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Mission to Mars (2000)
Crash and Burn
Brian De Palma isn't without talent, but it does all seem to have been evaporating over the years. The film doesn't look too bad, but the script, and much of the storyline, is almost beyond belief.
You'd think as the cheques were being signed in the production office that someone who had looked at the actual writing. There's plenty of people who could have done better at a fraction of the cost. They could have got fifty film school students to each to do a script. One of them would have hit the mark. There's a good cast in this movie who could have succeeded with better material.
The Cydonian angle of the story was a bad mistake and they would have done better to invent their own Martian mystery rather than repeat these worn out half-baked ideas. The core audience for the film aren't going to go for this rubbish. It's a sci-fi movie that doesn't like the imaginative power of sci-fi and, after the first half hour, the cracks really do start to show and you think that everyone would rather just go home and put their feet up.
It's a shame. Films about space exploration, and particularly Mars, are always welcome. So I thought anyway.
Where's the King?
Hmm, there's 1200 comments at the moment, not sure that another one is needed.
In brief, I was disappointed by this movie in some ways. Part of that disappoinment came from knowing that it was all finally drawing to an end. And the rest? Well...
The film is called Return of the King and yet I felt that after Aragorn/Viggo had been really well built up as a character in the first two, he sort of vanished in this one in some ways. Sure, he's on the screen a fair amount of the time, but the character got a little lost amidst the rest of it. The Frodo and Sam episodes are well told, but the Army of the Dead didn't get the attention it deserved and was almost a throwaway when it's vital to focus of the story. I don't think it would have taken much, but we weren't given the chance to see Aragorn really become a king.
I can't say I missed Saruman that much, but in view of what was included instead of his scenes, I'm not sure...
A lot of this may well work out better in the DVD Extended Edition and it's painful to pick holes in such an outstanding piece of filmmaking overall. It just felt that the editing could have been a little sharper in this last one.
Having said all this, you would be a complete banana not to go and see it. It still shows up every other mainstream epic.
Summer of Sam (1999)
Having been reasonably impressed by 25th Hour, I took a step back to watch this similarly NYC concerned one.
Judging by comments here, Lee seems to get people worked up about stereotyping awfully easy. It doesn't seem any worse here than in many other US films, but for some reason, by the simple fact of being a black director directing an almost exclusively white cast I imagine, this grates with some people. But Italian-Americans in films are a genre by themselves and it's open to all to put their take on it. He gets people worked up, that's an achievement of sorts. The fact that Lee has been persistently vocal about racial issues makes it tempting for some to try and get some of that mud to stick to him. To me, he all too often seems to be a New York director making New York films, like many others.
My problems with the film aren't with the portrayal of Italian-Americans. There's good and bad in most of these characters and it's kind of paint-by-numbers with some of them for sure. But that's mainstream American cinema for you, from whichever quarter.
At times, I thought I was watching Lee trying a bit hard to do Scorcese. There's a good soundtrack, but it's overly intrusive and it doesn't mesh or play counterpoint with the content that well at times. The punk elements are risible and this really lets it down in terms of historical accuracy, it just looks all wrong. That crowd outside CBGB's are clearly latter-day punks for hire and not those you'd see in '77. All those piercings? Not that style anyway. And all those Stratocasters... Didn't anyone advise him on this?
The idea is good, but it's never focused enough on the central story and it's too long. It's a shame, as this film could have worked much better with 25th Hour as two New York films on either side of 9/11. I imagine that event would encourage him to make Summer of Sam quite differently if he were to do it now.
More DVD filler
It's not the worst DVD supplement you'll ever see, but it is the usual studio fodder. I'm sure Lee didn't have a hand in the title, but it's a bad one. Sure, the film proper has certain resonances with 9/11 (although it would work fine, maybe even better, without them), but 'American Filmmaker'? 'Evolution of'? What is he, cast in stone already?
Le fils (2002)
Double espresso advised
I fell asleep during this movie. I had misread the length on the DVD and thought it was 170 mins. It was late and I couldn't last another hour of carpentry. I'll watch the rest in the morning. As I later found out, I was only ten minutes away from the end.
Watching the accompanying interview with the Dardennes brothers, I was intrigued to find out how much planning they had put into the look of it. It's hard to think of a moment in the film when Belgium has anything attractive to offer. It's a drab, colourless place. Even the pastries look unattractive. Whilst they're doing Belgian tourism no favours, this mute colour scheme, an architecture and landscape almost without appeal, mean that you can only focus elsewhere. If you're tired though... Despite this, it's an extremely natural film with two outstanding central performances entirely lacking in grandstanding. Don't expect fireworks, expect something more like life.
Idi i smotri (1985)
Flawed but worthwhile
Some of my problems with this film may be the result of it being made in a just slightly thawing political and cultural climate. The backwards montage scene at the end - No! The inability of Glasha to hold the same facial expression for more than an eight of a second. Was she also hypnotised like Kravchenko? Fortunately she disappears in the second half of the film. As an expression of the psychological effects of war, it works for a while, but it becomes very grating. Others are to do with the DVD transfer in (I suspect pan and scan) full frame, it made it look like Klimov didn't know how to compose a shot at times. Maybe it really did look like this on release, I don't know. But, these gripes aside, the film does come together in the second half and the final scenes in the village are an outstanding indictment of war and a very unsentimental representation of the Byelorussian experience under German occupation.
Koroshi no rakuin (1967)
I very much suspect that the hung-loose narrative of this film, and indeed much of the content, is a surreal take on prolonged stimulant use. Just as in a contemporary pornographic (filmed or drawn in manga) setting, characters shoot up speed for its sex edge, the main character here sniffs rice instead. The scene in his apartment when he returns back work for example. I'm not saying this is the whole of the film, but it's a possible interpretation. Amphetamines, both then and now, remain a mainstay of gang operations in Japan and use is frowned upon, though secretly tolerated. Provided you don't let yourself go like our hero here and start having imaginary conversations in your head, discovering secret conspiracies etc. This is by no means the whole of the movie, but I don't believe that Suzuki gets the man to sniff rice to indicate his "Japaneseness", whatever that is. Indeed it's his fetishisation of rice that helps indicate him stepping out various structures and confines and towards his eventual demise. The question remains is why the director got him to pad out his cheeks to such an extent...
Theatrical vs TV version
Having visited the local video shop recently and rented the TV version of this film, I'd like to dissuade anyone from making this same mistake. It's not that I don't like Dune as a film, despite its many flaws it's the closest Lynch will ever get to a rip-roaring yarn, it's this abysmal voice over at the beginning and above all these high school pencil drawings that accompany it. Many of these extra minutes of actual footage that I expected are used up in this cack-handed introduction that treats you like a complete idiot. I've never read the book, but I far appreciated the original and visually more beguiling introduction. I can't see I got anything additional from this version apart from a constant suspicion that I was in fact seeing less rather than more/