Monday, November 24, 2008

Movie #88 - Aeon Flux

"The Perfect World Meets The Perfect Assassin."

There are really just two reasons to watch this film - Charlize Theron and black spandex. Really, that's all I have to say about this film, although I should say more about this movie.

Its a creative film about an assassin living in a Utopian society, and that Theron's character Aeon Flux, threatens to end this lifestyle when she's hired to kill the leader of the society. Movies like these are highly predictable and are only enjoyable for the wondrous set designs and beautiful women. In this case - win, win!

Theron has a rock hard physique in this movie and it is known that she did all of her stunts, which shows physical versatility and the fact that she is the epitome of the female specimen. The CGI set designs and scenes of violence and action are quite entertaining, but mainly because Theron is kicking ass and shooting large weapons.

Overall, the movie in itself is quite bad once you get passed seeing Theron for the majority of the film in tight clothing or without much clothing. Producers cast previous Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite to add some credibility to the plot, script, and cast - although they both seem quite out of place without much dialogue or importance in the movie itself.

In the end, if you cannot enjoy this movie for any other reason than the admiration of Theron, than you are kidding yourself if you believe you will like this film for plot or science fiction content. Theron clearly did this role as a money making venture and a reason to get fit and show her abilities as a potential action star in future roles, but in the end, this is definitely one of her more forgettable roles and at the time, set her back a couple of steps of gaining critical acceptance as a serious dramatic actress.

It hasn't hurt her in the long-term, but it definitely is a black mark on a emerging resume of solid roles and movie selections for Theron in recent years.

Movie #87 - Legends of the Fall

"After the Fall from Innocence the Legend begins."

Marking the beginning of a stellar, versatile career, Brad Pitt is the main driving force behind a solid cast in this time piece from 1994. Following critically acclaimed roles in Cool World, A River Runs Through It, and Interview with the Vampire, Pitt is able to capture the audience with his portrayal of Tristan Ludlow.

The whole plot revolves around the exploits of the Ludlow family and how love and sibling rivalries tear the family apart over the years. The story is narrated from a third person perspective, following the life of middle brother Tristan, alongside the other brothers Samuel (Henry Thomas) and Alfred (Aidan Quinn). The love interest of the film is the beautiful British actress, Julia Ormond and her influence on the three brothers is what makes this film so passionate.

Although I acknowledge that this movie is in fact a love story - because its a tragic love story makes it an entertaining story to follow. Combined with the fact that Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job as Colonel William Ludlow and that the entire film is shot in B.C. with beautiful landscape scenes, this make the movie a great film.

Pitt steals the show from a great cast of good performances and he follows this role with a number of hit films in the mid to late 90's such as Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Seven Years in Tibet, and Fight Club. With this handful of roles that followed, it is not surprising that Pitt showcases his talents here in Legends of the Fall, which are probably what landed him successive roles in the films listed.

If you have yet to watch this movie, please do so. You will be compelled until the very end, especially the final 10-15 minutes in which the entire storyline is brought together for a stunning conclusion. If you watch this movie and skip to the end, its still a powerful set of scenes, but is difficult to understand the emotion behind the events. This film is highly recommended in my books despite being labeled as a Pitt chick flick by many. Admittedly, its a great film from that era.

Movie #86 - Working Girl

"For anyone who's ever won. For anyone who's ever lost. And for everyone who's still in there trying."

1988 must have been a slow year for movies... after doing some research on this quirky film, it seems that a number of Oscar nominations were given to the cast and film credits associated to this movie. Although it is a funny film from the 80's, there really isn't a reason as to why so many nominations were provided.

This film does mark one of the best performances in the long career of Melanie Griffith (pre-plastic surgery of course). If you want her best performance, seek out the WWII time piece Shining Through opposite Michael Douglas.

There are good points to this film - Sigourney Weaver plays the villain and she does it well. In fact, when you look back at the 80's, Sigourney dominated a number of key films of that era - the Alien franchise, the Ghostbusters franchise, and a number of romantic comedies such as this movie. This also marks one of those Harrison Ford films that I didn't add to my collection - he's not playing his standard Ford role of being a lawyer/doctor/analyst turned action star, so this film gets relegated to the second tier in his many roles.

However, the biggest selling point of this film is following the life of the character of Tess McGill. Since this movie was filmed in the heart of the 80's, the ability of women to advance in the shark-friendly corporate world of New York City is a rarity and its entertaining to see how she does it. Throw in a good soundtrack and some cameos from Alec Baldwin (the greatest actor of all time), Joan Cusack, and Kevin Spacey - and you got a pretty good 80's film.

I am glad to learn that neither Weaver, Cusack, or Griffith won an Oscar for this film, however, Griffith did in fact win a Golden Globe consolation statue instead. Hey - even the Globes make mistakes from time to time - look at Paul Hogan winning for Crocodile Dundee or Tom Cruise winning three times for Magnolia, Jerry Macguire, and Born on the Fourth of July.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Movie #85 - 54

"Welcome to the party."

54 was a film made in 1998 and it is dated with movie and television actors and actresses who were hot back during that time period. For those that haven't seen this movie, it profiles the party lifestyle surrounding Studio 54 in New York City and follows a set of characters portrayed by Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, and Mike Myers.

Considering 50% of the headline cast is Canadian content is a bonus for this movie. The soundtrack coming out of this film is great, including the remake of Gordon Lightfoot's "If you could read my mind" by the Stars on 54 - which consisted of late 90's artists Ultra Nate, Amber, and Jocelyn Enriquez.

This movie definitely had a lot going for it. It was a story about Steve Rubell (depicted by Mike Myers) and it was a feature about life in the late 70's during the high point of the disco era. Hence the musical soundtrack is great, but in the end, the movie is a flop. There is too much focus between the romance between Philippe and Campbell and there wasn't enough of Myers' acting as Rubell - which would've represented a strong debut of his more dramatic acting side. I believe all superstar comedians should do at least 3-5 dramatic roles either in television or movies in their careers - its helped Robin Williams and it has allowed Tom Hanks to evolve into the dramatic leading actor that he is cast for since the early 80's.

In Myers' case with his portrayal of Rubell - there just wasn't enough dialogue or plot focused on this enigmatic person - although Studio 54 itself was built and destroyed on the exploits surrounding Rubell. I guess knowing a little too much about the history behind the plot cheapens the movie in the end and so you are left unsatisfied when the storyline strays away from what the story could have focused upon.

With the romantic sub-plot of Campbell and Philippe, you are easily bored. Many women find Philippe attractive (my wife included), but only in his more recent leading roles has Philippe shown true promise as an actor. He needs to tuck this one away in the closet somewhere. Campbell - usually a solid leading or supporting actress in her various roles, falls flat. Also, she is cast a little older in this film (approximately in her late 20's) - which is surprising since she will always be cast as the 17-21 year old young adult in all of her roles. Although refreshing to see her in this age bracket, her performance weakens the film in the end, leaving only the music to enjoy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Movie #84 - La Bamba

"Born to poverty. Destined for stardom. He lived the American Dream."

1987 was a good year for movies that had a musical flare to them. This was the same year that Dirty Dancing was popular, and not surprisingly, both are clever time pieces. This movie follows the life of Ritchie Valens, a young Mexican-American teenager who quickly rose to stardom in the 50's rock & roll era.

Despite the predictable ending to this tragic true story, the portrayal of Valens' short life was entertaining. Lou Diamond Philips does a great job in capturing the youthful exuberance of Valens' life and the constant struggle that he endures dealing with his drunken, abusive older brother Bob (depicted by Esai Morales) really made this film a strong story to watch.

In the end, the music became the major selling point of this film. Many of the artists shown in this movie had their songs re-recorded, including all of the Valens' music. All of his songs were redone by the Mexican band Los Lobos. The updated La Bamba hit was actually a number one hit on the charts in 1987 - a true tribute that the music of the 50's is still relevant and that the updated version is quite good.

There are some cameos in this movie that make the film work as a time piece. Rick Dees plays a radio host of that era and Joe Pantoliano is Valens' record producer - back before Joey Pants had the attitude that is seen in many of his more recent roles in action films. From the musical side of things, Brian Setzer of the Brian Setzer Orchestra does a great Eddie Cochran for the soundtrack.

At the end of the movie, Valens' life ends tragically along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Its crazy to see how the true story actually ends and to know how easily Valens' would've lived - watch the movie if you don't know what I am talking about. I've read in some conspiracy stories that Elvis' record company sabotaged the plane so that they could remove some of the competition that was threatening Elvis' overall popularity - however, that would be an extreme conspiracy ranking up there with Area 51 and the JFK assassination.

What's funny about this movie though, is that Philips did such a solid performance in portraying Valens, he parlayed this role into some stronger supporting roles in Young Guns shortly thereafter. This is not the first time the death of an artist was made into a movie - other good examples include Gary Busey as Buddy Holly (1978) and Jennifer Lopez as Selena (1997).

Movie #83 - White Noise

"The dead are trying to get a hold of you."

When I originally saw the trailer for this film, I was intrigued by the concept. Banking on the popularity of ghost hunting shows and the resurgence of belief in paranormal activity, White Noise portrays the ability to capture electronic voice phenomena or EVP's for short. Many believe these voices heard on recording devices or in this case, the white noise of television and radio are in fact voices from another realm or voices from the dead.

Keaton's character is desperately trying to search for a way to communicate with his dead wife and child in this film and his adventure exposes him to the extreme beliefs of EVP seekers. EVP's are sometimes seen as ways to communicate with the dead as you might have seen on silly shows such as Ghost Hunters or Paranormal State. More extreme believers are under the notion that this is in fact a way to bring people back from those realms where they may be residing or are trapped in.

This was the plot line in the many Poltergeist films of the 80's and is a common theme in a number of cheesy horror movies made to scare teenagers with impressionable minds. I honestly never thought Keaton would stoop low enough to make a film like this, but unfortunately, his movie resume has dwindled since his high end films such as the Batman franchise. In the end, if you go over his recent work - outside of some clever television cameos and voiceovers, Keaton hasn't done much since the late 90's and that includes bombs like Multiplicity or Jack Frost.

His body of work are a far cry from his rise to glory in Batman and Beetlejuice, but I truly believed Keaton's credibility could be salvaged with a strong thriller in White Noise... boy, was I wrong! The only saving grace in this film is the casting of Deborah Unger - however, she is poorly utilized and doesn't do enough to help this film in the end. If you like ghost hunting and the possibility that they might exist, this is still more enjoyable than the bad television shows available today - but not by much.

Movie #82 - The Abyss

"There's everything you're ever known about adventure, and then there's the abyss."

This is one of my favourite movies from the James Cameron line of films. Although he is somewhat of a pompous ass, he's done some stellar films that I like to watch over and over again. This movie ranks up there with Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day and is a special treat to go along with his other films such as Aliens or True Lies.

A storyline about a deep sea mining team searching for a sunken nuclear submarine is fitting for the cold war era of the late 80's and it definitely has some unique twists along the way - opening up the imagination of fans. Cameron has a tremendous fixation on the wonders that await discovery in the deep sea areas and this movie gives him a chance to explore it.

This film is far better than his Titanic movie, although that one had a love story starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I doubt a love story driven by the great Ed Harris (who is a good looking man by the way) would cause much of a box office stir in comparison to Leo.

Anyhow, this film was groundbreaking for special effects and advancement of underwater cinematography. It was a well-deserved winner of the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1989 and set the tone for Cameron's upcoming film, T2, which utilized similar techniques to create his T-1000 character.

There is a solid performance by every one's favourite military hero/villain, Michael Biehn, who is cast as a villain in this film. Like every other movie he's been in except for a small handful, Biehn's casting leads to a tremendous death scene, as he is known in Hollywood for this guaranteed performance.

If you are as big of a fan of Biehn (who is also a Sigma Nu brother in case you didn't know) as I am - seek out his other strong performances in The Rock, Tombstone, and Terminator for his death scenes that strengthen the overall movie in the end.

Although Biehn has recently chosen to pursue the television roles to pay the bills, his appearances in most films are usually as a strong side character to help portray the protagonist in a better light. He accomplishes that here in the Abyss as you really hate him in the end.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Movie #81 - L.A. Confidential

"Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush..."

1998 was a funny year for movies. This was the year of the juggernaut Titanic taking over both the box office draw and all of the critical acclaim. Also, 1998 was a tough competition amongst films with Good Will Hunting, Full Monty, and As Good as it Gets participating for Best Picture.

L.A. Confidential in my opinion is one of the better films coming out of that strong group in 1998. The Academy got it wrong with some of the winners related to this film. L.A. Confidential, like the others of 1998 got a number of Oscar nominations, winning for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. I completely agree with the Screenplay nod as this movie is deep, with strong character development, a great murder mystery to drive you throughout the film, and is filled with deceit and mistrust - which makes for a great movie.

However, the reason this movie still creates a stir in me after 10 years is the fact that Kim Basinger won for Best Supporting Actress for a film that she starred in for probably 15-20% of the time. I guess, by definition, 15-20% of the film constitutes the nomination, but her performance doesn't. She's horrible in this movie and it goes in line with many of her other films. Not to mention, she lowers the achievements made by the rest of the cast, from Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, and Kevin Spacey down to even the brief appearances by Danny DeVito and David Strathairn. Basinger does not add value to her role and to the overall cast - and apart from the tension created by her character between Pierce and Crowe, you could remove her role completely and still have a wonderful film in the end.

So I guess, in retrospect, a Best Supporting Actress winner should be a character who drove the plot of the film and added value... from my rant in the last paragraph, you know where I stand there. In defence of her win, there wasn't much choice from the other nominees... except maybe Julianne Moore from her role in Boogie Nights. Outside of that, I didn't see the Academy selecting Joan Cusack (In & Out), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), or Gloria Stuart (Titanic) as none of these three performances should have even been considered in the end.

By the way, I still highly recommend this film, and for those who have yet to see it - you'll be thrilled when you find out who Rollo Tomasi is?

Movie #80 - You've Got Mail

"Someone you pass on the street may already be the love of your life."

One of the more entertaining romantic comedies to go in the set of movies directed by Nora Ephron. Ephron fell in love with the on-screen chemistry of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and especially has a strong infatuation with Ryan as she has appeared in a number of her films.

The story follows the online love affair between Ryan and Hanks, while their real life interactions are filled with tension and rivalry. There are a number of small cameos in this film, which enhance the progression of the film - Dabney Coleman, Dave Chappelle, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Zahn.

In addition, this movie marks an earlier appearance of the ever-annoying Parker Posey as Hanks' girlfriend, making Ryan look like the ultimate catch by the end of the movie. In every Ephron/Ryan movie, Ryan is set up as the beautiful, sweet, woman that every guy would fall in love with. Unfortunately, 10 years and a couple of botched plastic surgeries later - Ryan now falls into the Melanie Griffith category (also known as the don't zoom in too close category).

I don't know why Ryan decided that she needed surgery to address something that I believe she would've done quite naturally and still retained her inner and outer beauty. Instead, her on-screen presence that many fans endeared over the last 20+ years is grossly affected by the issues with her surgery blunders.

You won't see Ryan cast in any recent romantic comedies because the whole point of the movie is for the audience to fall in love with both actor/actress... not going to happen anymore with Ryan. Its too bad though since this was her bread and butter genre and unless she has a way to turn back the clock to reverse some of her procedures, she will continue to be overlooked for these roles.

Movie #79 - 2001: A Space Odyssey

"Let the Awe and Mystery of a Journey Unlike Any Other Begin."

For years as an avid movie fan, I had wanted to watch this movie. In fact, I had only seen this movie once in my lifetime and since then, have only seen snippets on television or when they do profile or biography shows on Stanley Kubrick.

The build-up and anticipation of watching this film was huge back when I was a young teenager. Its been 14 years since I have seen this film, and my opinion still stands. It is one of the wonderfully shot and imaginative movies out there, with a classical soundtrack that suits the images on the screen - however... its just plain weird.

Don't get me wrong, I am a giant science fiction fan, growing up with shows and movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Files... the list goes on. However, nothing can prepare you with how weird this movie is.

One of the main reasons that I haven't watched this film in quite a long time is its length and overall slowness to develop plot. Without providing too many spoilers, the first hour delves into the origin of the obelisk and how influential it was on the origin of mankind. Then the next hour seems to drag on as Kubrick focuses on the beauty of space and the various space vehicles and stations that exist in 2001.

What's great about this film - back in 1968, movies about space and space travel were never done before and so having a movie of this stature really influenced the genre on the whole. Kubrick's panoramic shots and use of angles captured the essence of the emptiness of space and the overall beauty at the same time. While using classical scores was a treat in the end. In addition, the character of the artificial intelligence, Hal 9000, has evolved into a cult classic, even being used as the AI in Apple Computers of recent years.

In the end - you'll like many parts of this movie, but you may end up on the fence of how much you like the whole picture. If you can avoid watching the sequel starring Roy Scheider and Helen Mirren, you're lucky... unfortunately, I wasn't able to avoid it and sought it out this year - big mistake on my part as it put a bad taste in my mouth on the franchise.