Film Review: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Posted by prla1983 on October 11, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

"Full Metal Jacket" is a movie that seems to be clearly divided in two different pieces. The first runs for the initial forty minutes and it promises a lot. The second runs for the remainder of the feature and it doesn't really deliver what it promised before.

For one thing, the film looks great all the way through. The scenery is awesome, be it the Vietnamese landscapes or the geography of the training camp at Parris Island. Douglas Milsome does an excellent cinematography work in "Full Metal Jacket" which was only his second job in that capacity. The soundtrack is minimalistic but it works quite well, never outstaying its presence.

Vincent D'Onofrio and Lee Ermey are absolutely spot on during the first part of the movie. Ermey plays the gunnery sergeant who spends about 95% of his waking hours shouting his guts to the marines under his supervision. D'Onofrio, as Private Pyle, was unlucky enough to be in that platoon in the first place, as he gets picked on by the sergeat and becomes the laughing stock of the platoon. Except no one laughs. Instead they hate him, because everyone pays for whatever he does wrong. Pyle's mind starts to downspiral and from there what happens is anybody's guess.

The second part of the movie has nothing to do whatsoever with the first, except for a couple of linked threads. It all becomes fragmented like short pieces carelessly put together and we find ourselves entrenched in a war zone with a group of marines but not really caring much about them. Not like we cared about Pyle anyway.

"Full Metal Jacket" is excellent for those first 40 minutes which contain one of the best scenes ever shot. The rest is a good, albeit regular Vietnam movie, which doesn't really bring anything new with it and certainly doesn't do it better than other films like "Apocalypse Now" or "The Deer Hunter" before it. It just doesn't seem to be in the "must-see" category as far as Kubrick's catalogue is concerned.

Film Review: Chicago (2002)

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"This trial... the whole world... it's all... show business."

So says Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a hot-shot Chicago attorney who makes his living by saving young girls who happen to have killed someone from getting the rope around their beautiful necks. And allow me to add "this whole movie" to that sentence I just quoted. In a non-derogatory manner, by the way, because "Chicago" is show business from beginning to end and that's its very soul.

In this case, if you are a woman and want to make the front page of the newspapers, the best way seems to be killing your husband, getting caught by the cops and getting Flynn to take over your case in court. That and $5,000. The rest is, as they say, history. And rightly so because you'll go down as quickly as you went up, as soon as the girl next door does the same thing you did. Because it's Chicago, and "you can't beat fresh blood on the walls", as Flynn tells Roxie (Renée Zellwegger), the new kid on the block as she finds out her fifteen minutes of fame have ran out.

My advice is that you don't go see "Chicago" looking for a whodunnit kind of thriller involving cabarets and stage dancers. Instead, if "Moulin Rouge" bringing the musical genre back to the spotlight pleased you, this one is also definitely for your liking. I'm no expert in this kind of movie (it's not even my cup of tea) and so I have a hard time figuring out whether what we have here is story interrupted by songs or songs interrupted by story.

That duality brings an interesting quality to the film, though. Whereas the songs are full of color and splendor in good Broadway tradition, the rest is shown in bleak tones, suiting 1930's Chicago. The story however is never to be taken seriously, but always lightly. It makes sense but it is also goofy in a way.

The acting is all great and it's no wonder because a) they're all accomplished actors and b) most have stage formation and experience. Zeta-Jones is especially hot and on the spot as Velma Kelly, as her past as a professional dancer in London really shows. I just don't know if this performance is Oscar worthy but then again that's a tricky business. Scorsese must be thinking the same thing after his "Gangs of New York" was put out to dry...

Film Review: Unlawful Entry (1992)

Posted by prla1983 on October 10, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

The formula isn't knew but when it's well done it still works. Such is the case of "Unlawful Entry", an interesting and compelling thriller which isn't the best in its genre but it doesn't disappoint either. Michael Carr (Kurt Russell) is in the nightclub development business and is that kind of person who's used to get everything he desires, easily. That's the way he perhaps got his wife, Karen (Madeleine Stowe), who used to work as a waitress in one of Michael's previous clubs and now teaches young kids.

Everything was going just nice until one day their house is broken into and the cops who came for the aftermath should never have come there in the first place, for the sake of this young couple. Ray Liotta is perfect for the role of a deranged cop who is obsessed with something's he shouldn't long for. And Russell does a good job of being the man in the middle. Stowe is hot as hell in this movie which perhaps helps the viewer understand Liotta's point of view.

The protector turned predator is, like I said before, nothing new on the screen but Liotta can take it to the next level. There are hints of "Fatal Atraction" and "Cape Fear" sprinkled throughout and I mean that as a compliment, not a complaint. "Unlawful Entry" is entertaining, not overlong and I had the feeling of time well spent when I got to the end of it. Just don't expect many twists, turns and surprises, alright?

Film Review: Sideways (2004)

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I have a soft spot for dialogue driven movies, as I find those tend to be more about people and less about situation. I like movies where the characters are trivial in a way, completely believable, exactly like people we know, doing things that are mundane yet exciting. "Sideways" fits all these bills and that's pretty much why it is one of the best films I've seen lately.

Long story short, it tells the story of two life-long friends, Miles and Jack, who embark on a week long road trip to California's wine country just as the latter is about to get married. This is all fine and dandy, except Jack is not only looking for the first chance of getting laid, he's also trying to get Miles laid too.

What happens during the trip I'm not going to tell you as I'd be simply ruining the film for those who haven't seen it yet. Suffice to say that when the ending credits rolled I felt like I could keep on following the lives of these two for a long time. Miles and Jack could be you and me while the girls they met are perfect examples of the proverbial "girls next door".

If you like independent movies that feature interesting yet ordinary characters and are heavily based upon dialogue, then this film is definitely for you. I must admit that upon second viewing, it wasn't as exciting as the first time, but that's not to degrade my opinion of this fantastic film. The surprise factor is important and the fun is all in unraveling the adventures these two guys come across. I laughed more the second time, though.

Few films emphasize the value of true friendship these days and "Sideways" does it perfectly in its own goofy way. That a movie like this actually won an Oscar for its adaptation of a novel goes some way to prove just how good it is. Highly recommended.

Film Review: Super Size Me (2004)

Posted by prla1983 on October 09, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

One statistic I would like to know is exactly how many people gave up on McDonalds and fast-food in general since Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" came out. There's probably information about that all over the Internet but I guess I'm just too lazy to look it up. However, it doesn't take rocket science to figure it out. My bet is that it didn't impact the industry at all. Not on the McDonalds around here anyway, they always seem to be packed.

And why? Simply put, I believe McDonalds and friends are not the only ones to blame about this problem. Hell, they don't even have the largest slice of the blame pie. It all boils down to the fact that no-one is forced to enter a McDonalds outlet, no matter how many ads you see on the street. Granted, the food is like a bio hazard (despite how good it may taste, that's part of the deception), but isn't it true that people pay to eat it?

Morgan Spurlock doesn't tell us anything exactly new nor proves any real existential point. "Super Size Me" has an interesting twist and that's seeing the documentary author himself sacrificing his own health to prove his theory that eating at McDonalds can damage your body and mind. So what else is new? The experiment, shall we call it, turns out not to be the most important thing and Spurlock seems to know it. At its heart, the documentary wants to be an eye opener, and if you ask me, I was much more impressed by hundreds of children eating junk in school together than watching the guy putting weight or having his blood pressure skyrocket.

Aside the experiment, I found that the documentary does a very good job of showing all the implicatons of this problem. A few pundits give their fundamented opinion on the matters and Spurlock even tried to get an interview with a McDonalds representative which (surprise!) never happened. It's not like we don't know what the person would say, anyway.

That eating for thirty days straight at a McDonalds is unrealistic and may kill you, we already knew. What perhaps we never thought about (myself included) is just how dangerously close to that many people's diet really is.

Film Review: Maria Full of Grace (2004)

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[ This review was originally published here ]

"Maria Full Of Grace" is probably one of the hardest films to watch that I've ever laid my eyes on. Not because it is graphical like "Irrevérsible" or confusing like "Mulholland Dr." but rather because it is so crude, truthful and believable.

It is not a movie about drugs, but a movie about a girl coming of age the hard way, seeing and doing things no one on this earth should have to endure. It is interesting (and difficult, in a way) to see how everything Maria says to anyone is the wrong thing to say, every option she takes is the wrong one to take. What's cruel is that we know that she never had another option. Life dictated all the trouble and Maria has no other choice but to fight back in her own way.

An important thing about this movie is that every actor is from Colombia, so whatever the film lacks in terms of the acting of some of its characters (and it does), it gets it back in realism. The notable exception is Catalina Sandino Moreno, who displays in some shots a remarkable facial resemblance to Salma Hayek. Her acting is so perfect and adjusted that you get the clear impression that she was born to play Maria. In her performance lies much of the secret for this film to work so well. I for one am eager to see more coming from her in the future.

Life can play hideous tricks on everyone and I agree with the previous comment that says we are fortunate to be immune to much of what happens to Maria. "Maria Full of Grace" doesn't lose itself to the temptation of exageration and stays true to its premise all the way through. I don't think it wants to teach any higher lesson, except to always keep your chin up in the face of adversity.

Maria was forced to learn things the hard way but most people can learn from Maria. Think about it and cherish that moment.

Film Review: Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)

Posted by prla1983 on October 08, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

[ This review was originally published here ]

I've seen a few animation films in my life, but "The Triplets of Belleville" is easily the weirdest of them all. There's something of Lynch about it that I just can't quite pinpoint. It is the perfect adaptation of the film-noir genre to the animation scene and the plot (or lack thereof) is developed under a gloomy, grim, dark and intriguing atmosphere.

The film seems to work on many layers and I honestly can't come up with a rational explanation for it, not on a single viewing anyway. I'd be interested in seeing it again, now that the initial weirdness is gone. But something tells me this is something to be experienced more than to be understood.

If you like out-of-the-ordinary stuff in unusual mediums, and in addition somewhat depressing, eerie cartoons somehow connected to the Tour de France sounds like a good idea, then this French animation film is for you.

Film Review: Rear Window (1954)

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[ This review was originally published here ]

"Rear Window" (alongside "Psycho") is universally regarded as Hitchcock's masterpiece and perhaps rightly so. There's something unique about this film which becomes harder to recreate as the years go by and we are hit left and right with silly special effects.

So what is cinema but the opportunity it gives us to look into other people's lives? That is, by definition, in some way or another, true for most films. "Rear Window" takes that premise to the extreme. Well, if you live in the 50s, have just broken a leg and your place happens to have a big window through which you can spy on your entire neighborhood, there's not much else you can do, is there?

At least that's what Jeffrey (again, magnificiently played by James Stewart) thinks, even more so when he becomes convinced that one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr, of "Perry Mason" fame) has killed the wife. The trick here is that Hitchcock places us right next to Jeffrey the whole time. We get no more information than he has and we are kept guessing all the way through.

The plot only gets thicker as it goes along and fortunately for him Jeffrey can share his concerns with his girlfriend Lisa (played by the beautiful Grace Kelly) and his maid, who helps him with the house duties in his time of need. Obviously both of the women grow increasingly worried with the proceedings, with Lisa even managing to get herself in danger on a desperate attempt to solve the big mystery.

I have trouble thinking of a genre that has more power to keep the viewer on the edge of his seat. But as with everything, it has to be done right. Can you think of a better director for the job, though?

Film Review: Se7en (1995)

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[ This review was originally published here ]

Boy, what can I say about this film that hasn't been said yet? In my eyes, it is easily the best psychopath movie I've ever seen. But that alone seems a little gratuitious, doesn't it? So let's be a little more specific.

The tone of the film is perfect all the way through. Shot in a noir style, David Fincher ("The Game", "Fight Club") managed to get the mood just right: bleak, tragic, dark, wet and crazy. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are two detectives hot on the trail of a crazed psychopath (or so they think) who happens to get off by making ordinary people an example of each of the seven deadly sins.

What starts to be a regular psycho film, becomes totally out of the ordinary halfway through when the detectives become aware that it is not your average-run-of-the-mill psychopath they are dealing with. Just when they think they are about to screw him, it's him who's screwing them. And that's one of the remarkable beauties of this film which makes it quite unique in its genre.

Kevin Spacey is one of those actors whose screen presence emanates such class that he can aswell just sit around looking pretty. In "Se7en", there's a scene where Spacey engages in a supreme dialogue with Pitt and Freeman through the security division of a police car on the way to a particularly important location. This scene is for many reasons the centerpoint of the movie and Spacey's performance is so convincing that at some point you begin to question the atrocity of his previous deeds and whether there's actually some truth in his arguments. Few actors could play this as well as Spacey but he totally nails it.

Take a brilliant director and three superb actors, all of whom can't put out a bad performance for the life of them. Add amazing cinematography and a top-notch, virtually flawless thriller script. What you get is one of the best films of the decade and a landmark in the career of everyone involved.

Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

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[ This review was originally published here ]

"Psycho" and "Rear Window" are probably the films that always get quoted first but Hitchcock's "Vertigo" should, in all fairness, be featured alongside those two. It is a remarkable film, using avant-garde special effects for its time (the way Hitchcock depicts the main characters' vertigo is a good example) and featuring an interesting and intricate plot of which I'm not going to talk about as it is the very essence of the film.

After acting in three previous Hitchcock movies, most notably as the voyeur in "Rear Window", James Stewart has in "Vertigo" his very last collaboration with the master of suspense. And he yet again proves how good of an actor he really is, always in the right tone as he unravels the deep mystery that was dropped on his lap.

I have a hard time appreciating all the blonde craze of the 50s/60s (I have a soft spot for Grace Kelly though, who shared the screen in "Rear Window" with Stewart, sadly getting both her life and career cut short) but I can understand that Kim Novak was particularly hot for that era. I'm not too crazy about her acting either, as it seems too forced, especially when put alongside Stewart's effortless presence.

As a whole though, the film works very well and you feel compelled to try and solve the mysteries yourself, feeling as puzzled as Stewart is along the way. The payoff is rewarding and when all is said and done, "Vertigo" is a textbook thriller, done by the genre's rightfully most acclaimed director.

Film Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

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[ This review was originally published here ]

I know few films in which the main character lives in a bigger contradiction. "Taxi Driver" depicts Travis Bickle, a man who desperately wants to wipe out everyone around him as much as he wants to embrace them. The action takes place in the New York suburbs and is somewhat of an exercise in style that works just right from beginning to end.

Hollywood has a history of interesting director-actor relationships of which the Scorsese/De Niro association is perhaps one of the most remarkable, starting with "Mean Streets", having its climax precisely with "Taxi Driver" only three years later and going on through "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas", "Cape Fear" and "Casino". Looking at these titles, you get my point when I say it is a remarkable association, don't you?

"Taxi Driver" is arguably the pinnacle in Scorsese's career, too. It's hard to make such claim for such a talented and fruitful director, but this movie is that good. It works on so many levels and is so real and down to earth that every bit of action strikes you really hard and a lot of it you can actually relate to.

In one of the most famous scenes ever, Travis says: "You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here." And that was too true. He really was alone.