Thursday, April 29, 2004

Movie Review: Bruce Almighty

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 5/23/03
Running Time: 1:40
Rated: PG-13 (Language, sexual content, and crude humor)
Cast: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman

Director: Tom Shadyac
Producers: Michael Bostick, James D. Brubaker, Jim Carrey, Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, Tom Shadyac
Screenplay: Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk
Music: John Debney
Studio: Universal

Posted by Hello
From the director of Ace Ventura, Ace Ventura II: When Nature Calls, and Liar Liar, comes this, my least favorite of the four. Having the same formula, I felt like I was watching a much worse representation of the at least enjoyable Liar Liar. Bruce Almighty is a perfect example of a cheesy formulaic comedy that is in dire need of several re-writes. It relies too much on its lead to create the laughs that the sub-par screenplay cannot provide.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) gains no respect for his work as a mediocre news reporter for Buffalo’s Eyewitness News. His colleagues do not appreciate his news stories and coverage, and it looks as if he will never climb the news reporter ladder and make it to the almighty position of anchor. However, after Bruce has an incredibly stressful day, he lashes out at God. God (Morgan Freeman) then in turn decides to take a vacation and allow Bruce to take over his overseeing occupation, powers and all. Bruce uses his new-found powers to improve his own personal life, and just when his job, love life, and self-esteem all seem to be looking up, he learns that he is not the only one who needs help in this world and that being the Almighty is a lot harder than he first presumed.

First and foremost, practically every use of Bruce's powers throughout the film is shown in the previews. As the film plays out, one can easily say, "Oh, here is the part where he has seven fingers. There is the parting of the tomato soup - the walking on water - the shot to the fire hydrant during the 'I've Got the Power' music - the gust of wind lifting the woman’s blue dress - the clothes rapidly falling off Jim Carrey and onto the bedroom rug - the pulling of the moon - the dog using the toilet - the parting of the traffic - the manipulation of the news anchor's voice - and the Clint Eastwood impression in the rear view mirror.” With the exception of a very small amount of new uses of his God-like powers, it is disappointing to merely receive dialogue in between the scenes that encompassed the lackluster TV spots.

After nearly two hours of Carrey carrying the picture, the laughs are sparse. For example, the manipulation of the news anchor, the interview with the old woman at Niagara Falls, and the response, "Do you like jazz?...Let me play a little for you!...I can hold that note out forever," are all amusing; however, with a poor plot and with just about as many laughs as there are Stooges, Bruce Almighty cannot hold attention or interest.

The fact is that Carrey's physical comedy is the only thing that keeps this one standing. Without him, this movie would be a wavering drunk ready to topple over and completely flop. In fact, Aniston provides nothing in addition to Carrey’s antics. With that said, the two of them (Jim and Jen) together present just about as must chemistry as a ball of twine. Their affection is beyond bland and their eye contact is absent; they produce no romance - no sparks – no nothing.

Instead of taking the time to craft a reasonable screenplay from this semi-comical premise, the filmmakers just allowed Carrey to flaunt around and make his faces and odd mannerisms, and they then figured that that would be all they needed to sell seats — and they were right. Bruce Almighty, which cost only $81 million to make, earned an undeserving $86.4 million over its opening four-day Memorial Day weekend. Sadly, Jim's face is obviously enough to market any movie and make millions.

To be perfectly honest, when Jim Carrey promoted Bruce Almighty on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, he dished out a funnier and more enjoyable experience than the motion picture itself.(** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Friday, April 23, 2004

Movie Review: The Warriors

United States, 1979
Running Time: 1:34
Rated: R
Cast: Michael Beck, James Remar, David Harris, David Patrick Kelly, Mercedes Ruehl, Lynne Thigpen, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Thomas Waites, Roger Hill

Director: Walter Hill
Producer: Lawrence Gordon
Screenplay: Walter Hill, David Shaber
Music: Barry Devorzon
Studio: Paramount

The dreary subway stations and dark streets of New York, with their gargantuan amount of graffiti, set the overall mood for this cult classic. The dirty-colored walls and the piled-high refuse represent the true grime of the inner-city lifestyles of the countless armies of the night.

Thousands upon thousands of New York Street gangs converge at one center to let Cyrus (Roger Hill), the leader of all gang leaders, speak about overtaking the city from the police. At this rally, the leader of the gang entitled the Rogues (Joel Weiss), murders (or possibly even assassinates in this case) Cyrus, by quickly pulling the trigger. He then optimistically assumes that no one saw him complete the act. However, one person did--a Warrior.

The leader of the Rogues quickly points his finger and pins the blame on the Warriors--one of the toughest bunches out on the streets. Now, the wrongfully accused Warriors must run for their lives and try to return home to Coney Island safely. Only there are over 20,000 cops and over 100,000 different gang members out for the tough band of brothers who sport the burgundy brown leather vests and let their chests (either fit and muscular or hairier than a wooly mammoth) hang out to intimidate their many opposing enemies. The Warriors have it tough and are in for one wild night—an all-out sprint for their home territory, from the most fearsome squads the streets have to offer.

This movie possesses the look, style, and feel of Escape from New York, but Michael Beck as Swan, overlord of the Warriors, does not even come close to Kurt Russell’s powering screen presence as Snake Pliskin; however, the gang as a whole definitely does. This movie also shares hints of being an interpretation of West Side Story; it seems like the inner battle of the Warriors vs. the Rogues is also like that of the Jets vs. the Sharks, only instead of all the dancing and singing, there is nothing but violence and savagery between the two poor-stricken street teams. Other than the Rogues and the Warriors, there are the Orphans, the Turnbull AC’s, the High Hats, the Lizzies, the Gramercy Riffs, and the face-painted Baseball Furies, who surely inspired an age of Fury Halloween costumes. All of these thugs and hoodlums provide in the exciting hunt for the brawling bad-boy bunch, the Warriors.

Lynn Thigpen serves as the narrator of the story as she announces to all the Boppers, the Warriors' situation and location. Her red, shiny, large lips release the radio D.J. voice, that would eventually land her the role of the Chief on television’s “Where in the World is Carmen Santiago?”

With The Warriors, you get your fair share of memorable one-liners such as, “Can You Dig It?” and indeed the most memorable line from this film and possible one of the most memorable in all of cinema for me, “Warriors…come out and play-yay.” This classic quote occurs as the leader of the Rogues, with his crazed and whiny voice, clangs three pony beer bottles on the tips of his fingers together, mocking his crew of counterparts. Also, you receive a flavorful, new-age, electronically synthesized score, equip with the perfectly selected song to end the picture with, Joe Walsh’s “In the City”. On the other hand, you get a totally unnecessary police pull-up scene, where Ajax is hand-cuffed to a bench—this is my one and only gripe about the movie and it is so small that it probably shouldn’t even be mentioned.

All in all, this film is a true treat from the 70’s that many have probably not seen nor heard of; but give this flick credit where credit is due, and make this a picture you can recognize by title and plot. The Warriors is by no means overrated, and even though its styles are obviously outdated, this film will always be fun, fantastical, and able to withstand the test of time. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Movie Review: Mindwalk

United States, 1991
U.S. Release Date: 10/11/1991
Running Time: 1:50
Rated: PG (adult themes)
Cast: Liv Ullman, Sam Waterston, John Heard, Ione Skye, Emmanuel Montes

Director: Bernt Capra
Producer: Adrianna AJ Cohen
Screenplay: Floyd Byars, Fritjof Capra, based on the book “The Turning Point” by Fritjof Capra
Music: Philip Glass
Studio: Paramount

If you want to obtain a copy of this “lost” or “hidden” picture, good luck. Mindwalk is currently only available on VHS format (not DVD) and is very hard to come by, due to its lack of popularity. However, if you do happen to come across a copy of Mindwalk, dust it off and give it a chance. Mindwalk is, just as its title claims, a walk of the mind, and it is truly one of the most thought-provoking and stimulating pictures ever made.

Mindwalk is a trip into the minds of three individuals: a politician, a poet, and a physicist. Jack Edwards (the politician, played by Sam Waterston) just recently came up short on his presidential campaign. After being defeated in the U.S. election, Jack contacts an old friend named Thomas (the poet, played by John Heard) to meet him in France for a daytrip. Jack hopes the trip will allow him to escape the monotony of politics and his D.C. lifestyle. Once Jack and Thomas reach the secluded and scenic medieval islet of Mont St. Michel, they meet Sonia (the physicist turned philosopher, played by Liv Ullman) and engage in a developing three-way conversation discussing everything from politics and philosophy, to sub-atomic physics and ecology.

Mindwalk is a classic example of what is called a “conversation film." The characters literally just walk around and talk with each other for the entire length of the film. With that being said, the film has to rely solely on its intelligent and enlightening discourse, and its dialogue is written well enough that the words do not come off as being over-the-head, dizzying, or pompous. The characters' discussion is abstract, and the rhetoric is intellectually intriguing--but not so much that you need to have a dictionary nearby.

Mindwalk delves into commentaries on global warming, o-zone depletion, deforestation, water pollution, and littering, and how they affect the world on a political and metaphysical level. The three characters discuss various generalities of Western thought and Descartes, human nature and intervention, the role of the individual, and the systems theory.

The acting is absolutely superlative throughout. The three main actors do an excellent job of portraying the characters’ convictions and opinions with heart and emotion. Liv Ullman is intelligent and illuminating. The bearded John Heard (better known as Mr. McAllister from Home Alone) does a wonderful job at playing his artistic, yet slightly comedic, role. Also, Sam Waterston fits the political stereotype to the tee, with his Stephanopoulos hairstyle and his Dukakis eyebrows.

Mindwalk is a quiet and reflective journey that allows your mind to literally walk—wandering within its uncharted caverns. As long as you can sit through a ton of political, social, and ecological jargon, you can appreciate the imagination and the sublime sense of remedying the status quo. While there may be no action whatsoever in this film, there will surely be some action associated with your neurons being stimulated by this absolute mind-tripping brain-bender of a film.

By the time the credits roll, it is easy to agree with Jack’s closing opinion of the entire conversation, “Even the parts I didn’t understand felt right.” This film may be nothing but profound psycho-babbling, but it's truly a cerebral hidden treasure of a film that may change the way you see the world. Without a doubt, Mindwalk is a walk worth taking. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Monday, April 12, 2004

Movie Review: Gattaca

United States, 1997
U.S. Release Date: 10/24/97
Running Time: 1:52
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, mature themes, profanity)
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Gore Vidal, Ernest Borgnine

Director: Andrew Niccol
Producers: Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol
Music: Michael Nyman
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Posted by Hello
Your average science-fiction film sets out to predict the technological innovations of the future with often distracting depictions of laser weaponry, flying cars, human-looking robots, and voice-activated everything. However, Gattaca is not your typical sci-fi motion-picture. Gattaca doesn’t waste its time trying to show off high-tech futuristic gadgets; it sets out with other goals in mind – to establish character development, to convey its ideas with intellect, and to provoke thought – and this high tension and intriguing feature accomplishes all of these goals with ease. Gattaca is a sophisticated sci-fi that will surely both retain your interest and have you on the edge of your seat throughout.

The film opens with the heading “in the not too distant future,” and this statement is beyond realistic; some day this film’s fictional ideas may in fact become non-fictional realities. We are currently coming closer and closer to a world where we can control a human being’s gender and physical characteristics in order to perfect them to a predetermined liking before they are even born. This is exactly the scary and quite possible premise of Gattaca.

In a time where children come special-ordered and genetically fine-tuned at a price, and where normal conception is seen as hasty and uncaring, there is no longer discrimination based upon ethnicity and race, but rather on the flaws in one’s genetic code. The more money a couple has reflects how perfect of a child they can custom order; this brings new meaning to the Burger King slogan “Have it your way.” A specific genome could earn a genetically altered human being an elite occupation, while those conceived by non-artificial means (a.k.a. the “invalids”), are not genetically qualified for the more prestigious vocations. However, there are those rare occasions when an invalid poses as something he/she is not—a valid.

Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) was conceived the natural way and was born with a 99% chance of heart problems and a life expectancy of thirty years. Growing up, Vincent was told the only way he would ever accomplish his dream of being inside of a space shuttle was if he was cleaning it for those who are far more genetically qualified. Over time, Vincent showed unrelenting determination to meet his goal of working for the Gattaca Space Center and getting the chance to explore the wonders of the universe, and eventually an opportunity arises of which Vincent takes full advantage.

Jerome Marrow (Jude Law) was a genetically-altered walking success--that is, until an accident left him paralyzed and placed him in a wheelchair. With Jerome feeling unable to contribute to society, he offered his name and life to Vincent. Vincent gratefully accepts the opportunity and with Jerome’s helix in hand, he takes on Jerome’s name and persona and lands a job at the Gattaca Space Center. But, in a world where “false ladders” are easily discovered – a world where the slightest trace of a flake of skin or even an eyelash could be detrimental to one’s cover – it is beyond complicated to pass as someone else without leaving something to trace behind.

Vincent’s determination to make it into space is the absolute core of this film. The other secondary and tertiary storylines – the murder mystery and the slight romance – only add to the intensity of Vincent’s commanding willpower. The drive of Vincent, the determined “God child” who knows that he could be caught at any given moment, creates for some highly suspenseful scenes. His struggle depicted in the film is parallel to the most memorable underdog protagonists who all had to overcome their own strife when the odds were heavily against them.

Hawke’s acting is superb; he exudes equal amounts of anticipation and intellect—enough to have you both working your brain and biting your nails. Jude Law and Ernest Borgnine also make for two of the film’s additional notable portrayals. Uma Thurman plays Hawke’s love interest in the picture, and although she isn't allotted as much screen time as one would think, she did get a real life love interest out of making this picture. Gattaca was the start of a long lasting Hollywood relationship between Hawke and Thurman that predictably ended in divorce.

Even though this film falls a hair short of being a “great” film, Gattaca is still worth your time and money. It may be a tad bit predictable and it may contain too many voice-overs and clichés and not enough political background, but nonetheless it is still a picture that is worthy of note and then some. Any picture about genetics that is clever enough to create a title that is made up of each of the abbreviations of the four nitrogenous bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine), which make up a DNA strand, easily earns my recommendation. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Movie Review: The Matrix Reloaded

U.S. Release Date: 5/15/03
Running Time: 2:18
Rated: R (Violence, sexual situations, brief nudity)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Lambert Wilson, Harold Perrineau Jr., Harry J. Lennix

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

Posted by Hello
When a film takes up four of the fourteen theatres in a multiplex, it has got to be good—at both raking in cash and favorable ratings. The Matrix Reloaded proved it could fulfill both of these requirements; the motion-picture has set the record for the most money taken in on an opening weekend, for an R-rated feature, grossing nearly $92 million, and it has, rightfully so, received just as many thumbs up and rave reviews as its pristine predecessor. This film, combined with The Matrix, makes for a kinetic blast of outstanding action and delectable discourse that will surely blow your mind, in more ways than one.

In March of 1999 we were first introduced to the exposition of The Matrix, and now almost five years later, the much-anticipated saga concludes with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions—both of which were allotted a much more massive budget than the original ’99 release. Reloaded skillfully restates The Matrix’s main themes of: everything has a purpose, everything happens for a reason, and there are no accidents or choices, only causality.

Neo returns to fulfill his prophecy to save all of mankind, in this intelligent, intuitive, and near flawless feature. This film combines such sophisticated dialogue and superb special effects (or godly-astounding effects as I would like to rename them for this film), which make this movie more than ear-and-eye-candy, but ear-and-eye-ambrosia, a bliss to the big-screen, and a cinematic experience that is just as powerful and stunning as the original. There are several well-choreographed fight scenes and a lengthy car chase (that is far more advanced than any other in history), which add to make this picture well-worth the price of a rental alone. In fact, this movie is not just a movie you may want to rent, but rather one that you may want to purchase and add to your collection.

If you are educated in philosophy and religion as much as the Wachowski brothers (the writers and directors), this film and the series is all-the-more enjoyable. There are a vast number of underlying religious and messianic aspects that cannot be overlooked. For example, some say that the trilogy is based on being a facsimile to the story of Christ, with Neo representing Jesus of Nazareth from the New Testament (Neo translates to “new”, as in the “New Covenant”), while others only acknowledge the obvious allegories of Gnostic philosophy. Either way, it is evident that there are undoubtedly deeper undercurrents to be aware of, which are ever-so cleverly interwoven and masked as the story’s main plot--resulting in an enthralling and ingenious picture.

After the six-month intermission between Reloaded and Revolutions, Reloaded’s gaping holes and unanswered questions can finally be resolved. The outcome of the final chapter of the trilogy will be the deciding factor to both how good this movie really is at being the bridge between installments, and if the trilogy will be the ultimate holy grail of the perfect mesh between thrilling science fiction and astonishing action-adventure.

Compared to the typical lack-luster science-fiction/action appetizers of meager rations, that Hollywood creates in infinite quantities, The Matrix films are a dessert that also provides sustenance—the aftertaste is pleasing, and I am right there with the rest of the die-hard Matrix fans, along for the intense ride in a major frenzy for more Matrix. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004