Monday, June 20, 2011

FW: Tree of Life (film 2011)

From: Robert
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2011 2:40 PM


I saw it.  It may be one of the weirdest movies I have ever watched.  It will definitely turn most people off.  I had to go downtown to the Broadway to see it since it’s not in wide general release.  It’s a polarizer, some people will like it (for me I tolerated it), many people will hate it.  The story doesn’t flow chronologically, it jumps around.  It’s especially difficult to watch if you have had a family member die.  The subject matter is about a son that is killed at 19 and they reconstruct his childhood lifetime experiences many of which I could relate to.   There is a lot of room for interpretation of this film.  I’m not sure I get all that was being conveyed.  Part of the film seems like a visual documentary on the creation of the universe and evolution.  The other part is a drama about a family and their 3 boys, one that dies at the beginning of the film.



From: John
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 4:41 PM

I suspect that the movie looks at life and religion from a pantheist perspective.


From: Robert
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 8:45 AM


This looks interesting.


…” featuring sci-fi and surrealist themes and imagery through space and the birth of life on Earth, drawing comparisons in particular to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. “



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monsters versus Aliens * * * *

Monsters versus Aliens divides its time equally between intense action sequences, and a combination of personal story with a mile-a-minute pop culture movie references.  Normally this kind of humor would fall flat, but here it doesn't, mainly because the fast pace of the movie forces us to pay attention or else we will miss out on the jokes.  (Like a mutant scientist building an atomic bomb out of Legos.  Like the general named "W. R. Monger."  Like a room so secret that you have to scan 6 body parts to get in.  I will let you guess what the 6th body part is.)   There is a parody of just about everything in this movie, but the downside is that you need to be familiar with science fiction to get some of the jokes.

For example, consider this scene:  Two scientists are monitoring the skies for UFO's.  One of them looks like he is playing a 2600 video game.  When a UFO shows up on their radar, they start to panic.  One of them calls it in.  "Supernova, this is Red Dwarf.   Code Nimoy!  Code Nimoy!"

There is also some horror movie parody.  Consider this scene:  Two teenagers are parked on lover's lane in a convertible.  He's a school athlete whose bumper sticker says "gym nasty", but he is too nervous to even get to first base with his girlfriend.  Something comes up behind them, and he thinks it is the cops.  It is not.  This is typical monster movie fair where something horrible is about jump out of the bushes, except that in this case it is not a monster.  It is something a little more interesting and the funny twist is that the girl ends up rescuing the guy.

Whoever made this movie had a great attention for detail, because there is a lot of detail in this movie, along with some over-the-top hardware.  The important point is that the combination of action and intense detail kept my attention completely in same way that "Speed" captured my attention and never let it go.

But I feel that this movie has been slighted by the critics who put the film at about two and a half stars.  Where should it be rated?  For someone who understands the in-jokes, it is about 3.5 stars.  Otherwise, it will come across as a slightly silly action comedy, worth about 3 stars.

*** Since I first wrote this, I have seen this movie three more times and enjoyed it thoroughly each time.  I am not afraid to say that this silly action comedy should be rated 4 stars.  It has to be the most under-appreciated movie in recent memory.

Monsters vs. Aliens Featurette - Gallaxhar

Monsters vs. Aliens Featurette - Gallaxhar

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Green Zone * * *

The Green Zone seems like a dumb movie to me because it is about a fictional conspiracy involving a fictional informant who fabricated evidence about the Weapons of Mass Destruction that lead to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  So if you are going to make a movie about the false reasons that we went to war with Iraq, then why not make it about the real story, instead of giving us a simplistic fake one?  I am concerned that some people are going to think that they are watching historic events..

The real reasons that we went to war were complex, involving a great many sources, including Russian, British and CIA intelligence, all of which were in agreement with each other.  We later found out that one of the key informants had lied, but that fact alone might not have stopped us from going to war had we known.

The only reason that I can recommend this movie is that it works as war action picture.  The movie gives us some sense of what it must be like to be a soldier in Iraq.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You Don't Know Jack * * *

"You Don't Know Jack" is the HBO movie about Jack Kevorkian, which is interesting and thought provoking.  It stars Al Pacino, who gives a great performance as always, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman.  About half way there is a 2.5 minute argument between Jack and his sister that is about 2 minutes too long.  It is boring and repetitious.  Other than that, it is an interesting movie.

Kevorkian would film and interview the people he helped die.  The movie makes use of actual film footage to show that people really were suffering.  I found this touching and it gave the movie more realism.

It should be noted that Kevorkian's friend and advocate, Janet Good (played by Sarandon), who he also helped to die, may not have had pancreatic cancer after all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Grit (2010) * * * 1/2

I enjoyed this quite a bit.   I thought that it was more intelligent and realistic than the 1969 version, although none of the characters are particularly nice people.   The Younger and James Wild West Show at the end was real.  Both men had been part of the Jesse James outlaw gang before giving up the life of crime.  (Most of the members of the gang had been killed or died.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace * * * *

Oh, how time flies.  12 years ago I stood in line for hours to get tickets to Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace, which was the first Star Wars film after a 16 year hiatus since Return Of The Jedi.  By now, half the planet has seen this movie, and almost everybody knows what it is about:  Young Anakin Skywalker will some day grow up to be the evil Darth Vader, but in this prequel he is all sweet and possessed with magical abilities that ultimately save the day.  (I like what Dr. Laura said on her radio program:  "See what happens when a boy has no father and you take him away from the mother?  He turns into Darth Vader!")

Months before the movie came out, they released an amazingly cool teaser trailer that didn't give away too much.  This is why people stood in lines for hours.  When I actually did get to see the movie in the theater, the audience went nuts over the opening scenes.  They waited 16 years plus a few hours in line to see another Star Wars Movie, and they were going to be one of the first ones to see it.

The first five minutes of the movie did not instill confidence.  The first shot is of a slightly goofy looking spaceship followed shortly by some goofy looking aliens.   Moments later the Jedi Knights display their remarkable powers.  I had some concerns that this "Episode I" of the series would confuse people about "Jedi Knights" and "The Force" if they weren't already familiar with the other Star Wars movies.  George Lucas thinks that people should watch the Star Wars movies in episode order, as opposed to the order in which they were actually made, but it is really "Episode IV", the first movie made, that introduced us to the ideas of the "The Force" and "Jedi Knights."

Despite my concerns, I think that the movie is a masterpiece.  The story is simply too good.  But it is a masterpiece with a nearly fatal flaw.   There are a number of "aliens" in this movie whose style of speaking is hard to understand.  Now I understood almost everything that was said in this movie, but it requires a good ear and careful attention to follow the dialog.  But I know a number of people who think that this movie is full of gibberish.  So, by all means, turn on the SUBTITLES if you are going to watch the movie at home.

The other nearly fatal flaw is the character of Jar Jar Binx.  I don't think that this is a flaw at all, because I like the character, but a great many people don't.  The reasons why people don't like Jar Jar is that he is a bumbling fool mainly in the movie for comic relief, and he is also the character who most frequently sounds like gibberish.  Despite this, I think that it is good to have a comic relief character in an otherwise serious movie.  But the negative reaction to Jar Jar Binx caused this character to be less utilized in the next two movies.

All these concerns are minor.  This is a really good story that is rich in detail and stunning to look at.  I am almost sorry that I waited ten years to watch it again.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones * * * *

Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones is the story about how the war began between the Galactic Republic and the separatists. Starting with the attempted assassination of Senator Padmé Amidala, which parallels the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand that helped start World War I, a series of discoveries are made that cumulate in a massive battle. It is also the story of Anakin Skywalker's budding relationship with Padmé, and his gradual (or maybe sudden) descent into the dark side.

I am very impressed with how Hayden Christensen consistently portrays Anakin as a tormented character.  This is a tough trick to pull off, since we already know that the sweet boy from Episode 1 turns evil. The question is how did he get there?  Here Hayden Christensen makes the transition very believable.

It gets confusing talking about episode order versus production order.  This is the fifth Star Wars film, but it is called Episode II.  George Lucas suggests that people watch the movies in episode order, but I disagree. There are people and places in this movie that take on much less significance if you have not seen the first two movies made, called episodes IV and V.  It is better to see the original trilogy first.

Star Wars movies are difficult to evaluate because there have been enough of them that different people have different ideas about what a Star Wars movie should be.  Every time George Lucas takes the series in a different direction, which he has done with almost every Star Wars film, a certain number of people rebel against the change.

In 2002, I was blown away by this movie, but now just a little less so. In terms of action and special effects, this is the most intense Star Wars film. Technically and visually it is an amazing achievement, but it borders on turning into a video game;  There is almost too much detail.  The story is good, but a little less compelling than the best Star Wars movies. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé is simplistic making it less believable.

Since this is the second movie in the second trilogy, it is tempting to compare it with The Empire Strikes Back, which is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies, and by me as the best movie ever made.  However the two movies and the two trilogies are very different.  The first trilogy was about good people rebelling against evil and caring for one another.  The second trilogy is about the rise of evil.  The emotion in this film comes not from a close group of people who care about each other, but from the struggle and suffering of the main characters.  Personal relationships take a back seat to intense action and violence.

Middle movies in trilogies are transitional films because they have no clear beginning or end.   The second movie in this trilogy seems overly intent on explaining events leading up to the first Star Wars movie.

Roger Ebert criticized the movie for not looking good (and for simplistic dialog). On the first release of the film, I noticed some brief technical glitches in the special effects that seemed to be gone 3 weeks later. This means that the movie was rushed to meet it's release date, but then the film was remastered and sent out to theaters again. The DVD version looks gorgeous and has no such problems.

Like The Phantom Menace, whatever flaws this film may have, it still feels like a masterpiece to me.  The story is simply too good and the movie is a feast for the senses.

I happen to like the teaser trailer.  The full trailer is here.

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith * * * 1/2

Star Wars Episode III:  The Revenge of the Sith is the final Star Wars movie made, and the third out of six in episode order.  It is about the fall of the Galactic Republic, the rise of the Galactic Empire, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the force.  The rise of the Empire somewhat parallels the fall of the Roman Republic.

The first 33 minutes is a series of action sequences that serve as the intro to the movie.  I could not help but think that this is overkill since it is the longest intro sequence I have ever seen, and the movie seems to be trying to impress us with its special effects, which are indeed impressive.  33 minutes into the movie we get to meat of the story, which is a series of events that lead to the downfall of Anakin.  When he finally does succumb to the dark side at the hands of Chancellor Palpatine, he goes on a killing spree against the Jedi order.  

Some people might find the story to be a bit of a downer, but this was the intent all along.  This is about a man's descent into hell and the triumph of evil.  The movie is technically and visually amazing, but maybe there was a little too much emphasis on special effects making the story a little less compelling than its predecessors. 

The last movie ends where the first movie started:  On Tatooine.  I found the final shots of an infant Luke Skywalker and the setting Tatooine suns to be very emotionally stirring and reminiscent of the first movie.

The audio commentary available on the DVD is worth listening to.  It gave me new insights into the film.

Star Wars Episode IV: The New Hope * * * *

In 1977 this movie was released just as "Star Wars."    The film borrows ideas from Samurai movies, westerns, old war movies, 1930's serials,  Laurel and Hardy, and even The Wizard of Oz.  It is also inspired by The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the cold war.  Despite enormous production problems, and a cast and crew who refused to take the movie seriously because they thought that it was just a "kiddie film", George Lucas stuck to his mythical vision as best as he could, and the final result was a near perfect film for its time.  One of the Fox executives broke down and cried when he saw the screening, saying that it was the greatest movie he had ever seen.

Presumably George Lucas went to Hawaii to hide because he thought that the movie would be a flop.  Instead it was the highest grossing film for a few years.  It also started the greatest film franchise to date, and made famous the cast, the most successful of which is Harrison Ford.

But George Lucas could not resist tinkering with the film later.  The 1997 Special Edition added improved special effects, extra scenes and minor changes.  The most controversial of these changes is where Greedo shoots at Han Solo first.  This is almost universally met with disapproval because it takes away from the rogue image of Han Solo.  Other minor changes were made in the DVD version, and more changes are planned for upcoming Blu-Ray and 3D releases.  It is unlikely at this point that you could see the original Star Wars as it appeared in theaters, unless you have an old video tape copy, but I am happy with the DVD version, which is the current standard for the film  The upcoming Blu-Ray release may become the next new standard version of Star Wars.

I have seen the movie somewhere between 10 and 12 times.  I have lost count.  I found myself wondering if I would be bored seeing it one more time?  Apparently not.  I found myself quite caught up with the film.  My only criticisms are that:  1.)  It takes a while for the story to get going.  We don't meet Luke Skywalker until exactly 15 minutes into the film, and Luke doesn't decide to leave his home until 30 minutes into the movie.  2.)  The last third to half of the movie is almost all action, and as good as that is, it leave less room for character development, which is done better by the next movie.

The original movie trailer is actually pretty dreadful and does not do justice to the film.

Also see:
Also see:
Also see:
Also see:

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back * * * *

There are good movies, and there are really good movies, and there are also great movies.  But only one could be called the best ever made, and I think that this film might be it, although that also might depend upon one's taste.  (By the way, Citizen Kane, often cited as the best movie ever made, is a bit dull.)

Having seen this movie several times, I was concerned that I might not enjoy another viewing.  I needn't have worried.  This is a really great film.  It retains everything that was great about the first Star Wars movie while doing several things better:

1.)  Character Development.  The love story between Han Solo and Princes Leia makes the movie.   The story arc of Luke Skywalker is also very good.

2.)  Acting.  If you look at all the different mannerisms of Han Solo, I defy anyone to find a better Harrison Ford performance.  Carrie Fischer also does great work here.  Mark Hamill shines more toward the end of the movie, but I don't think that he was given as much to work with.  I think that he does his best work in the third movie.  Finally, David Prowse should be given some credit for his intimidating presence as Darth Vader.

3.)  Sets.  Every room in the cloud city is like a different work of art. The other sets, for example on Hoth and on the star destroyer, are good too.  This movie is a feast for the eyes.

4.)   Special effects.  31 years later, most of the special effects hold up really well.  There are some scenes that are just breathtaking.

5.)  Ideas.  Most writers would have been proud to come up with one really great idea.  This movie has several.  These include the ice planet, the walkers, Yoda, the city in the clouds, Luke having an imaginary battle with Darth Vader,  Yoda's grammar and witticisms, the asteroid field, the space monster, and finally Darth Vader's revelation to Luke.

6.)  Pacing.  Rather than start slow and end with all action, The Empire Strikes Back mixes the action with story and character development to produce what may be a perfect movie.  The only time I was a little bored is during the early scenes with Luke on Degobah.  These scenes seem to drag out a little long before switching back to the story of the pursuit of Millennium Falcon .

The 1997 re-release of the movie introduced a few new special effects, mostly when the Millennium Falcon flies into the Cloud City, it does a flyover of the city.  This makes the city appear larger than it did in the original release.  I don't think that this meshes well with the original special effects because it looks too "real."  The original special effects are all stop motion capture, and although they look very good, sometimes you can tell that they are stop motion capture.  The added scene is all computer generated and looks more like what you would find in the second trilogy.  I found myself wondering why do we need this?

The 2004 DVD release also changed the scene between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine to have Palpatine played by Ian McDiarmid.  The original shot of the Emperor was actually played by an uncredited woman in heavy makeup.  Since the original scene was fine, I once again wonder why we need the change?

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi * * *

The Return of the Jedi is the least impressive of the Star Wars movies and was somewhat controversial when it was released because it was more geared toward children than the previous films.  The introduction of the teddy bear like Ewoks put off some people, and with the final scene featuring singing Eworks, I felt like George Lucas had damaged Star Wars forever.  Fortunately, in later editions of the film, the Ewok singing was taken out.

Nevertheless, it is a satisfying conclusion to the 6 movie series.   The events that happen here are interesting and necessary to conclude the story.  The best scenes are the rescue of Han Solo, a high speed chase through a forest, the Death Star battle, and the final confrontation between Luke Skywalker, Emperor Palpatine, and Darth Vader.

Mark Hamill does a really impressive job portraying Luke Skywalker in this film.

Heart of Darkness

The most famous adaptation of Heart of Darknessis Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 movie Apocalypse Now,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The American * * *

The American is the story of a man who lives in Europe and makes guns.
He not only makes guns, but he knows how to use them as he
dispatches two hit men out to kill him early in the film. He spends
the rest of the movie looking over his shoulder wondering who might be
trying to kill him next. Early on, we meet his boss, who is
presumably Mafia, but we never know for sure. The rest of the movie
is exactly as I thought it would be: We see the American spend a lot
of quiet time making his gun, laying awake at night, driving though
the pretty Italian countryside, and constantly being afraid of just
about everybody. To make the movie a little more interesting, he
develops a relationship with a sexy prostitute and befriends a well
intentioned priest.

This is the kind of movie that is just a little too slow, but keeps
you going because you want to see how it ends. The suspense is the
only thing that carries the movie, but having seen the ending, there
is no reason why I would want to see it again. I honestly can say
that I enjoyed the movie, but even so, it was a borderline film for
me. I think that for many people this movie won't be enough.

I was hoping that this movie would give me a more favorable impression
of George Clooney movies. Oh well.