Sunday, December 9, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - October '07

Here I am again after a two month hiatus with some new reviews. Things are going to be a little different this time around, though. I revamped the blog a few months ago in hopes of revitalizing my motivation to review movies, but instead I just made more unnecessary work for myself. I've still got that little voice in the back of my mind telling me to shower my unadulterated opinions on people though, so I'm here to torture myself and my few readers once more. Here's how this is going to work:

Back at the end of September I signed myself up for Netflix account, which affords me the opportunity to view many of the films I've been wanting to see for the past several years with a great deal of regularity. In the spirit of continuing to review these movies, I'm going to be covering an entire month's supply of Netflix rentals in a single post. With so many movies to get through in such a short amount of time, each review will consist of only a few sentences or a paragraph. Also, despite the fact that I've never bothered to give the films I reviewed in the past a star rating, Netflix prompts it's users to rate every movie they receive in such a fashion so that they can recommend similar titles which might be to their liking. Since I'm already rating these films anyway, I figure I'll go ahead and put those ratings with these reviews as well.

I guess that's about it. Read on and comment if you like.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Sometimes touching, sometimes preachy, this autobiographical film based upon the autobiographical book by Dito Montiel tells the story of his youth growing up in Queens, New York in the 1980's. Great performances by Shia LaBeouf and Chazz Palminteri keep this film from falling apart and becoming a bit too self-indulgent, while the narration by Robert Downey Jr. feels a bit tacked-on and overly sentimental. Prepare to feel nostalgia for the eighties and leave this film with a pit in your stomach.

The Dead Zone
See my in depth review here.

An interesting departure for director Stuart Gordon, whose movies tend to be of the supernatural and horrific sort. This film is not without it's fair share of horror and dread, though. Follow every-man William H. Macy through the eventful night following the realization that he hates his life and needs to seek change. Occasionally humorous and often uncomfortably disturbing, Macy makes the acquaintance of pimps, whores, con-men, and murderers over the course of a single night in this film based on the David Mamet play of the same name. Perhaps the best word to describe Edmond, both the character and the film, is "peculiar".

Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's mid-seventies look at the darker side of the mass media makes a number of startlingly accurate predictions about the future of television programming which have come to pass in the decades since it's release. Peter Finch's Howard Beale, a news anchor, begins to lose his mind and proclaims that he plans to commit suicide live on the air. His producers' first reaction to this is to take him off the air, but when word of his outburst gets out and ratings begin to soar, Beale's maniacal on-air displays are allowed to continue. Network dares to ask some pressing questions, and if they'd been as daring in providing their answers, this could have become one of my favorite films of all time.

Down In The Valley
See my in depth review here.

Stand By Me
Stephen King may be best known for his contributions to the horror genre in and out of the feature film industry, but it seems that his more widely loved movies tend to be dramas such as Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Stand By Me tells the story of four young boys on an adventure to find a dead body and the trials and tribulations their friendships endure along the way. This film perfectly captures the time period in which it takes place and has some memorable characters and moments, but I can't help but feel that to truly enjoy this film I would had to have seen it when I was, myself, a child.

Hard Boiled
With so many doves, dives, and dual pistols, this film could only be attributed to one man: John Woo. Hailed for it's over-the-top action scenes and modern take on the crime noir genre, Hard Boiled has secured it's place in history as the unofficial birthplace of a new wave of action films that would culminate with the modern influx of CG-enhanced gun-fu movies such as The Matrix. As it turns out, even after all the hype, the only real way to improve upon the action in Hard Boiled is to make use of digital effects and wire work. The action is truly inspirational, but the slow pace between these scenes holds this film back from being perfect.

Glengarry Glen Ross
If you can't stand fast-talkers and extended dialogue scenes, James Foley's adaptation of the David Mamet stage play Glengarry Glen Ross is not for you. However, with a cast consisting of such incredible talent as Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey, Glengarry Glen Ross is hard to pass up. When the higher-ups at a real estate agency challenge all of their employees to compete, with the best salesman at the end of the month to be the winner of a new car, all the rules and a great deal of sanity and common sense go right out the window. With every line of dialogue, each actor continues to upstage the last, but with so much talent carrying an incredibly uneventful and fairly unoriginal plot, the film can only go so far to improve upon the play.

The Deer Hunter
It is generally believed that as time has worn on, films have become more ambitious (often to their own detriment), but for it's time, The Deer Hunter really stepped out of the mold with brutal scenes of violence and terror. Unfortunately, the film's thirty-or-so cumulative minutes of shocking horror are surrounded by two and a half hours of boring, non relevant crap. Robert DeNiro, John Cazale, and Christopher Walken, for all they're worth, could not make the majority of this script interesting if their lives depended on it. After hearing for so long how revolutionary and amazing The Deer Hunter is, I was appalled to find that the first hour of the film revolves around a wedding scene. When the action and excitement finally arrive in the form of scenes which take place during the Vietnam war, they're over before you know it and the viewer is forced to sit through more dull, meaningless scenes that are supposed to invoke deep emotional feelings, but succeeded only in tempting me to use the fast forward button.

Hard Target
Lance Henriksen provides rich men with the opportunity to experience the act of hunting down and killing another human being by kidnapping homeless war vets in New Orleans and sending his clients after them with the weapon of their choosing. When one such unfortunate vet's daughter comes to find out what happened to her father, a drifter with martial arts training aids her in solving the mystery of his disappearance. Yes it's ridiculous and a step down for John Woo, who directed this, his first American film, but taken for what it is, Hard Target is a pretty fun watch. Lance Henriksen is the perfect creepy bad guy, Wilford Brimley is wonderfully wacky as a French cowboy living in the bayou, and there's no denying Jean Claude Van Damme's splits and mullet.

Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai
Saved from a gang as a child by a mobster, Ghost Dog grew up training to defend himself through the teachings of the samurai and now offers his services to his savior as a hitman. All good things must come to an end though, and now Ghost Dog has found himself on the receiving end of a mob contract, forced to fight back against his former employers. The mixture of samurai morals and beliefs with those of the modern day mafia and inner city culture is masterfully pulled off by indie sensation director Jim Jarmusch. Forest Whitaker proves that he can carry a film with facial expressions alone as the outspoken Ghost Dog, and surrounded by such rich characters as those who round out the cast, Way Of The Samurai is an enjoyable, original take on the age-old subjects of pride, friendship, and betrayal.

Death Race 2000
The tag-line for this 1975 B-movie classic really says it all: "In The Year 2000 Hit And Run Driving Is No Longer A Felony. It's The National Sport!" Five drivers race across the country at breakneck speeds killing pedestrians with their vehicles for points. David Carradine is the secretive, but incredibly likable hero Frankenstein, and in an early film role, Sylvester Stallone is his arch nemesis Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. The concept is cheesy, the special effects are so-so, and the acting is over-the-top, but if mindless violence and nudity get you going, Death Race 2000 is just the movie for you.

From Beyond
Another in a long line of modernized H.P. Lovecraft adaptations from low-budget director extraordinaire Stuart Gordon, From Beyond isn't as well known as it's predecessor The Re-Animator, but it's worth just as much admiration and fanfare. B-movie master Jeffrey Combs leads the cast as the lab assistant of eccentric scientist Dr. Pretorious, who uses science to tap into another dimension filled with inhuman creatures which are unleashed upon our reality. The special effects in From Beyond aren't top of the line, but as is often the case, their obviously cheap and hands-on nature makes them more enjoyable than those of most of the CG-enhanced movies of the past decade. There are no oscar-worthy performances to be found here, but the cast of zany characters provide a unique and wholly enjoyable viewing experience that only "so bad it's good" horror movies can.

Martin Scorsese is at his best when masterminding films about the human side of organized crime, and Casino is no exception. Robert DeNiro puts in one of his carreer-defining roles, as does Sharon Stone, but the standout performance here in my eyes is that of Joe Pesci. Combined with such great performances, Scorsese's time-tested method of combining snappy editing with perfect music cues and witty narration makes Casino an instant classic. I feel corny saying it, but being bad never looked so good.

Duck, You Sucker
For my money the best westerns of all time are the "man with no name" trilogy as expertly helmed by legendary director Sergio Leone. As such, I find it curious how the person who is responsible for such fun, exciting cinema classics can be the same man who gave us Duck, You Sucker. The name aside, I didn't find much to like about this film. James Coburn is never as likable in this film as Clint Eastwood is in the "man with no name" films, nor is Rod Steiger as entertaining to watch as either Lee Van Cleef or Eli Wallach. The story plods along and changes directions a few too many times for my liking, and even the score by the indelible Ennio Morricone quickly becomes more annoying than memorable. Unless you're a Leone completist, I would steer clear of this train wreck at all costs.

Apocalypse Now Redux
This is a tough call. Apocalypse Now was everything I ever hoped it would be based on the rave reviews I've heard it given throughout the years. Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper are all magnificent. The action, suspense, humor, and intensity were all there in the perfect proportions. Then came the dinner scene with the French people near the film's climax and the heretofore perfect flow came to an abrupt halt. Having never seen the original cut of Apocalypse Now, I can only hope that this scene is either nonexistent in that version or severely trimmed down. What would have been a perfect movie was completely ruined by this needless, boring scene which dragged along for much too long at a snail's pace. My recommendation? Avoid the Redux and watch the original.

A Fistful Of Dollars
A western remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo, A Fistul Of Dollars concerns an unnamed man who wanders into a town divided by two warring crime families. Playing the families against one another for his own personal benefit, Clint Eastwood's character seems to have bitten off more than he can chew right up until the showdown at the film's climax. Launching not only Eastwood's legendary feature film career, but also the trilogy of films starring his "man with no name" character, A Fistful Of Dollars is not only an extraordinary western, but also a downright amazing film and a perfect jumping-on point for anyone looking to explore the western genre.

Night Watch
What this film lacks in plot and storytelling, it more than makes up for in incredibly original concepts and wild visual effects. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good or bad thing, but one thing's for sure, Night Watch is damn easy to look at. The forces of light and the forces of dark have been battling for centuries, blah blah blah. A child is the chosen one who will turn the tides, yakkety yakkety yak. We've seen this story a million times before, but what we haven't seen before are people turning into animals, people fighting invisible vampires, and one long breathtaking shot of a screw coming off of an airplane in mid-flight and falling all the way down through the sky, a flock of birds, and an air vent to eventually land in someone's cup of coffee. Simply put, if you can make it through the dialogue scenes of Night Watch, you will be rewarded with some of the most dazzling visuals and impressively original ideas this side of The Matrix.

For A Few Dollars More
The second film in Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's "the man with no name" trilogy of spaghetti westerns, For A Few Dollars More is perhaps my least favorite of the series. Up against such titles as A Fistful Of Dollars and The Good, The Bad,And The Ugly, this is not such a bad distinction, though. While it's my least favorite of the trilogy, it's still one of the best westerns I've ever seen. Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef play lone bounty hunters who are forced to team up to achieve their goal of tracking down an elusive thief, but can they really trust one another? This is the question that will plague you right up until the intense climax which, as with both of the other movies in this series, involves a teeth-grindingly suspenseful showdown.

Crimson Tide
Director Tony Scott is best known for directing over-the-top genre-bending thrillers such as Top Gun and Days Of Thunder, and Crimson Tide fits that bill quite nicely. This film takes a horrifying concept involving nuclear war and throws all validity out the window in exchange for cheap thrills and plot twists. Cheap as they may be though, they make for a fun viewing experience. Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington play the two men in charge of a nuclear submarine which has it's communications cut off during a transmission from HQ. Hackman hastily believes that their orders are to fire their nukes, while Washington would rather hold off on the launch until the orders can be confirmed. There's your conflict. I think you can essentially figure the rest out from there.

The Hunt For Red October
Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, The Hunt For Red October follows CIA agent Jack Ryan, as played by Alec Baldwin, as he attempts to stop a potential attack on the United States by an experimental hijacked submarine under the control of the unstable Russian captain Marko Ramius. Where a film such as Tony Scott's Crimson Tide focuses more on the excitement and action aboard a submarine, John McTiernan's The Hunt For Red October takes more of a realistic, procedural look at how a disaster such as a nuclear submarine attack could be avoided. A bit too long and technical for it's own good, this film fell flat for me despite the noteworthy efforts of both Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.

I Spit On Your Grave
A true grindhouse film, I Spit On Your Grave follows an independent big-city woman who rents a house in the country for the summer to work on her first novel in peace. Not long after arriving, the woman is brutally raped and nearly killed by four local men who she then proceeds to hunt and enact her revenge on. What makes I Spit On Your Grave a grindhouse film is the fact that instead of insinuating violence, this movie flat-out shows it happen. The rape scenes account for about a third of the film and the revenge scenes account for about another third. This means that more than half of this movie is devoted to bombarding the viewer with violent acts. There are a few parts that manage to be disturbing and a few that are more silly than frightening, but if you are at all squeamish, I Spit On Your Grave is certainly not the film for you.


Rob Tornoe said...

Last comment for the evening. So I've noticed that you have a lot of 5-star movies. A lot. And while we can bicker and argue about which ones are deserving, how can Hunt for Red October chime in with a puny 2-stars?!?! And how can you compare it negatively with Tony Scott's Crimson Tide? How do you think it compares with Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot?

Rian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rian said...

Rob - I haven't seen Das Boot. I've been called out by many people on my rating system thus far (obviously not via comment as you can see, but in person for the most part). My star ratings are not based on which movies are the most critically acclaimed because critics the world over have already acclaimed these movies. My star ratings are based on my personal enjoyment of the films in question. It's a measurement of my personal opinion. So if I give a piece of cinematic garbage like Death Race 2000 a five star rating and a "classic" bit of cinema like The Deer Hunter a measly two star rating, that's because I had a blast watching Death Race and thoroughly enjoyed it while The Deer Hunter (as my review explains) just about put me to sleep. So a star rating of five is much like me telling you "I loved this movie, you've got to see it," while a one star rating means "I hated that movie." I hope that clears things up.