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Donnie Darko (2001)
A Puzzle missing the picture and several pieces
I have to confess that I was not as "into" this movie as I'd hoped to be. As it was wrapping up, I kept looking at the timer on my DVD player to see how much longer it was going to continue. It was not that I did not enjoy myself, I did and my friend and I had an interesting discussion about it afterwards, but I just got really bored as the movie hit the home stretch. That final climax just didn't do much for me.
I must warn viewers of the film that it is not an entire story. In order to understand the film you must read the book of time travel written by Kelly (on the film's website or included in the DVD special features) and read through a lot of the other stuff on the website in order to "get it." Sadly, after going through the rigamarole of watching the lengthy film and poring over the website/special features for a couple hours the given explanation still has flaws - big ones.
Kelly has cited 12 Monkeys as inspiration for this film, but I feel like "Blair Witch Project" is a better model. He has created this snippet of a story (made it into a film) and then uses a webpage, interviews, etc. in order to finish telling the story. It is a shame really. This film is very close to being able to stand on its own. Kelly comes really close to pulling off a tremendous film, but falls tragically short.
Of course, this is a film that should rank high on people's "to see" list, but I feel that its inclusion in the IMDB top 200 is a bit of an overstatement. Sure it has got great acting, a relatively well-established, though young, cast, good writing, an original plot and nice cinematography but it just does not have a plot that will hold up to numerous watchings. Here's a test to prove it: read that book that Kelly wrote and put on the dvd and website so that you understand how he explains the film, what is actually going on...he's rather explicit. Then watch the film again and see if what happens fits with the "model" he presents in the book. With some things it fits so seemlessly it is amazing. With others, Donnie's insanity (or lack thereof), Donnie's first experience with Frank, etc...you will notice that a great many things just do not gel.
Sorry to burst people's bubbles, but once you know what Kelly's explanation was, you'll realize how it pales in comparison to all of the imaginative, exciting and complex scenarios that viewers have given to it. It is a good film, definitely top 75%, but as more people read what Kelly was doing in the film through his explanation, I think this movie will drop down to the realm of Boogie Nights and 7.5 land...that's not a bad place to be for a first-timer either. Looking forward to Kelly's future works...I'm sure I'll wait for them to hit DVD, but I'll definitely watch.
Life or Something Like It (2002)
If I were going to die Thursday...
I wouldn't watch this movie.
I gotta start off by saying that I'm still not sure if Jolie's character was a brunette or a blonde naturally. All the "young Jolie" pictures show her blonde (I thought) but she's obviously not a natural blonde.
Honestly, when I leave a movie that's supposed to make me re-evaluate my life and what it means to live (like American Beauty did) and the only thing I can think about is the hair color of the star I think the movie failed. Sure, it wasn't too hard to watch and it worked out well as a Saturday afternoon hang-out w/ the lady-friend flick, but w/ Jolie I was really hoping this movie would fulfill its promise and be the engaging, interesting, thought-provoking film that it could be. Instead we see very strong similarities to American Beauty w/ a little "To Die For" thrown in for good measure and a helpin' heapin' of a John Cusack film (doesn't really matter which)
What really bugs me about this film though is that I really thought the cast was great. They were so believable (well, except for Jolie's hair, which really is a character in its own right) and their performances were so strong that as I look back on the film I really don't understand where it went wrong...maybe it tried to hard at the end, maybe all the logic fell apart just to bring about the thrilling climax, maybe it felt too much like a parody of tv news to also be the love story/life lesson that it also sought to be. Sure parodies can have morals and realistic love stories but this one doesn't.
I wouldn't avoid this film, but I wouldn't seek it out either.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Inadequate film for its time
Had We Were Soldiers been made 10 years or even 5 years ago it would have really resonated with me. But after Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Enemy at the Gates, and Black Hawk Down this movie really does not reveal much about war or human reactions to it. Instead it is an amalgam of the bloodiest scenes current technology will allow and gratuituous family time scenes which add little to the drama.
I will admit that in spite of this that watching the film did affect me, but I believe that it had more to do with sitting directly behind a Vietnam Vet who throughout the film would turn to his wife and remark about how he remembered this or that and next to a West Point cadet who was told early on that the average life span of a 2nd Lt. in Vietnam was 15 minutes and was now watching that statistic come to life. But the film did not affect me, the serviceman's reactions to the film did.
If you like Gibson and want to see him in a war film see Gallipoli, he was younger, less arrogant and seemed to care more about the soldier's experience. I like Gibson, but his actions at the West Point showing of the film definitely hinted that he was more interested in the box office success of the war film and less about the soldiers' story. I hope I am wrong about him and his attitudes, but I fear that I'm not.
Not a bad war movie, but there are so many better.
The Last Castle (2001)
Wait for this to reach cable
I have eagerly awaited my chance to see The Last Castle. I thought the previews looked interesting and at the very least I loved The Rock and think Redford is great so I figured this movie would be good. Heck I almost skipped paying the $4 rental fee to just buy the DVD. Glad I didn't.
Despite what others may believe, I feel that this movie strongly apes Shawshank Redemption and other heretofore well-tramped ground. We have a power-hungry, egocentric warden, a quiet, reserved new prisoner who was quite successful on the outside and whose previous life is known of by his inmates. And a struggle of wits, warden vs. prisoner plays out like a game of chess. Interesting to note, both Shawshank and Last Castle incorporate chess as the greatest battle of wits...I doubt the similarity is coincidental.
The acting is good...I won't take that away from the film. The characters are relatively believable and the actors handle their roles well. The problem with this film is that it relies too much on illogical or contradictory ideas to move itself along. Ok, first the title "the last castle" is contradicted again and again as Redford keeps saying that anywhere you raise the flag and say you can't take this away from me is a castle. It's almost the theme of the film and it directly contradicts the title...seems like a case of a line too good to throw out, even though it really does not fit.
Also, Redford demonstrates a great deal of respect to the warden but speaks very harshly of him when the warden is simply removed to the other room to grab a book to have signed. Redford criticizes the warden in a most uncivil way right in front of the warden and it just doesn't make sense...it's completely unlike the character to do so. But there has to be some animosity between the two and that was the easiest way to do it...illogical yes, but whatever gets the action moving, right? The guards are also painfully one-dimensional. We get a glimpse early on that the captain is a good guy forced to do bad things but all that we know of the snipers, etc. is that they enjoy shooting prisoners and that the warden enjoys manipulating everyone within the walls. A scene that showed them to be human, to have any feeling other than hate for prisoners, would make them far more believable and make the story that much better...again, this is an action movie and moving the story along fast is key: not a logical progression of events, not keeping the promise to show both sides of the story made in the opening scenes.
In short, this movie is woefully inconsistent. Is it filled with good action sequences, especially for a prison movie. Is it entertaining...sure, it's not bad. But as a film, a piece of art, it just does not pass muster...in their attempts to push this movie onto the screen the film makers simply left too much out and obviously did not spend enough time developing the script. It has so much potential and so little payoff. A 6 in my book.
Hart's War (2002)
Not what I expected
I'll admit right here and now that I was not expecting this to be another JAG drama: I was picturing it more like a dramatic Hogan's Heroes, where the prisoners create havoc for the Germans. Instead, it felt a great deal like Stalag 17, except that the outsider/loner was an African-American soldier. Other than that, the two are very similar, except that I think Stalag 17 is much better done, deeper, more interesting than Hart's War.
Honestly, this story just worked too hard to get from A to B, because B was in no way the logical conclusion of A, no matter what turns were inserted into the script. So much evidence was glossed over: if there were mud beneath the floor board (enough to make the victim so dirty) why wasn't there a spot on the pilot, a fact ceded by the prosecution? (Hart had argued along similar lines just 5 minutes earlier, but now forgets it? I think not. Or that the criminal (when it was finally revealed) did not have any of that tell-tale sign left on him 3 minutes after the crime? I can see him scrubbing away frantically for all of 2 seconds? "Out darned spot...?oh wait, I'm clean. Ok."
My greatest problem with the movie is the message: that in order to be a hero you must die for your fellow man. While that can be a heroic act, I keep remembering a quotation by Gen. George Patton that "No poor, dumb soldier [editing for profanity] ever won a war by dying for his country. You win wars by making the other poor, dumb soldier die for his country." It just seemed to me that there were numerous ways to solve their problem without sacrificing anybody, if they had thought about it first but they instead all jumped up "I'll die for you." "No, I'll die for you" ?They never considered that there was only one person who had to die. Also, Hart's heroic act was actually among the most foolish things he could possibly do, speeding up what he should have wanted to slow down.
About the race issue here, some of the things that the pilots (both African-Americans) said were very interesting and worth listening too, but it really seemed like they were an otherwise superfluous wrinkle in the puzzle, as though a studio exec watched Stalag 17 and said, "You know what ?I don't want to redo this movie, but I bet if we made the pilots black instead of white we could call this original." To me that cheapens the film, if the crux of your film is "heroism in light of a trial fraught with racism" then racism should be an integral part of the film, instead if you took it out and changed a few words here and there it would be the exact same movie ?which disappoints me even futher.
I like war movies, and though I gave this a 6 I cannot say that it is a bad war movie I've seen. I do feel comfortable saying that it is a frustrating movie, that gets worse with time (the more you think about it, the more flaws you find in the story and your impression of it goes down). It has good moments and it is interesting at times, but if you want to see a WWII film about prison camps and conflict among soldiers see Stalag 17. If you want to see a Bruce Willis movie about heroes see Armageddon. This film just isn't original, interesting, or exciting enough to merit viewing it before those two films.
Gosford Park (2001)
Overrated period, overrated piece
Robert Altman's film "Gosford Park" is indicative of the period it portrays: overrated, cliched, repetitive, and unexciting. There is so little new to this film that one half-seriously wonders if plagarism lawyers are working feverishly at his studio to protect this so-called "Oscar-worthy" performance.
This film teaches us that rich people are sluts and scoundrels obsessed with their petty squabbles (we knew that already). It entertains us by giving us almost two hours of set up, 10 minutes of rising action and then with 10 minutes left a climax. The tagline "tea at 4...murder by midnight" is right...It does seem like it takes 8 hours for the climax to get there.
There are many who claim that this film is artistic and that Altman is a genius for interweaving so many storylines into the piece. I however contend that no storyteller ever becomes great by confusing his audience, by intentionally adding in more characters than he knows what to do with, by underdeveloping the characters to such a point that they only reinforce how one-dimensional and cliched they really are, by adding scene after scene to show the same thing, and by slowing the pace to the point that more happens in the theater itself than the film in the course of the showing. Yes, some great works of art do confuse the masses, but that doesn't mean that all films that confuse the masses are great.
This film in essence is like the sentence "Murder, sex, at, rich, clothes, servants, dogs, jokes, stupid Americans"---There's just too much detail and no real point to it. If you must see this film sit in the front of the theater and face back toward the projector...that view is surely more interesting than the film behind you.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Exactly as Expected
The Count of Monte Cristo is extremely and utterly predictable. You know the bad guy is going to get it, you know exactly who that bad guy is and you get a pretty good idea how he's going to get it when revenge is finally had. Going into this movie expecting anything unexpected is foolish, even if you don't know the story.
That said, this movie was so much fun. The visuals were well-done, the fight scenes great, the humor spaced out and appropriate, and the flow of the movie quite quick...he may have spent 14 years in prison, but it sure doesn't feel like that to us...You get a sense of time passing but it isn't belabored.
If you don't mind knowing exactly what will happen and/or you liked The Rock you should enjoy this movie. If you like to be surprised or dazzled with artistry find another.