The Fifth Element Review
Director – Luc Besson
Cast – Milla Jovavich, Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Charlie Creed-Miles, Brion James, Tom Lister
To call The Fifth Element a roller coaster ride would be like calling Albert Einstein a math nerd; true, but a bit of an under statement. Directed and co-written by French action director Luc Besson, it is a reckless and bold movie that, while it may not hit all the heights it wants to, comes damn close. It is energetic and vibrant, and just whips by.
The titular element is personified in Jovavich’s character, Leloo, an orange haired, seemingly childish “supreme being”. Leloo could have easily been a generic action chick character, but Jovavich gives her a wonderful sense of immaturity,innocence, and novelty; a feat she has yet to accomplish with her current roles, it seems.
Leloo is the key to an ultimate weapon, needed to defeat a strange glowing energy orb-thing that has materialized out of nowhere in the middle of space. One of the movie’s failings is that it’s a bit vague about all this… but by the time you have thought of this you are whisked away somewhere else, and have no time to dwell on it. She finds herself in the strange world of the 23rd century, and runs into cab driver, played by Willis, who helps her, well, defeat the bad guys. It’s that simple really. Simplicity is fine here, even welcomed, because while the story structure is bare bones, the world design here is fantastic. If ever a movie begged for a sequel, this is it; I’d love to see this world opened up more. Not that The Fifth Element fails to satisfy us, or that it confuses us with its myriad details and oddities, not at all. It just left me wanting more, and in a good way. This is a hell of a universe.
It is a joy watching the cast here. They are all having fun, and never over think anything. And what a cast! Ian Holms as a befuddled and over-anxious priest, Bruce Willis as a tough cab driver (maybe not a big stretch for him here), Jovavich bring wonderful life to a potentially dry character, and Gary Oldman as a Texan/space weirdo/industrialist. Oh, Gary Oldman… I had seen pictures of his character before, and wrote it off immediately as just being too weird, but Oldman had me in stitches throughout the whole thing. It’s a gorgeous bit of acting.
And then there’s Chris Tucker… Mr. Tucker features as a none-more-flamboyant radio DJ, who tags along with Willis in the second half, narrating the action filled events live to his listeners. I still don’t know if I despise this character or if I can put up with him… It will take a few re-viewings to decide I think. But I don’t think I blame people for putting him on “Top 10 Annoying Sidekick” lists. You can’t really argue with that.
The Fifth Element is brash, energy filled, and psychedelic. The cast has just the right amount of fun, and the art direction and even the CGI is wonderful. The third act may turn a bit generic, but we barely have time to notice. This movie is fun, to put it curtly. Pure fun.
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The Hound of the Baskervilles Review
Director – Terence Fisher
Cast – Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee, Marla Landi, Ewen Solon, Francis de Wolff, John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson
The great detective Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific character in screen history. Having so many interpretations of the character floating around, I can only imagine how any actor must feel upon taking on the role. It would be tough, to be sure. Peter Cushing has the unenviable task here, and he carries it off reasonably well. He is no Jeremy Brett, who played the role in the revered BBC series of the 80’s/90’s, or even a Basil Rathbone of the ’40s films, but we can’t really complain. Andre Morell is an excellent Watson, and is perhaps a bit more succesful in his part than Cushing is in his. He plays Watson as an intelligent and eager man, and as someone you can imagine having spent time in the army. This is miles away from perhaps the most famous Watson, Nigel Bruce, who played the role opposite Rathbone as a stupid and out of touch English gentleman. As Holmes is MIA for a good portion of this movie, I’m glad I didn’t have to put up with any Bruce-ish bumbling.
But on to the movie itself. Plot-wise, we find Holmes and Watson taking on a case of attempted murder, and they fear the victim (Christopher Lee, playing Sir Baskerville) is still in danger. Watson accompanies Baskerville back to his country estate on the ancient moors of Dartmoor, while Holmes insists he is far too busy to leave London, but will follow at some point. As Watson eventually discovers, Holmes in fact does come down from London. Making a camp in a rocky outcrop on the moor, he investigates from afar. Meanwhile, a legendary hound is rumoured to be roaming the moors… perhaps the same one that was famously rumoured to have killed Sir Baskervilles ancestor?
Watching Holmes and Watson go toe-to-intellectual-toe against the forces of menace is always a treat for me. I read the original stories and books as a kid, and love returning to the various versions that have been made. Downey’s Sherlock Holmes series, while arguably playing a bit fast and loose with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intended tone, is bringing Holmes back into the public’s conscience, which is not a bad thing. While I do manage to enjoy that series (and at running a risk of comparing apples to oranges) the BBC show Sherlock is much better. Ironically, the TV series has found a greater reception amongst Holmes fans despite updating the stories to modern times, and in fact ditching most of the actual original plots. But I digress…
This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is just the right side of gothic camp, and the added/emphasized horror elements work within the style we are presented with, but do not really clash with the Sherlock Holmes world of realism.Cushing and Morell bring the appropriate energy to their interactions, and the story here is relatively engaging. But I found myself absolutely unable to look away from Christopher Lee throughout the whole movie. He is strangely entertaining… perhaps it is from the shock of seeing him a) not in Dracula makeup, and b) young. He is tall and strong here at age 37, and has a commanding presence. His voice is not as deep and rich as we know it now, but we can hear where it will go. It was great to see him here.
I’ve always loved movies that take place on the English moors, Wuthering Heights for example. There is such a feeling of desolation and hopelessness, and that certainly holds true here. You feel utterly alone out on the grey and green expanse of grass and moss-eaten rock. It is fortunate, and perhaps done on purpose, that Hammer Films (a company best known for their Dracula series with Cushing as Van Helsing and Lee as the count, and other such films) chose to produce a film version of what is probably the most gothic of the Holmes stories. The traditional Hammer gothic tone fits right in with the cold, dreary, and desolate landscape.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a good solid Sherlock Holmes story, with a decent cast. The movie is suitably atmospheric, with all the Hammer Films trademarks (including, it must be said, a cheap looking set or a not quite convincing effect here or there). I would gladly recommend this to Sherlock Holmes fans, or anyone who might just like an old mystery.
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Director – Joshua Logan
Cast – Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero
When I found that Richard Harris was the star of the filmed version of the Broadway smash hit Camelot, I half expected a Paint Your Wagon experience. But in this extravagant re-telling of the Arthurian legend, Harris more than fills the required black leather boots as King Arthur, as do Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero as Guinevere and Lancelot respectively.
While expecting a somewhat dry and bland movie, Camelot surprised me with its wit and, dare I say it, depth. While focusing on the forbidden romance between Guinevere and Lancelot, the movie is really about the effects of their affair, both on King Arthur (who knows about it), and on the fragile union of England embodied by the famous Round Table.
Camelot starts off at what is chronologically almost the final scene. King Arthur finds himself facing an upcoming battle, and ponders the events leading to the tragedy of war. The movie then unfolds in flash back, starting with Harris’ joyously perfect rendition of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”, where he tells of his nervousness at his upcoming (arranged) marriage to a woman he has never met. Of course this woman turns out to be Guinevere, who has similar reservations. They meet-cute in a forest, away from their attendants, and fall in love. Their perfect bliss is soon marred, however, by the appearance of perfect knight Lancelot…
I like the maturity on display here, they’re all so level headed. While Lancelot and Guinevere are having an affair, they are aware of the consequences and even frown upon their actions; but as they say, they can not choose whom they love. On top of all this, King Arthur is aware of the affair, but decides to do nothing, so as to preserve the fragile English peace. No one flies off the rails here. The inevitable war is not a reaction of Arthur to his friend and wifes betrayal, but comes from scheming lords and knights, led by Arthur’s treacherous bastard son, Mordred. I enjoyed the way the movie shows a noble man try to do his best to rule a kingdom, despite forces beyond his control trying to upset his rule. There really is a lot of nobility in this movie, and not just from the royal blood on display.
Granted, the strengths of the movie definitely come from the musical on which it is based, as the songs are funny or affecting in the right amounts. Unfortunately the direction is not extremely assured, and the movie is definitely not helped by its somewhat sluggish pace. We could maybe have used a bit more spice, and you could say the ending is a bit abrupt, but it still packs a nice little punch if given a chance. All in all the grandiosity, seriousness, and wit of Camelot adds up to a very satisfying experience… if you can sit through the 3 hour running time.
Camelot is a big movie, with heaping portions of everything you could ask of a medieval musical. Sure it is a bit slow and unwieldy, but there is a depth of heart here. It is not all flash and Broadway sparkle. This is good old Hollywood entertainment, and I am glad I saw it. In the end, what more could you ask for?
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Source Code Review
Director – Duncan Jones
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Fermiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Russel Peters
Source Code is the second film from Moon director (and son of David Bowie), Duncan Jones. The idea at the core of the movie is that Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) must repeatedly relive the eight minutes prior to a train bombing in order to deduce the culprit.
It’s a great idea, but I never felt it living up to its premise, and while it may be a bit unfair to judge a movie on the heights it fails to hit, we can’t help but think of how much better the movie could have been.
The movie is really a murder mystery at heart. The victims are the train passengers, the train is the island or snowbound inn of countless armchair mysteries, and the murderer must be one of the people on the train. Colter of course, is our Poroit. Agatha Christie would be proud. But what is the main rule of a murder mystery? It seems to me that is that you solve the crime at the end of the story. Source Code solves the crime far too soon, not too long after the half way point, and then moves on to a far less involving plot. This just plain doesn’t work.
Now, Stevens must try to stop the bomb exploding in the first place, despite the fact that he is repeatedly told that the mechanism which allows him to relive these events is essentially just a simulation that has no effect on real life. He insists on trying anyway, and with the illicit help of Vera Farmiga’s military character, he goes back in to save the life of all the passengers of the train. Especially the life of the hot brunette who sat across the aisle, who he apparently he has fallen in love with. The brunette with whom he has no past, no relationship, and has exchanged maybe 50 words with. Structured this way, the movie comes across as two episodes of a TV show just glued together. And the second half is nowhere near as good as the first.
Which brings us to the ending… an absolute cop-out of an ending that leaves us wanting more (in a bad way). Worse than just being a cop-out, it seems to break the rules already established previously. It just casually smashes them, and treats it like a plot twist. But a plot twist must come out of the rules already established. To go back to the murder mystery reference again, we must have been able to, if we are smart enough, figure out the ending with all the information provided; but here we had already been told (well, essentially) that the ending we get was impossible. It just felt like cheating to me.
Well, enough of the bad stuff. It cannot be argued that the actors here are all excellent, with Gyllenhaal demonstrating great leading man chops, and Farmiga once again showing us what an under valued actress she is. The true standout though is Jeffrey Wright. To those who have only really seen him in the Bond series (including me, unfortunately), his great performance as somewhat of a mad scientist will come as a shock, he really is wonderful.
Source Code is frustratingly uneven; frustrating because the first half is really good. The central idea is so strong, and filled with such promise, that it strikes me as strange that the plot line should be solved just after the half way point, to be followed by a series of much weaker events. Slack characterization and development mean we don’t care about the ensuing romantic side plot, leaving the ending lackluster and anti-climactic. The first half is great though, so that leaves the movie with a half score, 2.5 out of 5.
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In the Loop REVIEW
Director – Armando Iannucci
Cast – Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Gina McKee, Steve Coogan, David Rasche
In the Loop is a pitch black political satire, partially based on the TV show The Thick of It (and starring most of the same actors, playing the same or similar characters). There is not a particular lead character, as it is more of an ensemble nature, but the plot follows Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) as he blusters his way through the political mire of British-US relations. A comment about war with Iraq being “unforeseeable” starts a chain reaction of events, involving the discovery of an American secret war committee, the destruction/alteration of a paper advising against war, and all sorts of political shenanigans. And swearing. Lots and lots of very creative swearing.
There could not be a bleaker view of politics, this ain’t The West Wing. There are only two people in this movie who are in politics to make positive change, and one of them (Simon) is a bumbling near-incompetent. Neither one achieve their goals; I think that is a main theme of the movie. You can’t win, and you don’t want to end up “in the loop.” The less you know, the less you will get caught up in it all.
The characters in the movie are rich, despite the proportionally small screen time they get. James Gandolfini, probably the best known actor to American audiences, shows up half way through as an American general, and is very funny. Everyone here is, really. In the Loop gives us shocking things to laugh at, and we do end up laughing. This is the kind of movie optimists call pessimistic, and everyone else calls realist.
I plan on re-watching this soon, and I think it will hold up to many repeat viewings. It also makes me want to look up the TV series to which this is a spiritual sequel, The Thick of It. There have been many comparisons between that and the 80’s series Yes, Minister, of which I am a big fan. Bring it on!
In the Loop is fast-moving, smart, and devastatingly funny. This isn’t a movie for everyone, but anyone who likes dark humour and their politics in satire form will love this. This is a political satire Ricky Gervais would make. (That should tell you right away whether you’d be able to tune in to this movies sense of humour.)
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The Mask of Zorro REVIEW
Director – Martin Campbell
Cast – Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson
– followed by The Legend of Zorro
Zorro is a swashbuckling adventurer living in California in the early 1800’s, who “retires” and passes his mantle onto a young thief. Hopkins is the elder, and of course Banderas is the younger. The character is really no different from Robin, The Scarlet Pimpernel, or all those other types. He doesn’t quite rob from the rich and give to the poor, but he protects the commoners against various villanous rich folks and governors. He swings on ropes and chandeliers, he fences admirably and rides horses like he is walking. Given that, though, making the title “Zorro” one that is passed on from one man to another makes for a neat twist. It also essentially gives us two heroes in the movie, especially because Hopkins doesn’t just stay in the mentor role through the whole movie, but actually takes part in the story.
That this movie is so much fun (in general) comes down to the screenplay and great direction. Martin Campbell just came off of Goldeneye, where he successfully re-invigorated another pop culture icon, and has lost little of that sense of fun adventure. Banderas seems a natural for this type of role, he certainly has charisma and action-man sex appeal to spare, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is an absolute bombshell as Hopkins’ son and Banderas’ future wife. This is ably demonstrated in a scene where the pair duel in a barn, their swords slashing away at each others’ clothes; it ends with a half-dressed Catherine gasping as Zorro grabs his hat from her and dashes off into the sunset. It is frankly one of the sexiest scenes I’ve seen in a while.
The ending involves a big confrontation at a gold mine, used to exploit the locals for the benefit of the wealthy landowners. It goes on a bit too long, but that is one of the few specific complaints I have with the movie. That, and Hopkins sometimes seems to be wishing he was in a different movie. That is odd, because he apparently took the role out of excitement to finally be in an action movie.
The late Bob Anderson was the fight choreographer for the movie, the legendary swordsman whose first gig was on an Errol Flynn picture, The Master of Ballantrae. He went on to work on the Star Wars movies, The Princess Brides, Lord of the Rings, and is widely recognized as the best in the field. He later claimed that Banderas was the most talented actor he ever worked with, and we believe it; the fights in this movie are beautiful, they take you right back to all those Basil Rathbone/Errol Flynn movies of the 30’s and 40’s. That fast and smooth spirit is alive and vibrant in The Mask of Zorro, and a large part of why this was such a treat to watch.
The Mask of Zorro is surprisingly funny, romantic, and adventurous. The stars bring everything needed to the parts, and the assured direction keeps the tone light and fun. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining time at the movies.
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The Train Robbers
Director – Burt Kennedy
Cast – John Wayne, Ann-Margaret, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban
I didn’t realize how late in life John Wayne kept making westerns; apparently he kept right on going right up to a couple of years before his death. I guess the John Wayne western movie was such an American institution he couldn’t stop making them any more than Old Faithful could stop gushing.
In The Train Robbers, a tired and derivative movie, he plays a gritty and authoritative man who recruits some old friends to hunt down stolen gold, which belongs to a woman whose husband was shot keeping the hiding place secret. These old and tired men stroll through a few miles of the American West to find the case of gold, “pursued” by a band of 20 men who aim to steal it from Wayne and Co. once it is discovered. This results in a gunfight or two (actually, I think literally just two), by which time we find the indomitable American hero at a train station, where he dynamites three buildings to take care of 4 or 5 straggling baddies.
It is a strange thing, but this final sequence is probably the best in the whole movie, and the final scene (in which a nice little twist is revealed) is actually wonderful. It’s a pity that the rest of the movie is so bland, boring, and just plain dull. I haven’t seen a movie this empty of vim and vigour in ages. It is as if the aging John Wayne (he was 66 at the time of filming) sapped the whole production of all energy. Quite frankly, the role (and even this type of movie) was quite unsuited to John Wayne by this point in his life. Did he continue with the same type of roles because that was all he knew? Probably.
What makes it worse is that there is nothing blatantly wrong with the story as is. It could have been fairly interesting; perhaps with some more focus on the tension between Wayne and his friends, or with more focus on Ricardo Montalban’s mysterious character, who follows both groups through the western sands. The movie just doesn’t have an iota of dramatic energy, and we merely end up with a bland feeling of vague disinterest. If only some chances were taken here, any chances at all to make it more interesting or give it a sense of urgency. Some better editing would have gone a long way. How do you have the legendary Duke in a gunfight over $50,000 in gold against 4 to 1 odds and have it be boring?
The Train Robbers has a decent movie buried inside it, but is smothered by an aging star who is unfit for the role, and by a total lack of urgency and suspense. Perhaps I am biased, as I’m not known for loving westerns, but I couldn’t get into this movie in the least. Maybe someone accustomed to the genre would have better luck. Maybe.
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