Friday, January 23, 2009

Movie #96 - Ordinary People

"Some films you watch, others you feel."

*Note: In honour of the upcoming Academy Awards in February, I have decided to focus my reviews on previous Best Picture winners dating back from 1980-2007. This will showcase the range of films that were produced during my lifetime.

Ordinary People is one of those quintessential 80's dramas. A film built by a solid script, good directing, and a wonderful cast of high quality actors. Such is the case with this film, an adaptation of the novel written by Judith Guest, but more importantly - the directorial debut of Robert Redford.

Now Redford has not done many films behind the camera, but the ones he has done have all received critical acclaim. Some of the highlights on his resume are Quiz Show, The Milagro Beanfield War, and a River Runs Through It. We can probably forget The Horse Whisperer, which is defined as a chick flick, and although many fans liked The Legend of Bagger Vance - I wasn't entirely convinced. On the whole - Redford is an accomplished director, producer, and the founder of the Sundance Film Festival. Redford has established a niche in this field, especially since his rugged good looks are now starting to droop - he should join Clint Eastwood behind the camera full time.

This film is a powerful portrayal of family conflict. On the surface, life is great for the Jarrett family, but deep down, there are major problems associated with a highly dysfunctional family. The film is filled with stunning performances, which was acknowledged back in 1980 during the Academy Awards. Nominations included Mary Tyler Moore (Best Actress), Judd Hirsch (Best Supporting Actor). Winners from the film included Timothy Hutton (Best Supporting Actor) and Robert Redford (Best Director).

Not bad for first films for both Hutton and Redford. Unfortunately for Hutton, he has yet to translate this instant success to anything tangible beyond Ordinary People. He has made a number of television movies and is generally cast as a side actor in support of the lead characters - however, Hutton can no longer hold a film on his own. So technically speaking, if you wanted to see the greatest movie of Hutton's career, just find this first one.

I would've liked to see Moore win for this role. Known for her quirky roles on television, Moore plays the hated Beth Jarrett and does a convincing job in that character. In the end, you feel for both Hutton and Donald Sutherland's characters, but you have no sympathy for the pain and suffering caused by Moore in the end. Her character is the driving force of this film.

If want to be captivated by a dramatic film of the 80's, look no further than Ordinary People. Although Redford has yet to top his first effort, its good to see where his roots began as a strong director in Hollywood.

Movie #95 - 12 Monkeys

"The future is history."

I didn't get to see this movie until 2001 and it still is one of those films that I enjoy seeing parts of when it gets shown on television. Director Terry Gilliam has done a tremendous job on this film and his resume preceding 12 Monkeys includes classics as Brazil, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the Fisher King.

The movie is dark and morbid - but you get captivated by the concept of the world ending. The concept has been done countless of times, especially for summer blockbusters, but 12 Monkeys definitely does not fall into that category.

The screenplay is very clever and is unique as it takes you back and forth following Bruce Willis' character James Cole. We are treated to a solid supporting role performance by Brad Pitt - who got nominated for an Oscar for this film in 1996. It is also refreshing to see Pitt returning to working on more serious films with the Curious Case of Benjamin Button - as his last ten years of movies have been somewhat forgettable in terms of critical acclaim.

This movie also has some solid cameo performances by Christopher Plummer and David Morse (who fits in well as a crazy, psychotic, bio-terrorist). However, the one detractor of this film is the poor performance of Madeleine Stowe. I was somewhat confused looking back at Stowe's casting - previous to this film, her best known role was for Unlawful Entry. Unfortunately, Stowe's character brings this film back down in terms of high ranking science fiction thrillers, as Stowe rides the coattails of both Pitt and Willis.

In the end, this movie is highly recommended... a little confusing, but a great science fiction movie from the mid-90's era of films.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie #94 - What Dreams May Come

"After life there is more. The end is just the beginning."

For all of you movie-goers out there, this movie is a guaranteed tear jerker. This film is both beautifully shot and the cast put together is quite good overall: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max von Sydow, and Annabella Sciorra.

An Academy Award winner in 1998 for Best Visual Effects, the colorful palette that this movie utilizes is what makes you appreciate the story and plot. Without providing too many spoilers, this movie deals with death and the afterlife - at least an entertaining rendition out there.

Also, for you chick flick movie fans, this film is definitely one of the better ones out there, not because it is a defined chick flick, but becomes it evokes a dramatic emotional response - dealing with issues related to death, dreams, and love.

There are some disturbing images portrayed in this movie and it does give a stark interpretation of what the afterlife may be like - but its definitely a movie to watch from beginning to end. If you have the opportunity to rent the DVD version of this film, please take notice of the alternate ending - it definitely does not make any sense and would have completely destroyed a wonderfully composed film had it been used instead of what they actually came up with.

In the end, enjoy this movie for what it is worth: a great visual landscape and wonderful set designs. The acting compliments the imagery and the storyline compels the actors to grab the audience from beginning to end. This movie can be included into a solid film resume for all actors involved as it is an collaborative achievement with no particular standouts. Even Robin Williams, known for his flailing and antics on stage and in many of his roles, gives a solid, balanced performance - which is a breath of fresh air for this film.

For the guys out there... if your wife, girlfriend, or fiancee wants to rent a movie that you can both watch - I highly recommend this one. Trust me, she'll bawl her eyes out and you might shed a tear or two... its quite possible.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Movie #93 - 3000 Miles to Graceland

"Crime is King."

A funny little movie about a bunch of robbers hoping to rob a Las Vegas casino, posing as Elvis impersonators. There are a number of quirky scenes in this film and a number of great cameo performances by the likes of Ice-T, David Arquette, Christian Slater, and John Lovitz.

Overall, the movie falls quite flat. I don't know what era you could include this movie in, but Kevin Costner has done a number of really bad films in the current decade and since the turn of the century, has not hit his stride in comparison to his ability to touch gold in the late 80's and early 90's. Same goes for Kurt Russell, although at least Russell has found some niche roles in some major blockbusters and children's films in recent years, not to mention appearing in some cult movies such as Deathproof.

I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to find and watch this movie, mainly because it is filled with a number of big name television and movie actors and actresses, however, the interaction between Russell and Costner makes this a bad film in the end. The concept is hilarious and the twists and turns of the plot should make for a clever film overall, however, for some strange reason, this movie takes a melodramatic turn in the last 30 minutes which will leave viewers with a sour taste for the entire film.

I would've liked to see more emphasis on the Elvis angle, more focus on the fun behind robbing a casino dressed up like Elvis - instead, the focus was on character development and the supposed evil side brewing inside of Costner's character. This gets lost somewhere in the plot and storyline as the movie almost plays out like its two separate films. In the end, the concept works, but the movie doesn't... which goes to show once again with "money grab" type films - you need a solid script and plot, the cast really doesn't matter.

I would like to see Costner and Russell team up again in the future if at all possible. Both are well beyond their years as leading role actors, but I think they could excel in a role built for their strengths. As with any set of actors on the downward swing, roles in a war movie or historical time piece can really hit it big with the die-hard fans - something both tried to do with their take on the Wild West in the mid 90's with Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. If I had to put these two actors together in a film again, another Western could be the way to go.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Movie #92 - What Lies Beneath

"He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home."

This movie probably marks the beginning of a string of bad films to be released by Harrison Ford, which is a string of about nine years. Unfortunately for a Sigma Nu brother, Ford continues to churn out films of poor quality - most recently, his resurrection of Indiana Jones.

I remember getting sick during exams in fourth year university and watching this film with my girlfriend (now wife) on VHS as part of an attempt to get better. I think I was having a fever when I watched this film originally and have not seen it since to update my opinion on the movie - but I still believe it is a poor film from top to bottom.

A casual movie fan would think that having a movie with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer would have on-screen chemistry and a solid plot. Especially since this movie marks one of Ford's first "thriller" genre entries on his resume, I was excited to see what the duo could do. Mix in the respectable director, Robert Zemeckis, and you have the combination available to make a good movie.

Well, sometimes expectations are not met and movies fall flat, which is the case for What Lies Beneath. I think my poor review of this movie is linked to both being sick while watching the movie and not enjoying the poor CGI graphics used nor the poorly scripted film on the whole. In the end, I believe the team should just forget about this film in its entirety... unfortunately for Ford, he hasn't really recovered from this flop and there looks like there is no end in sight for him.