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 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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Star Trek: First Contact REVIEW
Director – Jonathan Frakes
Cast – Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Cromwell, Alice Krige
– follows Star Trek: Generations
– followed by Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: First Contact is the eighth Star Trek movie, and the second to feature the cast of the Next Generation. It is directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander Riker, which makes it the fourth to be directed by a cast member, (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home were directed by Leanord Nimoy, who played Spock, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was directed by William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk.) The plot is set in motion when Captain Picard and Co. are sucked into a time warp with evil Borgs, who are intent on stopping a historic space flight which initiated first contact between humans and the Vulcans.
There is a myth which every Trekkie knows, that every even-numbered Star Trek movie will be good, and every odd-numbered one is destined to be bad. This certainly would seem to apply, given Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, all of which were great, while the ones in between are mediocre to awful.
Now I will admit that most people would have included Star Trek: First Contact in that list as an example of an excellent Trek movie. I however, always remember not being as fond of this film as others are. Having recently re-watched it I have no choice but to say that my memory has served me right. The film is certainly quickly paced, and features an interesting side character in James Cromwell, but the whole thing to me felt a little trite and uninteresting.
I am usually fairly skeptical about time travel plots in movies, and this one is one of the worst uses of it I have ever seen. Time travel opens up so many problems that it should be dealt with carefully, especially in a franchise. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ran into this problem as well. The biggest problem raised with time travel is as follows: if you can go in time, why not go back and kill the villains before the events of the story? Why don’t Picard and his crew go back before the Borg arrive, and ambush them? Why not go back to the big ol’ battle and join forces with their “past selves” and help defeat the Borg? Hell, why don’t the Borg do that? etc etc. Instead of the seriousness with which this should be treated (it was done half decently in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), we essentially have the characters (after having been “stuck in the past” for days,) suddenly saying “Well, that was fun! Now lets head back home, put in the time travel coordinates!” and off they go! Weeeeeeee, time travel sure is fun and full of absolutely no consequences, eh Picard! Excuse me while I take a dump on any resemblance of dramatic urgency. Weeeeeeee!
All of this could have been excused if, as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the movie was entertaining or made us feel for the characters. Instead, this felt like one long TV episode. The characters come across as dull and uninteresting, and we never feel that the characters or the Enterprise ship are ever in danger. The plot comes in half hour bursts, reinforcing the feeling that we are watching TV.
A subplot features Data, the android of the ship, being taunted by the movie’s “villain” (if she can be said to be so), a Borg queen. She knows he desires to be human, and gives him a skin graft on his arm. This could have been an interesting topic, that of a machine wishing to be human, but here we are treated to one cliché after another. These scenes were boring as heck.
Some aspects of the film are solid, granted. The special effects, despite seeing them almost fifteen years later, still hold up. James Cromwell is a welcome little splash of colour as the drunk, misunderstood pilot of the spaceship which initiates first contact. His character has some degree of dimension, and is quite funny to boot. Watching him try to welcome the calm and serene Vulcans to Earth with booze and rock music was hilarious and yet touching in a strange sort of way…
Star Trek: First Contact is well produced, but its story is sadly lacking, with no feeling of risk to the characters, and with too many discrepancies. James Cromwell is fun, and the rest of the cast do what they can. But the writing here is lazy at best. Trekkies may enjoy it (in fact, most of them do). Personally, I can’t really recommend it.
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Director – Clint Eastwood
Cast – Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Jaimz Woolvett, Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher
Unforgiven is often referred to as one of the last great westerns, and as such it should come as no surprise that the great Clint Eastwood both directs and stars in it. This is a strange sort of western. It uses all the old western tropes; we have the damsels in distress (two points for being prostitutes), a slightly villainous sheriff, and two old partners reuniting for one last job. However despite all these we feel as if we don’t know what precisely will happen, and the movie feels abundantly fresh. It is slow, uses somewhat stereotypical figures, doesn’t have too much in the way of storyline, and is heavily dependent on mood. Essentially it is the western version of Blade Runner.
The movie has a rich supporting cast, and it is a good thing too, as one of the only things holding the movie back is (surprisingly) the performance of the lead, Clint Eastwood. He plays a subdued and tired character, a bounty hunter turned pig farmer who has given up his old ways out of respect for his dead wife, and so that he can raise his two children. The character is supposed to be tired and fairly monotonous to be sure, but Clint rarely breaks out of a caraciture of himself. I was reminded of Jim Carreys short parody of Clint Eastwood in Bruce Almighty. However after the movie really digs in and finds it legs we do indeed start to feel for his character, maybe because of his solitude.
The greatest thing about the movie is that it never absolves any character of what they do, and certainly does not condone violence. This is not A Fistful of Dollars; killing is not presented as being cool, and there is no real good guy or bad guy. The closest we get to a villian is Gene Hackman’s Sherrif “Little Bill”. His motives are of the purest kind, yet the way he goes about his duties is, well, a tad heavy handed. Clint Eastwood is reluctant to kill, but when given a realreason to do so, he goes about it with a certain flair and assuredness that you just know he’s not exactly sad about letting off a little steam. The person who possibly comes off the best is Morgan Freeman’s character, though even he has his moments. Their little sidekick, who aroggantly calls himself “the Schofield Kid” and claim to have killed five men (though he has yet to kill a single soul), is a cocky, worthless, little brat of a boy; a total write off.
It has been said by Gene Siskel and to some extent Roger Ebert that there are too many unnecessary secondary characters. I heavily disagree with them, as I found that they spiced up the movie and gave it some of its best moments. Sure some of them didn’t advance the plot per se, but that wasn’t the point. They weren’t the point of the trip, they were the nice stops at Burger King along the way. Richard Harris’ “English Bob” is one of the highlights. He is followed around by a writer chronicling his exploits who is played by Saul Rubinek (Daphne’s fiance, Donny, in the show Frasier). They all add wonderfully to the movies scope.
The story all builds up to a climax that at first glance seems to go directly against the movie’s message. However if you think about it in relation to the title and while paying attention to the epilogue, it is a bitter and ironic scene. Most westerns are, again, about how badass the main character is. This is about how being badass isn’t worth shit.
Unforgiven is one of Eastwood’s best, and among the best in the genre. The story is steady and carefully played out, and the ending is strangely touching. A character dies, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t want him to die. Such subtelty is unusual in a movie such as this, and I relished the tone and atmoshphere offered up. When a genre movie is excellently done, it creates a must see for everyone, not just the fans of that particular genre. That is what we have here.
NOTE: It has come to my attention that a Wikipedia user has quoted this site on Gene Siskel’s dislike of Unforgiven (on the Wikipedia page for The Silence of the Lambs) and thus that my site has a link on that page. I would like to clarify (as I am getting a fair bit of traffic from Silence of the Lambs page) that I do not hold myself as an authority on that matter, and that another site (At The Movies for example) should have been referenced . Thanks.
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Total Recall REVIEW
Director – Paul Verhoeven
Cast – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Racheal Ticotin, Ronny Cox
The director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) returns to pseudo-sci-fi with the “camp” action film Total Recall. Star Arnold Schwarzenegger brings his usual tough yet strangely sympathetic every-man character to the table, and is actually one of the highlights of the movie, which concerns an everyday working man in the near future, who recieves memory implants of a vacation to Mars, but immediately after goes beserk. Was it a memory or the real thing? Is the whole movie a dream? We’re never really told and, depite what most people think, I found that it hurt the movie.
The script is based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, the author of the stories which are the basis of movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Next, and A Scanner Darkly. His writing tends to bring up social issues, and features everyman characters who arer unsure of their identity. And while this movie addresses these, it does it in an action/adventure style that frankly detracts from those topics. How can we be pondering the issues of identity, fantasy fulfillment, and oppresive corporations when Arnold is beating up thugs and playing around with fancy gadgets?
That being said, the action and more “campy” sci-fi aspects are still fairly imaginative. There is rarely a boring moment in the movie. The plot does become a little hard to follow around one hour in, but it all straightens out in the end.
The cinematography in parts (mainly the sequences on Mars) is awful, featuring mainly a red washout, blurring the actors, the sets, and the visual effects. It almost gave me a headache to watch it. (There is a possibility that this may have been the DVD, and theatregoers would have ehad a different experience.) The visual effects are fairly good (when we can see them well) and still hold up reasonably well today. This vision of the future is interesting; while it still has elements of the typical dystopian future, several scenes (showing Arnie working at his construction job, etc.) show bright sunlight and a bustling city. This gives a slightly more rounded experience.
The main problem with the movie is the relationship between the story and the tone it uses to tell it. The story delves into issues of dual identity, memory implants, and civil revolutions; yet the tone is campy and light. Verhoeven never tries to go deeper, where the story really should be going. At times it seems it wants to go almost film noir, but we get none of that. Instead we get Arnie running around kickin’ ass, which is essentially a perfect way to describe most of his movies. This one just blends in with the rest.
Total Recall has a nice pace to it, and is fairly inventive. However the movie as a whole doesn’t fufill the possibilities of the story, and feels too campy for its own good. Arnold is decent, but for the most part the rest of the cast feels tired. The movie would have benefited if Verhoeven had tried some new things or gone a bit darker with the story.
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Die Hard 2 REVIEW
Director – Renny Harlin
Cast – Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, William Atherton
— follows Die Hard
— followed by Die Hard: With a Vengence
Action movies tend to have bad reputations, especially this one. Bruce Willis himself likes this the least of all the Die Hard movies. I myself find it hard to see why. This movie is fast, intense, and unusually intelligent for a movie of this type. Bruce Willis’ everyman hero is compelling and funny, and all the supporting characters are certainly well cast.
The story concerns John McClane as he comes into confrontation with terrorists, airport police, and Special Forces as he a) tries to stop a terrorist from rescuing a captured South American dictator, and b) tries to find a way to bring his wife’s plane (which is circling above running out fuel, by order of the terrorist) down safely to the tarmac. Sure the story is fairly unoriginal, but that’s not the focus or point of this movie. Bruce Willis and the action scenes (great ones, too) are the focus. This is a movie that says “I am an action movie. So let’s not get too serious, eh? Let’s have a blast.”
It sidesteps slightly the route of its predecessor, Die Hard, which aimed for a certain element of reality. This slight shift in tone happens to work wonderfully. It lets you ignore the more extravagant action scenes (fighting on the wing of taxing Boeing jet, etc.) and lets you just enjoy the ride.
A word about the performances: Bruce Willis returns to his iconic cop role, but this time he mugs up to the camera a bit too much. Apparently he was given more or less free reign with adding one-liners, and sometimes you can see him thinking of one, delivering it, and then almost cracking up afterwards. It certainly doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s there. Bonnie Bedelia also returns as John’s wife, she is tough and clear headed (a great breath of fresh air for what is essentially the “damsel in distress” role), and Richard Thornburg returns with his obnoxious douche-bag reporter. He is a nice bit of satire, and is one of the highlights of the movie.
The villain is played by William Sadler. He is smug, ripped, and sarcastic, as all 80’s action movie villains should be. To the smart-mouth who points out that this movie was released in 1990, I say this is an 80’s action movie, with all that that entails. Except this one is actually quite good.
Die Hard 2 is fun, fast, and comparitively intelligent. Sure the story is pretty one dimensional. It’s an action movie. Shut up.
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Terminator 2: Judgment Day REVIEW
Director – James Cameron
Cast – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Furlong, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick
— follows The Terminator
— followed by Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (or T2) is one of the illustrious group of sequels which are better than the original. I watched the original, The Terminator, a while back and was, I must admit, a bit underwhelmed. The story was a little suspect and the romance scenes between Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn were absolutely awful. However, this movie amps it all up with a much better, tighter script, much better special effects, and better acting. Casting Arnold against type as the hero was a great move, and Robert Patrick, while not seeming so at first glance, is a ridiculously intimidating villian. Everything comes together here.
The tone of the movie is both dark and comedic, alternating between both quickly and easily. The music is a tad “80’s”, but it only intrudes if you focus on it (which means, I guess, that it doesn’t really intrude). But the special effects are the most integral part of the movie, and they still hold up now. However, while the special effects are very important to the movie, they never overpower the story or the characters. Eddie Furlong (who would later do an amazing job in the awful American History X) stars as a young John Connor, Arnold Schwarzenagger is a Terminator sent to protect him, Linda Hamilton is John’s mom, and Robert Patrick is a shape-shifting Terminator programmed to kill John. They all do their jobs well, although Linda Hamilton tends to ham it up a bit.
The only real problem with the movie I had was a plot point which occured later in the film, with Linda Hamilton’s character. I won’t ruin any exact details, but it felt manipulative, and just tacked on to draw the film out a bit.
There’s not too much to say about this movie. It’s a well made action movie with good characterization and a good story, plain and simple. Watch and enjoy.
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Richard III REVIEW
Director – Richard Loncraine
Cast – Sir Ian McKellan, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristen Scott Thomas, Maggie West, Dominic West, Edward Hardwicke
Shakespeare is old, one of the oldest playwrights to still be performed fairly regularly. His work has been done over and over again, and been done in many different ways. How then to keep it interesting? The only option really is to keep trying new things. And this movie does that with relish.
Transplanting Shakespeare to the 30’s isn’t done too often, and it works here wonderfully. The period works wonderfully towards the theme of the play. After all, the 30’s were one of the most flamboyant and manipulative decades ever, and Richard III is all about intrigue and back stabbing in style. The jazz music played as the soundtrack adds perfectly to the mood, and Ian McKellen is well… Ian McKellen. He plays the role of Richard absolutely brilliantly. In fact, when compared to the other most famous Richard III, Laurence Olivier, even the great Sir Larry (im my opinion) can’t hold a candle to Sir Ian.
While I’m on the point of the cast, I should mention the supporting cast, most of whom are very good. Maggie Smith appears as Richard’s mother. She hates her son, and makes no attempt to hide it. Maggie was a perfect choice to play such a venomous woman. Many other British actors appear, such as John Hardwicke (the second Dr. Watson opposite Jeremy Brett in BBC’s “Sherlock Holmes” series), and Nigel Hawthorne (most famous for his role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister“). Both of these actors “bring their A-game”, and are wonderful to watch.
The only actors who were not so good were, surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. and Annette Benning. Both tended to go a bit overboard dramatically when they spoke, although Robert Downey’s body language is superb. One sequence in particular, where we are introduced to him, is particularly good. He is a tad drunk, and knows very little of royal conventions. It’s a pity he didn’t reign in his vocal performance as well.
One final word about the last scene. The final two or three shots are almost masterpieces, but the buildup to them is not so great. It’s as if the whole finale is a bit rushed. This is unfortunate, but does not in the end ruin the movie.
If you love Shakespeare and don’t mind a movie that plays a bit loose with the original script, you will love this. Even if you don’t like the Bard I would suggest you give this a try. It is a fun, dark, and energetically atmospheric movie. Highly recommended.
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