Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Movie Review: The Matrix Revolutions

U.S. Release Date: 11/05/03
Running Time: 2:09
Rated: R (Violence, sensuality, and mild profanity)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Lambert Wilson, Harold Perrineau Jr., Harry J. Lennix, Mary Alice

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Producer: Joel Silver, Grant Hill
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Music: Don Davis
Studio: Warner Brothers

Revolution n.—the cycle of a phenomena; a radical change often accompanied by violence.

This picture’s poster phrase and advertising slogan (as if they needed one to promote the film) is: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.” To some people, including several acclaimed critics, the ending is nothing but a letdown; to me, I honestly believe that there could not have been a more fitting resolution to Revolutions. I was not disappointed in any way at anytime during the film's running time. While some might have been bored by the movie’s “sluggish” first fifty minutes, full of philosophical phrases and Freudian-like explanations of love and karma, I ate up every line of dialogue and every inch of the revered reel that rolled.

I don’t believe that the Wachowski brothers ever intended on boring anyone, but that they rather intended on hypnotizing everyone with dizzying discussion and subtle religious symbolism up until the film reaches its climatic, action-packed, battle sequence and its fitting conclusion. Revolutions is a ride that may rev its engine just a little too long for those who are antsy to get the ball rolling, but once it hits the gas, there is no letting up, and in my eyes, there is not one single letdown.

Revolutions does a great job of starting up exactly where Reloaded left off. We pick up the plot with both the now, machine-controlling Neo and the Smith-possessed Bane comatose. While in this coma-like state, Neo is stuck in some sort of limbo train station (on the edge of, or between, both worlds—the Matrix and the real world), and the only way to get him out is through the smarmy Merovingian and the homeless-looking Train Man. After making a deal with these two greasy men, Neo is removed from his limbo to help fight against the soon-approaching swarm of those squidy sentinels and the continuously-multiplying, virus-like, angry God of the Matrix, Agent Smith. Neo and Trinity take off in an unexpected direction in an attempt to save all of humanity and find out in the end if Neo is truly “The One”, and if the prophecy can still be fulfilled.

I may be able to agree with some who say that this is the weakest and most-inferior of the three films, but to use the word weak when referring to any of the three blockbusters in this trilogy is simply unjust.

After sitting through the closing chapter of the saga, some questions may remain unanswered to the average viewer, but if you are like me, an extreme fundamentalist when it comes to The Matrix series, there are no questions that remain unanswered, or, for that matter, need to be answered in the overall look of things.

The film’s messianic aspects scream outward in this miraculous finale. For instance, Neo is the savior who greatly impacts all of those around him, and Agent Smith is strikingly similar to both the multiplying demon named Legion, who Jesus exorcised, and the Anti-Christ. Also, The Source is God; The Source is our end.

In the realm of Hollywood, before The Matrix came storming down with success, a science-fiction film that emitted both intellect and imagery, was absolutely unheard of. Now this gem of a trilogy, in the science-fiction/action sort, which maintains its central underlying premise of a celestial savior and his love, can be crowned the apex of action and the true zenith of its kind.

Watching this film and then viewing its now completed three-part series as one entity, is like gazing at a fireworks display for the first time. In this case, it is the Fourth of July in November—the show was phenomenal with tons of ooo’s and ahh’s audible from the crowd, and the grand finale left a life-lasting, striking impression for the heart, and a burning, over-all image for the mind. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Movie Review: Metropolis

United States, 1926
Running Time: 2:02
Rated: No rating
Cast: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Froehlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Heinrich George

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, based on the novel by Thea von Harbou
Silent with Musical Accompaniment

Metropolis is certainly one the most influential films to come out of the ‘20’s--alongside the likes of Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. Some may think that because the film is old, silent, and in black-and-white, it may be boring and draining. However, Metropolis is nothing of the sort; the restored version of the early twentieth century original is both visually stimulating and emotionally uplifting. Not only is Metropolis a refreshing change of pace, but it is also a silent classic that paved the way for many contemporary cinemascapes.

In a futuristic world, where the upper class lives on the surface, and where the working class resides far underground slaving over machinery to power the rich city of Metropolis, there is one man who seeks to change this disunity between the classes. Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of town-leader Johhan Fredersen (Alfred Abel), is sparked to alter the class struggle by a visit from a charming young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm). Maria enters Freder’s estate with a horde of poverty-stricken children from the underground, and Freder becomes emotionally attached to both the poor children and the Virgin Mary-like Maria. With hopes to nullify the ruthless Social-Darwinist society that his father has built, Freder calls on the mad scientist/inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) for help.

However, all goes awry when the evil Rotwang creates a robot, in the likeness of Maria, in order to convince her followers to destroy the machines that run the non-working class’s world. Little do the underground slaves realize that by destroying the machines, they are destroying both the elite and themselves. Freder is the only hope to bring peace to the two conflicting classes, before it’s too late.

Metropolis blends horror, romance, fantasy, and science-fiction all into a perfect package that also manages to pack a political punch. With both the uprising of the Proletariat over the Bourgeoisie and the inevitable striving towards a Communist society, obvious elements of Marxism are present. Nevertheless, even though several aspects of public policy are evident throughout the film, the picture opens with a disclaimer that reads: “This film is not of today or of the future. It tells of no place. It serves no tendency, party, or class. It has a moral that grows on the pillar of understanding: ‘The mediator between brain and muscle must be the heart.’ Thea von Harbou.” This very quote serves as the film's dominant theme, and with it, carries so much symbolism.

In every silent film, there is an abundance of both make-up and overly-dramatic expressions, and unsurprisingly, Metropolis is no exception. At times, the characters, with their tremendously pale faces and there excessively accentuated wide eyes, look more like pantomimes than actors. Their facial expressions and body movements are exaggerated to the utmost extreme, but then again, this is true acting, considering there is no tone of voice – or, for that matter, no voice at all - to interpret.

Metropolis is the parent picture of thousands of films--paving the way for films like: Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and Gattaca to name a few. Both its visually stunning camera angles and its deceptive cinematography (between prop and performer) are absolutely astonishing—given the time it was made.

Metropolis is truly a groundbreaking film. It contains both characters and situations that will be forever emulated throughout the world of cinema. (A few scenes that stand out include: the frightening flashlight chase scene through the dark and dank catacombs, where Rotwang hunts down Maria, and the robot-transforming light show, where the machine takes on the likeness of Maria.) The dreamy feel and the eerie eye-shots will be stamped into your memory for a lifetime, and even though this film may not “say” anything, it says a lot about societal stratification and screams masterpiece. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Movie Review: The Passion of the Christ

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 2/25/04 (wide)
Running Time: 2:07
Rated: R (Graphic violence)
Cast: James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Jivkov, Hristo Naumov Shopov, Mattia Sbragia

Director: Mel Gibson
Producers: Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey, Stephen McEveety
Screenplay: Benedict Fitzgerald and Mel Gibson
Music: John Debney
Studio: Newmarket Film Group
In Aramaic and Latin with subtitles

Nearly a decade ago, Mel Gibson decided that he wanted to create a film about the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life—more commonly known as "The Passion." His goal was to depict an image of Jesus’ intense suffering that would surely leave a permanent impression in the minds and hearts of the viewers. What he did was create a picture that is entirely capable of both uplifting many and depressing and disgusting others. Surely, some will be displeased with Gibson’s efforts, due to its NC-17-esque persistent torture of Jesus the Nazarene and its elements of Anti-Semitism, which some claim to be present. Others will be emotionally touched.

To tell you the truth, the thought of Anti-Semitism being displayed in this film is absolutely absurd, because it simply is not present. The Jews sentencing Jesus to his death is a historical fact, which the picture depicts accurately and without prejudice. However, the Jews did not kill Jesus; Jesus was killed, in accordance with Christian belief, by each and every human-being—the same people he so willingly died for. It was humankind’s sins that led God to allow the Romans and the Jews to fulfill His pre-destined plan for His Son. Holding a prejudice against all Jews for killing Jesus is no different than holding a prejudice against all Germans for killing the Jews—both notions are preposterous, unethical, and go against the exact values that the Christian religion holds dear to heart.

As for the film’s graphic violence, every lash of the whip, every cry of pain, and every one of the thousands of criss-crossing rivulets of blood were undoubtedly warranted. While the violence may be a little overboard and repulsive for some (especially young children), if Gibson didn’t hit us hard with the message, it may have not hit home.

The Passion of the Christ is by no means an enjoyable or fun motion picture to sit through, but rather a graphic, yet inspirational, film that will stay with you for a lifetime. Gibson’s film may be too visceral for the faint of heart; however, keep in mind that no one is going to see this film for its violence or for its anti-fun-factor, but rather its moving message.

This monumental motion picture of the greatest story ever told is by far the best depiction of the final hours of Christ to ever grace the eyes of many, and even if Christ doesn’t suit you as your savior, this film is nothing short of amazing from its opening scene in the garden of Gethsemane, to the closing glorified resurrected image of Jesus in the tomb.

The Passion will continue to earn its title of the most controversial film to date, and at the same time, it will continue to result in mixed emotions. However, for me, the impact was grand and could not have been any more expressively gratifying.

To embark on experiencing this film, one must be in the right state of mind; there are many scenes that can become very affecting—causing both sniffling and sobbing. The Passion’s arresting effects both ensure that one will never look at a crucifix in the same way again and bring a whole new depth to the phrase, “He suffered, died, and was buried.” (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Monday, March 08, 2004

My Crystal Ball was a Bit Cloudy: A Retrospect of Oscar Night ‘04

Overall, I was surprised with the night’s results--considering there were no real upsets or shockers. The previously predicted winners all won; no money was made here—all of the low-odd favorites took home the gold, while all of the underdogs hung their heads and moped back to the drawing table.

Normally the “Supporting” Awards go to the person you’d least expect, and this year both of these categories were a toss up. Nonetheless, both of the favorites won. Last year Adrian Brody pulled off the well-deserved upset for "Best Actor," for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist, a film that I greatly admire, but this year…no upsets whatsoever. Brody, the presenter this time around, expected a kiss, but got none; I expected some unexpected victories, but got none.

Unsurprisingly, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King took home all of the eleven statues it was nominated for; the other winners, who did not happen to spend their last four years in New Zealand, were just lucky that the pristine final installment of the film did not grace their categories. I’m glad Peter Jackson took home his duo of highly-deserved awards (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture), and I’m also glad that he was polite enough to wear shoes to the event.

Penn, Theron, Robbins, and Zellweger: fours names that undoubtedly deserve merit. I knew both Penn and Theron were guaranteed to take home the prize, but my heart was with Murray and Watts—both of their nominated portrayals are the absolute pinnacles of both of their careers. While Penn said, “Finally,” and Theron yet again thanked her lawyer, Robbins withheld his political opinions to a minimum while his Oscar-winning wife balled, and Zellweger thanked her overweight husband and could still not open her eyes wide enough for the public to see them.

I really felt bad for Bill Murray, as Billy Crystal pretty much made fun of him after he lost, but in no way is Mr. Murray a loser. After being a comedic cinematic genius over the past decades, he converted himself into a serious character that will live on for centuries. And as for Sofia Coppola, I am glad to see that she took home a golden-guy, but could she really have appeared any less appreciative and any more stoic?

In summary, even though LOTR and Finding Nemo were duhs, I still thought there would be a little room for some surprises. But, like a said, my predictions were only a little off; if Meatloaf’s chorus is correct in saying, “two out of three ain’t bad,” then nine out of thirteen is surely nothing to disparage.

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Movie Review: Matchstick Men

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 9/12/03
Running Time: 1:56
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, profanity, brief nudity)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill

Director: Ridley Scott
Producers: Jack Rapke, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey, Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
Screenplay: Nicholas Griffin & Ted Griffin, based on the novel by Eric Garcia
Music: Hans Zimmer
Studio: Warner Brothers

Posted by Hello
Director Ridley Scott, who is mostly known for his action-packed, thrill-seeking motion pictures like Gladiator, Blade Runner, and Alien, has ventured into uncharted territory with his latest production. While Matchstick Men may be a far-cry from the likes of Maximus, Rick Deckard, and Ripley, the British-born Scott shows off his vast versatility by creating this comedic caper film that has a fun and fairy-tale feel.

Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage) is an OCD sufferer (similar in routine to Nicholson’s role as Melvin in As Good As It Gets) who is, at the same time, a professional con-artist. Roy and his partner in crime Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) are both in the planning stages of trying to pull off a lucrative, but extremely high-risk con, when a problem arises. The fourteen-year-old daughter Roy never knew he had, suddenly strolls into his life and learns of his illegal occupation. Now, Roy must live two separate lifestyles—one good: that being a loving attempt of a father to his teenage daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), and one bad: still being the matchstick man (a.k.a. con man) on the prowl to “earn” his next dollar from an unsuspecting victim. Roy must make the distinction between his two different styles of living, and also weigh out his options of whether or not to allow his newly-acquired offspring to join in on his next big scam.

Nicholas Cage puts out yet another off-the-wall character, directly following his wondrous performance as both Charlie and Donald Kauffman in Adaptation. Here, Cage’s performance as Roy, the spick and span con man, is played with such stimulating precision. Nic freely entertains with all of his long and uncomfortable-sounding “uhh…?”’s, his high-pitched staccato “woo”’s, and both his random outbursts of frustration and repetitious shouts of “pigmies.” His portrayal as the compulsive criminal, who is also attempting to be a loving father, is absolutely flawless; his jumpy reflexes and compulsions, along with his quirky facial tics, combine to make his extreme talent as an actor obvious and make for a performance that is beyond enjoyable to watch.

When Roy’s pills run out, his OCD cleaning fixations are greatly demonstrated—just think Danny Tanner on speed. Roy has an insanely-organized, pantry-sized room stuffed with cleaning products. He becomes paranoid of the shear thought of shoes on his clean carpet. And with any tiny detection of spores, germs, or crumbs, Roy will go off into a neat-freak, cleaning frenzy.

Alongside Cage is the fresh and gorgeous face of Alison Lohman. Following up her recent role in the mediocre White Oleander, Lohman plays Roy’s instantly likeable, smart, and funny fourteen-year-old daughter. The fact that, during the time of filming this picture, Alison was a twenty-two-year-old actress, who, without a doubt, easily pulled off the role as an eighth-grader, proves that she will definitely go far in the acting world. If it were up to me, I would have definitely placed Lohman onto the sparse list of supporting actresses who were nominated for the 2003 Oscars.

All in all, this film works wonderfully as a whole, even down to the overly extensive screen time given to cigarettes; throughout the film, there are so many scenes of just a character simply smoking and puffing away on the cancer-causing, nicotine-filled, tobacco-rolled papers. It really makes one wonder, why Roy, the neat freak, is so careless with his own personal hygiene in keeping his lungs free from tar, yet he will spend hours cleaning his L.A. home with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

If there comes a point in the film when you think the picture may have taken a turn for the worse and you are wondering how it is going to end, have no fear. The uncomfortable twist the film takes, twists into a beautiful and perfect ending.

In the end, Matchstick Men will leave you more than satisfied with the three main characters’ perfect performances, the clever plot, and the intelligent and witty dialogue. Matchstick Men is a consummate collaboration that can be placed alongside The Sting, on the absolute top shelf of the caper-plotted bookcase of motion-pictures. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004