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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Brilliance of Shane Black is boundless
Yes, Shane Black's brilliance is boundless. That is an odd comment to make considering he seems to deal his stories in a genre that has so many trappings and cliché. What he does with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is acknowledge that fact that he is working in a detective/sub-action genre. He has done this before, and hopefully again.

The narration of Downey's Lockard is beautiful. Its raunchy, sad, and honest. It doesn't reiterate anything on screen- but wait it does. And that is the joke. Black jabs and ribs at the constraints of film noir. Yet, he takes it to the limits by finding a way delve you into a story in manner that only film noir can.

You have the faulty character, who in turn is a faulty narrator. There is the careening twists of this tale that make it a good watch but also comment on the double backs and overlaps of those classic films of yesteryear. Its supposed to be confusing.

Black gets that feel of Los Angeles right. It was done pretty well in Lethal Weapon, but here it is perfect. Like LA Confidential or Memento, there is a pulse of a place where normal people are involved in bad things among the good places.

The comedy is biting and bold. The narrative takes you places you'd not expect. With all that said, it is a film that is to be watched. You will meet someone who has talked about it, but like this review it would give the film justice. It is said to say that it has become an unnoticed gem. It has become some new cult midnight movie. But if you are ever up late and its on, or you don't know what to check out at the video store take a spin on this.


Existentialism, the Michael Mann way
This goes down as my second favorite film of 2004 (next to Kill Bill vol.2). But how can a basic premise of a film from a pulp style script be so invigorating and intense. This is achieved by it being raised up with the tork of Michael Mann. It seems to be you can't underestimate the guy who pretty much reinvented the crime narrative even when he went away for two semi-political/social conscious films like ALI and THE INSIDER. All that is achieved here is done by the method taken to tell the story.

The plot is a cab driver Max,Jamie Fox, is forced at gunpoint to be the escort for a professional killer Vincint, Tom Cruise. It is such a simple tag line that you spin your head around from that tag with the suspicion that it sounds so simple it could be easily screwed up. It isn't. It is elevated to a height that we rarely see in a genre film. A thriller where the would be innocent man is forced against his will to do bad things. But it's given quite a spark. Just like the kind of spark that Christopher Nolan gave to the revenge film when he made MEMENTO.

The presence of existentialism is what drives this home. We have Max, a man lulled by the rhythms of everyday routine, and Vincent, who somewhere lost his heart or was never given one. In this particular evening that the story covers they gain consciousness that the world around them demands something of them. They even start to understand that all along the world has been expecting things and tonight is the time to pay up. Freedom of choice is now more important than every when it comes to taking a life and saving a life. Consequence is promised around every L.A. concrete street corner.

Mann makes this film continuing his ongoing theme which is that his men are always searching to find their identities through their professions. In just about every case the men have to go beyond the guidelines of their jobs to make their life altering decisions.

I could be looking too hard into this. You could say that this is a film with conversation between good vs. evil, but Mann doesn't make it that easy. It is evident in Vincents look and attire. It is no coincidence that he is dressed in Grey and wears both a Grey beard and Grey head of hair. He is the Grey area, with both good and evil bleeding in. Just like Russell Crowe in THE INSIDER, or De Niro in HEAT, and William Petersen in MANHUNTER. We both agree and disagree with all of these characters. This constant bickering makes me want to watch again and again.

Some have complained about the cat and mouse type chase of the third act of this film. There should be no argument with this. It is, again, consistent with Mann's theme of Cat and Mouse. Just like Graham the FBI agent vs. the Red Dragon in Manhunter, or the cop Pacino vs. the thief De Niro in Heat, Crowe's scientist vs. the Tabacco Industry in THE INSIDER. All Mann has done is keep Max and Vincent bottled up in the taxi cab for nearly 2/3 of the film and then let them go, which is the only natural progression of the story.

The last great character in the film is Los Angeles. I don't think anyone else can film it like Michael Mann. It breathes, it pulsates-one could argue it is the driving force that makes Max and Vincent collide.

Michael Mann has added to his collage of strong character study, with demanding visuals and unending arguments. Bravo.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

A masterpiece with eyeballs, trailers and soul
(minor spoilers)

Kill Bill vol. 2 is a masterpiece. It is the standard at what American Films should be measured on. Watching this one time you will begin to feel there is hope for us all that love cinema.

Where do I begin? Tarantino has gone the extra mile in every possible way. Some may say this surpasses Vol. 1, but that person must also consider the fact that this is just the second half of one great big film. All the action and visual quickness of Vol.1 was just a bit of collateral that would get the viewer to invest in the remaining of the film where it does unfold into longer character sketches and digs deep into the psyche of Uma's THE Bride.

This is a film that like everything Tarantino does, pays homage and tips his funny little hat to everything he, and you and I, have seen and twists it perfectly into something purely original.

From the opening of Uma driving with the processed sound stage background that contains south of the border palm trees behind her reminded me a lot of Hitchcock's Notorious. The image of the beautiful blonde driving is similar to Ingrid Bergman's beginning in that film. This may be Quentin's way of saying this is his star, just like Hitchcock showcased his actress's in a timeless way.

There are images and situation galore that resonate all the films he loves(Master of the Flying Guillotine, Five Finger of Death and Bruce Lee's work) and the directors that Tarantino loves, like the Fulci inspired buried alive scene, the the ongoing Leone western motif and yes Quentin is still professing his love for Brian De Palma. At first it seems to be the quick split screen that goes into effect as Uma and Darryl Hannah square off. The last time you saw these two together in Vol.1 their was an ode to De Palma's Dressed to Kill and the echo is felt as the two women's brawl here. But it is more a gesture to Carrie, because in that film the split screen is thrown in just as all hell is about to break loose in the school gym- in Tarantino's universe it will be in the trailer somewhere tucked away in the San Fernando Valley. And we see as Uma raises from her burial a shot of a hand shooting out of the grave just like the end of Carrie.

What I liked most was the shot of the Bride standing on top of a hill looking down on Budd's trailer which reminded me of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. It wasn't really a shot stolen from that film exactly, but it is framed similar to the artwork of that films poster, with the trailer sitting at the bottom of a small valley waiting as prey. And in this film, Uma is the predator to those inside this trailer. And I will go one step further, because in the scene that follows inside the trailer you see a poster of the Charles Bronson film Mr. Majestyk . With this in mind, please remember the scene in the Hills Have Eyes when all the terror of the canniball's attack is going on in the trailer and you see the poster of Jaws. Rumor/ Legend has it that Craven placed that poster in the trailer as a statement:"you think that movie was scarry? This film(Hills) you are watching is much more terrifying". So with that, can we say that the Bronson poster is making a statement, not about the film itself, but about the persona of Uma Thurman's the Bride. I think Quentin is saying, "Chuck Bronson was one of cinema's all time bad asses, but you know what after this is all over, Uma is gonna be right up there with him". I might be wrong, but it's fair to say that I might not be too off.

And with all these homages Tarantino has his on style. If this film was in the hand of someone like Michael Bay, we would be shown ten minutes of unnecessay slow motion and bullet point of view action during the Chapel Massacre. But not here, instead we see almost ten minutes of dialogue preceding the Massacre and the pull away and out of the building as the chaos insues. Just like Reservior Dogs, it is not the heist that mattered- it is how those involved in the incident deal with it afterwards that creates the real drama.

Uma Thurman steals the whole show, because she runs the gammit of persona. We see her as a violent/vengful survivor,to an eager kung fu student and as puddy in Bill's hands when she is at the pinnacle of her love for him. This is so well written and the acting by everyone(Carridean, Hannah, Madsen) seals the deal. The black comedy thrown in at the most perfect of moments sooth us from all the gore being handed our way.

Not to give anything away, but the ending will sqeeze you in every way. This is a film with more going than eyeballs popping out and white trash bitch fights. It has a soul all its own. Their is an abundance of subtext here. Where does a girl become a woman? In the most womanly of manner the expectancy of new life can make you change the way you live your life for a better tomorrow. This film may have feminist joining Tarantino's side, but most of all those that cheer for most humane in all of us will love this movie.

This is a film that covers similar film avenues; revenge, killing, death and love. But what sets it apart is its manner/how we are shown and told about all these things we have seen before. This is original and it is worthy of all the hype. It is now in my top five of all time favorite films.

Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead: 7.0
Many have argued that this is not the original. Well of course not, Romero did not make this. I think all the DAWN freaks should be saving their energy to debate for when Romero get his 4th Dead film out there(if he ever does). Until then I see no problem going to see this "re-visioning" of the classic, because its done pretty damn well.

Please get me right here when I saw that the original is in my top ten of films and I dreaded this remake as much as the next guy at horror convention. But I had a lot of fun at this. It paid up enough gore, with CGI not being prominent(or seeming to be). It brought about some scares and was just a good movie going experience.

Yes, there are things you could compare to the original that aren't there. The Geography of the mall was not set up as well as the 1st film. You do get rushed into the situation and with more than 4 characters you don't get to know them as well as the others from Romeros film.

And lastly one will say that the original had much to say about our society being slaves(or zombies) to Consumerism and that in a America after Vietnam and Watergate, all we can think of is "What can we buy to forget our problems? Let's go to the mall and find out!" What one could read into in this version, can probably come from when the group of people are on the roof and their is another group of humans on the ground looking to get in the mall too. And one character says, "We can't let them in. They will ruin it for all of us."(it is something to that degree, but don't quote me). This is a perfect statement about the big fear Americans have Post-911. We are really afraid of people we don't trust, and letting them in to our safe haven/utopia could ruin it for us all? It is that xenophobia that runs across America today unfairly and you can logically ponder that here.

And near the end of the film when Ving Rhames's character has an American Flag waiving over his shoulder, that sign post has to be read and you can rewatch this film to find some substance among all the scares and gore.

Secret Window

A Genre piece that holds it's own and has fun with it.
A thriller that runs the gammit of all things needed to create a,..well a good thriller. There is tension, substance, atmosphere and good plot turns. And what David Koepp does best is toss in little bits of comedy and humor(even if it is pitch black) to keep the momentum of this fine film going.

Koepp is a masterfilmmaker that doesn't get the credit he deserves, he should by now have his name a household name as much as M.Night (the sixth sense guy) does. He makes great films(i.e. the Trigger Effect and Stir of Echoes), and like Chris Rock says, "ain't nuthin wrong wit dat".

Mind you this film has a solid twist in its closing act, and I wonder if the film beginning with a sequence and fast forwarding 6 months into the characters lives was a tip of the hat to M. Night's Sixth Sense, or if it was just a coincidence because I have not read the Stephen King story that this is based on. M. Nights lead flashes forward months in the Sixth Sense and so does Depp in this film. This is questioned because Koepp's ghost story film, Stir of Echoes, was very similar to Sixth Sense and stole a bit of that films thunder I think, because it was released about a month before it back in 1999.

One thing is for sure, that Koepp is tipping his hat to Brian De Palma (a man he has worked with and learned a lot from-Snake Eyes, Carlitos Way and Mission Impossible). Its all there from acknowledgement of where the camera is in relationship to the focus of the story, to flashbacks and the mirrors playing a prominent role, we can see he was taking notes while working with De Palma. But what really stands out is the descent that Johnny Depp's character takes, it reminded me a lot of John Lithgow's role in "Raising Cain". It is tragic, scary and very funny.

Mr. Depp does a great job. His one liners are hilarious, his ability to play many scenes all alone as his character just wastes away in the woods is really enjoyable to watch. I think he deals with isolation much better that Hanks did in "Castaway". He is completely original here and the only tip of the hat may be the Hunter S. Thompson(rememeber Depp played him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) book you see sitting on his coffee table in the film.

This is a great film that even if you are a fan of the thriller genre you will get a kick out of, even if you had big suspicions of where it will take you in the end.

Body Double

A great film and several levels.
One of the best films of the 1980's, and of Brian De Palma's career. This is taken the wrong way by many who view it on face value. It says on the video box and poster, "You can't believe what you see". That is proven when the title of the film pops on the screen over a desert back drop, then the back drop slides to the side and we see it was just a background for a movie set. We are decieved right away and I think that is what your average film goer hates about this movie and De Palma in general. He loves to play games with the viewer. Yes, you are watching a mystery thriller with eroticism and murder thrown in. To view the film in this perspective is fine. But to also view it as an metaphor for the Hollywood Film Business works great too. Everyone in the film, who is innocent, is wronged and used. Craig Wasson and Griffith's characters are actors themselves and get put through the rat race of Los Angeles all while trying to hold onto their identity. But each one of them find themselves taking on different personas and roles.

This was De Palma's commentary on how much he despised the Hollywood System. Concerning the accusations of ripping of Hitcock, well yes he does so-but they are very exagerated. The exageration is done for the purpose to anger many. He has been accused of ripping Hitch off since he did Sisters and up until Dressed to Kill. He simply takes great tools invented by the Master and makes use of them. So this film is in a way his way of saying, "You're calling me a theif, alright then I will be a theif". Watch this movie. Enjoy it. It is entertainment, but if you'd like you can take another look on secondary viewing for great subtext and metaphor.

Femme Fatale

One of the Best of 2002
This was one of the best films of 2002. It belongs in the class of films that came out in 2001, like Memento, Donnie Darko, Vanilla Sky and Mulholland Drive. Those where all films that require the viewer to participate, use their brain and have a good time.

Brian De Palma is a master filmmaker. One that has been manipulating audiences for over the last 30 years. The opening of this film is brilliant, with nearly 25 minutes of no dialogue scenes. Yes, there are lines given off here and there as the jewel heist is prepared and executed(it is cool that the heist is the opener and not the climax of this story), but really it is like watching a silent film. The attention to detail in the opening and all through out is what makes the film great, you will watch this over and over and catch something new on each viewing.

Some have argued that De Palma is not an autuer, but indeed he is. He has his trademark long one takes, with the camera gliding around to create a universe that is almost real but still we are aware we are watching fiction. There is the common theme of duel perceptions and persona's burning bright in this film, much like in Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow out. That theme is best illistrated by his use of split screen. Also the slow motion is used to perfection here at critical times, unlike Micheal Bay who uses it to make things look pretty.

This is a great film, yes, it takes some suspension of disbelief but that is why its a movie. If its your first De Palma venture you should check out his older thrillers, like Body Double and Blow out. He is a great movie maker that has influenced todays greats like David Fincher, Quinten Tarantino, Richard Kelly and P.T. Anderson in one way or another.

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