Category Archives: movie review

The 300

After Disney butchered Hercules, and after  Wolfgang Peterson destroyed the greatest book of Western civilization with Troy, and especially after Alexander the Great, I was in no mood to watch the 300.

But I was not expecting to be offended by the reviewers reactions to the facts of the event.

To the San Jose Mercury News Reviewer: The phrase: Come back carrying your shield or on it, is not a cheesy line by a bad screenwriter. The line is exactly what the Spartan women told their men as they left for war.

Movie Review: X3: The Last Stand

When X3: The Last Stand opened in theatres nationally, there were a number of very negative reviews. The general consensus on was that the film was fresh, but barely so.

When I went to Australia this past week, I had the oppurtunity to watch the film for free. Which I did. Fully expecting a Matrix: Revolutions or Reloaded experience. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I found the film quite entertaining. So entertaining that I decided to watch the movie at home on my big screen TV to see if it was a case of the film surpassing a low hurdle or whether it was actually as fun as I thought it was.

X3 is a fun movie. There are those who bemoan the lack of gravitas and thoughtfulness. That somehow the comic book made a deep and profound statement on the human condition that the movie trivialized with it’s special effects.

Give me a break.

Did they ever read the comic book? C’mon. This was a comic book with cheesy dialogue, silly fights, men in tight suits, aliens, transport devices, fights, and that sometimes, just sometimes was a little bit more. The reason we remember it as seminal was because it was unique in trying to discuss serious topics in a comic book, a venue that seemed the wrong place to be exploring serious topics. But the X-Men were no Sandman.


The final film deals with the most controversial character of the comic book series, The Phoenix. And like in the comics Phoenix will not have a pleasant end. For those who read the comic book, the end of the Phoenix is not the end of Jean Grey. The film seems to suggest that the end here is a little bit more final. Given the nature of acting contracts etc, I wonder about Jean’s death.

Ian McKellan steals the show. His performance as Magneto was as riveting in this film as the performance was in the first two. His speach about the danger of silence when confronted by those who would cure you is powerful on multiple levels. On one level because the character of Magneto speaks from the personal experience of the holocaust. On another level because the actor speaks from his personal experience as a gay man whose seen people try to cure him.

The film almost ends with the threat that Magneto’s powers are lost forever, but the revenues of X3 and the final 3 seconds suggest we can await an X4. That part they got right. Because as we all now, villians and heroes in comic books never really die…

Movie Review: Munich

In 1972 Palestinians massacred Israeli athletes during the Olympics. As a consequence of that action, Golda Meir decided to authorize the assassination of the Palestinians who were involved.

This film is about the men who performed the act of vengence that Golda demanded.

Watching the movie, I was struck by the difference in the kind of terrorist we faced in the 1970’s versus the kind of terrorist we face now. In the 1970’s the terrorist was a poet who translated Arabian Nights into English who lived in Italy and had book readings. Or a sophisticated literate man who had a house in Paris, a daughter that went to a French school, and a wife that was very westernized. These were men who, you must believe, we could have negotiated with. They were, in their unreasonableness, reasonable.

And who do we have today? We have butchers who revel in their oppression of women, their beheadings of journalists, in their slavish devotion to a perverted form of Islam, and their messianic faith in final ultimate victory. These new men are not men we can negotiate with.

Yet, like Golda said, we can not let the butchers think that they can butcher us wherever and whenever they please. Avner, the leader of the assassin’s asks his mother whether she would like to know what he had to do for Israel. Avner’s mother says no. Avner’s actions protect her home and are therefore holy in her eyes. And that is the essence of our conundrum. To protect our homes we must do horrible things.

I wonder sometimes. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the British imprisoned the IRA gunmen. When they came out of prison much older men, their desire for blood had been quenched. Perhaps there is a parable there? Perhaps if we imprisoned these men, and then brought them out of prison 20, 30, 40 years later, perhaps they too would speak of peace and not of vengence?

I don’t know. I just know, like Avner, that we killed one set of killers to replace them with a new set of killers.

The film itself is an extremely well done period piece. Like anything Spielberg does the direction, the filmography itself is masterful. Unlike many things Spielberg does, the story was not heavy handed, the morality not rammed down our throats. Instead, Spielberg is able to restrain himself until the very end of the film when he drags out the end for 30 minutes.

Spielberg makes no claims about historical accuracy, this is a film, not a documentary, and so commenting on the facts of the film seems silly.

There were one fun moment. The Israeli assassins are relying on a French syndicate that trades information to find their Arabs. The French syndicate sends them to Athens, Greece and tells them of a safe house in Athens. It turns out that a completely different set of assassins are in Paris with information also supplied by the French syndicate that is staying in the SAME hotel room. I could not help but wonder at the absurdity of the event.

Definitely worth watching.

Movie Review: Syriana

South Park recently ran an episode satirizing the over-the-top smugness of George Clooney during his Oscar acceptance speach. I had no idea.

There is a film waiting to be written about the complexity of the Oil Crisis. In that film we will learn about the challenge of transforming a medieval culture into a modern one in the span of two generations. In that film we will learn about the importance of oil to the global economy and how our dependence on oil creates artificial political environments. In that film we will learn that there are no easy answers. That the choice of no oil means reverting to an era of misery and pain that none of us is willing to go back.

However, Syriana is not that film.

Syriana’s thesis is that Big Oil owns the US government. The US government and Big Oil conspire to keep us addicted to oil. The US government and Big Oil also work to ensure that the Middle East is ruled by fools who will do our bidding. In Syriana’s world view the Middle East is nothing more than a part of the American Raj where the kingdoms are nothing more than the modern equivalent of the princely states of British India. Rulers who pretend to have power, but really are impotent. In Syriana the solution is simple, find the modernizing Arab ruler and support his quest to transform his country. Of course, it’s that simple! But never fear the dastardly conspiracy between Big Oil and the US government will ensure that the modernizing Arab ruler is murdered using our powerful radar guided missiles.

As for the Arab people? The screenwriter can not bear to hide his contempt for their culture, their traditions and their people. The Arab people never actually make an appearance. They either are portrayed as lunatic religious fanatics pushing illiterate Pakistani villagers to perform acts of suicidal terrorism. Or they are portrayed as slothful lazy bums, such as when Bryan Woodman played by Matt Damon remarks that the Arabs wear only white and never seem to ever work. Or finally when Arash, played by Kayvan Novak, is described as a modernizer it’s because of how he views women that we are to see him as a modernizing influence. They have no say in their future. Their future is determined by the American Government, and the cartels that keep folks in power.


Someday, someone will write a good movie that will try and understand the topic. Expecting that from an over-the-top smug George Clooney convinced of his own self-righteousness would be too much. And it was.

Movie Review: The Swing Kids

The Swing Kids is a period piece set between 1939-1940 exploring a particular sub-culture that emerged in Nazi Germany. Teens frustrated with the claustrophobic and sclerotic structure of their day, rebelled by listening and dancing to American Swing. Their protest is captured in their mantra: Hey! It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Do wah, do wah, do wah, do wah, do wah.

The tragedy of the film, is that of course it does not end well. The Second World War does start, and the Nazi’s really do kill six million Jews, and the Russians really do occupy Poland for 45 years. The protest these children are engaged in is a silly expression of youthful rebellion. Nothing is affected. Nothing changed because some kids in Berlin and Hamburg listened to Benny Goodman.

The film at no point suggests that these dancing kids actually were able to do anything of any substance. What it explores is their reactions as their bubble world collapses. How do they react to the Nazi regimes attempts to squeeze out this tiny bit of non-conformity. Some refuse to live on or play the game, killing themselves. Some join the Nazis. And some when confronted with the choice of playing on or fighting choose to fight.

And somehow that last little bit of rebellion at the end of the film is the most tragic: Long past the point when anyone could have listened to their rebellion, the swing kids rebelled. And the futility of that gesture is captured by the Gestapo agent played by Kenneth Branaugh: So much passion wasted.

The story of the Swing Kids is really a story of how bored rich children wanted to rebel and how their pointless rebellion became a political protest as the choice between compromise and death became apparent.

As a film, it’s the music that steals the show. The music is so great, and the characters so obviously in love with it, that you can’t help but keep tapping your feet. In fact, the music is almost too great. The film at times becoming a music video for swing.

From the actors Kenneth Branaugh steals the show. The lead, Robert Sean Leonard, had his moments, but he did not carry himself like a German. Which is the same problem with the other leads, who at no point convinced me that they were Germans. The supporting cast and the extras did a great job convincing me that they were Germans.

Noah Wyle also has a bit role in the film.

The directing is well paced. The cinematography decent.

Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Adaptations of children’s novels are always a tricky beast. The problem is how do you make what is a children’s tale appeal to adults without destroying the children’s tale.

Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events tries to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood by focusing on sets, serious acting, and the darkness of the tale. The movie begins with a little happy elf song that is darn creepy in it’s happiness, and then quickly shifts to every child’s nightmare: orphanhood. However, it manages to avoid being just creepy and scary by demonstrating how the children are able to survive and outwit the villainous evil through their own wits and self reliance.

The movie has a collection of sets that remind you of a Tim Burton film. They look almost normal. And yet there is something that is wrong with them. For example, there is a car phone, but it’s a real phone in a car. The home of Aunt Josephine is normal except for the fact that is precipitously attached to a cliff.
The film stars a collection of children playing against some great adult actors. And that’s unfortunate, because unless you’re a great actor you’re going to look silly playing against Merryl Streep. Even Jude Law as the disembodied voice of Lemony Snicket has more presence than the children.

There is one really creepy moment in this film. The fourteen year old Violet marries Count Olaf. It’s really disturbing to see her take on this impossible burden to marry the creepy Count Olaf. There is something especially disturbing about a film that has a 40+ year old man marrying a 14 year old child. Especially when it’s a leering creepy Jim Carrey. I wonder how the censors let that one through.

The critics panned this movie. A Tim Burton fan might enjoy it. Definitely worth renting.

Movie Review: King Kong

Peter Jackson made the studios billions with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. They were a critical and financial success. His mastery of both directing and of managing costs puts him in a truly unique place in the movie biz. He can do whatever project he wants and people will fund it simply because he is involved.

There is another artist with a similar cachet, JK Rowlings.

And after suffering through King Kong, I am struck by a certain similarity between the two.

No one wants to edit JK Rowlings’ books.

No one wants to touch Peter Jackson’s art.

Unfortunately, in both cases, the art suffers.

The story of King Kong is well known, and Peter Jackson never strays. All he does is add technology, superior acting, better camera work and a lot more time to a story that could be said in less.

king kong

And much like kong, we’re frustrated that that was all he did.

One curious observation, in his Lord of the Rings saga, the end of the third film seemed to drag on forever. I was convinced this is a reflection of the material, not the director. King Kong seemed to linger on forever, both the film and the ape, before the end. So much so that the impact of the end was dissipated in anticipation of getting out of the theater

Naomi Watts as the woman in distress was very good. Anthony Serkis continues to be the best actor to not appear in the flesh.  Adrien Brody was convincing in his role as tormented play-write.

The actor who impressed me was Jack Black. Originally, I thought he was incapable of playing a dramatic role. And for a while his character Carl Denham appears to be the comic relief, but towards the end he manages to steal the show. Which given that that’s when the ape rampages through the city, should tell you something.

Movie Review: The Lords of War

In the Soviet Union there was a very specific kind of subversive movie that was popular. The movie appeared to the censors to applaud the status-quo while at the same time skewering it to someone who could read between the lines.

The Lords of War is exactly that kind of movie. On the face of it, the movie is about Yuri Orlov, played by Nicholas Cage, a disaffected bored young American who stumbles on the gun trade as a way to make money. The story follows the expected arc. Yuri discovers the gun trade. Yuri becomes successful in the gun trade. Yuri gets the babe and fortune and a little bit of fame. Babe convinces Yuri that the gun trade is evil. Yuri abandons the gun trade. Yuri tries to go for one more score that goes hopelessly awry. Yuri loses everything.

Except The Lords of War is not that film. What the film really is about is how the world sat and watched while guns were rapidly distrbuted throughout the thirld war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. How those guns were used by maniacs like the imaginary Andre Baptiste Sr., leader of Liberia, to fund their bloody wars.

We think that the movie’s purpose is teach us to hate the gun merchant because he is evil.

And Yuri understands that we think he is evil. When Jack Valentine, the Interpol Agent who has been pursuing Yuri finally has him arrested, they have the following exchange:

Yuri Orlov: Enjoy it.
Jack Valentine: What?
Yuri Orlov: This. Tell me I’m everything you despise. That I’m the personification of evil. That I’m what- responsible for the breakdown of the fabric of society and world order. I’m a one-man genocide. Say everything you want to say to me now. Because you don’t have long.

So we do. We the audience, outraged by Yuri and his actions call him all those horrible things. And we think that that’s the point of the film, that there is a scourge, the gun runner, and if we got rid of him the world would be a better place. We eagerly wait to find out what number we can dial to help the heroic Jack Valentines of the world.

And Yuri understands that too. But he turns to Jack and to the audience and says:

Yuri Orlov: The reason I’ll be released is the same reason you think I’ll be convicted. I *do* rub shoulders with some of the most vile, sadistic men calling themselves leaders today. But some of these men are the enemies of *your* enemies. And while the biggest arms dealer in the world is your boss–the President of the United States, who ships more merchandise in a day than I do in a year–sometimes it’s embarrassing to have his fingerprints on the guns. Sometimes he needs a freelancer like me to supply forces he can’t be seen supplying. So. You call me evil, but unfortunately for you, I’m a necessary evil.

And then we realize that, the gun merchant is not evil. The gun merchant is merely a middle man between the gun manufacturer, the gun owner and the victim. He is what makes them possible.

At that point we understand the subversiveness of the opening sequence and of the true purpose of the film. The opening sequence begins with Yuri, transitions to a factory that manufactures AK-47’s and ends with a bullet in a child’s brain. The point is that we’re all to blame. It’s not just the killer, and it’s not just the middleman but it’s also the guy building the guns. And that we can not escape our own moral responsibilities by blaming the problem on them.

Movie Review: Wayne’s World

Wayne’s World is the dress rehersal for Mike Meyrs great success, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Don’t bother with the rehersal just see the full production.

All of the essential elements of the Austin Powers films is here. The absurd plot, the bizarre comedic skits, the over-the-top sex, the disgusting humor and the spoof of different film genres.

Unfortunately, in this film, Meyrs is somewhat restrained from the over-the-top approach he took later on in his career and as a result the film is fundamentally less funny.

I won’t bother with the plot, because that’s besides the point.

Movie Review: Hairspray

When Hairspary the Musical erupted on the national stage winning every award in site, it resurected my interest in the John Waters film of the same name.

The film has all of the attributes of a John Waters film, including Devine, the cheap as sin acting and sets, the over-the-top directing and the absurd cinematic moments. It’s unclear from following the movie what I am supposed to get out of it.

It’s clearly not a documentary on 1960’s history.  It’s clearly not a comment on modern race relations.
The film is more like a trip down John Waters’ memory about the events of that time.

It attempts to explore the issues of race in the 1960’s using Waters’ wacky style.
Is it worth watching?

Hard to say. The low budget shines through all of the time. But there is a certain Jetson’s like feel to watching the 60’s through Waters’ eyes. Much like the Jetson’s project the 1950’s into the 21st century, Hairspray projects our imaginings of the period onto the period.
Devine is wonderful.

Ricki Lake is funny as Tracy Turnblad.
Jerry Stiller is great.

It’s one of the more watchable of Waters’ films. Not a mainstream selection.