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.