Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Old-Timey Reviews from 2003 Films

In an effort to update the blog with something, I've decided to fill this space for now with reviews I used to post on the Internet Movie Database that I wrote when I first registered in 2003. They are entirely unchanged from when I wrote these nine years ago, so if you have a problem with their quality and accuracy, take them up with the 2003 version of Orrin. To very loosely quote an episode of Futurama ("loosely" means I'm not going to actually look it up): "I can't be held responsible for what year-ago me said or did. He was a maniac."
This was essentially my first effort to be a critic. I was out of college for a year and seeking to devote myself to something new and keep myself active. It was through doing these that I eventually got interested in being a critic and in film studies when I went back to college, so it all comes full circle:

Bruce Almighty:
Jim Carrey, who has thoroughly explored bathroom humor and Frank Capraesque drama, finds a very comfortable balance here. The plot: Carey is a newsman in Buffalo whose frustrations over his unmet aspirations to be a news anchor cause him to challenge God himself. God, in the form of Morgan Freeman, accepts his challenge setting up a pretty decent opportunity for some laughs. The choice to put Carrey's character in Buffalo rather than the New York City where most movies are set, seems to resonate in a symbolic sense, as the world Carrey inhabits always seems to be a little off the norm. Aside from Carrey's comedy, and a convincing performance by Morgan Freeman (as convincing as humanly possible, that is, considering he's playing God), I liked this movie because at heart it's very uplifting and speaks great truths about the power of love and `being a miracle.'

Whether it lives up to the success of its Marvel predecessor Spiderman with whom this superhero shares several parallels, Daredevil is an undeniably solid film. The advantage for Daredevil's appeal is that unlike human spiders, blind people actually do exist and his struggles add a neat human dimension. The title sequence is done in Braille and the special effects, shown from our blind superhero's point of view, are amazing. The well-balanced story is somewhat dark in tone but not depressing, and gives us a good character portrait. What's best about the film, however, is its cast. Ben Affleck, with his do-good persona has superhero written all over him. Affleck isn't physically intimidating but that never stopped Tobey MaGuire in Spiderman or Michael Keaton in Batman. If you're looking for a love interest who can knock down bad guys in her sleep, no one can top Garner and as for the villains, you'll feel Mike Duncan Clarke and Farrell were practically born into their parts.

Swimming Pool:
Swimming Pool is a sophisticated and new kind of movie for our postmodern world in which reality and fantasy become so blurred together. Well, sorry, I'm not on board. Call me old-fashioned but I like stories with coherent beginnings and endings and while I appreciate Ozon's effort to give his films that artistic edge, I felt like I almost wasted a ticket. I say `almost', because if you trim down a few minutes, you have, more or less, a coherent story and up until the end I felt pretty entranced. Set in an appropriately eerie French house, the main characters are a well-known writer and her editor's sexually loose daughter who are forced to temporarily live in it. Despite all the sex, drinking, and violence going on, there's very little going on. Overall, the storyline is very static so it helps that Rampling and Sagnier show so much chemistry as two awkwardly mismatched roommates.

Uptown Girls:
Brittney Murphy and Dakota Fanning star as a very childish 22-year old and a very mature 8-year old in a movie that is pretty flawless. That is if you're a pre-teen and a girl. Everything from the heavy use of peppy teen music, to the shiny lights and purples and pinks decorating the sets and wardrobe to Brittney herself create a mood characteristic of a modern Cinderella story. For the rest of us, it might not be your cup of tea depending on how far removed you are from 12 and your gender, but it still has its moments. Brittney proves herself capable of creating movie magic on screen showing us her childish side, even if she overdoes it a little. As for her counterpart, Fanning holds up ok except that the writers didn't create a very convincing 8-year old. On the whole, the movie is rather intelligent and deals with some weighty material (death of a parent, neglect, etc) that is quite powerful.

Last Samurai:
Being released alongside so many other great war epics, The Last Samurai probably won't get the recognition it deserves, but that should not detract from its achievements. Set in 1870s Japan, this is an epic set around a washed-up Civil War veteran played by Tom Cruise. Whether you think he's too much of a pretty-boy or not, Cruise can still create magic on screen, even if he plays the same kind of guy over and over. To refresh your memory, Cruise starts his films (Rain Man, Jerry MaGuire, etc) as an arrogant jerk before meeting an inspirational figure, that leads him to a journey of self-discovery where he changes himself and turns into a true hero. This movie is the same, but within the context of a war epic, Cruise is just what the doctor ordered, and just as Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr did exemplary work alongside him, Cruise's brings out the best in costar Ken Wattanbe, who had an extroadinary presence, in an already emotionally stirring relationship. The story is beautifully told and visually beautifully portrayed.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico:
Once Upon a Time in Mexico, ('92 to be exact), a cinematic visionary named Robert Rodriguez made a pretty decent movie with only $7,000. The film, about a guitar playing hero taking up a life of crime after his guitar-playing hand is shot, got him enough attention in Hollywood to attract a bigger budget. Catching the end of this trilogy, it appears he used the cash to find more convincing ways of blowing people up. To call the movie violent is an understatement and there are a couple of moments so graphic that I recommend squeamish people stay away. However, the violence is first-rate here, and Rodriguez' gift of lightly sprinkling clever touches into his action shines through. Set against a masterfully crafted backdrop and a somber Latin-flavored score, Mexico is a shift from his earlier movies in its more epic tone. With a couple exceptions, there is very little character development and in its place is a complex story featuring a complex web of characters on various sides of the good/evil divide. Whether you're able to follow the plot, you'll probably be highly engaged by it and, in contrast to Mexico's tragic predecessors, be elated when the good guys win in the end.

No comments: