My name is Cal.
I'm Clint Eastwood's dad. Yes, I possess the greatest sperm known to man.
When I'm not tooling around in one of my nine Aston Martins or indulging in any number of my twenty-eight wives, I write stuff and watch television. Oh, and I exercise as frequently as possible, sculpting dem abs. U mirin?
People may wonder why I pump so much time and effort into reviewing movies when it's doubtful many people even read my full reviews. With IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and other websites full of critics more knowledgeable and better read than me, why should you bother with my writing? Well, I leave you to answer that question for yourself. Perhaps my primitive sense of humour will factor into your enjoyment of my reviews. Or perhaps it's that I am merely a lover of movies and do not consider myself a critic. Critics trash fun movies but praise wildly overrated, boring movies. I just like having fun at the movies... And I assess a movie as a guy who loves movies and seeks a good time.
I do not receive any money or revenue for my writing, so I write this as a passion and as a hobby. I aim to simply provide a fair, balanced analysis and commentary of a movie I've seen.
Thus, people may think I at times go too easy on a movie. Well, that's because I look for the good in all movies, even bad ones. I want to recognise the effort that has gone into a movie, and be fair to the filmmaker's intentions. I want to break into the film industry and I wish to make movies, so all films deserve a fair trial in my mind. I'd hate it for people to give a film of mine a low rating for a few purely nitpicking reasons.
That is all.
My reviews cannot be copied or reposted in whole or part without my express permission!
I once came across someone hovering around the web who copied my reviews word for smegging word.
However, you can link my reviews on your lists and stuff. That's perfectly cool. As long as I get credit
That's all I have to say.
Oh, and I post my reviews on a few different websites. I did some writing for Digital Hippos briefly... But that site is run by a bunch of cunts, so I didn't remain as a staff member. I suggest you guys avoid that site, too.
You'll find my reviews scattered on other websites around the web, including The Critical Critics, Flixster, etc. Demand for my writing is actually rather high. I've even been quoted on Blu-ray covers.
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Posted : 13 hours, 24 minutes ago on 18 June 2013 10:17
(A review of The Return of the Living Dead
"I ain't in no mood to die tonight."
1985 was a banner year for zombie films, as two "Dead" flicks hit cinemas within the span of two weeks. George A. Romero's third zombie effort, Day of the Dead
, came first, closely followed by The Return of the Living Dead
, which was written and directed by Alien
scribe Dan O'Bannon. Return
is based on the novel of the same name by John Russo, who worked with Romero on Night of the Living Dead
in 1968 before the pair parted ways, leading Russo to desire a franchise of his own. Tobe Hooper was initially slated to direct the adaptation of Russo's book, but was replaced with O'Bannon, who in turn rewrote the script to change the tone to comedy-horror and retool the story to avoid similarities to Romero's flicks. It's hard to dislike the resultant picture; a completely unpretentious and devilishly enjoyable zombie comedy which delivers thrills and laughs in equal measure.
Following a botched army experiment which resulted in a zombie outbreak, barrels containing the preserved remains of said zombies are mistakenly sent to the Uneeda Medical Supply Company in Louisville, where they're stored in the basement. When Freddy (Thom Matthews) is employed by the medical supply company, his superior Frank (James Karen) begins showing him the ropes of the job, and decides to show the young lad the barrels of zombies. Frank unwittingly releases a gas from one of the barrels which has the power to reanimate dead things, leading to cadavers and split dogs being resurrected. Fretting over the situation, their boss Burt (Clu Gulager) is brought in, who suggests they burn all the zombies with the help of mortician Ernie (Don Calfa). Unfortunately, however, the gas from the burning bodies spreads to a nearby cemetery, giving rise to an army of superhuman un-dead with a taste for human brains.
Not long into The Return of the Living Dead, O'Bannon actually acknowledges that Romero is the zombie maestro - Frank explains that Night of the Living Dead was based on true events, but some of the details were switched up. Furthermore, O'Bannon pretty much ignores Romero's previously established zombie mythology. The similarities start and end with walking dead; as for the rest, O'Bannon does his own thing. A shot to the head doesn't stop these zombies - they must be entirely obliterated with fire, acid, or a nuke. The zombies can speak, too, and they retain some semblance of human logic. It's refreshing to watch something as creative as Return, which remains unique in the heavily populated zombie subgenre. It helps that O'Bannon's treatment of the premise is so thoroughly fun, turning what could've been an undistinguished low-budget zombie pic into a truly memorable orgy of campy awesomeness. The script is a complete hoot, full of witty bantering and funny dialogue, not to mention a wonderful proclivity for off-the-wall mayhem (there's a midget zombie, for crying out loud). Running a scant 85 minutes, O'Bannon infuses Return with wonderful narrative velocity, making the experience all the more satisfying.
O'Bannon has apparently expressed disappointment in some of the special effects, as he could only do just so much with the tiny budget, but Return of the Living Dead stands the test of time. The make-up and sets look impressive, and the prosthetic and animatronic effects bestow the undead creatures with a tangible quality which cannot be replicated on a computer. Sure, some of the zombies look like extras in tattered clothing with a dab of make-up, but this adds to the charm of the flick, reinforcing that nothing is being taken with a straight face. This was O'Bannon's first directorial outing, and while he doesn't attempt anything visually audacious, his work is effective and efficient, displaying a gift for storytelling and pacing. The great soundtrack (including a few nice songs and a flavoursome original score) is another standout, adding the finishing touches to this delightful romp.
The colourful and fun ensemble of characters also warrants a mention. O'Bannon recruited a great selection of actors, each of whom plays their respective role to perfection. Matthews displays side-splitting comic delivery as Frank, while Gulager is both convincing and hilarious as the boss who's in over his head. But the film belong to Calfa, who makes for a goofy embalmer. Miraculously, nobody in the film is called upon to do silly things for the sake of the plot; they all remain likeable, and possess the right amount of campiness.
Perhaps this review has lavished Return of the Living Dead with more praise than some of you think it deserves. Sure, it's no Best Picture winner or any monumental achievement, but the film deserves respect and adoration for being the endlessly entertaining and witty extravaganza that it is. Pitched at the right tone, Return is a total hoot, and it closes with one of the most surprising and darkly comic endings in film history. Its four sequels may be of inferior quality, but they cannot diminish this original film, which is required viewing.
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Posted : 1 day, 14 hours ago on 17 June 2013 09:20
(A review of Mental
"That's Michelle. She's mental. We all are."
As the title implies, 2012's Mental
is completely mental and all over the shop, a wild mishmash of goofy humour, psychological exploration and bleak drama. The picture comes from writer-director P.J. Hogan, who was responsible for 1994's cult hit Muriel's Wedding
before moving to America where he directed My Best Friend's Wedding
, Peter Pan
and Confessions of a Shopaholic
marks Hogan's return to his Australian roots, crafting a semi-autobiographical tale that won't work for everyone. It's an endearing film, but a complete tonal mess, and it's probably best consumed by less conservative viewers who'll be willing to sit through the peculiar chaos.
In suburban Australia, housewife Shirley Moochmore (Rebecca Gibney) has lost her mind, suffering a complete mental breakdown in front of her judgmental neighbours. This catches the attention of her neglectful husband, town mayor Barry Moochmore (Anthony LaPaglia), who sends Shirley to a mental institution and covers up the truth by telling everyone she's on holiday. Barry is left to take care of his five frenzied daughters, but has no interest in bonding with them. In a panic, he brings hitchhiker Shaz (Toni Collette) into the house while he continues his electoral campaign. Each of Barry's daughters have their own quirks, with Coral (Lily Sullivan) believing herself to be schizophrenic while Michelle (Malorie O'Neill) keeps seeing aliens from Lost in Space, but the knife-packing, dog-owning Shaz begins bestowing her own brand of therapy on the girls.
Although the fundamental set-up sounds unbelievable, it actually has a basis in reality; Hogan's mother was in fact sent to a mental institution by his politician father, who feared that his wife's illness would harm his electoral chances. And Hogan's father indeed recruited a random hitchhiker from the street to babysit the family. During the filming of Muriel's Wedding, Hogan told Collette stories about the real-life Shaz, and Collette expressed interest in playing her in a film if ever such a production got off the ground. It's a personal story for Hogan, and he translated the story to the screen with genuine panache. Mental is a colourful motion picture, exuberantly shot by director of photography Don McAlpine, who takes advantage of the picturesque Australian locales.
As soon as Shaz enters the film, Hogan threatens to pursue a conventional story of heart-warming family healing, which would've resulted in disposable PG-rated entertainment. But Mental carries its adult rating for a reason, as Hogan's vision is much darker than expected. He continually takes the film in unexpected directions, abandoning clichéd character arcs as Shaz lets the girls run wild while identifying the neighbours as the insane ones. The final act is particularly unexpected, which is a credit to Hogan. Mental is not a sentimental movie, as its views on contemporary society are fairly bleak, and the characters here all retain their flaws and foibles at the end of the story. This is also the furthest thing from a family movie, as it provides non-sequiturs inappropriate for kids; use of the c-word, a lot of profanity in general, toilet humour, suicidal tendencies, a lesbian Aboriginal, and even a scene of girls menstruating all over the white couches and walls of an obsessive cleaner's house. The final scene even depicts a fart being set alight, which becomes a flamethrower.
Mental exhibits the same key flaw as Muriel's Wedding: the picture's tonal shifts are too jarring and uncomfortable. Hogan frolics around in goofy, borderline slapstick humour at times, but this is contrasted against darker moments, and the merger never quite gels. Certainly, it's understandable that Mental is probably meant to be schizophrenic since the film is, well, mental, but it never comes together as a coherent whole, nor does it entirely satisfy.
Fortunately, the acting ensemble is marvellous, committing to the madness with gleeful abandon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Collette is the standout, running with the chance to play the off-the-wall Shaz. It's a showy performance by Collette, and she's hard to fault, as the actress is often highly amusing and she handles the film's dramatic moments with sincerity. Also of note is the beautiful Rebecca Gibney, who apparently packed on a considerable amount of weight to play the unhinged Shirley. This is the type of performance that steals awards; Gibney turns a potentially shallow character into a three-dimensional human, making Shirley Moochmore vulnerable and believable. Meanwhile, young Lily Sullivan is a real find as Coral, evincing a naturalism and maturity that you'd expect to see in veteran actors. The rest of the young performers are equally good, selling their individual quirks without devolving into cartoon. Liev Schreiber even shows up here with an Aussie accent, and he's pretty good, while Deborah Mailman also pops in for a few scenes as an unbalanced old friend of Shaz's. Mailman is a riot, infusing Mental with a wonderful comedic energy, and she interacts extraordinarily well with Collette.
A few of the big set-pieces fall flat (the climax is botched and feels astonishingly out of place), and the storytelling is undeniably messy, but Mental benefits from Hogan's sincere direction as well as the game cast. Australian viewers will probably connect with this one the best; it's unclear how international audiences will respond to it. Mental is not a great film, nor is it completely coherent, but it has enough scenes of greatness, and it's made with such a smooth sleight-of-hand that it's worth checking out.
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Posted : 3 days, 14 hours ago on 15 June 2013 09:28
(A review of Despicable Me 2
"That's right, baby! Gru's back in the game with cool cars... gadgets... and weapons!"
According to The Big Book of Hollywood Economics, every
animated feature in this day and age must be sequelised. Even Hoodwinked
got a sequel that nobody asked for, and there's no palpable end in sight for the Madagascar
or Kung Fu Panda
sequels. The sleeper animation hit of 2010 was Despicable Me
, from the newly-established Illumination Entertainment. Although it was released in the same year as Toy Story 3
and How to Train Your Dragon
, it racked up an impressive box office gross of nearly $550 million, guaranteeing a sequel. But despite being masterminded by the same writers and directors as its predecessor, Despicable Me 2
is an oddly underwhelming follow-up, working only in drips and drabs rather than as a cohesive whole. It comes up short in terms of humour, not to mention it loses the heart of the original film and it lacks the thematic complexity of Pixar's usual output. It's not bad per se, as it's bright and fairly fun, but it's not unreasonable to expect a stronger finished product considering the quality of the 2010 movie.
Domesticated and no longer engaging in villainous antics, Gru (Steve Carell) has warmed up to the lifestyle of a father, diligently looking out for his adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier). Meanwhile, a research station in Antarctica has been stolen, and the criminal behind the deed now possesses a serum capable of creating an unstoppable army of mutants. Investigating the matter is the Anti-Villain League, who are compelled to recruit Gru. Teaming up with agent Lucy Wilde (Kristin Wiig, who voiced an entirely different character in the first film), Gru goes undercover at a local shopping mall to weed out the new super villain. Added to this, the girls become insistent that Gru begins seeking out a girlfriend, leading to flying sparks between Gru and Lucy as they carry out their mission.
What makes Despicable Me 2 interesting is that it's a mystery for the majority of its runtime. The villain is kept shrouded in secrecy until the very end, which provides a hook and gives the film the chance to toy with audience expectations. However, the film plays out as more of an adventure than a fun family comedy, establishing a light-hearted tone but failing to deliver a steady stream of laughs. In fact, there are no belly-laughs at all, and there are only one or two memorable moments of comedy in the entire 90-minute picture. Moreover, the best gags are only in the final third, and the only joke to make me laugh out loud (the minions dressing up as the Village People and performing their own rendition of YMCA) is right before the end credits. Despicable Me 2 needed to be coloured in with more of the sly humour that made the original so special. Furthermore, the film suffers due to a lack of heart, making it feel empty and disposable. 2010's Despicable Me had a clichéd but effective character arc for Gru as he warmed up to the girls, but here we just get a romantic angle which lacks the sincerity to make it soar. Added to this, the Anti-Villain League is forgotten about halfway through the movie. Literally. Gru solves the mystery and saves the world, but we do not see the repercussions on the league. It's baffling.
Owing to the three-year gap and heightened budget, Despicable Me 2 is a more attractive movie, boasting improved animation that nevertheless retains the simplistic charm of its forerunner. That said, though, the 3D does not add much to the experience. In fact, it's one of the most rote uses of the format in recent memory, with only a few moments that take full advantage of the possibilities of 3D. For most of the time, you forget you're watching the movie in 3D. Trust me, this one plays just fine in 2D. On a more positive note, the film fares best while observing the minions up to their usual mischief. The minions only speak in gibberish, hence it's up to the animators to make them interesting by giving them amusing slapstick humour in the vein of the Three Stooges. Luckily, the minions are brilliant here, and their antics are as amusing as ever. But the rest of the humour is a mixed bag. The first movie had some snide moments of black comedy as well as a few sly sight gags; here, the biggest recurring joke is the fart gun, which tells you how uncreative the flick really is.
Despicable Me 2 is not an actor's movie, of course, but Carell is still an utter delight as Gru. He's a wonderfully quirky visual creation, and Carell voices him with a hilariously indeterminate accent that, in the actor's own words, mixes Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi. Wiig is also good here, giving Lucy a spark of brightness and charisma. Wiig is good in anything, and she was a great choice for Lucy. Al Pacino was initially slated to be part of the picture, but dropped out at the 11th hour over "creative differences," and was replaced by Benjamin Bratt. The fact that he was so easily replaced shows how interchangeable the vocal acting is, though Bratt does a serviceable enough job. Unfortunately, Russell Brand's Dr. Nefario is criminally underused, given barely any screen-time at all. Nefario is a supporting presence and works in small doses, sure, but a development early into the story concerning the character just doesn't sit right.
In spite of all its flaws, Despicable Me 2 is still entertaining, with a few standout sequences and a nice sense of energy that rarely falters. It's not that the film is unwatchable; it just feels lazy, as if the animators were the only ones who put in a genuine effort. For the first Despicable Me, the makers all had something to prove, as it was Illumination Entertainment's debut movie and it had to make a positive impression. Now, it seems, the crew were operating on autopilot, which is a real shame.
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Posted : 4 days, 15 hours ago on 14 June 2013 07:55
(A review of V/H/S/2
"These tapes only effect you if you play them in the correct sequence."
While this reviewer personally enjoyed 2012's found footage horror anthology V/H/S
, it received a mixed critical reception, and undeniably left room for improvement. Its cult following guaranteed a sequel, which we're now faced with less than a year later. Despite its ostensibly rushed nature, V/H/S/2
is a rare case of a follow-up which surpasses the original. It's a slicker, brisker and more thrilling anthology of horror shorts, making the initial V/H/S
look like an amateurish warm-up. Backed by solid production values, strong acting, and a selection of remarkable creative visions, V/H/S/2
is a big success, showing how good an omnibus can be in the correct hands.
Private investigators Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott) are assigned to look into the disappearance of a young student. Breaking into his house at night, the pair only find his television blaring white noise, a large collection of VHS tapes, and a laptop. As Larry searches the house, Ayesha begins to watch the video cassettes. On the first tape, "Clinical Trials," a patient (Adam Wingard) receives an artificial eye which films everything he sees for the doctors. But the man begins witnessing malevolent ghosts around his home, and comes to realise that this ability is a result of the surgery. On the next tape, "A Ride in the Park," a biker (Jay Saunders) attaches a GoPro camera to his helmet as he rides through the local woods, but is confronted with a zombie outbreak. The third segment, "Safe Haven," concerns a group of journalists who travel to an Indonesian compound to report on a troublesome cult. But the observers soon find that things are far more sinister, with the cult's leader (Epy Kusnandar) looking to unleash pure evil onto the world. And finally, "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" follows a bunch of kids who are left home alone for a weekend. Using cameras to capture their acts of tomfoolery, the young ones are visited by vicious extraterrestrials.
While V/H/S/2 retains two directors from its predecessor (Wingard and Simon Barrett), the roster is otherwise filled with newcomers, introducing fresh filmmaking blood and permitting the sequel to venture off in new and exciting directions. Naturally, the big thing with anthologies is that certain shorts are better than others, which was a relevant criticism for the first film. V/H/S had some dead weight and ran too long, but part deux is superior, with strong shorts across the board. Admittedly, the wraparound narrative feels a bit forced, and there's still not enough of a compelling reason to provide a central plot as an excuse to showcase the shorts, but the other segments range from very good to great.
By far, the best short is "Safe Haven," directed by Timo Tjahjanto and The Raid mastermind Gareth Evans. It's a horror masterpiece, excelling due to its inventive premise, intriguing build-up, as well as the bursts of tension and foreboding. All hell eventually breaks loose (literally), and it is a sight to behold. Evans goes bonkers, employing a level of blood and gore on the same level as Ichi the Killer, and the short continually manages to top itself in terms of insanity and gore. Added to this, the found footage presentation amplifies the experience rather than serving as a hindrance, which is the mark of a sound creative team. Also brilliant is "A Ride in the Park," which treats your typical zombie premise with refreshing ingenuity. The unique hook is that most everything is recorded via a GoPro attached to the head of a zombie, allowing us to see zombie carnage from the perspective of one of the walking dead. Its inventive cinematography and seamless special effects makes this a real winner, and its short runtime generates welcome briskness. The creators behind the segment, Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez, were both involved in 1999's The Blair Witch Project. How appropriate.
All the praise for "A Ride in the Park" and "Safe Haven" in no way implies that the other two segments are subpar in any way; on the contrary, "Clinical Trials" and "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" are very good as well. The imaginative photography of director Wingard's "Clinical Trials" is particularly laudable, as we see everything from the first-person perspective of the main character. Although it does rely on a few cheap shocks, it's an effectively atmospheric piece of work, and the climactic moments are especially intense. Similarly, "Slumber Party," which was directed by Jason Eisener (the mind behind Hobo with a Shotgun), is a beautifully-orchestrated short. Most of the footage is derived from the kids' dog, which has a camera attached to its head, making sure that nobody can ever ask why characters would keep recording as the shit hits the fan. The only thing holding V/H/S/2 back from perfection is the wraparound narrative, hence it's fortunate that it only takes up such a small amount of time.
It's hard to imagine horror buffs, or fans of the first V/H/S, walking away disappointed with V/H/S/2, which left this reviewer hungry for further sequels. A horror omnibus franchise may seem like a flimsy idea, but this series provides an excellent outlet for budding indie filmmakers to experiment with horror and found footage tropes. And if the standard is as good as this, further sequels seem very enticing indeed.
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Posted : 5 days, 18 hours ago on 13 June 2013 04:47
(A review of Shakedown
"This gun is clean, no serial number. So if I blow out what's left of your brain and chuck it in the East River, your case is closed. The people downtown are gonna file you under DSAF. "Did Society A Favor." Got it?"
Blue Jean Cop
, or Shakedown
as it's known in the United States, is exactly the type of cheesy '80s action entertainment that you would expect to find in old VHS bargain bins. If this appeals to you, there's a good chance you'll have a good time with Blue Jean Cop
, but if you prefer sophistication with your action...look elsewhere. The flick was written and directed by James Glickenhaus, who was also responsible for such movies as The Exterminator
, The Soldier
and The Protector
, which gives you a good idea of what you're in for. And for what it is, Blue Jean Cop
is fun enough, with some notable set-pieces and a few surprisingly strong actors. It's flawed, to be sure, but it's by no means unwatchable.
In Central Park, drug dealer Michael Jones (Richard Brooks) shoots a corrupt police officer, which leads to his arrest. Although Jones admits he killed the cop, he pleads self-defence, claiming that he felt threatened and was simply trying to protect himself. Brought in to defend Michael is Roland Dalton (Peter Weller), who's convinced that his client did not fire first. As he delves into the case, he finds that the incident is the tip of an iceberg of widespread corruption in the police department, and his investigation puts him in the line of fire. Dalton's friend Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) teams up with him to help him crack the case, working both inside and outside the law to expose the corrupt cops. Complicating matters is the fact that Dalton's former flame Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau) is the attorney prosecuting Michael.
Although Blue Jean Cop apparently wants to be taken seriously since it spends long stretches in a courtroom, the embellished idiocy of the action set-pieces says otherwise. It is a bit of a jarring mishmash, since it's not straight-faced enough to be a profound drama and not fast-paced enough to be straight-up awesome as action junk. Nevertheless, it is watchable, and the attempt to do something more serious is definitely appreciated. However, the third act is one big jumbled rush, barrelling through the proceedings as quickly as possible to reach the credits. As a result, the ending feels too simplified, quick and easy, as if the director was sick of his own film and wanted to sprint to the finish line without any thought towards coherency or logic. As a matter of fact, bits of pieces of the film do seem to be missing, as if the flick had a torpedo taken to it in the cutting room. Then again, the home video version of Blue Jean Cop (which I viewed) runs 95 minutes, whereas the original cinema cut was apparently 112 minutes. Of course, I cannot be certain and I'm not sure if this information is accurate, but the reported additional material might rectify these problems; as it is, the film feels wildly incomplete.
From a historical perspective, it's fascinating to view Blue Jean Cop. In an early scene, Marks is in a cinema that's screening The Soldier, one of writer-director Glickenhaus' earlier movies. Minutes later, Marks and Dalton wander past cinema marquees which display titles like Death Wish 4, American Justice, Steel Dawn and Deadly Illusion. Gosh, they just do not make movies titled with such gusto anymore. Blue Jean Cop embodies the type of cheesiness we have come to expect from the '80s, as well; Glickenhaus orchestrates a number of entertaining action set-pieces pushing the boundaries of plausibility. In one scene, Marks even uses his bare hands to destroy the controls of a rollercoaster, causing it to fly right off the track. In another scene, Dalton is in a taxi, and a crane accidentally snags the car, lifting it right over a police barricade and onto the front steps of the courthouse. To the credit of Glickenhaus and his crew, such scenes were pulled off competently, and it's easy to appreciate the stunt work that must've gone into the shoot. That said, there is a scene towards the end with Marks holding onto the underside of a plane which does look fake, but such phoniness adds to the cheesy charm of the flick.
Blue Jean Cop holds a lot of appeal due to its cast, which contains a few recognisable names. At the centre of the film is underrated RoboCop star Peter Weller, who's suitably charismatic in the role of Dalton. It's a business-as-usual performance for Weller, but he's good at what he does, and he's eminently watchable. Ditto for Sam Elliott, one of the manliest actors you will ever see, who leans on his usual shtick as Richie Marks. Elliott and Weller are a terrific on-screen pair, bantering with ease. Also notable is a painfully underused John C. McGinley, while Patricia Charbonneau is a top-notch pick for Susan; she's sexy, and her acting is unusually strong.
There is not much more which can be said about Blue Jean Cop, which is enjoyable enough in the moment but provides no lasting impact, nor is it overly distinguishable from similar efforts. It's a movie designed to consist of action and stunts, providing images of explosions, gunfire, shattering glass and impossible acts. It's a niche film, so it will only appeal to those who like this kind of thing. Everyone else need not apply.
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Posted : 1 week, 3 days ago on 8 June 2013 08:11
(A review of Superman
"Your name is Kal-El. You are the only survivor of the planet Krypton. Even though you've been raised as a human, you are not one of them. You have great powers, only some of which you have as yet discovered."
In many ways, 1978's Superman
ushered in the superhero movie subgenre, demonstrating that filmmaking technology had finally advanced far enough to convincingly realise comic book heroes on the big screen. Superhero movies are all the rage these days, but Superman
was the very first of its kind. Certainly, there were cheap serials and cartoons prior to it, but this movie generated a new wave of multiplex-rocking live-action superhero flicks, paving the way for the likes of Batman
. Directed by Richard Donner (best known at the time for The Omen
remains not just a historically iconic movie but also an eminently enjoyable and well-made adventure. It's an epic motion picture full of grand spectacle, benefitting from strong storytelling, a wonderful selection of actors, and an unforgettable score. But Superman
ultimately soars thanks to Donner's dedication to the spirit and style of the comic books, giving us an inspiring portrait of a man fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
With the distant planet of Krypton on the brink of destruction, scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando) places his infant son in a spacecraft bound for Earth, where his dense molecular structure will give him superhuman abilities. He's swiftly adopted by kind farmers Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter), who name the boy Clark (Jeff East) and raise him as their own. Following the death of his father, Clark (now played by Christopher Reeve) learns of his origins, powers and responsibilities, and moves to the city of Metropolis where he decides to use his incredible talents to become the world's protector, Superman. To hide his true identity, Clark disguises himself as a mild-mannered newspaper reporter working for the Daily Planet. Kent develops romantic feelings for fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who's in love with the Superman side of him. Meanwhile, diabolical criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has developed a scheme that will kill millions for his own profit and pleasure.
The original script by Mario Puzo (who wrote The Godfather novel) was deemed too long and ambitious, prompting financiers Alexander and Ilya Salkind to recruit Robert Benton, David Newman and Leslie Newman for rewrites. When Donner was hired to direct, he wanted to start from scratch and pursue another direction, bringing in Tom Mankiewicz to perform further rewrites. The final result is a screenwriting masterclass that shines in terms of structure and dialogue. Superman clocks in at a mammoth 140 minutes, with ample time being allocated for exploring the Last Son of Krypton's origins before he's positioned as humanity's saviour. The film feels long in the tooth, sure, yet nothing feels inessential, as Donner merely wanted to take his time to develop the characters and work through the narrative. Superman is full of wit as well, and contains its fair share of pathos. Indeed, the death of Jonathan Kent hits extremely hard. What's also refreshing about the film is that it's not deadly serious; whilst Donner handles the ridiculous aspects with sincerity, there's a healthy sense of humour throughout which doesn't feel out-of-place. Unfortunately, however, the script does crumble towards its climax; no matter how you portray it, Superman turning back time is too cheesy and naff.
This was not the first time that Superman had stepped out of the pages of his comic books and into other media. There was a radio show in the 1940s, followed by a full-colour cartoon series, a film serial starring Kirk Alyn, and a television show featuring George Reeves as Superman. However, technical limitations continually hindered such efforts, preventing a believable representation of a live-action Superman. Until 1978, that is, when Donner and his team could finally achieve it. A teaser poster was even released before shooting had even begun, which announced "You'll believe a man can fly." And, indeed, you do believe it, with state-of-the-art special effects giving credible life to the inimitable Man of Steel. Whenever Superman emerges to save the day, the results are glorious, with Donner showing a keen eye for staging coherent set-pieces. Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is skilful as well, with perfectly designed shots all over the place. But it's John Williams' heroic score which catapults the film to another level. The insanely memorable theme grabs your attention during the lengthy opening credits, and the set-pieces are much more stirring thanks to Williams' musical accompaniment. It's one of the all-time great film themes, the type of which we never hear today; it perfectly captures the sense of heroism and high-flying adventure that Superman is all about. Everyone involved in the production set out to make the best film possible, and Warner Bros. spared no expense; Superman was their most expensive motion picture when it was released.
The casting of Clark Kent/Superman presented the production's biggest challenge. The producers considered a number of big actors, including Robert Redford, James Brolin, Paul Newman, Nick Nolte, James Caan, Sylvester Stallone, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Donner wanted an unknown for the role to avoid the perception of "a movie star in tights." Reeve was definitely the best choice, as it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Supes. His physique is spot-on, but it's the actor's charisma which makes him so ideal. Moreover, Reeve created fully-rounded personas for both Clark and Superman, making it easy to distinguish one from the other. Meanwhile, as Lois, Kidder is merely decent. She has nice chemistry with Reeve, but she lacks charm, and it's hard to see why Clark falls for her so quickly. Faring much better is Hackman, who's an ideal Luthor, while Ned Beatty is brilliant as Lex's dim-witted accomplice Otis. Brando was paid a then unheard-of $4 million to appear in only a handful of scenes, and he lends gravitas and regality to his role of Jor-El. Jeff East is also solid as young Clark (whose voice was actually dubbed by Reeve), while the great Glenn Ford provides warmth and heart as Pa Kent.
Looking back at Superman in the 21st Century, it does show its age. A few special effects shots look dated, with obvious model work and a few never-quite-believable flying scenes. Donner's direction is on the stilted side from time to time, as well. Then again, it's hard to begrudge the film of this, as nothing like it had ever been attempted before. Superman is terrific despite its flaws; it's tremendously exciting as a comic book movie (it will work like gangbusters for children), but it also has a sense of sophistication and cinematic maturity that will appeal to adults. If only the sequels could have maintained this high quality.
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Posted : 1 week, 5 days ago on 6 June 2013 11:34
(A review of Fast & Furious 6
"You've got the best crew in the world standing right in front of you, give them a reason to stay."
Impossibly, the formerly awful Fast and the Furious
series at long last became good with the release of the fifth film, Fast Five
, in 2011. Dumping the dead weight of the street racing tangents, the producers reinvented the franchise to create a solidly entertaining heist picture, and it paid off with surprising critical acclaim and box office success. Riding high on this triumph, we now have Fast & Furious 6
, which retains its predecessor's tone and proclivity for pure blockbuster action. Helmed by Justin Lin and written by Chris Morgan (collaborating for their fourth
consecutive outing in this series), it's an empty but entertaining showcase of fast cars and superlative stunt-work which also provides some satisfying fan service for anyone who's been watching this series since the beginning. Fast & Furious 6
may not be as good as Fast Five
, but it's better than the rest of the films in the series, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Having made off with around $100 million following the Rio heist of the last picture, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) and Brian's wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) now live in Spain trying to evade the law. They are soon tracked down by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who agrees to pardon their entire gang if they help him stop criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). To tempt them even further, Hobbs produces photographic evidence that Dom's thought-dead love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is not only alive, but now working for Shaw. Rounding up the old gang - including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) - Dom and Brian head to London, looking to take down Shaw before he creates a catastrophic tech bomb. Dom is determined to reunite with Letty in the process, but she's suffering from amnesia, which complicates matters.
Whoever titles these movies deserves a slap across the face. The fourth film, Fast & Furious, has no numerical appendage at all, while Fast Five simply drops the word "Furious" from its title, though it's called Fast & Furious 5 in a few countries (occasionally with the subtitle Rio Heist). At last we're making headway with the coherently titled Fast & Furious 6, even though the opening title merely reads Furious 6. Is a little consistency too much to ask for? Good luck to any outsider who tries to figure out the order of these films.
Screenwriter Morgan reached an unimaginable creative high with Fast Five, recovering from the unredeemable Tokyo Drift and the merely ordinary fourth film. But he takes a step backwards here, with the scribe cooking up some of the worst banter you're likely to hear this summer. It's full of hammy jokes, consistent uses of the word "family," deep discussions about what it means to be a family, characters verbalising their every thought, unnecessarily prolonged exposition, and silly threats. Furious 6 runs a tremendous 130 minutes, and the flow of the film is disrupted during all the chatter. With that said, though, there are things to admire about the picture's construction. Particularly shrewd is the use of Letty, which gives the protagonists a compelling reason to return for duty after their massive score in the last movie.
Lin is a fantastic visual stylist, and his work here is easily on a par with Fast Five. The director's handling of each set-piece is exquisite; all major money shots were executed with precision, and he relies a lot on practical effects with minimal CGI. You come to Fast & Furious 6 seeking action, and Lin delivers in a huge way. The fights are particularly awesome here, most notably when the gigantic Johnson is pitted against someone his own size. The cinematography is a tad shaky, but never to the point of distraction - it's easy to follow what's happening, and the set-pieces are very exciting. The climax (which unfolds on a runway that must be 50 miles long) is wonderfully executed too, and it's astonishing how brutal some of the deaths are within the restraints of the film's PG-13 rating. However, Furious 6 is exhaustively idiotic. At times the stupidity does translate to exhilarating viewing, but on other occasions it's just too much, relying on cartoon logic which clashes with the gritty tone. Characters walk away from devastating car wrecks without so much as a scratch, and no mortal man would ever be able to survive what Dom goes through during the third act. Perhaps most bothersome is the resolution of the tank sequence, which is so empty-headed that cinema patrons were laughing hysterically in my screening. I know it's a fool's errand to ask for plausibility in this series, but there's a line. This is just too far.
Fast & Furious 6 is not an actor's movie by any means, but the performances across the board are serviceable. Making the biggest impression is Johnson, whose current muscular build could send grizzly bears running scared. Continuing to show us that he actually has charisma and talent, he's terrific as Hobbs, and it's nice to see Johnson pursuing characters like this in lieu of kiddie dreck. Meanwhile, Diesel and Walker are on autopilot here, for better or for worse, and Evans is a pretty flat, interchangeable villain. Faring better are Gibson and Bridges, who deliver strong comic relief, while Rodriguez is solid if unremarkable. Gina Carano, however, is a boring blank slate as Hobbs' partner. She can definitely fight, but her acting skills are on the same level as a high schooler in a class play.
Ultimately, Fast & Furious 6 delivers what it says on the tin, as it's full of delirious junk food thrills brought to life with strong production values. There are unintentional giggles to be had at the more than a few "oh, come on!" moments, not to mention it's often cumbersome whenever dialogue is the primary focus, but it's a crowd-pleasing action flick, and the good outweighs the bad. Be sure to stick around once the end credits begin to roll, as there's a great extra scene which teases the upcoming seventh instalment.
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Posted : 1 week, 6 days ago on 5 June 2013 08:34
(A review of Bullet to the Head
"You and me... we got a little unfinished business to take care of."
Although released in 2013, Bullet to the Head
was actually filmed before 2012's The Expendables 2
, but distributor Warner Bros. delayed its release for unknown reasons, probably to mooch off the success of Sylvester Stallone's ensemble actioner. Sly has directed a number of his recent projects, including 2006's Rocky Balboa
and 2008's Rambo
, but Bullet to the Head
finds the aging action star back as an actor for hire. And it was a terrific move; rather than a stereotypical Stallone flick, this is a dark Walter Hill movie concerned with antiheroes and brutal violence, and it's not an ego trip for anyone involved. It's a vastly enjoyable, bruising action-thriller brimming with machismo, and it revives the spirit of the 1980s with genuine panache.
Set deep in the heart of New Orleans, Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) is a grizzled assassin with no faith in the American justice system, who's content to mete out his own brand of justice: a bullet to the head. Jimmy's partner Louis (Jon Seda) is killed by enforcer Keegan (Jason Momoa) after the two execute corrupt cop Hank Greely (Holt McCallany) on an assignment. Wanting to avenge Louis and find out who set them up, Bobo is forced to team up with detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a cop investigating Greely's death. Although Kwon should arrest Jimmy, he has bigger fish to fry, wanting to use the hitman to follow the clues and solve the conspiracy.
In terms of structure and narrative, Bullet to the Head is identical to the action films of the '80s and '90s, with a straightforward story giving way to shootouts, fisticuffs, violence in general, and one-liners, not to mention bare breasts and hot women as well. Unfortunately, the film feels underdone and far too short, clocking in at a scant 85 minutes. Alessandro Camon's screenplay takes a few lazy narrative shortcuts to maintain the slim runtime, with Kwon getting information over the phone at a moment's notice without anyone questioning what he's up to. It's strange that Kwon is not held on a leash considering he's in another city, and it's frustrating that the other local cops are so thoroughly useless, with vague motivations. It feels as if the film is rushing through its narrative, which may keep the pace taut but it needed more breathing room and dialogue-driven character moments. It's hard to determine if this is due to Camon's screenplay or the editing, but Bullet to the Head needed to be longer.
Bullet to the Head signifies Walter Hill's return to the director's chair, as he hadn't helmed a theatrical feature film since 2002's Undisputed. A veteran of the action genre, Hill is up to his usual tricks here, infusing the production with the type of magic glimpsed in movies like 48 HRS, The Warriors and Extreme Prejudice. Although Bullet to the Head is actually an adaptation of a comic book, it feels like a Walter Hill movie all over, with tough guys, R-rated violence and a bluesy score. He was a superb pick for this material, and he hasn't lost his deft filmmaking touch despite his old age. Hill's style is distinctly old-school; low on CGI and with minimal shaky-cam, favouring practical fake blood and use of an actual tripod. Hill delivers in a huge way when locked in action mode, with plenty of thrills keeping the picture exhilarating and involving. The most notable set-piece involves the huge Momoa battling the smaller Stallone with an axe; the ensuing fight is exceptional.
The script is peppered with sharp dialogue, particularly from Jimmy who spouts all the one-liners. The racial difference is played up as well, with Jimmy making a few slightly racist jabs against his Korean partner. This is easily one of Stallone's best acting performances in recent years, showing yet again that he's a strong on-screen presence despite being 65 during principal photography. Sly is a captivating badass, and he owns the role of Jimmy Bobo. This is probably the darkest, most crass antihero Stallone has played in his career, and he embraced it whole-heartedly, making us wonder why exactly it took so long for him to team up with Hill. Meanwhile, Kang is a little less successful. Thomas Jane was actually cast initially, but producer Joel Silver ejected him in favour of Kang, hoping for an ethnic actor to broaden box office appeal. (The irony, of course, is that the film bombed anyway, and it might've even performed better with Jane.) While Kang is serviceable here, he by no means owns the role, and one must wonder how much better the film might've been if Jane had starred. Fortunately, Momoa is better, making for a strong villain. Also look out for Christian Slater (who hasn't done anything memorable for years) tackling a colourful supporting role as one of the guys who set up Jimmy.
If you like R-rated action movies and yearn for a solid throwback to the action heyday of the '80s, or just want some respite from idiotic CGI-riddled superhero movies, Bullet to the Head is a movie for you. The appeal is pretty much restricted to fans of the action genre of course, but it remains stylish and competently-crafted regardless of your tastes. Although it isn't a particularly inventive action film, and although it doesn't touch the greatness of buddy movies like Lethal Weapon, there is plenty of fun to be had here, and it's pure ecstasy when guns are pulled, knives are brandished and punches are thrown. Its failure at the box office is one of the most disheartening injustices in recent memory.
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Posted : 2 weeks ago on 4 June 2013 07:26
(A review of Evil Dead
"This thing is attached to Mia's soul like a leech. If I'm reading this right, it's become her."
Horror remakes justifiably strike fear into the hearts of genre fans, with bad remakes outnumbering the decent ones by a significant margin. A remake of Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic The Evil Dead
is particularly sensitive territory, as it had the potential to be a brainless PG-13 rehash made purely for easy box office returns. How surprising, then, that 2013's Evil Dead
falls into the win category; it's an imaginative, chilling horror movie which retains its predecessors' proclivity for gleeful R-rated absurdity. It had the full support of both Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, showing that this is less of a money-grab and more of an attempt to continue the long-dormant Evil Dead
series. Calling it a reboot or a remake is not exactly accurate; it can easily be considered the fourth instalment in the series, as it doesn't deny that the events of the prior movies ever took place.
Struggling with her heroin addiction, Mia (Jane Levy) retreats to an old family cabin in the woods to go cold turkey for a weekend. Joining Mia for support is her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), David's girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). As night falls, the gang discover the cabin's cellar, which has been the site of horrifying witchcraft. Although unnerved, they are determined to stay put in order to help Mia. Before long, Eric carelessly reads out some of the evil chants contained within the Book of the Dead, unleashing malevolent supernatural forces determined to possess everyone and turn them all into horrific zombie-ish demons intent on killing and mutilating.
In spite of the basic setting and a few set-pieces, Evil Dead is not a slavish remake of Raimi's film, as it plots its own course and does a few novel things, subverting expectations at every turn. The fact that Mia is a recovering drug addict makes for a nice new narrative angle, plus David is hesitant to believe in the demonic stuff as he just assumes that Mia has lost her mind. The climax is also inventive, contributing something fresh to the franchise mythology. With that said, though, the story does remain fairly standard-order, and it's hard to take these types of plots seriously after last year's The Cabin in the Woods. The biggest misstep of this new Evil Dead is retaining the rape of Mia by the forest - Raimi himself regrets using the tree rape in the original film, hence it's surprising that a similar scene exists here. It's a repellent and unnecessarily macabre moment, and while it does serve the purpose of showing how the demonic spirits get inside Mia, something more creative would've been appreciated. Also, it's a shame the film doesn't give us a better sense of who the characters are. The pre-carnage stuff is strong, but there isn't enough dimension to these people. Then again, this is a horror film we're dealing with, and we're paying for the bloody stuff.
Although the 1981 film rustles up huge laughs amid the gore and terror, apparently Raimi wasn't actually aiming for comedy-horror, eventually embracing the comedic possibilities of the franchise with Evil Dead 2. With the benefit of a better budget and improved technology, Alvarez goes for the type of extreme intensity Raimi was initially aiming for, and he hits the bullseye. Evil Dead is one intense exercise in terror, with its shrieking musical score, loud sound effects and punishing gore enough to send chills down the spines of even the most jaded horror buffs. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues have a palpable understanding of the appeal of this franchise, orchestrating numerous set-pieces involving bodily dismemberment, in which any tools or objects in sight are used to make a big bloody mess.
Evil Dead is a supremely brutal picture, gleefully R-rated, and it's no surprise that the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17 at first. Skin burns under boiling water, blood is vomited up, people are set on fire, and limbs are torn off. The climax, meanwhile, literally paints the whole world red. It feels more gleeful and fun than "torture porn" films like Saw and Hostel, too, making it easier to digest. Best of all, Alvarez and his team were determined to use in-camera effects, with only minimal CGI being employed for minor touch-ups. It's an outstanding creative decision which will definitely be appreciated by those who detest CGI-laden horror pictures, and the technical achievements here are phenomenal. Apparently 70,000 gallons of fake blood was used during filming, which sounds like an accurate figure. Everything from the cinematography, the editing, and especially the sound design is top-notch here, making great use of the modest $17 million budget.
Instead of attempting the impossible task of re-casting Bruce Campbell's iconic Ash role, Alvarez simply created a whole new slate of characters for this version. And what's interesting about the movie is the way it toys with expectation, leaving us trying to figure out who exactly will emerge as the protagonist. The most notable performer here is Levy as Mia. She nails it, transforming from meek girl to sinister human doorway to Hell. Levy never hits a false note, and it's a bonus that she's likeable and beautiful. Fernandez lacks charisma as David, and is a bit bland on the whole, but he's serviceable. Fortunately, Pucci is better, full of zest and charm. And when the shit starts to hit the fan, Pucci sells the intensity extremely well. As the rest of the token females, meanwhile, Lucas and Blackmore are strong if unremarkable.
The best thing which can be said about this new Evil Dead is that it justifies its own existence without having to be either an empty fan-service tribute or a bland, gritty reboot. It's a solid movie on its own terms, and a welcome antidote to the lame, watered-down excuse for horror movies that we have endured for much too long. For the right audience - that is, the type with a strong stomach and who aren't easily scared - this is the purest horror entertainment in recent memory. Though even if you like this type of gory horror, it's best not to watch it on a full stomach.
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Posted : 2 weeks, 1 day ago on 3 June 2013 06:58
(A review of Adaptation
"There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size."
Although 2002's Adaptation
is based on Susan Orlean's nonfiction book The Orchid Thief
, it's far more than that label implies. While the screenplay by Charlie Kaufman does incorporate elements of Orlean's work, this is a brilliantly meta motion picture which is actually about Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) struggling to adapt the aforementioned novel for the screen. Kaufman suffered writer's block during the real-life screenwriting process, and wound up writing a sensationalised account of his painstaking endeavour to adapt the book. The finished product is nothing short of a masterpiece, an absurdist black comedy as well as a postmodern satire of today's entertainment industry. Kaufman's script is extraordinary, yet it's director Spike Jonze's cinematic treatment of the material which ultimately catapults it to brilliance. In both conception and execution, this is a home run.
Orlean's novel was expanded from an article she wrote for The New Yorker, and is ultimately a free-floating rumination on flowers and her own desires. It's not a solid foundation for a feature film, leaving screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the work without turning it into a Hollywood movie. Also in Charlie's life is twin brother Donald, who's the antithesis of Charlie; whereas Donald is relaxed and outgoing, Charlie is inhibited, neurotic and analytical. (Adaptation further blurs the line between reality and fantasy by crediting the screenplay to both Charlie and Donald, even though the latter is actually pure fiction, a figment of Charlie's imagination.) Donald aspires to write scripts as well, attending screenwriting seminars as he pens a thriller while Charlie works to adapt The Orchid Thief. Meanwhile, the narrative also dips back in time to watch Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) working on her book. She gets to know orchid thief John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who initially looks like a toothless hick but turns out to be intelligent and ambitious.
Adaptation is steeped in multi-textural thematic layers, with most every scene and action part of a perfectly-judged tapestry to tell this remarkable tale. Even the title of the film is hard to nail, since it's literally about Kaufman struggling with an adaptation of a book while also having trouble adapting to life, and he's writing about Orlean who's struggling to adapt as well. Fortunately, Kaufman at no point grows too enamoured with his own genius, hence Adaptation never comes across as too self-conscious; instead, it's well-judged by Kaufman and Jonze. More than that, Kaufman has achieved something remarkable by presenting one of the most candid and searing portrayals of what it's like to write and make motion pictures. What's also interesting is the way that reality and fantasy mesh and intermingle to such an extent that it's hard to distinguish between one and the other. In fact, a number of the real people of the story are turned into fictional characters. We also get a glimpse of the set of Being John Malkovich (which was being filmed at the time the story is set), and several players from that movie get cameos here, including Jonze.
Adaptation's ending has proven to be polarising with both critics and audiences, but it's a perfect way to close the door for many reasons. When Charlie speaks to screenwriting expert Robert McKee (Brian Cox) about his script at one stage, McKee tells him to make sure the final act is good, going on to say that he cannot cheat or bring in a deus ex machina. But that's precisely what Adaptation does, which subverts the rules while also working on several other levels. See, Charlie explains in the first scene that he doesn't want to turn The Orchid Thief into an action movie, but his own experiences while writing go down that route anyway, representing brilliant irony. Furthermore, it feels organic to the story against all odds, and we have to remember that the script for Adaptation is also credited to the fictional Donald Kaufman. Donald is the one who gets Charlie involved in the violence that closes the story, and the climax feels like something Donald has written. After all, Charlie is all about patient drama while Donald writes thrillers, and Charlie actually ends up recruiting Donald to help him develop an ending.
Jonze is Kaufman's cinematic soul mate, pure and simple. As shown in Being John Malkovich, the writer has a gift for cooking up peculiar scripts, and Jonze is perfectly in tune with his concepts, translating them to the screen with visual ingenuity and energy. Such qualities are present in Adaptation. Voiceovers are used a lot throughout the narrative, giving us intimate insight into Kaufman's buzzing mind as well as the contents of Orlean's book. In one scene Robert McKee actually chastises voiceover narration, which makes the use of voiceover here both a sly subversion of the rules and a chance to let us into Kaufman's mind during the creative process. What's also miraculous about Adaptation is the way it remains eminently entertaining without stooping to unnecessary visual flourishes, which is a credit to the well-judged mise-en-scène. The picture is topped off with an enjoyably offbeat score by Carter Burwell.
Cage pulls off an astonishing double act here playing the Kaufman twins, demonstrating his terrific acting chops that are not often glimpsed. Charlie and Donald look the exact same, yet Cage's performances for each of the characters are so complete and nuanced that you'll never have trouble figuring out who's who. It helps that you occasionally see Charlie and Donald sharing the same frame, executed with effects so seamless that you may initially wonder if Cage has a real-life twin. Cage was nominated for a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts, though he lost to Adrian Brody. Outside of Cage, there are a few other seasoned veterans putting their best feet forward. Streep is wonderful, capturing the emotional core of Orlean with seemingly little effort, and ably handling the darker aspects of her role later into the story. Likewise, Cooper disappears into the role of Laroche, becoming unrecognisable with missing teeth and a seamless Southern accent. It earned Cooper an Oscar, and it's not hard to see why. Also in the cast is Tilda Swinton as the executive who hires Charlie, while Cox makes a great impression as McKee.
It's difficult to resist the boundless charms of Adaptation, which became one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2002 for good reason. This film is a miracle, a mind-blowing experience that's daring, unpredictable, original and thoroughly involving. It's amazing that it got made in the first place. Perhaps the best thing about Adaptation is that, if The Orchid Thief was adapted by anyone else, it would've become a dumb Hollywood heist movie, the type that Adaptation actually satirises.
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