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The Long Kiss Goodnight

A poor screenplay hurts this 1996 action/thriller
Renny Harlin, the director of the less than stellar Die Hard sequel and the moderately entertaining Stallone comeback vehicle Cliffhanger, tries his hand at a Jason Bourne type thriller, The Long Kiss Goodnight, with mixed results. The film gets points for having a strong female action lead, which in 1996 was a big deal. For her part, Geena Davis is credible as the suburban, middle class single mother, who discovers that she is an expert government assassin. And Samuel L. Jackson has his moments as the former disgraced cop; private detective, Mitch Hennessey. Where the film fails is in its mostly trite, unfunny dialogue, its overlong, repetitive, highly implausible (even for an action picture) screenplay and with its uninteresting antagonists.The first half of the picture drags and the second half is one scene after another of our hero, Samantha Caine/Charly Baltimore getting out of one impossible situation after the other. It eventually gets tiring. Sure, the film does have some nice action scenes and there are some genuine funny moments but overall this is not an inspired piece of work. Another problem is the "bad guys" who are neither threatening or interesting. The Long Kiss Goodnight has its moments but not enough for a recommendation.


Gary Oldman is hypnotic as Dracula, the production is extraordinary but the story is not engaging and the picture is overlong
This 1992, Francis Ford Coppola interpretation based on the 1897 novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is a far departure from the original source. While there are aspects of the film that are true to the text, the titular character is anything but. Screenwriter James Hart and director Coppola, reimagine Dracula, (Gary Oldman) as a betrayed, vengeful, romantic anti-hero, instead of the pure evil that he was. The film starts out by showing Vlad Dracula getting ready for battle against the invading Turks. When he returns home victorious, he finds out that his lover Elizabeta, believing him to be dead, committed suicide. The church tells Vlad that her soul will burn in hell because she took her own life. This enrages Vlad, who feels betrayed by the church he swore to protect. After renouncing God, he pierces the chapel's cross with his sword and drinks the blood pouring from it. More than four hundred years later, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to Transylvania for a real estate deal with Dracula. Once there, he is imprisoned by the count, after Dracula finds out that Harker's fiancee Mina, (Winona Ryder) bears a striking resemblance to his lost love Elizabeta. Dracula sets off for Britain, determined to regain his lost love. Once there and now in the figure of a young man, he seduces Mina and drains the life from her friend Lucy. Now, Mina and Lucy's friends, with the help of professor Van Helsing, (Anthony Hopkins) come together to stop Dracula. While Coppola's film is narratively weak, overlong, overambitious, overblown and has at least one bad casting choice, I still recommend it because the good outweigh the bad. First and foremost is the production of the picture, which is sensational to say the least. Coppola eschewed CGI for practical sets and visuals. In terms of look, sound and atmosphere, Dracula gets an A+. The next best thing is Gary Oldman's turn as the prince of darkness. Oldman's tortured, romantic Dracula is hypnotic in more than one sense of the word. In fact, from now on every time I think of Dracula, this version will come to mind. With her innocent and charming looks, Winona Ryder was a good casting choice to play Elizabeta/Mina. She is a natural in costume drama's, with her two best works coming in the next couple of years after this film. (93's The Age of Innocence and 94's Little Women) As with 1988's Dangerous Liaisons, Keanu Reeves was woefully miscast here as Jonathan Harker. There was not an ounce of believability in his performance, with his wooden acting and his cringeworthy attempt at an English accent. With all of its flaws and excesses, this Dracula can rest in peace knowing that to this day it is still the definitive version of the modern era.


Wes Craven sends-up the genre that is his bread and butter and for the most part, he succeeds
Wes Craven, who made a living off of these types of films, gives the genre that by the 90's was old and tired, a big jolt of energy with Scream. Spoofs of genres in movies is nothing new but Scream is different. While movies like the Naked Gun, Hot Shots, Airplane and Spaceballs satirized their respective genres, most people would not claim that they were good detective, action, disaster, or science fiction films. The same can not be said of Scream. This bloody, self-aware, black comedy, is at once a send-up to classic horror/slasher films (including Craven's own A Nightmare on Elm Street ) as well as being a solid one itself. The attractive young cast stars a mix of established names like Drew Barrymore and Courteney Cox and new faces; Rose McGowan and Neve Campbell. Speaking of the cast, one of the weak points of the film is the acting. While the young stars are easy on the eyes, they are less than impressive in the acting department. The film is also a bit uneven. It started off and ended hot but the middle section did drag a bit. Scream is a film that has sex appeal, bloody violence, humor and suspense. Is it a classic? I don't think so but it is an original (for its time) and mostly fun experience.


It has a premise that should work but a poor script, acting and direction derail this low-budget Canadian indie film
Six strangers: A hot-tempered cop Quentin, (Maurice Dean Wint) young math prodigy Leaven, (Nicole de Boer) malcontent architect Worth, (David Hewlett) a somewhat paranoid doctor Holloway, (Nicky Guadagni) escape artist Rennes (Wayne Robson) and a mentally handicapped savant Kazan, (Andrew Miller) wake up in cube-shaped rooms without knowing how or why they are there. Now the strangers, with different personalities and skill sets must work together to survive and escape. The premise, while derivative, is an interesting one but unfortunately, this low-budget, claustrophobic Canadian sci-fi mystery is plagued by a poor script, and characterization. The acting and dialogue are just as bad and the direction by first time director Vincenzo Natali creates very little tension or suspense. The film fails on every single level. Its psychological elements are undone by the aforementioned character and acting deficiencies, which in a character driven film like this is a big problem. The mystery and suspense aspects of the film are also hurt by the fact that since we do not care about any of the characters and are distracted by the poor performances and dialogue, the why, who and will they questions are rendered moot. With a better script, talented actors and in the hands of a director who knows how to handle this type of material, Cube could have been a successful little indie genre picture.

Blue Velvet

It is a strange, strange world and David Lynch is one strange, strange man
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the inside of the head of David Lynch, it is a strange, strange place. To say that Blue Velvet is a peculiar film would be an understatement. What we have here is a blending of a Neo-noir mystery, a love story, a psychological thriller, surrealism and dark comedy, to produce one of cinemas most alluring but head-scratching motion pictures. When college student Jeffrey Beaumont's (Kyle MacLachlan) father suffers a serious stroke, he comes home to be by his side. One day when walking in a field, Jeffrey finds a severed human ear. He takes the ear to a Detective by the name of John Williams.(George Dickerson) Fascinated by the mystery, Jeffrey teams up with Detective Williams' daughter, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) to try and solve the mystery. When they suspect that a lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected with the mystery, Jeffrey decides to break into her apartment and spy on her. When he is found out by Dorothy, he gets pulled into her twisted world, which includes dealing with the psychopathic Frank Booth. (Dennis Hopper) Like many of Lynch's films, with the exception of Mulholland Drive, there is not much depth here. But this film works on so many levels, that depth is beside the point. Blue Velvet is not a great mystery but it is fascinating. It is not a great character study but it has memorable characters. It is not even a great surrealist film, like his magnum opus Mulholland Drive or Bergman's Persona. But it is a haunting film that will stay with you and one that will reward multiple viewings. The performances by MacLachlan and Dern are solid but the film belongs to Hopper, who gives one of cinemas all time great over-the-top performances. Think of Frank Booth as the love child of Alex DeLarge and Anton Chigurh. But without Alex's wit and sophistication and Anton's cool and collected manner. The one weakness, in terms of performance, is Isabella Rossellini. She is not awful but her performance was not all that believable. It was minimized even more by the scene chewing performance by Hopper. Dean Stockwell has a small but memorable role as well. Overall, Blue Velvet is not peak Lynch but it is very close. A bizarre, captivating, funny, depraved, pessimistic and optimistic picture.

The Crucible

Powerful and poignant look at the dark side of human nature
Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible is the film adaptation of the classic Arthur Miller play by the same name. Miller wrote the play about the Salem witch trials as an allegory for McCarthyism. But the themes the story is conveying are timeless. Fanatical ideology, jealousy, greed, paranoia and how they can lead neighbor to turn on neighbor and friend to turn on friend. What we have here is a poignant reminder of the evils that men are capable of. Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) and her friends attend an occult ritual, where she wishes to bring death upon Elizabeth, (Joan Allen) the wife of John Proctor, (Daniel Day-Lewis) whom earlier had decided to break off an affair he had with her. When the girls are discovered, they concoct elaborate stories of witchcraft, which leads to witch hunts, that grips the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Soon, because of fear, paranoia and in one particular case greed, people start to turn on each other and some of the accused are hanged. The really sad thing about the whole affair is that some of the people know that the whole enterprise is nonsense but with the exception of one man, decide to go along with it for one reason or the other. And just as sad is the herd mentality of the others, who blindly go along with the charade. Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen and Paul Scofield, as Judge Thomas Danforth, are outstanding. Winona Ryder gives another terrific performance here, following her two award worthy performances in Little Women and The Age of Innocence. The Crucible is not a perfect film, some of the scenes do not hit their mark. But the story is so powerful and poignant, the acting so good, that whatever its faults may be, they are overshadowed by the overall impact of the film, which is immense.

Serbuan maut

The Raid might be the best at what it does.
Bloodletting of the highest order. The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Evans, dispenses with such annoying things as plot and characterization and gets to the heart of the matter. This film is incredibly single-minded in its approach. From start to finish, what we get is almost non-stop controlled mayhem. The bare-bones story is about an elite group of cops who go on a mission to take down a ruthless crime boss, who resides in a high-rise building. When the teams cover is blown, they end up in a life and death struggle of not only completing their mission but survival. Imagine Dredd (2012) on steroids, with fight choreography that is just simply jaw-dropping. If there is a better example of intense balletic action, I have not seen it. And if there is one out there, it has to be something really special to top this film. While I really enjoyed the picture, the lack of an even remotely interesting story or characters did hurt the film a bit. The raid is a classic definition of style over substance. It is a heart pounding, awe-inspiring, expertly made action flick. If you are a fan of high-octane action, meticulously choreographed martial arts and are not bothered by weak plotting and characterization, then this film is a must-see. It is perhaps the best example of its type.


Darkman has a good premise and a strong lead but it is undone by subpar plotting and execution. The film is also populated by uninteresting antagonists
The premise of the character of Darkman is an interesting one. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson ) is a scientist who is researching cloning body parts. When his girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) uncovers the truth about corrupt real estate developer Louis Strack Jr, (Colin Friels) he orders mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) to take care of the problem. Durant and his man go to Westlake's office where they physically assault him and blow up the building. Although Westlake survives the incident, he is severely burned and taken to a hospital, where he is given unusual treatment. The treatment does not work but it does enhance his strength (of course) at the cost of mental instability. Westlake escapes the hospital and with his newfound powers and scientific knowledge, he plans his revenge. As a tortured and vengeful antihero, Darkman is fascinating and Liam Neeson does a good job with the character. Frances McDormand is agreeable as his girlfriend but her character is not well utilized. The main problem of the film is that Darkman is a lot more layered than you average superhero/antihero. So instead of giving us a dark, psychological character study, we end up spending way too much time with Durant, Strack jr and an uninspiring plot. If the antagonists and the story were more interesting, then maybe the film would have worked better. The best moments of the film are when Darkman is struggling with what he has become but they are few and far between. The films ending encapsulates the picture as a whole: underwhelming.

The Portrait of a Lady

It is darker than Campion's other great work, The Piano and in many ways, it is just as good
I have not yet read Henry James' novel, (which I plan to do soon) so I can not comment on some of the criticism Jane Campion's adaptation has received for straying from the original work. So I am going to judge the film strictly on its cinematic experience. And to that end, The Portrait of a Lady is a dark, beautiful, well-acted, engrossing, heartbreaking masterpiece; albeit, a flawed one. The film is about one of the most fascinating and complex female characters to star in a motion picture, Isabel Archer. (Nicole Kidman) Archer, a beautiful, innocent, adventurous young American woman travels to England where she is courted by the wealthy lord Warburton and an American by the name of Caspar Goodwood. She refuses both men because she does not love them and because she wants to be free. Isabel wants to travel and see the world and she sees marriage as an inhibiting obstacle to her plans. This all changes when her cousin Ralph, (Martin Donovan) who is secretly in love with her, arranges for her to inherent 70,000 pounds form his dying father. When Isabel tours Europe, she meets the cunning Madame Merle, (Barbara Hershey) who introduces her to an opportunist artist and her ex-lover Gilbert Osmond. (John Malkovich) Madame Merle and Osmond have their eyes set on Isabel's fortune. Isabel falls for Osmond, who ends up crushing her dreams, individuality and freedom. Ironically, Isabel becomes content with the choice she has made and stubbornly continues to make the best out of a bad situation. Is it out of loyalty? Is she punishing herself? Whatever the reason is she continues to endure humiliation and even physical abuse at the hands of Osmond. It is not until her cousin Ralph is gravely ill, that she decides to disobey Osmond and go see him. In my opinion, the last act of the film is one of cinemas most emotionally moving, beautifully shot, expertly acted and hauntingly scored. And the ambiguous ending is just perfect. I know I am probably in the minority but for me, The Portrait of a Lady is an equal in almost every way to Campion's magnum opus, The Piano. This is not a perfect film. there are some annoying aspects to it. My biggest gripe is Isabel falling in love with Osmond. From what I have read, the reason It worked in the book was because his charm and artistic talent were attracting to Isabel. But Campion and Malkovich are unable to convey it on the screen. It is extremely hard to translate a complex 600 plus page book into a two and a half hour film but Campion and Malkovich could have done better with the character. On the other hand, Kidman and Hershey are outstanding in their roles. The supporting cast is excellent and Martin Donovan, with his heartbreaking portrayal of Ralph, steals the show. He is the heart and soul of the film. Campion's masterful adaptation gets so much right, that its flaws are overshadowed. The Portrait of a Lady is one of the most underrated films of the 90's; a hunting work of art.

Belle de jour

A surrealist; erotic masterpiece, with an iconic Catherine Deneuve performance
Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour is one of the great works of 60's French cinema. The film stars a sublime Catherine Deneuve, (Séverine) a young woman who is married to a wealthy and good looking doctor by the name of Pierre Serizy. Even though Pierre loves her and has given her a comfortable life, Severine is bored and is not physically intimate with him. She does love him but when it comes to sex, she is aroused by domination and sadomasochism. At first, her sexual desires are confined to her elaborate fantastical dreams. But her sexual fantasies soon become a reality (or do they?) when she starts to offer her services at a local brothel. From 2pm to 5pm, Severine, working under the name of Belle de Jour, gets to act out her fantasies. One of the most memorable moments takes place outside of the brothel. I'm talking about the coffin scene, which is at once disturbing, funny and sad. Even though the brothel scenes seem real, there are countless moments in the film where you are not sure what is real or a dream. The ambiguous ending does hint that maybe it was all a dream but for me that is beside the point. Belle de Jour is not a great mystery to be solved. It is a probing and fascinating look into the human psyche; about sexual desire, love and contradiction and on that level, the film is a resounding success. Along with Repulsion, this is arguably the best work of Catherine Deneuve's career. She has a rare gift of looking charming one moment and ice-cold the next. Deneuve fully inhabits the fascinating Severine and the result is nothing short of hypnotic. Belle de Jour is a masterpiece of surrealism; a film that has stood the test of time and rewards multiple viewings.

Dick Tracy

With its unique look and colorful characters, Dick Tracy is a one of a kind comic book film
The story is weak and predictable and the characters are two-dimensional. But the production, world building, atmosphere, colorful characters, in your face direction and over-the-top performances are so good that they (for the most part) make up for all of the films shortcomings. The picture is based on the 1930's comic strip created by Chester Gould, with Warren Beatty playing the titular character. The story follows the exploits of Dick Tracy, who is determined to finally bring down teflon mob boss Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprice. (Pacino) Tracy's personal life is just as adventures as his professional. Tracy gets involved with the mysterious, glamorous and dangerous nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney, (Madonna) which complicates his relationship with his loving girlfriend Tess Trueheart. (Glenne Headly) Tracy also begins to look after a streetwise, mischievous young child by the name of kid, who proves to be a valuable ally. First of all, I have to point out the two most striking attributes of the film. The unique look of Dick Tracy is extraordinary. The film looks like a colorful comic strip come to life. Here is a world that you can get lost in. As far as the characters are concerned, they are so lively and colorful and the performances so good, that you can overlook their simplicity. Of note is Al Pacino's "Big Boy" Caprice. The quote regurgitating, short-tempered mob boss. Pacino's wildly over-the-top and energetic performance is hilarious. He chews up every scene he is in. Beatty is terrific as the no-nonsense, smart and tough detective. The rest of the all star cast, with likes of Dustin Hoffman and Madonna all do a good job as well. Dick Tracy is a visually imaginative delight. If it only had a story to match, we would have had something truly special here. As is, in terms of its look and atmosphere, Dick Tracy is one of a kind.

The Grifters

One word: Sensational
The Grifters is a stylish, sexy, witty, Neo-noir, that will keep you on your toes and guessing all the way to its shocking (in more than one way) finally. Stephen Frears' previous film, Dangerous Liaisons was similar in some ways to this film. All of the conniving, seduction, jealously and control that was present in Liaisons is present here as well. The film is about three con artists, who try to one up each other. Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small-time grifter, whose life gets complicated when his mother Lilly, (Anjelica Huston) who he has not seen for eight years, shows up. Lilly, a long time grifter herself, is in trouble with the mob. As it turns out, she has been stealing money from Bobo, a mob bookmaker. When Dillon's girlfriend, Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) comes into the picture, Lilly takes an instant dislike to her. And so the games begin; who will come out on top? The interesting thing about this film is that not a single one of the characters is likable but they are fascinating. By far the most interesting character is Lilly. She is smart, sexy and most of all, a survivor. She does show genuine affection for her son and wants him to quit the life he is living. She bluntly tells him that he does not have the heart for this line of work. But as the shocking last scene shows, when the chips are down, there is no depths that Lily will not go down in order to survive. The performances by Cusack and Bening are good ones but Huston steals the show. She plays a character that normally would be very unattractive and makes you care about her. Houston is not what Hollywood may deem "sexy" but the way she carries herself puts her on the top of the list of the most seductive femme fatales in film history. You feel sympathy for her and you are disgusted by her, sometimes in the same scene. But whether you love her or hate her, she is never less than compelling. This one will have you hooked until the very end. And when you think it's all over, it will leave you with a gut punch, just for good measure.

À bout de souffle

Groundbreaking but a picture that is a product of its time
Putting Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless in context, it's easy to see why this film was such a groundbreaking work. Some have even called it the Citizen Kane of the 60's. And while I can not dispute the influence the film had on the world of cinema, Godard's picture has not aged as well as Orson Welles' masterpiece. Watching Breathless 60 years after its release, you can easily see how this "radical" picture broke the rules of cinema. From its highly unconventional jump cuts, to its virtually plotless and structureless form, there was noting like it before. But if you take the film out of its historical context, what you are left with is a picture that is mostly style and very little substance. Jean-Paul Belmondo's Michel and Jean Seberg's Patricia are charismatic and attractive characters but you only get involved with them on a surface level, there is no deep emotional attachment; either positively or negatively. And that is why this film does not fully work. When you forgo plot in favor of just two characters interacting with each other, then those characters better be captivating; Michel and Patricia do not quite measure up to the task. In the end, their incessant verbose conversations (funny and interesting in spots) becomes tiresome and pointless. Breathless, is a black comedy, that makes light of classic American gangster films but at the same time pays homage to them. Unfortunately, watching Godard's picture today feels more like homework, rather than a rich and fulfilling cinematic experience.

Les diaboliques

The ending is ingenious
I have to admit that this one got me good. Here is a film that truly deserves the title of suspenseful thriller. Les Diaboliques, is a French suspenseful thriller, that the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. The film is about an oppressive headmaster of a boarding school Michel Delassalle, (Paul Meurisse) whose wife, Christina Delassalle, (Véra Clouzot) the owner of the school, conspires with his mistress, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) to kill him. Once the deed is done, his body mysteriously disappears. And this is where, as the old saying goes, the plot thickens. The film sets up Michael as one unsavory character; a bit of a caricature but I guess this was done on purpose, to make him as unlikable as possible. When Christina and Nicole go through with their cold-blooded plan, you do not feel sorry for Michael. The middle part of the film does drag a bit until the third act. The last half hour is a masterclass of suspense and tension. And the ending, well, it's not an understatement to say that it's one of the most shocking and memorable in cinema history. The performances are all first-rate and the film truly deserves all the praise it has gotten. Les Diaboliques is 65 years old but time has not diminished its quality or impact.

3 Women

Altman tries to channel his inner Bergman and even though he does not fully succeed, Duvall and Spacek are almost reason enough to see 3 Women
3 Women is one strange film. It does not surprise me to find out that it was inspired by a dream Robert Altman had. The whole enterprise feels like a dream. Forget about plot, any semblance of coherence, or realistic characterization, because if you go into this film expecting any of those characteristics, then you will most likely be disappointed. This is a film that is not made to be understood but rather to be felt. Its strictly a mood piece, in the mold of Ingmar Bergman's Persona and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. And even though it is no where as good as those films, it is somewhat fascinating because of two reasons: Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. The quirky, funny, sad and scary interplay between these two women is almost worth the price of admission. Duvall's Millie is a not to bright, talkative, highly confident women, who lives in a fantasy world. She thinks that she is god's gift to men but in reality, she is anything but. Spacek's Pinky, a childlike, clueless and overly clingy woman, moves from Texas to California and ends up befriending Millie, whom she meets at the health spa that they work at. As their peculiar relationship progresses, the women inexplicably switch personalities and eventually switch back. Rounding out the trio, is an enigmatic, pregnant woman by the name of Willie, (Janice Rule) who is not that prominent early on but plays an important role towards the end. So what does it all add up to in the end? That is for each viewer to decide for themselves. 3 Women is one of those love it or hate it propositions. One thing is for sure, as good as Altman is, when it comes to surrealism, he is no Bergman.

The Deep End

Tilda Swinton's performance is the only thing that is keeping The Deep End barely above water
This story of blackmail and a mothers unconditional love for here son and how far she is willing to go for that love, has a good premise and a strong central performance from one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, Tilda Swinton. Unfortunately, the script is not up to par with the talents of Swinton. It starts off well enough, when Margaret's (Swinton) son Beau (a not so convincing Jonathan Tucker) has an argument with his lover Darby, (Josh Lucas) who shortly thereafter accidentally dies. Margaret, who had earlier told Darby to stay away from her son finds the body and thinking that her son might be involved, decides to get rid of it. It's only when Alek (Goran Visnjic) shows up and tries to blackmail Margaret with video proof of her sons sexual relationship with Darby, that the film starts to go off the rails. First of all, the blackmail is a bit contrived. It feels more like a plot device than a believable occurrence. Furthermore, the sudden change of heart by Alek just did not come off as authentic. What was even harder to swallow was Margaret's behavior towards Alek. There is one well-acted but eye-rolling scene in particular that had me shaking my head. I'm speaking of when Margaret decides to open up to Alek about her family. Add in the melodramatic ending and what you have is a film that is barley kept together by only one thing; Tilda Swinton. If she was not in this picture, then I would have had no reservations in giving an unequivocal thumbs down. And even though I can not quite recommend the film, Swinton is so good, that if you were to decide to watch The Deep End, it would not be a complete waste of time.

21 Grams

Filmmaking of the highest order, with powerhouse performances by Penn, Del Toro and Watts
21 Grams has scenes as powerfully acted and emotionally draining as any ever put to film. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's narratively unorthodox and pensive tale of loss, grief, fate and revenge, is a gut punch of a movie. A devastating tragedy has a profound impact on the lives of three people: A dying mathematician who needs a heart transplant, (Sean Penn) a grieving mother ( Naomi Watts) and an ex-convict and born-again Christian. (Benicio Del Toro) As the film jumps back and forth in time, we get to see the lives of these three characters before, during and after the tragedy. And it all leads to an inevitable and powerful ending; where not every thing is so clear-cut and neat. The nonlinear storytelling was a bit annoying early on but once the movie progressed and the pieces started falling into place, it worked. In hindsight, I actually think this was the best way to tell this particular story. It's not overstating to say that Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts are phenomenal. These three remarkable actors completely immersed themselves into the three troubled characters at the heart of the film. Acting does not get any better than this. Even though there were minor issues that I had with the film, they were overshadowed by so much that was brilliant. For the majority of its runtime, I was glued to the screen in a state of apprehension. Watching 21 Grams is a transcendent and haunting experience.


Holiday is a fun little film but it's not one of Cukor's best. The film shines whenever Grant and Hepburn are together
George Cukor would reunite with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn a couple of years after Holiday to make The Philadelphia Story, which in my opinion is the better film. Holiday is a bit more serious in tone but The Philadelphia Story is funnier, better acted and more entertaining. This is not a negative review, on the contrary, I liked Holiday but it was far from a perfect film. This nonconformist comedy stars Grant as Johnny, a free-spirited and modest man who falls in love with the regal and highly conformist Julia (Doris Nolan) but eventually starts developing feelings for the free-spirited sister of Julia, Linda. (Katharine Hepburn) Grant and Hepburn (no surprise) are terrific whenever they are together but they did not have much screen time. Unfortunately, Nolan and Grant did not have the same chemistry. Also of note, is the tone shift of this film. Its mix of serious with slapstick does not work so well. And the predictable, corny but somewhat sweet ending was not the most inspired. There is some other minor stuff I can nitpick but I am going to stop and say that whatever its faults, Holiday gets more right than wrong. In the end, it's a film that is smart but also silly. It has humor but is not a first-rate comedy. And it has fine performances but all the major stars have been better elsewhere. Its worth a look but it's not Cukor's best.

Rush Hour

The potential was there but the poor script was too much to overcome
On the basis of its star power and premise, Rush Hour should have worked. Jackie Chan is a master of comic/action filmmaking and Chris Tucker had proven his comedic chops in Friday. And the buddy cop formula is a time-honored, tried-and-tested one. So what went wrong? In my opinion it's the same thing that hampered another buddy cop film (Bad Boys) with two charismatic leads three years prior; a poor script. The plot, if you want to call it that, is stripped to the bare essentials, with no imagination, originality, suspense or excitement. It's a highly derivative story of two ill-matched cops who must overcome their differences and come together to: fill in the blank. In this case, to find and rescue a Chinese diplomates kidnapped daughter. Since the plot is only an excuse to show off the talents of the two stars, the whole movie rests on the shoulders of Chan and Tucker. Their interplay has to carry an hour and a half film, which, they are unable to do. They had their moments but not enough to save the film. Jackie Chan had carried another film with a poor plot a couple of years prior, named A Rumble in the Bronx. But that film was saved by frantic action and stunts mixed with comedy. This one relied more on dialogue and that is not the strong suit of Chan, or for that matter Tucker, who was more often obnoxious than funny. Once Rush Hour hit the halfway mark, the only rush I was feeling was for the film to hurry-up and end. A disappointing effort all around.


Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give two knockout performances in this riveting and affecting human drama
A small movie in scope but large in terms of its touching human story and two phenomenal performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Room is a claustrophobic, heartbreaking and uplifting story about a mothers unconditional love for her son, as they cope with an unspeakable tragedy and its aftermath. Joy, (Larson) has been held captive and sexually abused by Nick, (Sean Bridgers) for seven years. Joy has a five year old son by the name of Jack, (Tremblay) who has only known the confines of the little shed that he and his Ma have been held captive in for his entire life. When Joy and Jack finally escape the clutches of Nick, they must adjust to a new life free of captivity. As it turns out, it's a lot harder for Joy than Jack. She must deal with the psychological toll of seven years of mental and physical abuse. As well as battle her own doubts of whether she was a good mother to Jack. And on top of all of that, she must deal with family issues as well. Even though her mother, Joan Allen, is supportive of her situation, her father William H. Macy, is anything but. There is a heartbreaking dinner scene, where Macy, is so ashamed of Jack, that he can not even look at him. This powerful little film about motherhood, family and love will bring out feelings of anger, sympathy and joy and will have a lasting impact on you. As far as the acting goes, it's not an understatement to say that I have not seen a better acted mother and son duo. Larson is Oscar worthy and gives the performance of her career, in an emotionally powerful turn. And Tremblay is her equal. His, is one of the best child performances that I have seen in a long time. Add in an excellent Joan Allen as Larson's mother and some astute direction by Lenny Abrahamson and what you have is an absorbing and powerful drama that I highly recommended.


Nolan does the heroes of Dunkirk proud, with his technically brilliant and powerful epic
Dunkirk does not have the thematic richness of Apocalypse Now, the brutality of Come and See, the claustrophobic tension of Das Boot, the philosophy of The Thin Red Line, or the sheer adrenaline rush of Saving Private Ryan. However, Christopher Nolan's epic has something that a majority of war films do not, scale. While some war films pose large philosophical questions, or deal with thought provoking themes, most operate on the micro level. Which is to say, that they deal with the individual, or individuals. I.e. character studies. Dunkirk operates on the macro level. There is no well developed characters, or heavy dialogue. This is a film that is concerned with the event not the soldier. With that said, in terms of talent, there are some heavy hitters here. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Cillian Murphy are terrific in their limited but important roles. The films captivating scenes seamlessly move back and forth between the air, sea and beachhead; in terms of look and sound, this is first-rate filmmaking. Watching this film is an immersive experience of stunning visuals and tense sounds. So, If you are looking for an action-packed war movie, a character driven one, or a deeply philosophical experience, then Dunkirk may not be your cup of tea. While Christopher Nolan's spare, emotionally resonant epic about the heroic evacuation by sea of the British expeditionary force may feel a little cold, there is no denying that this is one of the most beautiful war movies ever made; very few can match the sheer technical brilliance or grand scale of Nolan's powerful epic. Dunkirk is not only the best film about the subject matter, it is also one of the best war movies of all time and one of the best movies of the last several years.


Not a shred of believability in this stylish but empty Neo-noir
Here is proof, that you can have all the style and talent in the world but if you don't have a story, you are not going to be successful. There are exceptions to the rule. I will give two examples of films that lacked strong plotting but were stylish and somewhat successful. One such film is the Coen brother's Miller's Crossing. A beautifully shot and well-acted picture that lacked strong characterization and plot. The reason it succeeded, is that the film did not take itself seriously and even though it had weak characterization, it made up for it with excellent dialogue and superb performances. Another film is Dick Tracy, which had a weak story and two-dimensional characters. But as with Miller's Crossing, it did not take itself seriously and had colorful characters and over-the-top performances. But what put it over the finish line was its unique; extraordinary world building. Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn's stylish and extremely violent Neo-noir takes itself very seriously but underneath the glossy surface, is ultimately an unconvincing and rather silly picture. To be clear, I do not think that Drive is an overly bad movie, it does have its fare share of winning attributes but there are too many annoying and frivolous moments to merit a recommendation. When you spend the majority of the film questioning the motives and behavior of the characters and rolling your eyes at some of the highly convenient and implausible plot points, no amount of style and exciting action can save the picture. When a movie like this takes itself so seriously, then you can not overlook the aforementioned drawbacks. A serious Neo-noir film and a silly, over-the-top, violent one mix as well as oil and water. The talents of Ryan Gosling and especially Oscar Isaac are wasted on this mediocre film.


A slow-burning, mysterious, heady and dazzling science fiction picture
One of the best science fiction films to come out in the last couple of years. Alex Garland, who wrote and directed Ex Machina, a terrific picture in its own right, hits another home run with Annihilation, a meditative, mysterious, visually striking and superbly acted motion picture. This is not a film that has an exciting plot or action. There is no space ships and heroic good vs bad battles. Annihilation is more in the mold of 2001, Solaris, Stalker and Under the Skin. Which is to say, Sci-fi that is mysterious and more about ideas than mainstream action and excitement. The story follows Lena (Natalie Portman) whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) comes back to her after being gone for a long time. It turns out that he was involved in a secret government mission inside something known as the shimmer (a mysterious alien zone that is expanding) and was the only person to ever come back. When he starts to get sick, Lena and four other women, led by Dr. Ventress, (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Anya, (Gina Rodriguez) Josie (Tessa Thompson) and Cassie (Tuva Novotny) decide to enter the mysterious shimmer. What they find inside is an alien being or force of some sort that is for some unknown reason, changing life inside of it. The five women that enter this mysterious zone, all have destructive tendencies for one reason or another. One of the main themes of the film is self destruction but there is more to this picture that is not so clear. The mysterious shimmer and the ambiguous; eerie ending leave a lot to ponder. Ex Machina was a lot more straight forward. Annihilation, leaves a lot for interpretation. Speaking for myself, I loved both films for different reasons. But I can easily see how a fan of one can dislike the other.

Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher looks like a promising talent, unfortunately, the film is a dud
Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade is an indie coming-of-age story, about an introverted, quiet and shy teenager, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) and her struggles with socializing and being accepted by her peers. This is a story that has been done to death. We have seen many versions of this premise and to be honest, this film is not one of the better examples of its kind. Eighth Grade is plagued by a number of issues, the most glaring being the lead character. Kayla does not come across as a real person but rather a collection of stereotypical teenage tropes. Speaking of stereotypes, there is not a single full-bodied character in this film. We have the queen bee, popular girl, the hot and cool guy and the awkward nerd, with a good heart. To be fair, not everything about Eighth Grade is negative. Elsie Fisher's performance is good but its ultimately undermined by poor writing. There is also a few funny and convincing moments in the film but they are overshadowed by too many moments that are unconvincing and annoying. As far as the young actress Fisher is concerned, she could have a promising career. And If this film is the reason for her continued success, then maybe something good can come from such an uninspired and artificial picture.


L'enfant grows on you
L'enfant is about two young lovers, Bruno a small time crook and his girlfriend Sonia, who are struggling to get by in Belgium. When Sonia informs Bruno that she is having a baby, he is not all that pleased with the prospect of being a father. After the baby is born, Bruno sells him on the black market. When Sonia finds out what happened, she faints and later on tells him that she wants nothing to do with him. Feeling guilty, Bruno tries to make up for his mistake but his life stars to spiral out of control. Here is a film that starts off low-key, largely uneventful and somewhat silly and gradually builds up the suspense and tension level to a point where you can not take your eyes off the screen. L'enfant is a simple story of one man's desperate act that has unforeseen consequences. His actions not only hurt him but also everyone he cares about and throughout the ordeal, we see a young man that grows in front of our eyes. Jeremie Renier and Deborah Francois give two outstanding, naturalistic performances, as the troubled young lovers at the center of the story. L'enfant is a good film, that is well-acted, with a simple but powerful story. But all of the accolades and high praise that the film has received is a bit much in my humble opinion.

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