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This Could Have Been A Contender
Michael Caine is a man whose black wife, along with a group of African children, are kidnapped by slave traders in Africa, and with the local government unwilling to deal with the matter, he and a friend have to travel across Africa and the Mideast to get the kidnap victims back. What could have been a powerful subject, but it falls flat. Why?
Peter Ustinov gives a great performance as the villainous slave trader, but everybody else is going through the motions. There were reportedly problems with the people producing the film with much staff turnover A shame, really, when such an important but underreported subject matter could and should have been brought to the fore.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
An Overly Hidden Genius
There is clearly a mix of glowing and scathing reviews here, so I might as well put my two cents in. So what do I think of it? The concept did not really ring true.
The protagonist is an undiscovered genius who is able to figure out things that stump even the geniuses, such as a complicated mathematical problem, even though he works as a college janitor. He has a poor background and emotional problems from a bad childhood, plus a girl interested in him, yet instead of breaking out of his miserable existence he initially wants to stay in it...but is convinced to change his mind.
So what went wrong? A genius might have a rough existence, but he acts like everybody else around him except for his magically solving complicated mathematical problems. Um, anyone who's so much smarter than his peers would show signs of it that nobody could ignore, such as being able to say and do things most others wouldn't think of. Why couldn't he have become, say, a professional gambler (degree not required)? Why would he cause trouble and not be able to charm his way out of it. Will Hunting is a genius and does not behave like a genius in real life would, no matter his background. That spoils the movie for me.
La marche de l'empereur (2005)
Let's Be Honest
At best, it's nothing you cannot see on a typical PBS special, except on big screen. And as other critics have pointed out, the narration anthropomorphizes the penguins and compares them to humans, what with the romance between Mommy and Daddy and having to watch out for the villainous seals. Yes, animals have thoughts and emotions, but they are not humans. A more scientifically-based narration would have made a much better movie.
A Knight's Tale (2001)
A Parody Of Ivanhoe-Sort Of
The story is about a poor, lowborn squire whose knight master is killed, and the squire tries his hand at illegally being a knight, and picks up three male friends, along with a female blacksmith friend, along the way. He then meets up with a rival knight who is his nemesis throughout the story, and even meets up with the Black Prince and even bests him in a tournament.
The story is cliched but entertaining, and though it is supposed to be a parody, with deliberate anachronisms such as playing Queen's "We Will Rock You" towards the beginning, the story basically plays itself straight and is not laugh-a-minute, unlike "Monty Python And The Holy Grail" which was deliberately silly, as well as gruesome. This movie is much more suited for general audiences.
The Wedding Singer (1998)
I Didn't Hate, Hate, Hate This Movie...
That's what Roger Ebert did with this movie, though I didn't. But I didn't find the movie particularly good either. The plot is standard romantic comedy: boy (the wedding singer) is about to marry an unsuitable woman, while girl (a waitress coworker) is engaged to a wealthy but horrible man. The rest you can guess.
The movie takes place in 1985 and is supposed to be about the decade, though as someone who lived through the 1980's and who has attended weddings, I never heard of wedding singers until I saw the title of this movie. Was this a 1980's fad? Funny, I remember Yuppies and those stupid yellow signs to stick into car rear windows but never this. Also, Boy George and Madonna may have been 1980's successes but Huey Lewis And The News, Peter Gabriel, and Phil Collins were bigger and more successful during that time period, and without resorting to gimmickry.
The movie did have one real surprise, though. Billy Idol showed up at the end to help the good guy defeat the bad guy. The icon of raw sexuality Billy Idol in a romantic comedy? That's like putting Fred Rogers into a slasher movie.
From Ferris Bueller To Tension Drama
The movie begins by military people about to launch nuclear missiles-but it turns out to merely be a psychological test. Then the story turns to a high school hacker and his girlfriend, his hacking into the school system to change their poor grades to good ones so they can graduate, and then the boy getting carried away by hacking into other systems-and inadvertently gets into contact with WOPR, a supercomputer in control of US military nuclear ICBM missiles. By the time the boy realizes what he has done, WOPR has started going haywire and the boy is unable to do anything, even after the federal government has found and arrested him. He and his girlfriend escape federal custody, but now what?
The movie was not ahead of its time, but of its time; not only because of the Cold War, but because there was great fear of computer hackers as much in the early 1980's as nowadays, just as ships feared submarines during World War One as much as in later decades. Not that the movie was truly realistic; changing grades in a school's computer system would certainly be noticed by the school staff involved, especially by teachers who have all the paperwork showing how their students truly did, and the US military certainly had reason to protect against computer hackers decades before there were such things as home computers. The US military can be stupid, but not THAT stupid.
Basically a 1980's period piece, just as "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!" was a period piece for the hippie era.
Les triplettes de Belleville (2003)
The Beginning Is Strong, But...
The movie began by depicting said triplets as young, popular singers who were in high demand in the 1930's and played in big theaters to big audiences. Then it moves to France, shows decades passing and changes to the neighborhood, where an old woman in an apartment trains her grandson to compete in a French bicycle race. But during said race, some criminals kidnap the grandson and take him to New York City, and the grandmother hires a floating bicycle to paddle across the Atlantic Ocean to find her grandson being held by (French immigrant?) gangsters, as well as said triplets now living in poverty in a New York slum and reduced to making music using found objects.
There are moments of cleverness in this movie, but overall it is too slow-moving with too much dead space in it. Also, what is the whole point? Were things supposed to be better in the past compared to later? In France as well as the USA? (Actually, if this is supposed to be the 1950's or 1960's, obesity was less common in the USA in that era.) Or specifically the entertainment industry? This movie is better than Monty Python's "French Subtitled Film", but not by a whole lot.
Miscast John Wayne
A rather standard police actioner from the 1970's, with John Wayne playing a policeman who is angered when his best friend on the police force is murdered (not knowing at the time the friend was corrupt), and quits the force when his superiors refuse to let him go after the drug dealers he believes responsible.
The story was okay, and the villains certainly were good, but John Wayne was in his sixties and obviously too old for the role. A younger star could and should have been put into Wayne's role.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
What Exactly Was The Point?
I knew what the story was after having heard about the movie many years ago-three members of a prissy girls' college disappear during a college-held picnic near said Hanging Rock (a real place in Australia) and are never found, and it was based on a novel but not in real life. The movie got good reviews, but when I saw it at long last, I felt unsatisfied.
Not when the disappearance was never explained; I knew that that was going to happen. Not by the cinematography or performances; those were good. But I never really understood what the whole point was. You see a lot of people and a lot of events, but you never really get much information on anybody. What exactly was Australian life like in 1900? What was the idea of the girls' school, besides an alternative to the orphanage? What prompted the girls to explore the rock (which proved to be ugly and uninteresting when viewed up close)? Why did the survivor who was found not say anything when she came back? I realize the movie was supposed to leave things open-ended, but I feel they overdid it.
I Expected More Than I Got
This is an Austrian documentary about a tuner and technician for Steinway pianos played at major classical music concerts and recording events. The box cover suggested that this person was actually more fussy about his pianos than his clients were, but in fact it is the other way around.
Most of the film centers on a French pianist and composer and how fussy he is about how his pianos sound and how he insists on other pianos because one doesn't sound right to him, and the technician has not only to tune the piano but find people the right stools, add crazy-looking devices to the pianos to change its sound, change components of the piano to satisfy the various players, and go through a lot of aggravation.
Problem is, that's the movie in a nutshell, and it gets repetitive and boring without telling much else. Also included is a scene of preparing a piano for a comedy act, which was amusing, but overall the movie takes too much time to say too little.
Shattered Glass (2003)
Half A Loaf
The telling of the true-life story of Stephen Glass, a young journalist who partially or totally made up stories for The New Republic magazine in the late 1990's and finally got caught was interesting enough, and the performances were good, more by the side characters than the star. But one is left with the impression that not enough was told.
The movie starts with him giving a speech to a group of high school students under his old teacher, and such scenes are intercut throughout the movie. And Glass points out early in the story that while he wanted to be a journalist, his parents wanted him to become a lawyer or doctor, so he went to night school for law. Also pointed out is how the big boss fires one top editor he fell out with, to be replaced with a less popular replacement, adding to the complications. Glass writes an article about how a software company's system has been hacked into by a teenage boy, and the boy is hired by the company to handle its security. Trouble is, the new editor cannot find and record of the existence of the company or any of the people named in the article.
The problem is, the movie fails to mention two things that should have been: how Glass got hired by The New Republic in the first place, and why Glass chose to fabricate stories. A story does not work too well when the bad guy is not given a motive.
The Cats Of Istanbul
This is a documentary not so much about cats themselves but about how the citizens of Istanbul interact with them. The cats in question are street cats brought in when they escape from incoming maritime traffic, and the people interviewed take care of them not as personal house pets, but as visiting wild animals, they way people in other places view pigeons.
The movie focusses on several people who take care of these cats, including one who found that taking care of them helped him recover from a nervous breakdown. It also shows Istanbul as a city with many small, old-fashioned buildings, but with modern ones inevitably being built and threatening the old ways. No mention is made of people who dislike the cats or anyone who keeps them as actual house pets instead of strays to be taken care of, but that would spoil the movie's atmosphere. Interesting look at a piece of another culture.
The Tourist (2010)
Trite, But It Works
I've seen similar caper movies from decades ago, and this follows in the same vein. A British woman is being watched, presumably by police, and meets with a seemingly random American tourist riding a train. They travel to Venice, Italy, and are watched not just by them but by a different group of men. The tourist is supposed to be impersonating a man who stole a fortune from his rich gangster uncle.
It's got the cliché's-chases, running around, twists and turns and you aren't really sure who is who and what their motives are until the very end. It may be fluff, but it is genuinely entertaining.
Tower Heist (2011)
Much Worse Than I Expected
I picked this up at random out of the library. I never expected it to more than fluff, but even fluff has to be decent. All I saw was Kovaks the tower manager talk to a bunch of different employees, as well as his boss. I guess this was supposed to be a comedy, but every single joke misfired and we were bored silly. After a half hour I gave up.
Yes, it's another "put a bunch of major stars in a movie and it is still terrible" movie. The jokes should have been funny, but they weren't even mildly amusing. Everything looked good visually, yet everything still fell flat and I didn't bother going on once the scene where the big boss is arrested took place.
More insipid than corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day.
El baño del Papa (2007)
Interesting If Not Fantastic
In the small, impoverished town of Melo in Uruguay, very near the border with Brazil, there are a group of men who make their living smuggling contraband across the international border, dealing with the corrupt border guards there. The movie concentrates on one of the men, who has a wife and daughter who live in an impoverished house which is little better than a shack. The daughter has dreams of having a career of being in television, though that seems very far away. The father of course has dreams of making money in a less risky way.
Opportunity comes for not only him but for his fellow villagers when Pope John Paul II comes to the town to speak. Everybody expects huge crowds to come to Melo, and most of the townsfolk get loans with the idea of serving food and drink to the coming visitors. Our hero has a more clever idea; he comes up with a pay toilet for the visitors. But he still has to smuggle some more to create his bathroom...will everything pay off?
This movie is based on real events, and while I cannot say how accurate the movie depicts Uruguay and its slums, the movie provides an appropriate atmosphere for the story.
Kung Fu Traveler (2017)
Chinese Schlock Perhaps, But It Works
I was not knowing what to expect really, but I took it out of the library randomly. It was better than I would have guessed.
Aliens have taken over most of Earth, including most of China. The Chinese military finds one of their own who knows the kung fu moves that have any chance of defeating the individual aliens, but the problem is that this art was mostly lost during the nineteenth century, when Europeans armies invaded China. A robot is sent back to that era, along with a human woman, to find the instructor of that form of kung fu. Of course, things are much more complicated than expected when they arrive.
Perhaps a ripoff of similar Western movies, but it still has drama and emotion as well as action, and it also suggests that modern China is more open about its distant past and culture than it used to be.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Done Before, And Far Better
I remember the plot from a different movie I saw with the same story. Yes, based on "Taming Of The Shrew", only in a modern high school. Once-popular older daughter who is totally unfriendly with anyone, younger daughter who wants to date but father says no, unless the other daughter will date (and the father is confident she won't), and of course one seemingly-nice boy has his eye on the younger daughter.
The idea was done far better in the other movie (I unfortunately don't remember the title), but this has crassly exaggerated stereotypical side characters who have no relevance to the main story and who are supposed to be funny but aren't. I didn't finish this one; I don't recommend anyone to start it in the first place.
What's All The Fuss About?
I'm not a real fan of Star Trek; I saw a few episodes of the 1960's television series and found them amusing, which was the idea. The show was not a comedy or parody as such, but it kept the tone interesting. My favorite part when there was a shore leave fight between the Enterprise crew and some Klingons, and when Captain Kirk asks if the fight was over his being insulted, he is dismayed to be told no.
I picked this one up because I heard it was supposed to be the best of the 1980's Star Trek movies, but found it disappointing and didn't finish it. It drags on, makes its points about Kirk being in a midlife crisis early on and goes on too long with the idea, and the villain Khan is not frightening like he should have been, I remember all the fuss by fans when the original movie came out and how that turned out to be nothing special. I had high hopes for this one because it was supposed to be the best, and learned the lesson that the other movies must have been even worse.
Remember the Night (1940)
Perhaps Only Preston Sturges Could Have Pulled This Off
A mixture of comedy and romance, though not a rom-com as such, it's a Runyonesque story about a woman who is caught stealing jewelry and is arrested and taken to court. The trial begins just before Christmas, and the district attorney has the trial postponed until after the holiday, but one problem...the woman will have to spend Christmas in jail. The sentimental DA ends up bailing her out and bringing him over to his family home for the holidays...and the pair converse along the way and find out about each other.
The story is sentimental but not soppy. For one thing, we find out the awful truth about the woman's mother, and as for the ending, it turns out not to be the "everything works out all nice and tidily" type, which is far more satisfying. A Christmas classic for any time of the year.
Det røde kapel (2009)
What Was The Point?
I saw maybe a half hour before I turned it off. Sound and photography were poor, but I thought something intriguing might have come of this. It was the story of three Danish comedians, two born in South Korea and one of them restricted to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy-and purportedly handicapped people are wiped out in North Korea, or at least are kept out of sight. The evident idea was that the comedians were supposed to be putting on a silly comedy show while trying to expose how life in North Korea really is.
One problem is that the comedians keep conflicting, as if acting at cross-purposes. Another is that the comedians do and say things which make their handlers displeased-in a country where disgrace and likely death await those who make even the mildest criticism of the Great Leader. Third, everything they show is censored for the same reason. What can they show that that the government would not allow the outside world to see?
Whatever the filmmakers intended to tell us, we never felt we were learning anything we haven't heard already.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
The video stopped working in the middle of the movie, but no matter...I had lost interest in the story by then. Why so many people praise this I cannot imagine, unless they are the sort of people who would find it exciting to see Rocky Balboa brush his teeth. for 100 minutes.
The story is about how the title character is elderly and has retired from boxing. and has opened an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia after his wife has died of cancer. Meanwhile, young champion black boxer Mason Dixon has lost popularity because he has been easily defeating weak boxers in the ring, and the fans want a real challenge for a change. And the sports world is talking about Rocky and Mason possibly having a match...
The problem is, the movie is very slow-moving and fails to evoke the emotions it intends to. The movie is full of nighttime scenes, where Rocky philosophizes, talks with his son, and some other people from his past, and it plods on so that all tension is lost. Will elderly Rocky actually fight young Mason Dixon? Could Rocky possibly win? Does anybody care? I didn't.
Point Blank (1967)
I found this in the library and thought it would be interesting. It wasn't. It was slow, confusing, and boring, and I gave up after a half hour.
The film opens with an improbable scene where Walker and an old friend are at a fancy reunion, and the friend pushes Walker to the ground, screaming about his badly needing help-and everyone else stands around obliviously. The movie may be intended to be an artistic noir, but this is just ridiculous. Then there is the operation at the now-closed Alcatraz prison, which goes off properly, but the "friend" tries to kill Walker and steals his wife. Somehow Walker survives and recovers, and meets with his ex-wife, who says how remorseful she was over his supposed death. There are more scenes, but the whole thing was so full of flashbacks, improbable scenes, and slow pacing and lack of chemistry that I turned it off.
Why people praise this, I don't know. There's no tension and the movie tries to be "arty", but ends up looking ridiculous. The movie fails both as entertainment and high art.
Should Have Been Funnier
I remember when the movie came out, every critic hated it, so I didn't watch it. Until years later, my then-supervisor at work told us he saw and liked it, so I rented it. I didn't find the movie the abomination the critics said it was, but I didn't find it a laugh riot either.
The plot is thin: the title character is a pirate released from prison, having hidden a hoard of his treasure on a remote island, and a variety of people pursue him as he goes after said treasure. There are some funny moments, but no big laughs, and there is a big variety of comic actors in the movie, yet the script doesn't allow them to shine. Passable, but at best only mildly amusing.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Modernized "Pride And Prejudice"
Loosely based on the old novel, this is the story about Bridget Jones, a thirtysomething British woman who is mateless and unhappy with her life, and keeps said diary to try to improve herself. The story begins when Bridget is invited to her parent's home on Christmas Day, and is introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Darcy whom she dislikes. Later at her workplace at a publishing house, she describes the colleagues she also dislikes, and her boss has his eye upon her, and he seems charming. But she finds that he and the other man have a dispute between them, and her own boss perhaps is not the nice person he seems to be. Then Bridget's own mother has her own midlife crisis and is unhappy with her family...
An entertaining story, if a bit too full of bad language. There is sexuality, but the only very brief sex scene does provide the necessary shock value for the plot. Recommended, but for nobody younger than in their teens.
What a Girl Wants (2003)
Cliched And Predictable, But It Works
Based on the play "The Reluctant Debutante", the story starts with the young son of a British noble family meeting a young American woman, on vacation in Morocco, and they have a marriage neither are sure is valid, but the British man's retinue locate them and make the woman leave, and she travels back to New York City, and gives birth to a daughter. 17 years later, the daughter learns of her heritage and impulsively flies to London and meets her father, now a member of Parliament, who had never known about his daughter until that moment.
Then the real story begins. The father and the people with him are unsure what to do with the daughter, especially with the father running for reelection, he contacts her mother, who is angry with him because she was sent home and he never contacted her, and the daughter is confused about what she has done, and what she should do now, especially when she meets and falls in love with a young local man.
The story might best be described as wish-fulfillment fantasy, but is pleasant enough without being too soppy or unrealistic. Good performances by the cast and good pacing help the movie, and while it has no deep meaning it is still good entertainment.