turns extremely personal when he finds out his long-time girlfriend Myung-Hyun (Kim Yoon Jin) is the mysterious assassin who will kill both country's leaders if Plan A backfires...
Any other film would have shown the terrorists as one-dimensional stereotypes but this film dives deep into their minds, showing they were typically driven by their government and poverty to do their deeds. At core, Swiri is more of a romantic drama than a pure action film, but people unaware of the North-South Korean situation may not fully see the drama. The romantic department however is amazing to see no matter what, not only because of the material it is brought into but the effectiveness of it. If the ending does not bring a tear to your eye, it is pretty clear nothing else will.
Reading other peoples' reviews, I see a split 50/50 argument where one side loves the movie and the other hates it. I am not one bit surprised, due to the importance of the film, and I feel this is proof that Contact is one of the most powerful movies of the decade. Like the reaction from the civilians to the machine, a movie with this much heavy firepower is likely to get both loathing and praise from its viewers. I for one praise the film, for its toughness and sensitivity, symbolism and passion, and the fact that it is a rare science fiction film, a gem which was released in a time where scientific intelligence in film has become a nothing short of a joke as the wonder of the universe has been ignored and the mystery of alien life have become a neverending trail of movie villains.
The film of course centers around the science vs. religion theme, the oldest and most frightening of all school debates. Instead of taking the more independent path the book takes, the film takes the more sensitive on the science vs. religion argument throughout the film by telling us that science and religion points to the same direction (the "pursuit of truth") but are misunderstood when studying the nature of their WAY of finding the truth (science uses evidence and answers, religion uses love faith). At the end of it all, the film lets us know that if science and religion stops colliding with each other and starts to combine and compliment each other (listen to Ellie's final words in her testament) the human race might achieve things we can only dream about now.
A perfectly refreshing film, with lots to say, great acting and directing, sound and special effects. Robbed by the Academy.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Gets Better With Age [*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*]
The first time I saw this film was 4 years ago, when it first came out on video. I saw it because of the unbelievable praise it was given by its audience, about half of its film critics, and its two Academy Awards. After I finished the film I was both shocked and confused as to what had happened. It seemed to me everything Verbal had said to Dave Kujan was false, or some of it false, and the only confirmed truthful events or persons we actually see during the course of the film is the setup (or lineup), Verbal's testimony to the DEA, the death of the suspects except Verbal, Verbal's lies to Kujan, Kobayashi's existence, and of course the fact Keyser Soze is Verbal Kint (or could Kobayashi be Soze?)... This all took hours to figure out, but then I thought, the movie is rubbish..it just cheats at the end.
Months later The Usual Suspects was screened on TV. I gathered the will to watch it again, and I watched it with the knowledge of what happens at the end. I learned SO much more. So many little details (like the history of Keyser Soze and Dean Keaton, and their questionable past relationship or rivalry). Also, I appreciated the movie for what it is before the twist at the end: a clever, mysterious noir with great music, editing, script, characters and acting. But I still didn't fully understand the ending and its link to the flashbacks. If everything which Verbal said was shown in the flashbacks, why did Verbal admit to killing the man with the case who Keaton couldn't kill? Wouldn't that make Verbal a confessed murderer (he got set free after his testimony)? This is probably the only mysterious flaw(?) of the film.
After the second viewing, I watch the film every two or three months when I have the time. EACH time I learn something refreshingly new. This must be one of the most carefully constructed films of alltime. When you think about it the film was giving you as many clues as to who Keyser Soze really is as as many tricks to making you think Keaton is Soze: 1) the order of the gifts to the five guys from Kobayashi, and the way the camera never shows what was in Verbal's package 2) the tone of voice and the evil look Verbal gives in the lineup scene 3) the misleading, obviously tricky way the film always depicts Verbal as the last guy who could be Soze (the weasel/cripple character, the constant jokes ("gimp, pretzel man") made towards Verbal. 4) Verbal's crippled hand/leg sometimes changes from left to right throughout the film. 5) "Soz" in Turkish means word. Word and verbal a connection anyone??
If you haven't seen the film, you shouldn't be reading this.. But if you have and couldn't understand it, read my post and see it again and again!
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
The Talented Mr. Ripley is the most underrated film of the year. It's a shame it was shut out of the major categories in the Academy Awards. Every aspect of the film is masterpiece level. Of these aspects, the acting may be the finest. Matt Damon heads a flawless ensemble performance with a subtle, disturbing and also not to mention extremely risky performance. His impersonations are downright scary and his boyish looks combined with the twisted mind of Ripley helps create a "something isn't right" feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Oscar-nominated Jude Law steals every scene with his attractive appearance and golden charisma which reminds of Cary Grant and Robert Redford. Gwyneth Paltrow isn't perfect but does a good, realistic job breaking down as she becomes more and more suspicious of Ripley. Cate Blanchett is somewhat underused but still does a credible job of acting while maintaining an American accent. And Phillip Seymour Hoffman creates a much-needed downright hateful character in the film.
Anthony Minghella is more and more convincing me he is his generation's Francis Ford Coppola. His long, slow scenes and shots and slow, tension-building style of directing in this film is comparable to The Godfather Trilogy. The script's story stays close to the book's, but wisely changes the character's behaviour and tones down the homosexuality of Ripley to rid any unnecessary subplots or doubt of credibility.
In the technical department, Gabriel Yared's brooding score still lingers in my mind and deserves the Academy Award, while the cinematography and art direction is exquisite.
If you haven't seen the film, do so, but be warned of some shocking behaviour.