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Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Hey! Mole's a stinker!
Perhaps nothing is as exciting as the discovery of a new world populated by unique, affable peoples whose cultures are so drastically simpler than ours that they are capable of enjoying the sensuous pleasures of everyday life without a moment's hesitation. Disney has a notoriety for creating such worlds, and with the exception of their last couple years' work, they have always been some of the most apt at the trade.

Unfortunately, Disney also has a notoriety for blatantly plagiarizing from eastern works, and "Atlantis" is no exception. It's easy enough finding comparisons out there without the aid of a well-learned fan, so it should suffice to say that the creators of this movie probably spent a couple weeks watching anime and playing RPGs, and then took all the ideas they must have thought looked cool and applied them to this movie without understanding the principles that made them work in the first place.

The primary story is simple enough: Milo Thatch, a bookworm who aspires to discover the city of Atlantis, heads out on his search after being handed a journal with vital clues in regards to the lost city's whereabouts. Along the way he befriends any crew member he can find who is not an Anglo-Saxon American, and falls madly in love with the Atlantean princess once he reaches the city. After a day's stay, the crew commander, along with his storm troopers (all as non-descript as the 30-some-odd white crew members whom Milo never befriended), busts out some heavy-fire artillery and proceeds to steal the Atlanteans' primary life-source, his sole purpose being a meager profit and a place in the history books.

The political undertones of "Atlantis" remind me of a Japanese RPG by the name of "Xenogears." Just as from the work that inspired it, it featured innumerable religious references that were so preposterously out of place that you couldn't help but laugh whenever the narrative made a religious comment, for it seemed as though the writer had simply opened up to a random page of the Bible for inspiration whenever he was stuck. Though "Atlantis" contains very few religious references, the political ones appear to fit this vein; you'd be hard-pressed to find a more inappropriate format for a writer to express his other-worldly understanding of the problems that plague society.

If this were the only problem with "Atlantis," it'd be a forgivable trait that probably wouldn't hinder the overall presentation. But since Disney decided to take a more adventurous approach that includes more action than comedy, the movie also fails in a narrative sense. Everything, from Milo's inspiration, to the journey to Atlantis, to the discovery of its culture, is handled with such breakneck speed that it's impossible to associate with either the characters or the situations.

Obviously, you're going to have to retain a young child's interest when it comes to this type of movie, so a quick narrative is an almost unavoidable device. But it's not acceptable to include every social stereotype that a child has grown up with in this country as a substitute for characterization. Ignoring the fact that it's historically inaccurate considering the time period that the story transpires in to begin with, the stereotypes that are presented are a bad enough influence to be considered "politically incorrect."

The paradoxical, or even hypocritical nature of this movie will no doubt sail over the target audience's head. So I'm certainly going to sleep soundly knowing that the leading child's entertainment company is continuing the American government's plot to brainwash its populace into becoming blubbering idiots. If you like to live in a bucket, it's perfectly fine by me.

The only thing bothering me is this: what the hell is Mole? Knowing the profoundly insightful messages that are to be found in "Atlantis," it's possibly something much more idiotic than a commentary on the French's hygiene habits.


Moulin Rouge!

Elating and exasperating; a peculiar combination.
There have always been movies that have spawned countless hours of debate and controversy, be it for their subject matter or presentation. "Moulin Rouge," like Baz Lhurmann's previous endeavor, "Romeo + Juliet," is the type of movie that is argued over because of its presentation. Unlike "Romeo + Juliet," however, "Moulin Rouge" is not the type of film that should have never come into existence. It's not without its fair share of problems, but unlike most other movies today, it displays heart and is not self-conscious enough to concern itself with what people think about it; it is what it is, and doesn't seem to be pretentious enough to laud its own sense of creativity.

The story centers around Christian (Ewan McGregor), an aspiring writer who wishes to write about truth, beauty, freedom, and above all things, love. The only problem is that he's never been in love himself. As he realizes this while he's typing in a hotel room in Paris, a random chain of characters and events lead him to the helm of a stage musical called "Spectacular, Spectacular," whose script is to be presented to the resident courtesan and performer of the Moulin Rouge, Satine (played by Nicole Kidman with the calculating air of a businesswoman and the charming, seductive type of quality that makes it possible for a man to become completely infatuated with a woman upon first sight).

The Moulin Rouge, despite its consistently packed house, is in financial shambles, so the owner introduces the Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) to Satine in what in her business one would consider a formal meeting. After a somewhat coincidental rendezvous with the writer of the new musical, the Duke agrees to finance the club, the only condition being that he possess all the rights--business and personal--to Satine. Christian and Satine then fall in love and strive to keep the affair a secret, and the movie follows the established formula that leads to the Duke's discovery of the affair and the final winner-take-all confrontation.

Narratively, the film fails in two aspects. From the very beginning, we're told that Satine died and Christian never got to follow the relationship through to its desired point; it renders the main conflict of the movie a little useless, though it strives to pull all the right strings in an effort to make the movie a poignant experience for the viewer. The second problem? In order to do this correctly, you'd have to make the viewer be able to relate to both of the lovers personally. Christian's nature is discussed just fine, but Satine is presented as nothing more than what her business requires her to be. We see her go through the motions, but by the end, we really don't care too much for her character; Christian is the one whom we pity, and that only makes the movie half the success that it could be in this aspect.

In terms of presentation, the louder numbers tend to be a little distracting and offsetting in comparison to the rest of the movie. The opening scene gives the movie somewhat of a grim prospect, so it's a little surprising when Christian and Satine first burst into a full-out love song. It all quickly becomes second nature, though, and by the time that the characters burst out into songs from this point forward, just like in any good musical, it couldn't seem more natural. Most of the songs do an exceptionally good job of letting the viewer know what the characters are feeling, but they feel a little contrived. Case in point: Satine and Christian's revelation of their love for one another. A medley of all the possible songs you could hear in contemporary soft radio stations, it ought to tell us something about the society that we're living in. Either we're primarily concerned with making money at the expense of honesty, or we're incapable of truly describing how we innately feel, thus the quoting of every possible song in the world into a single number.

Despite the blatant commercialization, though, the movie succeeds in a somewhat paradoxical sense: it feels very, -very- honest. How could this be? It's difficult to describe, but it appears as though this was Baz Luhrmann's primary intention, and somehow he managed to see it through to the end. Perhaps it was the sheer potency of certain numbers, like the tango-esque "Roxanne," which wove all the feelings of the movie into a tight little ball and had them explode in an aurally and visually overwhelming manner. If as much care had gone into the characterization, I'm certain that this would have received a lot more critical acclaim. As it is, you're possibly in for a bit of exasperation, elation, and the type of wonderment that's elicited when you see something completely, utterly new. In today's world, that's somewhat of a rare accomplishment; it's always better to savor it before it's emulated and commercialized, as ironic as it may sound.



X marks the hole.
Depending on the degree of a viewer's intelligence, you may find certain words to be included in an opinion of this movie. In a descending order, they are:

  • Proctologist

  • Flatulence

  • Ass

Constipation may also fit somewhere in there.

"Evolution" is a movie that prompts us to question the mentality of the movie-making process. I figure that there could have been two possible scenarios when the producers were preparing for this movie. The first one must have involved the idea of rapidly-evolving extraterrestrial lifeforms invading earth; after the idea was realized, perhaps somebody decided to include a bunch of ass jokes. Or, scenario number 2:

"I want to make a movie with a lot of ass jokes. What scenario could we develop to fit these jokes into?"

"How about aliens invading earth? The king alien could have a really huge ass and blow everything to smithereens with sheer willpower. We could then have a couple scientists attempt to clog up the problem."

"I like it!"

Fortunately, somewhere along the line somebody decided to make it tasteful, or either PG-13 friendly, so what we get here is nowhere near as crass as most of today's R-rated comedies. But it still leaves a little something to be desired when jokes revolve in and out around the same idea.

Sometimes, the performances of the main characters are enough to salvage a film; in the case of "Evolution," the main roles give the movie a type of innocent air that luckily makes it both enjoyable and exciting. David Duchovny plays Ira Kane, a former government scientist who after an unfortunate turn of events became a community college biology professor. Along with Harry Block (Orlando Jones), one of the other resident "scientists" of the college, they set out to investigate a peculiar meteor crash out in the Arizona desert.

After taking a few samples, they realize that the cells retrieved from the meteor are multiplying at an alarming rate, completing an evolutionary process that would normally take aeons in just a few hours. They then go back to the meteor crash to pursue their findings, only to find the military involved and casting them out of the project. So, along with an aspiring firefighter (Wayne Green) and the military's head scientist (Julianne Moore), they head out to expunge the aliens from their planet, no questions asked.

The chemistry between Duchovny and Jones is what makes the movie shine, keeping it continuously fresh despite its inherent banality. There are a few missed opportunities that in the end truly detracted from the overall grade, however. The first is that during potentially funny situations, absolutely nothing was done to lighten the mood of the narrative; the first thirty minutes of the film can very well lead you to believe that you're going to be watching a drama if you don't know what the movie is about in the first place. The second missed opportunity comes in the form of the aliens. Though featured in more than a couple of scenes, they never managed to constitute a sensation of dread. Jump-out-of-your-seat scenes, yes; but there never really was an established danger to humanity to justify wiping them out in the manner that the movie's characters do, unless you consider flying reptiles taking young girls for a stroll in the mall a grave danger.

In the end, "Evolution" misses the target by a couple of meters. Nevermind that the characters involved are all caricatures; it's what this type of movie mandates, and manages to work in really well. Forget about the cheesy special effects or the lame reactions to the CG extraterrestrials. The problem here is that in order to work in a few good bellylaughs, the story sets up for them in a ho-hum fashion that incorporates any type of bathroom humor conceivable. It's enjoyable, but considering how much the stars improved this picture to begin with, a good screenplay could have worked marvels.



An above-average comic book movie.
Not being the least bit familiar with the characters from the comic book series, I expected this film to merely accomplish the basic: introduce me to the characters and their inherent characteristics, present a plot, and end with the destruction of the main adversary and perhaps hint at the possibility of a sequel. And that's exactly what this movie happens to deliver.

However, unlike with most other comic book movies, I felt that this one did it with a bit of class. Risking a more limited audience with strong language and graphic fight scenes, "Blade" presents a very modern, believable and dismal world whose little nuances effectively managed to elicit a sense of dread--as minor as it may have been--from a viewer who rarely ever becomes involved in a story unless an emotional (i.e., sappy) aspect is concerned.

Yes, the movie has innumerable plotholes, and preposterously unrealistic situations such as a standard female doctor being astute enough to contrive what no one else has been able to for several thousand years. But when you have an enemy as cool as the one in this movie, and fight scenes with involving and exciting camera cuts and special effects such as this, what else matters? It may run a little long, but for what it sets out to do, "Blade" stands out in sharp relief among most other movies in this genre.

A Knight's Tale

Unbelievably entertaining!
It's a relief to know that despite the inherent triteness of the root-for-the-underdog genre, there is still something out there that can be applied to give these movies a new, fancier, hard-hitting edge. In the case of "A Knight's Tale," the new edge comes in the form of anachronistic elements: a classic rock soundtrack, a decidedly flashy presentation and a motley crew of streamlined characters all contribute to the general campiness of the bread-and-butter-natured subject matter.

Heath Ledger plays the role of William, a young squire who by a twist of fate is granted his lifelong yearning--to compete in the national jousting tournaments. Along for the journey come the unbelievably hackneyed companions: Roland, the dependable one in the group, who follows and supports unconditionally; Wat, the zany, but down-to-earth childhood friend who is the only one who thinks in a rational line of thought; Chaucer, a writer who provides most of the movie's witty dialogue and can't seem to keep his clothes on for more than a minute; and Kate, the blacksmith, which by the very nature of her profession is construed to be a feminist.

After a couple seconds of jousting, the movie dictates that William should fall madly in love with Lady Jocelyn, played by Shannyn Sossamon with unnerving conviction (as a local newspaper review so eloquently put it, "Jocelyn is a gorgeous prop with considerably less personality than the horses"). Lo and behold, however, another gentleman by the name of Count Adhemar has decided to joust for the lovely lady as well, and an epic rivalry entrenches itself into the storyline, developing as formulaically as night turning into day.

This initial setup makes any type of prospect for the film incredibly grim; thankfully, it's the film's very own innovations that salvage it from mediocrity and create something spectacularly entertaining. Medieval crowds at a jousting tournament do the wave, armors are branded with a Nike logo to signify who its maker is, crowds scurry to catch helmets that fly towards them in a fashion not unlike that of foul balls, and William is so unbelievably (and modernly) naive that at one point he uses the water in a cathedral to slick back his hair. It all sounds very corny, to be certain, but the film executes all of this with an air of innocence which carries through to the viewer remarkably well. In the initial minutes of the movie the lighthearted aspects immediately make themselves felt in a way that says, "This is natural. You will take it. You will like it. You will be amused by it."

This film doesn't attempt to be profound at all. In fact, subjects such as good vs. evil and love, even though they play a role in the film, are never discussed. Love emerges because of raw physical attraction, and good and evil are delineated by either good looks or an evil stare. Shades of grey are represented by--well, they don't exist. Everything is as clear-cut as the fact that this is mind-numbing entertainment, but its execution reminds us all that it's not a sin to have fun once in a while. Too many people in this age are concerned with the underlying messages of just about everything in order to give a meaning to today's materialistic world. "A Knight's Tale" simply reminds us that there's still a possibility for anything.



Not quite classic.
Potential spoilers are afoot.


"Shine" chronicles the life struggle of an Australian pianist named David Helfgott, whose exigent, abusive father drives him to the brink of insanity. From the earliest years of his life, David is taught that when something is attempted, one must succeed at it; his father teaches him how to play chess and piano at an early age, and castigates David whenever he doesn't excel at what he's doing. He often tells a story of how when he was a child, he bought a violin with his own money and his father broke it. Day in and day out, he demands that David repeat the following line: "I am a lucky boy." Father knows best, after all.

Throughout all of David's childhood he attempts to get him to play a particularly difficult piece of music, although David's instructor argues against it since such a release of emotion requires expertly handled manipulation of the piano, as well as the self. David, after winning countless tournaments, is eventually offered a scholarship to study in an American music institution, and it is his father's reluctance to let him go that sparks the rivalry that draws them apart. After being offered another scholarship to a university in England, David is ostracized from the family when he disobeys his father's command and runs away.

"Shine" is reminiscent of a 30-ton truck running full-speed into a brick wall. The wall definitely doesn't hold back the truck, but neither does the truck continue on its path unscathed.

"Shine" is also reminiscent of a Dodge Viper running full-speed into a brick wall; there's not much left after the wall has had its fun.

One could argue that the truck parallels the journey of David Helfgott's life. The Viper parallels the insipid turn of the narrative once that David finally plays the piece his father tried to get him to learn all his life. Both are a marvel to gaze at until the decisive point, but unlike the 30-ton truck, the narrative appears to be a little too self-conscious to be caught limping. In the span of ten minutes, David makes peace with his father, earns the love of a woman, and makes his appearance in the spotlight once again. What should have been the most poignant portion of the movie falls prey to either a trigger-happy editor or a lethargic, inebriated director.

It's maddening when a movie has the potential to be a truly inspirational experience, but falls three steps short due to an ill-conceived execution. When a story seeks to chronicle the plight of the human spirit, one would think consistency to be of the utmost importance. The consistency of a narrative, in a medium such as film, accounts for the consistency of emotion. Without the former, all one can ever hope to achieve is mediocrity.


Girl, Interrupted

A true delight.
It's always a simple task to relegate a movie or piece of work to a niche in the wall, claiming that it borrows or steals from one thing or another. In the case of "Girl, Interrupted," it's very easy to say "It's a 'Cuckoo's Nest' with girls." Looking at things on such a superficial level, one could argue that every story steals from all those before it. But the truth of the matter is that certain ideas are so fundamental, so classical, that they have applied to us for as long as anybody can remember. If basing a movie on a mental institution and its patients concocts triteness, then basing a movie on love is as much of a sin.

"Girl, Interrupted" places us in the eyes of Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a teenage girl who suffers from depression and is signed into the custody of a psychiatric hospital after a failed attempt at suicide. Like most young people who suffer from this state, Susanna is unable to acknowledge the disorder that affects her. Seeing things from a practical point of view--believing in cause and effect--makes it difficult for her to understand what she suffers from when she doesn't understand what caused the condition to begin with.

Enter Lisa, faultlessly played by Angelina Jolie. Beautiful, savage, defiant, and extremely charismatic, she introduces Susanna to a new line of thought: it's the world that's screwed up, not them. The world is afraid of aberrations such as themselves--people who create a dissonance in the perfect balance of their ideal society. Thus, they lock them up in mental institutions, and rejoice once that the problem is taken up by the hands of others after the exchange of a sizable amount of cash.

Susanna, needless to say, is enthralled by her new friend; Lisa is somebody who knows the inner workings of the world, someone to latch onto. And when one latches onto somebody else in such a manner, either individually or in a group, self-expression and individuality are more often than not sacrificed. Susanna, who was once overwhelmed by the number of choices that confronted her in life, is now ecstatic at the simplicity of her new life in the ward, revolting with Lisa against an unfair system, an unfair world.

At the heart of this film, however, lies a much more fundamental, classical idea: friendship--what causes it, how it can invigorate us in the worst of times, and its short and long-term effects. With a beautiful poetic grace, the movie states that it's not the duration of a relationship that matters, but who it is that you befriend, and the place that they earn in your heart while it lasts. Every relationship in our life is short-lived, as we're continually moving forward in our journey towards a fulfilled existence; time does not stand still, and the film makes a conscious effort to constantly accentuate this point.

For a movie that was almost entirely shot in a hospital ward, the cinematography is exceptionally good. While it's mostly a character-driven piece, there are a number of interesting shots and tricks that truly place us in the eyes of Susanna, and a few montages that are propelled by what I would consider a perfect soundtrack. At the forefront, of course, are the actresses themselves, and no words could describe what they've accomplished here. It's simply astounding.

Though the light that "Girl, Interrupted" attempts to place on mentally unstable people is a little questionable at times, it does a nice, subtle job of exposing the puerile nature of a profession which we could nowadays consider an industry. They're delicate subjects to touch upon, sure. But in the end, the journey is definitely worth taking. When I asked myself why I found the manner in which the story was handled so endearing, I recalled one of Winona's most insightful lines: "Crazy isn't being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It's you or me...amplified."


Lung hing foo dai

Unbelievably cheesy, and yet quite worthwhile.
Face it: nobody watches Jackie Chan movies for the plot, and the preposterously bad acting never intrudes with what the film attempts to do. But somehow, somewhere, the production team faltered so badly with this movie that I couldn't help but laugh throughout all the more "emotional" parts. It's difficult to know whether the actors were attempting to make certain parts truly dramatic or as cheesy as possible, but this goes beyond bad. I'd easily consider it the worst I've ever seen.

The plot basically commands Jackie to rescue his friend's girlfriend and steal some priceless pieces of armor from a cult professing to be nothing more than your average religious sect. Along for the trip comes a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy relic collector who has stipulated that she go with them to make certain that they complete their task. It's nothing that we haven't seen before, and as I've said, it's ridiculously bad this time around. In an average movie, it would be enough for me to award it a negative score.

A little surprisingly, the one thing that pulls this movie out of the slumps are the action scenes. Ranking among some of the best that Chan has yet done, they include a fight against four leather-clad indignant women and a fantastic car chase through an arid farming village. Everything looks to be so imperiling that you can imagine that there were more than your average number of injuries at the end of the filming. It's enough to warrant a look at a film which contains the most insulting, tepid narrative I have ever seen in my life. Only Jackie could prompt me to watch something of such horrible proportions.



Almost perfect.
Unless you have been living in a bucket for all of your life, the Marquis de Sade needs no proper introduction. But chances are that if you're an American, you've been living quite comfortably in your bucket. So along comes this period film to enlighten you--a film so comical and entertaining, that it's difficult to believe that it deals with such morbid subject matter.

Billed the "father of sadism," the Marquis lived in a time when new ideas were the driving force behind society. During this intellectual revolution, however, certain ideas were deemed far too dangerous among government officials--say, for example, pornographic novels such as those written by the infamous Marquis himself.

We are first introduced to de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) in an asylum for the mentally insane, run by Abbe Coulmier (and perfectly played by Joaquin Phoenix, no less). An idealist at heart, he urges the Marquis to purge his wicked thoughts on paper, believing this will ultimately cure him of his obsession with his creations. Little does he know, however, that the chambermaid (Kate Winslet) has been smuggling out his work and giving it to a publisher, negating the very purpose of the Marquis's stay at the asylum.

These novels, which are considered as much of a horror today as they were then, prompt the government to arms, and in its ever-savvy line of actions, it sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a self-righteous, hypocritical son of a bitch, to deal with the Marquis on his own terms in order to "cure" him.

The film, with its astoundingly theatrical presentation, is at times downright hysterical; its script's savage wit is constantly accentuated by the Marquis's snide remarks. At one point, he offers Coulmier some wine, along with the following insight: "Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always runs more smoothly when lubricated." It's difficult not to crack a smile at sardonic remarks like these, especially when one considers Rush's remarkably innocent portrayal of his character.

In fact, the movie appears to paint him in this light throughout its first half, in order to develop a genuine pathos for the character as various incidents cause his life to spiral quickly downward. Only at the end is the Marquis shown in a truer light, when actual sadism creeps into his stories as opposed to petty, mischievous sexual desire. It works rather well in the end, however, as it's used as a device to adequately develop and round out the Marquis's character.

Equally enthralling are the various themes the movies discusses. Whether it be politics or religion, all themes in this movie point to a single truth: we are what we are, and any attempt to act otherwise results in either hypocrisy or self-delusion. "I didn't create this world of ours! I merely recorded it!" the Marquis exclaims when he begins to lose everything, including his sanity. And in all honesty, it's this type of thought process that the movie embraces, as sickening as it may be. All the residents of the asylum are fascinated by the ideals of the Marquis; they embrace his prose like none other, despite the fact that they may not personally understand all of it. Its essence is what drives them, as it sates a primal hunger that is hardly acknowledged outside of the intimacy of a bed.

Unfortunately, to make everything more accessible to the audience, the film centers a bit more on the "freedom of speech" aspect than the actual content of the work; scenes such as the one between Phoenix and Winslet at the end are what truly would have made this a spectacular film had they been used more often. Yet as it stands, this piece of work remains a highly entertaining, enlightening vision that discusses themes that have been of the utmost importance to us as a society since the beginning of time. It's not perfect, but it comes pretty damn close.


Angel Eyes

An exercise in mediocrity.
With romantic comedies being as ubiquitous as computers running on Windows software, it takes a very short time for moviegoing couples to desire a more dramatic, poignant, and stylized experience to help strengthen the bond within one another. And while these types of movies are not released at the rate of one every three and a half hours, they're often just as clichéd--they're nothing more than ho-hum expressions of mediocrity which provide as much excitement as picking scabs from your toes.

Jennifer Lopez plays a hard-boiled cop who has a much stronger penchant for pummeling down crooks than listening to common sense. By a twist of fate, or a disappointingly imperious plot point, she is rescued from death by James Caviezel, a passerby who simply calls himself Catch. Catch likes to be benevolent towards people: he turns off the lights of parked cars, alerts neighbors when they leave their keys in the door, and delivers groceries to incapacitated ladies. Officer Lopez, on the other hand, likes to shout out expletives during the most comical or romantic scenes of the movie.

The two find that they have something in common: they don't like talking to people, and they prefer leaving messages on the answering machine rather than speaking to one another face to face. By hiding behind this veil of anonymity, it becomes quickly apparent that they both have problematic inner demons to contend with, and the movie's focus is split between the romantic affair and said dissonance.

Unlike the majority of all romance movies, "Angel Eyes" attempts to add its own idiosyncratic intellectual property by switching from one to two major problems that interfere with the relationship. But these problems are so ineptly handled at the end, thanks in part to the incredulously colorless acting, that it shatters all the previous efforts of the movie. The characterization, the metaphors--all are rendered useless when the film decides to mire in its own melodrama.

It's at this point that you begin to shift in your seat and feel the eyes on your back accusing you of being a fool for expecting anything more than mediocrity.



Not necessarily an arthouse masterpiece, yet nowhere as bad as its rep.
It's been often mentioned by other reviewers that the art of the cornball must have been engineered by Sylvester Stallone; it's just as often forgotten that true tripe goes unwatched merely because it does not go into wide, national release. So guess which movies always receive the worse rep?

Having watched the trailer and anticipated this movie for a while, I knew exactly what to expect beforehand: your typical good guy vs. bad guy, fight for glory, 'win-all-lose-all final confrontation' fare. Surprisingly, I encountered something that attempted to be a little more profound, and while it doesn't exactly hint at the meaning of existence, it explores a facet of human relationships which not many other movies in this genre have touched. The movie's tagline, "Welcome to the human race," does a nice job of encompassing all that this film discusses.

The peculiar thing about the entire setup is that, unlike all other movies in this genre, there are no defined lines. There is no good guy, no bad guy; simply a race for perfection that alludes to the way that most of us wish to live, though the path that we take is an altogether different matter. It's difficult to pick up on, but if enough attention is paid, the idiosyncrasies of each of the characters in this movie speak far more than what their dialogue brings to the table.

Where the film falters, and causes most of the audience to misperceive its message, is in its presentation. It's frenetic, loud, and highly distracting; and yet, tremendously appealing to this particular viewer. The speed with which the director cuts between shots, pans, zooms, spins, spirals, etc., go hand in hand with the feel of the sport in general, and is indeed very creative -- but it is hard to keep up with what's going on. How are we supposed to know what each character is feeling when the scene cuts away before the dialogue is even finished? How are we supposed to be even able to recognize what's happening on the screen when we're not given more than a two-second break between blaringly obtrusive rock songs? Once again, the movie alludes to the sport itself with the commercialization of its soundtrack. And while highly kinetic, and emotionally involving at times (the opening scene with the media was brilliantly executed for a Jimmy Bly point of view), it's just hard to...keep track of everything.

But in the end, the main reason anybody is going to watch this movie for is the racing, particularly the accidents that take place at excesses of 200 miles per hour. And it delivers pretty admirably, truth be told. There are a lot of interesting camera positions and perspectives to make you feel a part of the race, and the special effects could be considered top-notch. Kudos to whoever decided to not give the CG cars and items the cheap, laughter-inducing fluidity of movement that's to be found in just about any other movie with computer graphics (though there were a few scenes with this effect). It's not necessarily realistic, and a little simplistic on the artistic scale, but it reaches a satisfying level of subtlety--and at times, it's fascinating to see some of the things that can be done.

The film is not without its clichés, it sometimes forgets about or fails to discuss a few of its plot points, and the women appear to be portrayed a little 2-dimensionally. But when the crew is watching the race or practice runs from the movie's dramatic camera angles on their small overhead monitor, you simply don't care. The movie takes itself seriously, but it's also intended to be fun; it's merely up to the viewer to interpret how they wish to take it. The first time, it may be a little difficult to swallow, but with subsequent bites, you begin to grow accustomed and appreciate its distinct flavor.

Here's hoping that Stallone sticks to it for a while longer. I'm hungry for more.


Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

There are a number of reasons as to why opinion is so divided over the board in regards to this movie. I could state several, but I would rather emphasize the point that most individuals tend to overlook: this is not a horror movie. In fact, neither the movie nor the book were intended to fall into that particular genre, but rather, they were meant to provide a look into what the life of a vampire may be like.

As director Neil Jordan has said, there is an inherent problem in this when it comes to translating the concept to a narrative: since vampires are immortal, the threat of danger is practically non-existent. As a result, we must settle for the emotional corrosion that everlasting life can cripple one with--a concept that is perhaps so farfetched to today's populace, who would rather identify with more realistic matter, that it becomes impossible to grasp and come to senses with. If somebody is going to be a monster, it is much more entertaining to make them out to be droning, thoughtless creatures, as opposed to the philosopher which Anne Rice argues develops over time. At the very least, there's action to be seen in the screen when this is the case.

Given how much I adore the novel, I was surprised at the overwhelming response I had when I finished watching the film. Typically, movies based on literary works tend to exclude much of what makes the original material a joy to experience, opting to include only the elements and feelings that are discernible throughout as large an amount of viewers as possible. Yet this work manages to convey nearly all of the base elements of the novel, particularly in the mood and in the feelings of the characters involved. Lestat is as charismatic here as he was in the novel; Louis is still the very definition of detachment; Armand, the one who purports to know all, once again hints at the fact that he is as insecure as Louis about immortality; and Claudia retains the very essence of evil that was multiplied tenfold in comparison to every other character in the story. She remains as vindictive as ever, though to a slightly lesser degree.

There were two substantial changes that were made from the novel which require mention. One is that Armand is now featured as an adult as opposed to an immortal with the body of a teenager. It works for the better, and did not irk me, but it simply makes you realize that out of just about any literary work, Anne Rice's characters are perhaps some of the most complex to adapt to film; imagine casting a six-year old girl to play the part of Claudia. The performance Kirsten Dunst gives is beyond belief even for her age, but it does bring me to the second point: it appeared as though Claudia was toned down just a bit from the novel. In it, she was constantly immersed in books, and in addition spoke with rather evolved vernacular, which gave the haunting image of a true adult trapped in the body of a child. In the movie, however, Claudia retains a large amount of her immaturity due to her somewhat plain dialogue, and she even resorts to speaking like a child in a few scenes, as when she says, "I shall never ever grow up." The innocence is portrayed fine due to the movie not showing any of her kills in action, but the character lacked a certain edge... which is surprising, considering how faithful all of her other action were to the original work.

There remains not much to be said, other than to state that this is an extremely "classy" movie, with some expertly handled sexual innuendo that seduces just as strongly as that of the novel. Watch it knowing what you are getting into firsthand, and take delight in some of the most unique and captivating characters to be created in modern literature. And keep in mind that this story, as Anne Rice has stated, is more about us than vampires. It is a wonderfully introspective piece of work.

Joan of Arc

An appalling desecration of one of France's most venerable figures.
From what I had heard prior to renting this movie, I figured that I would be in for a decent, though liberally violent interpretation of Jeanne d'Arc with historical accuracy that would outweigh most, if not all, of its negative aspects. But what can I say, other than that people don't recognize garbage no matter how far down their throats it is shoved?

For this movie to receive any praise at all is ludicrous in itself. Certainly, it could be an interesting prospect to examine the life of a supposedly-schizophrenic national figure with more negative connotations than positive, but how far is it necessary to go to portray Besson's notion that Jeanne d'Arc may not have been as holy as she has been said to be? How necessary is it to continually emphasize total pharisaism as opposed to mere pride? How necessary is it to portray Jeanne's visions as downright satanic, and dispense of the saints which had supposedly spoken to her? And how necessary is it to portray her as a raving psychopath?

If one is going to argue for historical accuracy, then perhaps they should keep something in mind: simply because somebody engages in a battle which in actuality took place, it does not make for accuracy; the same goes for an individual performing a certain action, or any other occurring event. In fact, this movie appears to guise itself under "historical accuracy," while it fails to explain any of the events that are taking place at the time. Yes, we know that France is divided and that the English are attempting to take over, but are we ever introduced to any of the political intricacies or other matters that Jeanne partook in other than those on the battle field? Anybody with an ounce of intelligence would know that Jeanne d'Arc's story is not one of war.

In addition, there is lewd and tasteless humor interspersed throughout the entirety of this movie. Obviously, it was not enough to view the life of Jeanne d'Arc through the eyes of a cynic, but through the eyes of a perverse, teenage-minded director as well. If you're looking for a modern film on Joan of Arc, do yourself a favor and take a look at the TV movie starring Leelee Sobieski. Despite the fact that it is not historically accurate, it is far more intellectual and entertaining than "The Messenger" will ever be.

Seong lung wui

A preposterous waste of time.
I've had my fair share of experience with Jackie Chan films, and have come to learn that the stories in his movies do not make or break them. Rather, they're merely a backdrop upon which countless hand-to-hand fights and slapstick humor are placed, and while they're not necessarily thought-provoking, they are by no means a waste of time to individuals who enjoy more intellectual entertainment.

But with "Twin Dragons," it appears as though the story did indeed destroy the movie, to the point where even the action scenes couldn't salvage the film from its inherent ennui.

The film's worst traits are perhaps its predictability and repetition. For example, in the beginning we are introduced to the two single elements which will play out implacably for the remainder of the film: confusion in regards to which of the twins is who, and how when one of the twins performs one action, the other is psychically affected and carries it out as well. The film apparently thrives on this to the point where it becomes tiresome after about half an hour, and the manner in which it does it leads one to seriously question the mental capacity of the individuals involved. Never in a movie have I seen women portrayed to be such imbeciles.

A couple of the action scenes are worth mention, but the unfortunate aspect of the matter is that unless one watches them separately from the rest of the film, there really isn't much to attract attention. That is, by the time that we have been subjected to the asininity of all the supporting characters in the dialogue sections of the film, we really do not want to see them partake in the fights--and more than once I found myself wishing that the screenwriters had done away with these characters earlier in the story so as to not involve them in any but one or two of the action sequences.

For the casual movie watcher, I would consider this to be poison--stay away at any cost, even if you're paid to watch this film. Die-hard Jackie Chan fans may enjoy a couple of scenes, which display a little wit as to how to incorporate Chan's natural charm into the eccentricity of the situations, and some of the stunts are somewhat impressing, though nowhere near the caliber of some of those that he has performed in the latter half of the '90s.


A good superhero film adaptation, though a below-average movie.
Despite the fact that my days as an avid X-Men devotee finished a half decade ago, I was ecstatic upon being subjected to the reputation that this film was beginning to garner a couple of months prior to its release. Thus, I patiently awaited for the movie to arrive with the anticipation level rising more and more as the days neared, my long-lost fanboy traits making every single fraction of a second nearly unbearable to experience. Afterall, who could resist seeing the legendary X-Men emerge on the silver screen after so many years of biding?

Unfortunately, I allowed my expectations to get the best of me, and as a result walked out of the theater not only slightly disappointed, but ashamed that I had expected this to be one of the best movies of the year.

The first factor that disillusioned me was the commercial campaign of the movie--things such as the X-Men television special, which revolved rather heavily on governmental mutant control, and the Mutant Watch website. Both painted the image that this particular film would not only bring forth the subject of discrimination, but in addition, discuss it to depths which could be deemed unprecedented in the genre of superhero/action films. Yet alas, the foregoing does not happen to prove true, and the fashion in which the subject emerges and "thrives" in the film adds the proverbial, lackluster Hollywood flare that so many of us hold dear.

Secondly, it is to be expected that villains in superhero movies should possess a certain degree of superficiality; but everything up to this point had suggested that at the very least, Magneto and Mystique would be the antagonists who would be most explored, while Toad and Sabretooth would play relatively minor roles. On the other hand, the reality of the situation is that Magneto is characterized by relatively weak scenes (with the exception of the opening of the movie), whereas all of the other characters utter no more than two or three lines each in the entirety of the film. A real disappointment indeed, as the major fights in the movie become devoid of any emotion whatsoever due to this.

As far as the protagonists of the story are concerned--I'll simply state that this movie should have been called "The Adventures of Wolverine and Rogue." They are the only two characters that are explored to a satisfactory degree (with rather excellent scenes in the beginning and end of the movie, no less), while Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm are simply there to provide a higher number to the group should the need for battle ever arise, with a slightly-explored Charles Xavier serving as mentor. Honestly, where are the admirable leadership traits of Cyclops, the legendary rivalry between him and Wolverine, the "Get away from Jean or I'll kill you" scenes? The rivalry is essentially established by Wolverine demanding that Cyclops move away from a door, and despite the fact that Cyclops at one point mentions for Wolverine to "Stay away from [his] woman," not once do we see the couple together.

And, this may seem like a bit of nit-picking, but for such a high-budget movie, there are a number of scenes that really could have afforded to be redone in different techniques. At one point in the movie Wolverine is flung about, and his body becomes contorted as it slides across the ground to the point where it elicited laughter from the audience in a rather serious moment. The Blackbird looks like a miniature toy as it lands and moves about half of the time, and the characters, when punched or kicked, fly backwards for yards on wires and arch their way upwards in a -very- unrealistic manner. And that's not mentioning the preposterous scenes where we see somebody flying about.

The common notion for comic book films is that if one is familiar with the comic book and its characters, the film will be better understood. Perhaps, with X-Men, this proves true to a certain extent, as in understanding where the rivalry between Cyclops and Wolverine comes from. Yet the one thing to keep in mind is that one-line characters are the order of the day in this movie, even when it comes to some of the larger parts like that of Storm's. For what it's worth, X-Men is indeed one of the better comic-book-to-film adaptations ever (simply read positive reviews to find all that there is to like in this movie), and I did come out feeling that it was not as much of a waste as a Batman film could have been. But I will forever remain adamant in my conviction that, with thirty more minutes detailing the characters and the world that they live in, this film could have turned out to be a contemporary classic.

Joan of Arc

Surprisingly good!
I possess somewhat of a cynical attitude when it comes to made-for-TV movies, particularly the yearly network features that revolve around medieval or fantasy themes. In fact, I wasn't very enthusiastic as I watched "Joan of Arc" for the first time, especially seeing how I was doing so in a foreign language class which would require a questionnaire and exam to be completed at the film's conclusion (there is nothing worse than having to watch a movie looking for insignificant information as to how old somebody's third cousin is, etc.). So it was with some surprise that I found myself thinking about the film days after I had finished watching it.

To be candid, the only factor that I initially thought to be somewhat redeeming for the movie was the lead actress, Leelee Sobieski; and to be even more candid, the only thing that sparked any actual interest in the movie was the shoulder-length wig that Sobieski began to sport a third of the way through (I'm well aware of how infantile that is, but I like short hair). Due to the class schedule, we were only allowed to watch a small portion of the movie after that particular point, but the twenty minutes that were presented were enough to ignite interest in the story of Joan of Arc, and that night I conducted some research which led into a bit of fascination with the life of this courageous young woman.

Needless to say, that immediately changed my outlook on the movie, and I became enamored of every minute that the remainder of it had to offer, despite the fact that it was not necessarily historically accurate. But I still regarded the first portion of the film to be extremely amateurish, with the banality that inhabited it being as repulsive as that of all the other made-for-TV movies in existence (for example, a minor character who was not featured on screen for more than two seconds is murdered, and emotive music begins to play while everybody screams "Nooo!" for thirty seconds or more).

After watching the film, I learned that it was a two-part miniseries. "Fair enough," I thought to myself. "First half is bad, second is much better. I suppose that that evens out." And then I learned that I had watched a butchered-down version of the movie, with close to thirty minutes having been edited out; so I felt compelled to acquire a full version of the movie, and flabbergastedly took note that the first half was simply a notch below the latter in terms of quality, though nowhere near as bad as that of the version I had watched. And what surprised me the most? The fact that the ill-fated minor characters which had not even showed up in the version I'd originally seen actually had a fair amount of screen time for their roles.

Most of the other comments on this film accentuate on its positive aspects, so it doesn't serve much of a purpose to employ sheer redundancy. Suffice to say that Sobieski's performance adheres to your mind long after you have seen this film, and Neil Patrick Harris, whose career seemed doomed to failure by the image presented in "Doogie Howser, M.D.," plays out his role in an excellent fashion. My one recommendation would be to avoid the commercial one-tape VHS version of this film, and either buy the DVD, or solicit a two-tape version on an online auction site. For being one of the best TV movies to come out in a long time, "Joan of Arc" deserves the effort that its search demands.

A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

A beautiful film.
"A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" is a film which revolves around the proverbial institution known as family, but particularly, the relationship between a daughter and her father.

The film is divided into three separate sections: "Billy," which discusses the arrival of an adopted son into the family, "Francis," which revolves around the female protagonist, Channe's, best friend, and "Daddy."

In each of these categories, we are primarily subjected to the experiences of Channe, who is portrayed by the nubile, charismatic Leelee Sobieski. In them, we learn a little about her character, though strangely enough, not as much as we do about her father, whose unconditional positive regard for his daughter does much more than delineate the characteristics of the relationships among the members of the family.

The acting from the entire cast is superb, and from the actors' and actresses' demeanor emanates a very credible atmosphere. Yet the one element that truly grasped my attention was the editing, which with the exception of a couple of segments, added an extremely high element of poignancy to the story. James Ivory was obviously extremely assiduous with the film in this respect, and the final result consists of a strong narrative which appears somewhat terse, but knows exactly what quantity of what the viewer should be fed.

Cynical commentary has argued that this film is nothing short of tripe because it lacks a resolute motive--it consists of no conflict at all. All it is is disjointed scenes which serve no relevance to one another, and fail to tell a coherent story. The former statement in regards to the lack of conflict holds true, but the latter is what might be deemed questionable. Afterall, this is a story about the life of a family--and in a real family, few events from the past bear relevance to those of the present. "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" simply seeks to discuss the development of relationships in a family; events of high caliber are discussed thoroughly, while those of less importance portray to be all that they could ever be: memories.

Deep Impact

Can you say "Waste of time"?
Garbage is not extremely difficult to encounter when it comes to films of an apocalyptic nature. In this case, I acquired "Deep Impact" solely to take a look at Sobieski's performance, though I opted for objectivity and watched the film in a neutral fashion after following the advice of a close friend.

Unfortunately, that didn't cause my negative predisposition to waver, for the only worthwhile element of this film happens to be Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall's performances, which proved believable and emotive.

The performance of all of the other characters in the story simply revolved around shallow ideals--stereotypes that are presented for perhaps a total of five minutes of screen time. While the acting itself is not horrendous, there is not enough of it to convey the type of emotion that the producers appear to have wanted to evoke.

One of the more ignominious mistakes in this movie would undoubtedly have to be in the casting of Tea Leoni for the main role. The pretty face does not override the fact that the woman cannot act, and a number of scenes in the movie--particularly those in which she acts as a news anchor--proved nothing short of repulsive.

The film would possess some merit if it had discussed the plan for humanity to survive in greater detail, showing more than the couple individuals whose lives we are supposed to find an element of poignancy in. Yet as it stands, five minutes' worth of screen time for each of the minor characters fails to evoke any kind of empathy. And five seconds of screen time for the rest of humanity fails to cause us to even acknowledge the existence of what it is that the government officials are so "desperately" seeking to preserve.

The Sixth Sense

Simply put: A masterpiece.
I'd originally held out on viewing this film for as long as possible in order to savor the experience known as "The Sixth Sense" in the company of solitude. Yet thanks to the asininity of a couple of prepubescent girls who decided it would be entertaining to spoil the film at the expense of an entire classroom of high school students, I became reluctant to attend the theater and rent the movie for a number of months.

When I finally obtained a copy of the movie and inserted it into the VCR, rancor towards the aforementioned individuals returned in the blink of an eye. Upon reading in the opening credits that James Newton Howard had composed the soundtrack, however, I allowed myself to become immersed in the film, and from then on was not once subjected to straying thoughts.

In the case of "The Sixth Sense," the director had a vision--and this vision came through in such an efficient manner that the final creation was not a movie, but rather, an experience: an experience which comes together on every conceivable level, from the acting to the musical score, that leads the viewer through a first-hand perspective of what each character is seeing and experiencing on an emotional level, with the revelations that force their way onto the air evoking the same reaction from the viewer as the fictional characters on the screen.

It does not serve much of a purpose to elaborate on any specific aspect of this film; as it stands, everything is as close to perfection as it can possibly be in a movie. Perhaps the only flaw is that for first-time viewers, emotional or detached, analytical dispositions will grant an entirely different perspective on the movie and its merits as far as suspense is concerned. But since profound cynicism is required to blatantly disregard the merits of this film, there should be something to appeal to each and every viewer.

Shanghai Noon

A diverting film, though by no mean Chan's best.
To be candid, Jackie's previous American endeavor, "Rush Hour," turned to be somewhat of a disappointment for me. The action was there, as was the clichéd storyline, although Chris Tucker as a co-star did not necessarily appeal to me; I don't find 26-year-olds acting as if they were in their teenage years particularly amusing.

Thus, it was with some skepticism that I went to watch "Shanghai Noon" after hearing that Chan would once again be paired with an American actor. I expected big action and excruciatingly tedious interactions between the two main leads, but was oddly enough provided with the opposite impression.

The highlight of this film comes in the form of Chan's and Wilson's complementary roles. Wilson plays the part of the outspoken, wild cowboy, while Chan opts to convey his feelings through action, following his typical style--an homage to the great silent classics of the past. Wilson's wit is subtle enough to highlight the talents of Chan, and what Wilson himself does not possess, Chan brings out in him through what he has to offer to the silver screen. It's a rather remarkable accomplishment, which in several scenes creates a somewhat touching spectacle.

So where does the film falter? Most of the action scenes are really inspired, and feature ingenious uses of ordinary items such as trees or ropes, but there is one main difference between the two actors: one is a cowboy, the other a martial artist. As a result, all of the conflicts in the story when the two characters are present consist of different enemies--a gun-rearing adversary for Wilson, and a martial artist or hand-fighting foe for Chan. In these moments, the film separates the two characters and leads them to different environments, which detaches the viewer to the point where it becomes painfully obvious that there is no real main conflict: it is simply two characters fighting a motley crew of random enemies.

The detachment provided by these scenes often leads the viewer to find something else to draw themselves into the film with; as a result, the performance of Wilson -slightly- steals the show for the majority of the story. The director obviously attempts to balance this out by adding emotive scenes in which the two characters bond to a certain extent, though by the end of the film one tends to recall more about Wilson's acting than Chan's feats, which is quite a shame.

Chan is growing older, and as a result is more restricted to the style of stunts that he can accomplish without heavily jeopardizing his life. Yet this film remains his strongest American attempt thus far, and features some astounding scenery with a wonderful orchestral accompaniment. It should prove to be a delight even to those who are not familiar with Chan's earlier material.

The Insider

Smart film making.
"The Insider" in many ways reflects the golden days of American cinematography, where every scene serves a purpose, dialogue is sharp and poignant, and characters and events remain true to their emotions and nature.

The film presents certain questions throughout its duration that are intended to invoke thought in the viewer, and at the same time explores them to unprecedented depths which are by no means native to the film industry. The story is of a quick-paced nature, and demands that the viewer pay the utmost attention to every single line and image presented; it flabbergasts in its unparallelled structure of continuity and coherence to those sentient enough.

After watching this film, it became apparent why Crowe was so reluctant to play the role of Maximus in "Gladiator" after acting the part of Jeffrey Wigand. It appears more or less as if Crowe had been this character in reality, and it really inspires to see that such a talented actor is finally beginning to enjoy the prominence that he deserves.

In the past decades, there has been a progressive decline in the number of intelligent films making it onto the market, but the success of "The Insider" will hopefully serve as a shout-out to all the film companies and directors reluctant to tread on such sensitive ground. This movie could not receive a higher recommendation!


A decent, though somewhat shallow film.
Transient thoughts came to be the call of the day as I sat at the theater watching "Gladiator." Not because the subject matter was prosaic, for that was not the case, but rather, due to the film's longevity and amateurish characterization techniques.

Despite the abundance of events taking place throughout the course of the story, by the end of the movie I felt cheated in the sense that the conflict and main characters themselves lacked what one may refer to as "soul." The former half of the movie presented an excellent backdrop for the final battle that was to come--but unfortunately, it all quickly collapsed from there as the characters displayed stagnant traits that went on far too long, and were elaborated upon far too little.

At one point, it is mentioned in the movie that the crowd is fickle; it will revere a winner one day, and have forgotten about him the next. The movie accentuates the fact that by winning the crowd, you can win your way to the top. Yet I found it difficult to believe that after two fights, Maximus had become the champion of the people. And I found it even harder to believe that after two fights, the viewer was supposed to regard Maximus in the same light.

A quick rule for emotional storytelling: Allow the viewer to be capable of relating to the character through his actions and feelings. Dismal demeanor along won't do a thing if the viewer cannot realize that the character is as human as them.

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