REVIEW: Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

2005 has been a year of exponentially relentless films. We've had films that push the envelope possibly too far like Sin City, others that artfully indulge us like Devil's Rejects, and now we have Munich. This film is unrelenting from beginning to end, if only due to the suspense factor as opposed to the intended historical importance.

Munich does lack poignancy, and leans heavily towards action/adventure entertainment as opposed to sophisticated poignancy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, its just not what I expected going in.

Spielberg's intricately woven camera movements that interact with the film sets is more mature and provides deeper emphasis here than in Catch Me If You Can, in which they were singularly impressive but often seemed unneeded and distracting.

Eric Bana delivers outstandingly, which may surprise some. Both Ciaran Hinds and Daniel Craig turn in worthy performances and Mathieu Kassovitz and Geoffrey Rush are both great as always. Mathieu Amalric is an actor I had never heard of before - his work consists mainly of French films - but he is effectively ominous here in his role as Louis.

The work Spielberg put in on this has to be commended, considering the project commenced immediately after War of the Worlds opened in June, but Munich fails to come together as it wants to. It is certainly nowhere near the fantastic quality of previous Spielberg successes like Jaws or Minority Report.


QUICKIE: The Beach (Danny Boyle, 2000)

I admire author Alex Garland's story for not focusing just on several issues facing society, but taking it on as a whole. Reading interviews with him you may not gather this, but experiencing the story brings it on full-force. The perspective of the film is very similar to my own, and the small village on the island is very close to how I believe humanity should be living.

In every system there is hypocrisy, and the more complex the system, the deeper it runs. In the simple system the people of the beach village live by, these hypocrisies are forgivable - a necessary for keeping things the way they are... which brings up the key point The Beach culminates with. We are left watching everyone flee the world Sal (Tilda Swinton) has created simply because she was willing to sacrifice a citizen to keep what they had. No one seems to have ever understood her, especially considering they had been living there six years, and they run, scared of her conviction. For me, this was a sad ending. When all was threatened, the leader of the world stands up for their way of life and recieves abandonment.

For the technical aspects, everything was well done, but not quite accomplished. The patience in edits, power of compositions and overall unique storytelling that director Danny Boyle (A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later) always brings to the playing field are present, but also attributed to Danny Boyle's style of filmmaking is the failure to really make the movie get over that proverbial hump. There are some nice things to look at and all the parts are here, it just doesn't seem to piece together as well as I would have hoped.

All that said, this is by far my favorite Boyle film of the ones I have seen, and the first I have actually liked.


REVIEW: King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)

An important thing to consider when rating the quality of a film is its intentions. Peter Jackson said that he embarked upon this new telling of the Kong story with hopes that it would do to audiences today what the original did to him years ago. Well, he hit the nail on the freakin' head.

When we look at the 1933 film that introduced Kong to our world, we see many important themes that go far beyond the simplicity of most creature features or monster flicks present. There is the seeming chaos of untouched nature pitted against the inate and developed forms of humanity, the inner weakness that beauty can evoke, and the apathatic avarice in many priviledged people, among others. This new version expounds upon those themes and explores them in exciting detail, while simultaneously allowing them to live freely in our minds due to the vastly wordless character of the film. As a matter of fact, the one time the film attempts to discuss one of these ideas directly though dialogue, it comes across as needless and excessively melodramatic.

There are several clever homages thrown in that make for some great humorous moments if you are familiar with the source material. While the '76 remake made the story contemporary again and focused more on society rather than romance it is no worthy companion to the original. Not only does the 1933 film still hold up today better than most films do when they're a mere ten years on, it exists as movie magic in its purest form.

Peter Jackson's reimagining takes off to an arguably slow start, but it all pays off. The development of the characters gets you into the story in a deep way. We also see a lot more of Kong, bringing us into his world more and also into his mind.

There are no holds barred in this production, especially in the action sequences. With audiences so desensitized to most everything movie studios can throw at them, King Kong is the new definition of edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The action is long lasting, overpowering, terrifying and original.

All in all, this movie is awesome in the true sense of the word. In complete honestly, my only qualm aside from its slow beginning and needless conversations between Jimmy and Hayes is a very trivial matter - Jack Black mentions something about being better than a B-movie filmmaker, when in fact during the time period that Kong takes place, the term "B-movie" simply meant a film was on a budget. It did not indicate that a film was a cheese-fest with low production values as the term has come to mean today, and as Black uses it in the movie. How about that, huh?


REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005)

As a child, I watched Wonderworks' Chronicles of Narnia movies constantly, and read CS Lewis' books. As a child, I really enjoyed these adventures. They captivated my imagination for short periods of time.

This new movie is actually quite good. Its not trying to be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings like most current fantasy films. The best part is that there's no rush to get into Narnia, a lot of time is spent building up to it, and its not boring. Actually, the film kicks off with something exciting and unexpected that really pulls you in to the moviegoing experience - well worth the eight bucks!

I'm pretty jaded as far as movies go, it takes something special for me to really get into things. There really is magic to the land of Narnia, especially for someone like me having known the material since childhood. The landscapes make me want to walk into my closet and visit the place.

Of course there's some bad, but its easily looked past. The computer graphics look like they came from an unfinished cut, with some bad green screen, physics that sometimes seem too fluid, and even a few shots in which the background characters jump too quickly from one part of the screen to another. As is to be expected from a CS Lewis work, there is some religious mumbo-jumbo, but its kept to a nice minimum here. Aside from the metaphors all you have to listen to are a few references to sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Don't be dissuaded by the PG rating - it seems like the MPAA was highly forgiving, so while overly animated, the battle scenes are exciting and fast-moving, yet followable. I can only remember one scene with blood; you can tell they made sure to keep the gore out.

I will look forward to the next films in the series, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair.


QUICKIE: Mar adentro (Alejandro Amenabar, 2004)

Coming from Alejandro Amenabar, writer and director of Abre los ojos (original version of Vanilla Sky) is the true and utterly compelling story of Ramon Sampedro, a Spaniard who petitioned for 28 years for euthanasia after breaking his neck and becoming a quadriplegic.

Amenabar really has a knack for storytelling - his work always touches the very center of my heart in ways that no other does. Javier Bardem's outstanding performance as Sampedro is one that makes it seem as though he has gone through a life of quadriplegia himself.

Normally I opt to watch non-English films dubbed over, simply because while absorbing subtitles, I miss so much in the visuals that I feel I'm missing the intended experience completely. Mar adentro, however, sucked me in so deeply that I was able to follow everything closely.

The film is shot in Ireland, and the score reflects it, containing not only beauty all around, but also some bagpipe pieces that really capture the moments.

I highly recommend that anyone and everyone make some time for Mar adentro.


REVIEW: Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2005)

I'm not positive why this couldn't simply call itself a movie about Cobain. Instead it's dedicated to him, inspired by him, blah blah blah... Van Sant did this with Elephant also... Oh no, its not about Columbine, even though it looks identical. It's merely inspired by the events. I'll assume it's a legal issue.

As for the film itself, its what I would call a visual masterpiece. It could be shown in an art gallery alongside the works of Van Gogh, Bosch, Renoir, Klimpt and Rothko. The compositions are beautiful, and they keep the silence of the film bearable.

When it comes to story and characters, there isn't much, and we as the audience have to fill in a lot of blanks. If someone watched this without knowing who Kurt Cobain was, they would most likely suffer from severe boredom because there is practically no direct insight into this character at all - everything is implied with multiple possible meanings.

The meanings I took away from the film were impressive, and the images will definitely stick with me. One thing I like about movies is when their titles are mentioned, a flood of imagery comes to my mind - and with Last Days, there is more than plenty to feed that flood. Oh, and Ricky Jay has a small role - always a plus.


QUICKIE: Good Night, & Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)

This is an important film concerning topics that are seemingly more poignant today than they ever have been, and it knows it. In the way that we can watch a movie and pass off certain things by saying it's "just a movie," "Good Night, And Good Luck." is most certainly not "just a movie."

Murrow's opening speech of the film, as he gave it in October, 1958, makes note that recorded news as the Columbia Broadcast System was making is what historians in fifty to one hundred years will have to look back on for information. Here we are, almost fifty years after that statement, and we are looking back.

George Clooney's hands are clearly at incredible work here, yet they remain away from signatures or outstanding styles to the advantage of the film's purpose. Good Night is patient, and each scene bests being merely a sum of the parts, making for an internally intense and broadening experience.


REVIEW: Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005)

The phrase "roller coaster ride" has been slapped on movie previews left and right and often misused ever since it was brought about. Doom is the kind of movie that should be labeled as a roller coaster - its really a fun ride. When you're not in the middle of an exciting action sequence, you're either on the edge of your seat or you're laughing your ass off.

The art was something to see. There's some really insane set decoration on some really insane sets. Dr. Frankenst-- I mean Stan Winston's creations may not move as smoothly as they usually do here, but they look creepy enough. Weaponry was taken as no joke, either. When most of the character association you get from a video game is the look of the gun, its pretty important, and these ones don't mess around. Hell, The Rock has been toting the BFG around with him on interviews!

Music was a big factor in Doom - the entire score remeniscant of Resident Evil's now semi-infamous (is semi-infamy possible?) laser room theme.

There are plenty of expectations for this flick, as there are for all video-game flicks. And, for the hype Doom may have, it lives up to it. The source material doesn't have much storyline, but the little it did have is still present. The dark, dank, unpredictable surroundings are familiar to anyone who's played the game. And yes, the first-person shooter sequence does kick ass. The Pinky Demon (below) was extremely cool. Speaking of cheap thrills, seeing The Rock go all demonic was right up there with Pinky.

Sure, I enjoyed Doom. It was downright fun - but it is what it is, a dumb action money-maker with a built-in audience. You'll probably see it on TV in two years. It'll be interesting to see tomorrow how well it did in the box office and if anyone has written an article questioning why Rosamund Pike isn't more well known if not for her acting chops at least for her unique good looks! Yow-wow!


REVIEW: The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2004)

Set in the late 60's with a legendary soundtrack to match, Italian visual poet Bernardo Bertolucci's latest film follows the American Matthew (Michael Pitt) as he expands his horizons in a French college and through a mutual passion for film meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and her twin brother, Theo (Louis Garrel) who live in a very different, personal world. The graceful plunge into the 60's youth culture of France opens the mind to many fertile paths of thought.

Bertolucci shoots beautiful scenes with ease and re-imagines cinematic techniques at every turn. His outstanding approach to the commonly stale use of mirrors brings further uniqueness to the film.

The three lead talents come off with such realism they rarely seem to be acting at all. This is a highly memorable feature debut for both Green and Garrel.

I loved the insertions of scenes from older films such as Breathless and Freaks. Inspired by the characters' love and frequent immitation of film, these cut-aways also serve as a great offset to the movie's storyline, making it seem even more realistic when paralleled with the classic images.

The Dreamers is an enchanting piece that explores a rare route in life, and entertains the idea that an adoration of movies creates a voyeuristic audience that feels deprived of physical senses. Highly recommended.


QUICKIE: Kingdom of Heaven (Ridley Scott, 2005)

In a time when film mimics film, when movies fall victim to expectation, when audiences' craving to experience the next renewal of their previous heroes, villians, conflicts and so on, Kingdom of Heaven stands alone. Instead of doing what so many movies are doing, manifesting sub-culture and immitating the past to coerce people to love them, Kingdom presents the significant events of Balian's (Orlando Bloom) life in a fashion that makes sense for the story. Staged here are the important substances, not fabricated yarns gasping for adulation. People coming out for Kingdom with hopes of a realistic Lord of the Rings or at least a non-stop medieval action drama (as there have been plenty, I'm sure, due to the film's self-defeating advertising campaign) will most likely be disappointed. This is a carefully paced, challenging film.

I will say that the storyline is awfully difficult to follow - if you don't already know the history, you may easily become lost as I did. This is my sole qualm, as although I had a hard time following, everything else was spectacular, and I not only agreed with, but admired the hero and his personal quest for internal peace. Not only does he deal with taking up his father's position as Baron, he questions religion and has an open view for humanity. I could relate to Balian, and that, teamed with Scott's eye for quality scenes, kept me very interested in his progress.


QUICKIE: Thumbsucker (Mike Mills, 2005)

Justin Cobb's father has a problem. His teenager still relies on the safety blanket that is sucking his thumb. That's only the catalyst in this film that is one part family issues drama, one part coming-of-age, tongue-in-cheek comedy.

What separates Thumbsucker from its contemporaries is its atypical sense of humility. We interpret the conflicts based on the dialog, and therefore understand based on our own moral set. Mills does not ask us to move right or move left in situations concerning topics like drug use (both medical and illegal) and underage drinking. He presents the events and allows us to come to our own conclusions. Unlike other films that exhibit humility such as Pleasantville with its intentionally flaky in its first half that it utilizes to drive its point home that much harder, 'Sucker simply presents the spoon and invites us to decide if we want to eat or not. With the Polyphonic Spree doing the soundtrack, it's at least worth a rental.

QUICKIE: Waiting... (Rob McKittrick, 2005)

Waiting is an uproar that has a bit more storyline than Clerks, a lot less modesty than The 40-Year Old Virgin and is sure to become a cult classic. Partially through the eyes of a rookie server we are led through a moderately realistic day inside an Americana-style restaurant called Shenanigans. The levels of depravity to which the rookie's new co-workers stoop shock, disgust and eventually... that's right... enlighten.

One of the things that makes Waiting so funny is the familiarity of the setting. This place looks exactly like every Friday's or Bennigan's we've ever been to. The humor is backed by a delicious (yep) ensemble cast that embraces it. Some may expect the gross humor to make you think twice each time you bite into an entree and maybe it will for some... but amongst it I actually found a better respect for people who work as servers for a living. Surely this will hit home with many people who have been there, done that and hopefully moved up and out.


REVIEW: Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005)

The first two thirds of Serenity are, plainly stated, messy. Aside from the grand opening, each shot is but a glimpse of the material it tries to encompass. The scenes mimic the shots in brevity and overpower them in nonsense. Bits of storyline (which are in fact interesting) that are important come across with stunted, choppy dialog that you have to repeat to yourself in your head before comprehending.

I did see a whole crop of potential in these first two thirds. The scenes have all the power a better movie might have in its foundations but seem overloaded and played in fast-forward.

After the crew leaves, however, to discover the truth behind the planet that supposedly rejected the terraform attempt that is at the center of the storyline, things really kick off. The ship's new, macabre appearance is exciting enough. Then the shots and scenes take more form and generate loads of excitement. Also, we begin to understand what the heck is going on a whole lot better. Yes, there is actually a story behind all the clever Whedonisms! I easily invested in this final act. Specifically, everything about the battle in outer space accomplishes precisely what it sets out for. There are even hints of great artistic and classical flair.

Set construction and wardrobe are huge pluses in the world of Serenity. The aforementioned opening shot is not only one of the most impressive long takes this side of Paul Thomas Anderson, but it exhibits a fully constructed interior of the ship - and oh, how sweet-looking it is in there - while everyone's outfits, for the most part, present shades of what may someday be iconic sci-fi uniforms.

On a majorly positive note, the future presented in Serenity sure does at times seem like a probable one. This is so important in a film of this sort. The politics certainly connect to what one may predict as the evolution of our chapter in the universe. I quite respect how many of the details connect in some way to a current actuality.


QUICKIE: A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)

Finally! A film that brings back everything that makes the classics classic. This character is not just well rounded, he brands himself into your memory the same way any Eastwood/Wayne/DeNiro great Hollywood hero would. And that's just him - every other character here is loaded with realism - almost impossible not to care for. From the male perspective for the film's duration Viggo Mortensen's character is every man I want to be, Maria Bello's is every woman I want to love, and Ed Harris' (along with a slew of other baddies) is everything I fear.

This is the first David Cronenberg film I've ever seen. When I first saw a picture of the man, all I could think of was the shriveled old prophet of doom from Jason X. In A History of Violence, the shriveled prophet has crafted an unforgettable cinematic experience that is unmatched by anything else I've seen this year. He shows no hints of restraint when it comes to two key subjects - sex and gore. At the same time, his filming style is unobtrusive, showing precisely what is needed to tell the story without distracting by drawing too much attention to the craft. For once in the past few years we have shots with space behind the characters that don't force us to think something could possibly jump out from the shadows.

The delicate manner in which this story is weaved is highly admirable. Each scene that sets up for everything about to go down is subtly and artfully assembled to prepare us in a way we can barely recognize until its all said and done. I'm sure I will return to A History of Violence many a time.


QUICKIE: I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004)

We have been contemplating our existence since we were first capable of such thought. What is what, who is who, why is it all the way it is and why don't we fully understand it? How can we answer it? Where are we? Where have we been? Where are we going? Does it matter? Does it matter too much? Why don't more people realize it? My own answers, if you can even begin to call them that (they're really just more questions), are influenced by the work of Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Fred Alan Wolf and several of our philosophical ancestors. I also look at culture throughout history - our creations and the motivations behind it all. Being a budding screenwriter, I have been trying to find an excuse to put all this into a script. I've attempted to think up some storyline, some set of characters and division of characteristics and beliefs between them that might get ideas of this sort across. Well, I Heart Huckabees is exactly that type of film and it does one hell of a job.

The actors take shape in ways they never have before, they're all at the top of their game. Jude Law really earned my full respect here. Jason Schwartzman was fantastic as well - very believable and easy to relate to. Now, I have always liked Mark Whalberg's acting, but this was the best I've ever seen him. There were some nice cameos as well, including one from Said Taghmaoui, the man who played Whalberg's interrogator in Three Kings, and a friend of Russell's.

Jon Brion's score, as his scores always do, perfectly compliments the film. I also loved Russell's color scheme. He decided to only include red during intense moments. This may seem like an obvious decision - "Come on, Tom, haven't you seen Run, Lola, Run?" but it is used with more subtlety than is the case with many other films. Also in Russell's arsenal is a clever usage of fine art and poetry. The paintings that flesh out the scenery, the use of Bob Dylan's work and even Dustin Hoffman's character's kinship with the painter Magritte are well utilized.