Director – Peter Weir
Cast – Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Danny Glover, Brent Jennigs, Jossef Sommer, Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone, Viggo Mortensen
Witness follows the story of a young Amish boy (played by Lukas Haas) who sees a murder take place. He later identifies the murderer to John Book (Harrison Ford). The hitch is that the murderer is a cop (Danny Glover), and when Ford reveals this to his boss (who turn out to be in cahoots with Glover), Ford goes into hiding with Haas to his Amish town. John Book falls in love with the boy’s mother, which of course, complicates things, and ends up driving the majority of the story along.
Witness was directed by Peter Weir, the Austrailian director of such films as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Fearless, and The Year of Living Dangerously. This film was his first real crack at the North American market, and it certainly made his name there. Audiences reacted so well that a film Weir had been previously trying (unsuccesfully) to make, The Mosquito Coast, was immediately given the green light. Critics reaction was also largely positive. The movie has also enjoyed popularity through numerous late-night cable airings, as well as for the many parodies of its “vanilla ice cream” scene, where an Amish man’s face is demeaningly smeared with ice cream by a local thug, who promptly gets a hay-maker or two from Harrison Ford.
Witness combines genres in an attempt to create a distinct tone. This is an admirable idea in principle, but I found that the transitions between genres were jarring. We bounce back and forth throughout the film between police thriller, inter-cultural melodrama, and romance from scene to scene. The flow wasn’t consistent in that respect. Couldn’t we have scenes that mix all three aspects? Of all the aspects that the movie focuses on, the”cop genre” feels the most heavy handed. When the shoot out at the end of the movie comes, it almost feels tacked on to create a suitable ending. I would have personally liked a non-violent ending, but the violence does feel a bit warranted and is fairly realistic. I guess I just want a cop movie with no shootout at the end. Too much to hope? Perhaps.
Lukas Haas, playing the naively innocent Amish boy, is a wonderful find , but the chemistry between Kelly McGillis and Harrsion Ford is the main reason that this movie works as well as it does. McGillis is excellent, and even though this is not Ford’s best work, as some say (personally I think his best work is in his next film, The Mosquito Coast), he carries a sense of compassion and the qualities of an everyman that remind us of a tough James Stewart. In the end, this is really what Ford is best at.
Witness works best when it focuses on its story of culture clash, with Ford’s tough cop forced to hide with peace loving and down to earth Amish. The movie unfortunately strays a bit with its romantic story-line, and the ending is a bit of a cop out, but this is a solid movie. All in all I think it is one of Peter Weir’s lesser works, despite being one of his most famous. But enjoy the good performances (including Viggo Mortenson’s film debut in a small role), and go for the ride. Definitely recommended.
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The Devil Wears Prada REVIEW
Director – David Frankel
Cast – Meryll Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Stabnley Tucci, Simon Baker, Adrian Grenier
The Devil Wears Prada is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Lauren Weisberger, who allegedly based the book on her experiences as an assistant to fashion icon Anna Wintour (nicknamed “Nuclear Wintour”, which says it all I think.) It follows a young assistant to a fashion magazine editor as she learns the ropes and tries not to lose herself along the way etc etc.
The movie is one big ball of cotton candy, and as such, even though the nutritional content is next to nothing, it is quite enjoyable. The movie hums along at a nice pace, with a rich and frothy tone that can’t help but be appealing, no matter how hard you try to not be affected by its infectious bounce.
The cast is a big reason for its appeal. Anne Hathaway is impossible not to like, and Stanley Tucci is wonderful (as usual). However Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep really are the bright lights in the production, with Meryl providing most of what little complexity there is in the film, and Emily Blunt being quite funny in a dark sort of way.
After watching The Devil Wears Prada many may realize that it is quite hypocritical in a way. It’s core “message” (if it may be said to have one) is all about being true to yourself, and avoiding the follies and fakeness which the fashion industry represents. However the movie itself takes every opportunity it can to glamorize the clothes and fashion of that world. Many major fashion designers took part in the film, to the extent that it became the most expensively costumed movie in history. How can we be expected to follow the themes of the film when it contradicts itself like this, you might ask. To be frank, the viewer is swept along at such an entertaining and brisk rate that these objections fly out of the window with the arrival of the next scene, montage, or character entrance. Its fluff to be sure , but it’s fairly entertaining fluff all the same.
The Devil Wears Prada is fast, fun, and even witty at times. Granted, it can hit a cliché or two, but the pace and wonderful performances will keep the audience interested. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt all bring their A game. Despite its paper-thin plot, The Devil Wears Prada remains a solidly entertaining movie.
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Date Night REVIEW
Director – Shawn Levy
Cast – Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Whalberg, Taraji P. Henson, William Fitchner, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Common
Date Night is a hit-and-miss little comedy from the director of Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther (2006), and Night at the Museum. With credits such as these, I guess you can’t hope for too much, but I was reasonably optimistic as I went in. Steve Carell is a remarkable talent (probably the premier comedian of our era), and Tina Fey has certainly proven herself through her TV projects.
Overall the movie is no more or less than what you would expect. The setup is neat and well-played, with some quite humorous touches and surprisingly deft sequences. Then the plot is introduced, and our heroes must fight their way through numerous over-the-top predicaments. With lesser actors this probably would have become a drab and utterly excruciating affair, and to be honest the material they started off with isn’t all that great. However their absolutely wonderful chemistry and amazing improvisational skills really lift this movie out of its crappy roots and into fairly watchable territory. When these two were riffing on each other or doing awkward dirty-dancing routines the movie hums along wonderfully.
The movie unfortunately falters when it awkwardly tries to mix its humor with the romantic problems of the main characters. This element of the movie is long and overdone, rearing its ugly head once too often and staying for too long when it arrives. Once, in the middle of a (fairly) tense chase sequence, they literally pull the car over and talk about the failure of the love life. It felt like a ten minute sequence, in which there was not one joke, not one witticism, or even one sentence that hadn’t been said three times already. This happens a couple of times too many throughout, unfortunately holding the movie back.
This being said, the performances in Date Night are all decent at the very least, with Carell and Fey absolutely lighting up the screen. I don’t mind saying that I laughed myself hoarse more than a couple of times. Stay after the movie for some of those (usually lame) “blooper reel” gags too, they just prove how good Fey and Carell are. I can’t wait for them both to get some really quality material in the future. Carell has had a couple good ones so far, lets hope Tina Fey gets a chance to prove herself on the big screen in a movie worthy of her considerable talent.
Date Night proves that great acting can elevate a lame script and half-assed direction into a fairly likable movie. You should perhaps not go in expecting a Great Movie, and maybe get up to use the bathroom during the “romantic” scenes too, but when Date Night wants you to laugh, you will, and you will laugh hard. Despite the huge flaws in the movie, I found myself quite enjoying myself. Recomended, only barely, but still recomended.
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The Queen REVIEW
Director – Stephen Frears
Cast – Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Helen McCrory, Roger Allam, Sylvia Sims
The Queen is a film by Stephen Frears, and is the second of writer Peter Morgan’s “Tony Blair Trilogy”, in which Michael Sheen plays the British Prime Minister. The first is The Deal, a TV movie from 2003 about Blair’s rise to power, and the third will be The Special Relationship, which will be released in summer 2010, about his relationship with American president Bill Clinton.
The Queen is set during the tumultuous week after Princess Diana’s death. Princess Diana was a very popular figure, and ex-wife of Prince Charles. Her down-to-earth manner and relaxed attitude towards the strict royal traditions endeared her to the general population of England, despite the numerous “scandals” she was involved with. Naturally, the royal family was not so fond of her.
After her death the nation went into mourning, and there came an outpouring of grief that shocked the royals. Queen Elizabeth II and most of her family wanted to keep their grief private and not mention the situation in public, as Diana was at the time no longer part of the royal family. The queen believed this was what her country wanted. Tony Blair confronted her on this, advising her to address the people before their confidence in the monarchy dwindled to nothing.
The film sticks notoriously close to true events. Apparently inside sources were used to even get some specific conversations right. Naturally there are some things that had to be inferred or invented, but The Queen comes off as remarkably true due to its attention to detail. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II is perhaps a bit too thin, but otherwise she (and the rest of the cast) are very close approximations of their real-life counterparts. Michael Sheen particularly stands out as the newly elected Tony Blair.
When presenting a film about a historical figure, especially when involved in such controversy, movies tend to either stand with the person or go against them. This movie does neither, it instead shows the queen as a person with difficult challenges to make who is perhaps a bit out of touch with her people. This was a good move, as both monarchists and anti-monarchists can watch the film and see in it what they will.
The Queen has a nice measured pace to it, moving forward steadily but not making too big a deal out of things. It lets the events of the story determine the speed and urgency of the movie, and thankfully does not try to pull us in with a false sense of danger or importance. British movies tend to avoid that trap fairly well, that is perhaps why I am so partial to them. There is also a nice healthy dose of British wit running through the movie, reminding us that a bit of sugar does indeed help the medicine go down.
The Queen is a very strong movie with excellent performances. Its tone is soft, yet mature and pressing, and it does a very good job of blending archival footage within the movie. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with this particular period of British history (late nineties), as we are shown everything we need to know. I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in this sort of thing.
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The Great Gatsby REVIEW
Director – Jack Clayton
Cast – Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Sam Waterson, Scott Wilson
The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is required reading in many schools, and has made its mark on many writers since its publication in 1925, despite its original unpopularity. It is now seen as a classic American novel.
I have found that adapting books into films is usually done for one of two reasons. One, that the book is popular and would make a large profit based on its popularity, or two, that the book is very good and would work well within the cinematic format. Unfortunately I think the motive in this case was the former, even though the book is certainly good enough for the latter.
The production in general is drab, uninteresting, and very much in the line of TV movies. While the story is dealt with in a fairly efficient manner, it is told with such a lack of energy that it becomes boring.
The actors in almost every case are either bad or miscast. Robert Redford is terrible for the part of the withdrawn and somewhat bitter Gatsby. It reminds me of the story (possibly true) of when Redford wanted the part in The Graduate that would eventually go to Dustin Hoffman. When he questioned why he didn’t get the part, the director asked him if he’d ever “struck out” with a girl. Redford asked “What do you mean?” The director said “Exactly.” The point being that Redford is too good-looking and too charismatic to play a loner whose girl wouldn’t wait for him when he went to war. He does his best, but essentially can’t get past his own style.
The only actors who get out of this unscathed are Sam Waterson and Scott Wilson. Sam plays the movie’s narrator, the man from whose eyes we see the story. Scott Wilson plays George Wilson, a simple man who owns a garage and is constantly put upon by the upper class folks. Both these actors are natural yet add a welcome sense of urgency to the story.
In the end the only thing that keeps the movie going is that it is based on such good source material. There a couple good shots that piqued my interest though. One (which is repeated several times) is a shot of Gatsby’s pool and house, featuring blue and white curtains waving idly by the topaz water and white marble columns. It is a wonderfully mood-setting shot. The other thing is “the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg”, a sign which looms over the road to New York. This famous image from the book is replicated perfectly here.
The cast and plodding pace of The Great Gatsby is really what stops it from reaching its potential. The story is good, but isn’t allowed to soar. Robert Redford is miscast awfully, and Mia Farrow overacts as the ditsy Daisy. As an adaptation of a classic work of literature this movie falls well below what it could have been, but because of the good source material it manages to scrape by as a watchable movie.
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Hot Tub Time Machine REVIEW
Director – Steve Pink
Cast – John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Chevy Chase, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lindsy Fonseca, Lizzy Caplan
The latest man-child comedy to hit us is Hot Tub Time Machine, featuring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke. The story is exactly that of the title: a hot tub transports three friends and one of their nephews back in time to the 80’s, where they relive one night of their childhoods. Guest stars include Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover.
The movie is a remarkably tired and lackluster affair. For what is supposed to be a Hangover type comedy, there is largely no energy in the movie whatsoever, with none of the actors doing much to help, except possibly Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry. Jokes are few and far between, and instead the plot concerns itself with dull and repetitious “dramatic moments” full of the awful, pop-psychology meandering that would make Oprah Winfrey blush. The movie tries to hold interest, I will give it that, but in the end fails.
There are a couple funny jokes, to be sure, with Craig Robinson being the main source of what little fun there is in the movie. The other actors try to hard to create a sense of empathy toward their characters that they forget to be funny. A plain stupid cameo role by Chevy Chase just digs the movie down further in the hole it creates for itself. A couple attempts at running gags are made, (one which concerns a one-armed man almost makes it) but they invariably fall flat. With a better script and director, this movie could have been great . As it is… not so much.
It’s such a pity that Hot Tub Time Machine fails to live up to the potential of its plot and preposterously great title. John Cusack, who normally picks decent material, was hopelessly misguided when he decided to act in (as well as produce) this movie. Dying is hard, but comedy is harder, as George Bernard Shaw (?) once said. It is so rare to have a good comedy come out. Those looking for the next The Hangover will be disappointed here.
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2010: The Year We Make Contact REVIEW
Director – Peter Hyams
Cast – Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Keir Dullae, Douglas Rain
– follows 2001: A Space Odyssey
2010: The Year We Make Contact is the under-seen and under-rated sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. I see 2010 as the younger brother to 2010. 2001 came first, and everyone expects much of the follow-up, but are disappointed when it follows a different course. While 2001 was visionary, groundbreaking, and unique, 2010 is practical and grounded. For this reason the sequel was ignored, and even derided, merely because it is different from its predecessor. Frankly I think the outcry would have been greater, and the results worse, had Peter Hyams tried to copy Kubrick’s style.
The plot of the movie is a continuation of the plot of 2001, written by Arthur C. Clarke, the co writer of 2001. The States and the USSR are still in the Cold War (a bit of alternate history), and both countries are sending up spaceships to recover the Discovery and HAL, in orbit around Jupiter. As the Russians will get there first (but have no knowledge of HAL’s inner workings), three Americans go with them. While investigating HAL and the strange otherworldly “monolith” which floats silently close by, the States and the USSR back on Earth come close to declaring war on each other, and the crew must deal with both Earthly problems and the otherworldly concerns of the monolith.
The film balances these two main plotlines very well, all the while delving into a bit of the mythology of the first film. Why, in 2001, did HAL go “insane”? What was the Monolith’s purpose? What is the “Star Child?” These questions and more gradually become addressed, if not answered outright.
Arthur C. Clarke has always written great science fiction, and there are some sequences here which are astounding. One scene in particular, where an American and a Russian must spacewalk from one ship to the other, is one of the best sequences in any science fiction movie. The characters interact wonderfully, with the Russian teaching the other how to say certain words in Russian. The visual effects are wonderful, and the scene is not hyped up, or drowned out by suspenseful music. It is a truly wonderful scene. Another sequence where the main character (played by Roy Schnieder) meets what he believes to be the spirit of one of the Discovery’s crew, is extremely well done also. The special effects in this movie are good, if not ground-breaking. The music has a tendency to jar the viewer, and is a tad “80’s”, but on the whole fits the tone of the film.
While the mystery of the first film is replaced with investigation and character development (and I will admit, this may hurt the film a little), the characters we see in the film are wonderfully fleshed out, and the urge to stereotype is resisted all around. Arthur C. Clarke has always written characters that, while being scientists, and all being fairly analytical in their personalities, come across as real, mature people. Too often when characters in movies are presented with problems, the actors will portray the characters a little over the top, the thinking being that if the character is scared, the audience will be too. The treatment of character in this movie however is mature, and never panders to the audience. I found this very refreshing.
2010: The Year We Make Contact is a good, solid, old-fashioned (in a good way) science fiction film. Although the awe and majesty of the first film are not present so much in this one, its absence is made bearable by the logical tone of the film. This is not to say that 2010 doesn’t have its own sense of wonder,but it is of a different sort than its predecessor, 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you love science fiction, I implore you to seek out this film. You are in for a good surprise, let me assure you.
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2001: A Space Odyssey REVIEW
Director – Stanley Kubrick
Cast – Keir Dullea, Gary Rockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain
– followed by 2010: The Year We Make Contact
2001: A Space Odyssey is often hailed as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and even one of the best films period. I can’t say I disagree. The themes of the film, the ground breaking special effects (which still hold up today), and the pure vision are all excellent reasons to consider this film as one of the Greats. The “antagonist” of the movie (if there is one) is the infamous HAL-9000 computer, who has become one of the most iconic film characters of all time, and the song The Blue Danube has become forever linked with graceful space travel.
In short, this movie has been lauded, praised, and generally worshipped so much that is pointless for me to continue too much. It is a masterpiece, and it is unique, but it is not perfect.
Heaven forbid that such a thing be said. However, it is important to always see a film in context, and with an unbiased eye; especially one as revered as this one.
The quibble I have (and rest assured it is only a quibble, and a comparatively minor one) is in the length of some shots. The film in and of itself is well-paced. It is deliberate, slow, and precise. But off and on there will be a sequence where the shot length is unjustified, in my opinion. The two main points where I noticed this were as follows: when Dr. Poole goes outside the spaceship to fix the infamous AE-35 unit, we are shown his spaceship move all the way around the ship to get tot he offending antennae. It is a very long scene, one that really has no purpose, and kills any tension already established. The second is the famous “Entry into Jupiter” scene. This is essentially one long sequence of dazzling pyrotechnic displays of light,and is absolutely psychedelic and mesmerizing. I don’t know why Kubrick decided to make it 10 minutes long. However, it is almost indefensible in my opinion.
This movie is, at heart, an art film, and Kubrick was definitely experimenting all throughout the film. Thus, that such little quibbles should be raised is inevitable. The power of the movie, the vision, the uniqueness of its storytelling methods, and yes, its “flaws”, all come together to create a truly unique experience, and one that is downright moving. It is rare that such a big budget is allowed for such a personal project, but it was, and because of that we have one of the best films of all time. if I may glow, it even transcends the time period that the film was made. There are very few clues as to when the film was made (except for a few of the actors; some are stereotypical Leave-it-to-Beaver types, all white, straight-laced “Mad Men“), and as I said earlier, the special effects are top-notch. Any film lover who has any resemblance of an open mind should watch this, and then watch it again.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic in all the good senses of the word. It is one of the most highly original movies I have seen, if not the most. It’s sense of awe, majesty, and power will leave you amazed. It is marvelous.
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