JT Film Review

The Escapist (2008)

The Escapist Review
Review # 144

3.5/5 stars

Director – Rupert Wyatt

Cast – Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Steven Mackintosh, Frank O’Sullivan, Jack Walsh

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Don’t you just hate movies that almost destroy themselves with the last two minutes?

The Escapist stars Brian Cox in a stunning turn as Frank Perry, an inmate in an unnamed English prison. Hearing news of his daughters sudden illness (brought on by an unknown-to-him drug addiction), he decides he must see her before she is lost to him. With help from a brash boxer (Joseph Fiennes), an old friend (Liam Cunningham), and a drug dealer (Seu Jorge), he meticulously plans an escape, while trying to avoid the attentions and cruelty of the powerful inmate known as Rizza.

I love movies that confine themselves to one are. A remote manor house with Agatha Christie, a tall tower for John MacClane (before the airport, the city, and then whatever he did in Die Hard 4). The rules are always so clear, bringing great satisfaction when the hero manages to succeed. In this case e are immersed immediately into the rough and tumble world of the prison. We creep through the halls with the characters, and feel just as scared as they do. With rapists and murderers around every corner, we don’t blame Frank for wanting to escape, we would probably even forgive him without his daughter as motivation.

The Escapist structure is based on a bit of time jumping, from plan of escape to its execution, back and forth and so on. While a tad confusing the first time, I loved this device here. Sometimes it can be pretentious or just disconcerting, but it is not so here. It built tension in a very effective manner.

And tension really is the key to the movie. Stakes are high, and people get hurt. Many even die, and when Frank and Co. do make it out of the prison walls, they realize that the worst is yet to come… they must navigate their way through old tunnels and subways, deep underground. We want Frank to get out and meet his daughter for one last time, and it constantly seems like he may not make it out. And then comes the twist…

They say the best thing to do with a “twist movie” is to not only not reveal the twist, but not reveal that there is a twist at all. But what happens when the twist is the only bad thing about the movie? Such is the case here. It destroys the preceding two hours, rendering them absolutely needless. Not only that, but it is a bit vague as well, begging questions instead of providing answers. It’s plain insulting.

OVERALL

The Escapist is an absolutely thrilling and fascinating movie that is wasted with a ridiculous twist that slaps the audience in the face for following the characters as long as they have. Wonderful actors do great work here, but one script change would probably have made this into my favorite prison escape movie. As is, it is just frustrating.

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February 20, 2012 Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles Review
Review #139

4/5 stars

Director – Terence Fisher

Cast – Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee,  Marla Landi, Ewen Solon, Francis de Wolff, John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson

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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.

 OVERALL

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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January 27, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 1950-1959 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

131 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – David Fincher

Cast – Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christophe Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright

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Well, I’m on the Fincher bandwagon I guess.

The Girl with the Dragan Tattoo is based on the first of the Millenium trilogy of novels, written by Steve Zaillian. It stars Daniel Craig as investigative reporter, and Rooney Mara as the titular character, the iconic Lisbeth Salander, whose many skills include investigation and various form of computer wizardry. Christopher Plummer is an elderly man who wants Craig, fresh off of a devastating libel suit, to seek out his daughter’s murderer. Oh, and the murder happened 50 years ago…

The list of suspects is composed of all the people who were on the family island at the time, mainly family. This adds a disturbing layer. Plummer seems to have a nonchalant hatred for most of his clan, of whom he seems to be the oldest surviving member. One of his brothers drowned years ago, and another lives in a house up on an old hill. He is called a recluse, but isn’t too fond of the term. Interestingly, both brothers are/were Nazis.

The investigation starts with names and pictures on papers spread over a wall. To aid in his investigation, Craig calls in the help of Salander. They both dig through documents, interview people, all that jazz. Frankly, we’ve seen all that before, but never with a character so intriguing as Salander. That is not to discount the other characters in the movie, who for the most part are fleshed out fairly well (and acted even better), but this movie is about Salander, there can be no doubt about it.

And Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander is wonderful. Comparisons are sure to be made between her performance and Noomi Rapace’s performance in the Swedish original; as I haven’t seen it I am not the one to make them, but I loved her in the role. She is withdrawn and angry, but knows exactly how to play the subtext of the character, her desire for friendship and understanding. It is a fairly complex character, I think too many people pigeonhole her as just some kick ass punk chick. Craig and Plummer are certainly well cast in their roles as well, though Craig always has a calm coolness about him that maybe works against him here.

The movie is slowly paced, and has a moody richness to it that is almost addicting. The plot is dense and always moving, and if I had any complaint it would be that it is perhaps a bit too confusing. At least a couple times throughout the movie there are moments where Craig zooms in on a photograph, raises his eyebrows, and has a moment of realization. Both times I didn`t know what the heck he saw that was so important, and once I actually asked the person with whom I was seeing the movie what was going on. However, both times they do reiterate what he saw, so that was good. But a bit more clarity would have been great. It is a 2 hour and 38 minute long movie, surely they could have taken a beat longer to explain.

Actually, perhaps an even bigger complaint would be the rushed way in which they explain the main mystery of the film. We understand who did what, but we never even briefly are told why the crimes are committed. There is a family connection to the crimes, and an almost Chinatown element emerges. But no motives are ever explained. I would have liked them to be.

But, all-in-all I think the best way to describe my feelings about this movie is to mention this; I remember thinking at the climax that I wouldn`t mind there being another 2 hours to go. I can`t remember another recent movie about which I could say that, and several that I would have said the opposite.

OVERALL

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a wonderfully moody thriller/mystery, with excellent cast. I hope Fincher does do the sequels, this is a world I would love to visit again.

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December 24, 2011 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

128 – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Guy Ritchie

Cast – Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan

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follows Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) makes his return in the lavishly un-traditional “updated” Holmes series, directed by British director Guy Ritchie. Downey is accompanied by Jude Law, who returns with his (excellent) portrayal of Watson, that I still insist would fit in with a more traditional Holmes movie just as well. This time they face ultimate Holmes baddie Professor Moriarty, played with just the right amount of sneer by Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris). In this outing he has become a major controller in the arms business, and is attempting to pit half of Europe against the other half, so he can profit from the arms sales.

The frenetic pace and slow motion “thought process” scenes appear here, intact  from the first movie. Holmes and Watson’s relationship is as funny, testy, and homo-erotic as always. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t have the faux-mystical plot of the first. It also has more action, which is a double edged sword, as there’s perhaps a bit too much of it. The action scenes are always entertaining though.

Worthy of special mention is the indomitable Stephen Fry, playing Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older, smarter brother. Fry is a delight, wherever he makes an appearance, no matter how unclothed he is doing it.

The true strength of these movies is their wit, speed, and general sense of fun, and Downey and Law’s relationship is the icing on the cake. They bicker, fight, and needle each other, but this is a bro-mance as tight as Gibson and Glover in Lethal Weapon. Not even Watson’s marriage can come between them. His fiance is played by Kelly Reilly, and it’s a pity (along with Noomi Rapace) that she doesn’t get to do more.

One thing she does do is get thrown out of a train, falling down an incredible distance to land in a river. Unhurt. There are a few moments like this that don’t actually make any sense in a world with anything near our laws of physics. One implied moment involving an oxygen breather and a waterfall makes no sense, but with the energy of this movie you end up not caring. That’s the mark of a good action movie I think. The sincere (if tongue-in-cheek) acting, and the pure adrenaline just carry you right along.

OVERALL

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows improves on its predecessor in most ways, though it is a bit lagging toward the end. But Downey and Law both bring their A-game, and the energy from the first is present and accounted for. Worth your time if you liked the first one, and maybe even if you didn’t.

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December 17, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

78 – Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Tony Gilroy

Cast – George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sidney Pollack, Austin Williams

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Tony Gilroy, first time director and seasoned writer (The Devil’s Advocate, the Bourne franchise, among others), brings a surprising sense of maturity and a great handling of character to the drama/legal thriller Michael Clayton. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, and scored the Supporting Actress statue for Tilda Swinton’s excellent performance.

The plot is set in motion when a high-profile lawyer (played with absolute perfection by Tom Wilkinson) goes berserk. He switches sides and starts gathering information to prosecute the very company (fictional U-North) that he has been assigned to defend in a class-action lawsuit. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has to come in and clean up the resulting mess, while Karen Crowder, the general counsel at U-North (Tilda Swinton) must deal with the repercussions of an incriminating document she finds.

While movies about evil corporations fighting decent men and women, usually lawyers, are hardly new (John Grisham seems to have made his living out of such movies based off his books) Michael Clayton successfully avoids becoming just another legal thriller. Tony Gilroy avoids focusing entirely on the importance of what happens in the story, and instead focuses mostly on the character of Michael, played by Geroge Clooney, and his reactions to what happens in the story. When the conclusion happens, we aren’t relieved that the good guy has won. We are relieved that Michael will now have some internal peace because the good guy has won.

George Clooney works against his usual charm here, and portrays a man who is not all he once was, and yet also has never realized his full potential. He makes references to his past experience as an excellent lawyer, but it is implied he wasn’t as good as he portrays himself. His current job as a “fixer” is an ambiguous one, and he constantly worries that he will be replaced if the company with whom they are merging sees him as worthless. He tries to open a restaurant on the side, but fails. He tries to free himself of a poker addiction, but fails. However, when presented with a moral dilemma at the end of the movie, he does take the right path. This does free him somewhat of the burdens he has had, and the doubts that have been plaguing him about his life.

At the core of the movie is the idea of the increasingly blurring lines between ones personal life and business responsibilities, and of the personal loss involved in a successful business career. Tilda Swinton’s character brings out this idea the most in a couple of remarkable scenes (remarkable in both their writing and Tilda’s exquisite acting). We see her first preparing answers to questions to be asked in a TV interview. She is preparing herself for the day, obviously tormented by the thought of the interview. She goes over her answers over and over again, changing a word here, an insinuation there. She is almost in tears. Next we see the interview itself, where she spits out the prepared answers like a fax machine. It is an enormously successful scene.

The pacing of the movie is deliberate and measured, seemingly coming in pulses, rather than one continuous climb to the climax. In other words, it is what the average movie-goer would call boring. However with just a small bit of patience this movie presents a wonderful and atmospheric character piece.

OVERALL

Michael Clayton is a remarkable movie, especially for a first-time director. The cast is beyond reproach, and the cinematography and superb editing go wonderfully toward the mood of the movie. It has an insightful plot, yet never sinks into a typical message movie. It is a great movie that defies categorization. See it, then give it a day or two, and watch it again. It will not disappoint.

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“Michael Clayton” on other websites:

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March 13, 2010 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , | 1 Comment

75 – Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo REVIEW

5/5 stars

Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Cast – James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Del Geddes, Tom Helmore

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Vertigo was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the book D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. Despite a rather lukewarm reception upon its initial release, it is today frequently called Hitchcock’s masterpiece.

The story features a retired detective (is there any other kind?) called “Scotty”, who is played by Jimmy Stewart. He suffers from a condition which gives him vertigo, or the fear of heights. He is lured back into one more case by a friend, who fears his wife’s body is being taken over by a dead ancestor. However, with all apologies to Shakespeare for the butchering, the twists the thing, wherein to catch the attention of the audience. Without the mid point twists, where the movie shifts gears dramatically, the movie would have been a hopelessly derivative one, but thankfully the plot I just described is only the springboard Hitchcock uses to get to the second act,where the real themes of deception, obsession, and loss come through.

The movie treats these themes maturely and honestly. We are shown Scotty losing a loved one and then obsessing over her, even meeting a stranger on the street who resembles her and harassing her until she goes to dinner with him. Scotty is never excused for his actions, and due to scenes showing his illness after her death (and the fact that he is played by Jimmy frickin’ Stewart) we always sympathize with him. This is rather chilling, as we realize we are being made to sympathize with a man who becomes nothing less than a stalker, who brutishly forces another woman to become his lost love. This is most likely, I think, the reason why critics and audiences weren’t as kind to this film as to other of Hitchcock’s films. It is in fact, rather off putting at first. However, Hitchcock sticks to his guns, and never excuses Scotty, which was a brave move and, in the end, a great one.

In 1996 Vertigo‘s actual physical film negative underwent a complete restoration. It was extensively cleaned and polished, as it had degraded considerably. It became known as a rather controversial restoration, as the color mix was alleged to not be exactly the same shades as was originally intended, and the sound mix was also redone from scratch. The original actors voices were, of course, kept, but all sound effects were totally redone.

My point is, this movie has become so loved (even obsessed over, which is interesting as obsession is a main theme of the film) that people are upset when even the sound effects are replaced with (apparently identical sounding) replacements. I find this dangerous, and is the type of devotion usually reserved for the “Greedo shot first and Lucas changed three shots in the new release of A New Hope and so I want the Original right now” variety of movie goers. It is important when reviewing any movie (ESPECIALLY a revered classic) to keep an open mind, and, not to put too fine a point on it, to see and recognize where things go wrong. And while Vertigo is really a wonderful movie (and one of my favorites) there are some things wrong with it. Small things of course, but they are there nonetheless.

The main thing wrong is the ending of the movie. Without giving any details away, the editing is awful. If one cut (of about half a second) had been made to a single shot, the movie would have ended on a much more convincing note. If you have seen it, you most likely know of what I am speaking. If not though, please don’t let it bother you. If that is all a movie has wrong with it, it must be a good one indeed.

The only other major problem is a character called Midge, or rather, how she is used. She is Scotty’s ex-fiance, but the two are on wonderfully good terms. She is played beautifully by Barbara del Geddes. Rarely will you find a more caring, strong , and even complex woman character on film. She is a strong supporting character throughout the film, yet she is abandoned with still a large part of the movie to go. I wanted some resolution for her character, yet none is given. Now in the DVD I have of the movie they include a “European Ending” to the film, which Hitchcock was mandated to make for the European market. Part of it shows Jimmy going to Midge’s home after the events of the film are over. He says nothing, and she says nothing, and they stand silhouetted by the window, with drinks in their hands. It is a simple shot, but it says so much, and it is inferred that the two stay friends, with Midge helping Scotty through his hard times. If only this ending was used!!

(The “European Ending” also has Midge listening to the radio, and the announcer describes how the “bad guy” of the film is caught. This was a requirement of the time, but Hitchcock was so angry to be forced to change the film that he added a bit to the newscast. The announcer goes on to read (after the announcement of the villain’s capture) a report of high school students mounting a cow and riding her up the steps of the Town Hall. This totally ruins the seriousness of the scene, and was Hitchcock’s middle finger to the censors who made him change his film. With this taken out however, I much prefer the European Ending.)

OVERALL

There is not much else to say, as this film has been reviewed to death. All I can do is recommend you watch this (of course, with an open mind as always.) Hitchcock is on the top of his game here, as are the major performers. Bernard Hermann’s score is nothing less than iconic, and the film altogether is one of the moodiest and atmospheric meditations on human behavior you will ever see. Enjoy!

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“Vertigo” on other websites:

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February 20, 2010 Posted by | 5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 1950-1959 | , , , , | Leave a comment

73 – Fracture (2007)

Fracture REVIEW

3.5/5 stars

Director – Gregory Hoblit

Cast – Ryan Gosling, Anthony Hopkins, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike,  Billy Burke, Embeth Davidtz, Cliff Curtis

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Fracture is a mostly successful thriller from the director of Hart’s War and Primal Fear. It features the Great Anthony Hopkins as Ted Crawford, a man who killed his unfaithful wife and Ryan Gosling as Willy Beachum, the ambitious and young (is there any other type?) attorney who is assigned to prosecute him.  Crawford regularly taunts Beachum, sending him things in the mail, trying to spook him; while Beachum digs to find anything with which to convict him. The intellectual battle between the two of them is the main focus of the movie.

Fracture starts off quite well. After some excellently shot driving sequences and a brief scene showcasing Crawford’s job as an aeronautical engineer, we are actually shown Crawford’s wife cheating and then getting shot. The fact that we know that Crawford is guilty, and that we have seen him carry out the murder in a quite chilling and cold-blooded manner, builds up his character and makes us root (and fear for) even more for the protagonist, Willy Beachum.

The film unfortunately starts to lose ground about half an hour in. The plot is bogged down with a couple extraneous side-plots, and towards the end of the movie when it starts navel-gazing a bit too much. We have been told that Willy will lose credibility and most likely even a new job if he loses the case, yet we are constantly given scenes where he worries about it, then a scene where he is told that he’s worrying too much, then a scene where he tells someone he is worrying too much, etc. We got the point the first time, and while a little repetition of a theme can sometimes be good, here it is just like a hammer hitting us over the head. Repeatedly. It drags the pace down considerably as well. Ryan Gosling is a good actor, and he manages to muddle through these scenes, but he doesn’t quite save them.

Anthony Hopkins really shines in his role also, and it is a pity that there isn’t more of him in the movie. He can do heartless yet compelling murderer like very few others. (He was Hannibal Lector, after all.) A strong villain really makes a good thriller (we’ve seen this most prominently in superhero movies) but here we want to see more of him. What comparatively little screen time he gets though, is thoroughly enjoyable.

OVERALL

Fracture is a 3 star movie which is made a 3.5 by its stars. Anthony Hopkins is unbeatable, and Ryan Gosling more than adequately gives us a leading man to choose from. The plot is fairly interesting, but we are left with a hunch that the details of the crime and the solving of said crimes wouldn’t quite hold up to closer inspection. However the ride is, for the most part, enjoyable.

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“Fracture” on other websites:

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January 26, 2010 Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , | Leave a comment

70 – Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes REVIEW

3.5/5 stars

Director – Guy Ritchie

Cast – Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly

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– followed by Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is the first Holmes movie to hit the big screen in 21 years, the other latest being the comedy Without a Clue, starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. This version chucks out all previous ones, and goes for a flat out action/comedy tone. The comedy is subdued though, so it certainly does not overwhelm the movie, keeping the action/adventure/danger elements front and center. This is essentially the Victorian Lethal Weapon.

While Conan Doyle most certainly did not write his stories as such, I won’t dwell on the change in tone too much. The movie will offend most Holmes purists, but the Holmes “knowledgeable but indifferent” (in which group I place myself) will be amused by numerous references to the original stories. Most surprisingly though, is how true to the books the portrayal of Watson is. I think Jude Law would have fit in with Jeremy Brett as a great Watson of the traditional mold.

But, on to the movie itself. Its cinematography is dark and gloomy, giving us a London Dickens would have been proud of. Fog lurks on the muddy Thames and dirt coats the streets. However the pace of the movie and the storytelling is so hyper-active that we are never lulled into a feeling of gloom or despair. There is always another witty quip or fast, frantic action scene heading down the pipes. Sherlock is funny and (I think) knows he is, but in a dry, ironic way that would make Woody Allen jealous.

Where the movie may lose points is in the story-telling itself. The plot is a bit muddled, and asks us to believe in witchcraft and magic (which actually had a resurgence of interest in the Victorian Era) throughout the movie only to yank the rug out from under us  extremely later on. Don’t get me wrong, I actually prefer that magic in the end was not the answer, but to have built the whole movie up on it only to wipe it all out felt like cheating in a way. Ritchie and Co. milked all the grandiosity and fear out of black magic, only to discard it when the plot needed wrapping up.

OVERALL

Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes gets through on its quick pace, quick wit, and Boy’s Own Adventure bravado. This is not the Holmes of old, but then again, if you can’t beat Jeremy Brett why try. This movie is Holmes for the masses, but despite that fact it manages to carve out a nice personality for itself. The only real problem that I can see is that the action is a bit frantic and the story gets a bit muddled. However, the solid-to-great performances really make this an above average adventure.

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“Sherlock Holmes” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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December 28, 2009 Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

41 – Man On Fire (2004)

Man On Fire REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Tony Scott

Cast – Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Mark Anthony, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke

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man_on_fireMan on Fire, a remake of 1987’s Scott Glen vehicle of the same name, stars Denzel Washington as the titular pissed off guy, John Creasy. This is an angry, pent up movie; it builds up and up until about two thrids way through, when it explodes into a fury of explosions, gun fire and revenge killings. Dakota Fanning (one of the best actresss around, let alone child actors) plays the young girl, Pita, whom Creasy is hired to protect. She is kidnapped, and he finds himself forced to confront his demons and go after her, dealing with corrupt cops and druggies the whole way, until he must find the head of the Mexico City crime ring himself.

The movie is very good when it is good, but tends to bog down a bit when it vears off track to sideplots of Creasy’s life. Both Denzel and Dakota put in amazing performances here, among the best they have either done. Their chemistry is pitch perfect as well. One scene in particular (where Pita “accuses” Creasy of smiling and they then see who can keep a straight face the longest) was totally improvised, and is extremely touching.

The violence in the movie is extremely visceral, and in a lesser movie it would overwhelm the dramatic elements of the storyline. However Tony Scott (despite what other faults his movies may be said to have) is always pretty good at keeping the story up front; and this is no exeption. The violence adds to Creasy’s motive, and portrays his emotional state. There are also some very quotanle lines in here; Chrisopher Walken has a great line when talking about his friend man on fire 2Creasy: “A man can be an artist… in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.”

A fine collection of stars appear here; Dakota Fanning, Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke, and Marc Anthony are all very good. Despite how it seems to have been marketed, it is quite a character driven movie.

OVERALL

This is quite a good revenge flick; it is more character driven than normal and even though Tony Scott’s streaky editing style is used all throughout it it does not overwhelm the story. It may be a bit long but it keeps you interested if you are willing to put in the time to watch it. Recommended, but not for uneasy stomachs.

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TRAILER

“Man on Fire” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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August 30, 2009 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , | Leave a comment

28 – From Russia With Love (1963)

From Russia With Love REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Terrence Young

Cast – Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lotta Lenya

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— follows Dr. No

— followed by Goldfinger

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from-russia-with-love-1963_posterSean Connery’s James Bond returns in the second Bond movie, sequel to 1962`s Dr. No. This time the evil SPECTRE group manipulates both the British (MI6) and Russians (SMERSH), attempting to ignite a third World War. Bond must capture a “Lector” decoding machine, while keeping free of both SMERSH and SPECTRE. The obligatory leading lady is also present of course, in this case a Russian agent played quite well by Daniele Bianchi. Bad guys include SPECTRE agents played by Robert Shaw (who later played “Quint” in Jaws), and Lotta Lenya.

This movie takes Bond in a slightly grittier, more realisitic direction while still keeping the familiar Bond sterotypes and adventure, and overall it works very well. From the very opening sequence we see this more realistic turn; it involves Robert Shaw chasing Bond through a maze, then killing him. Then we see it is not Bond, but a “live target” with a Bond mask, used for practice. Throughout the whole movie we actually fear for Bond, as his opponents are just as good if not better than he is. Robert Shaw is always one step ahead of him, out smarting and out-fighting Bond every step of the way. The only reason Bond wins is usually because of the gadgets supplied him by Q. This brings a human angle to Bond which we aren’t used to seeing, and which Daniel Craig’s Bond movies are starting to bring out more, thankfully.

This Bond is also more about tension than action, and it feels wonderful to have a movie like that. Many movies make the mistake of jumping to “The Good Bits”, i.e. the explosions, fistfights, etc.; but it is much more effective to build up slowly. We will actually be thinking, “Will they fight?”, “What’s going to happen, I feel uneasy.”, etc. And then fromrussiawithlovebdcap6_copy0finally when we do get the “payoff” of a fight or action sequence it is so much more satisfying. In the second half of the movie there are a few examples of this. The fight in the train between Bond and Robert Shaw’s SPECTRE agent builds slowly, and then erupts into a riveting, tense fist-fight that is one of the best put onto film. An interesting point is that during this scene there is no music, another very effective device which brings us closer to the action. A fight with a SPECTRE helicopter afterwards is also a good example. However, there aren’t really that many action set-pieces here. In fact this movie is more a thriller than an action movie. In fact the very first scene after the opening credits is a chess match. That is a perfect example of the direction this Bond takes.

From-Russia-With-Love-03

Now this isn’t quite a perfect movie. Robert Shaw does a great job as a villian, combining smarts with an undeniable ability to kill. Lotta Lenya however, well… is not so good. Her accent is over the top, her performance wooden, and her accent awful. The famous Bond theme is, of course, iconic, and a great song; however severral times it is used in the wrong spot. One scene for example, has Bond checking his hotel room for bugs. It could be a pretty suspenseful scene; but with the Bond theme blairing over it it takes that whole dimension away. In fact the whole first half of the movie is a bit slow and uneven, almost not knowing what it’s going for. But it’s not too bad, and the last hour more than makes up for it.

OVERALL

This is one of the better Bond movies; it is fairly tense and holds your attention throughout. However, as a movie itself it isn’t that distinctive, without the character of Bond it would blend in with all the other movies of this sort. Recommended if you like Bond, or want a decent spy film.

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TRAILER

“From Russia With Love” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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July 18, 2009 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 1960-1969 | , , , , | Leave a comment