Monthly Archives: November 2010

Analyze This

Sorry i’ve been away, folks. Life has been pretty chaotic. I’m now done with the Thanksgiving gauntlet, and ready to resume my reviews. In the interest of getting it all done and catching up with where I should be, I’m going to keep these next few reviews brief and to-the-point.

The 1999 film stars Billy Crystal as Ben Sobel, a psychiatrist that gets pushed into treating anxiety-ridden mobster Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro). Vitti is preparing for a nationwide Mafia conference/summit, but his frequent panic attacks cripple him and lead him to seek treatment from Dr. Sobel. This culminates in Sobel representing Vitti at the summit, and managing to hold his own until a dramatic shootout at the climax.

This film is one of the staples of 1990s comedy. Both of the protagonists exaggerate their characters to the point of being unrealistic, but wonderfully so. It requires that viewers suspend their disbelief, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The dialogue falls flat sometimes, but it also has some gems. The plot does seem to lose itself at times. I did particularly enjoy De Niro’s character, which showed the softer side to the mobsters we see in newspaper headlines. Paul Vitti had a family that he loved very much, and his anxiety attacks were the result of unresolved guilt over his father’s death. He was a mafia boss who was honest (brutally so, sometimes) and showed the full range of human emotion, even crying at times.

A tighter script would have helped the film out, but overall it wasn’t detrimental. I enjoyed this one, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good (not outstanding, but good) comedy.

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Artificial Intelligence (2001)

 

 

There really isn’t much to say about this one: it was awful. For a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, I expected much more out of it.

 

The movie is thematically similar to Bicentennial Man (reviewed here) in that it explores how humans might treat sentient robots. The protagonist here is David (Hayley Joel Osment), a robot designed to have the appearance and mannerisms of a child, including the ability to love his parents. However, the show is stolen by the always-fantastic Jude Law portraying Joe, a male prostitute robot who becomes a sort of guide for David.

 

Anyway, David is the first robot ever to have the ability to love. He permanently and irreversibly imprints on his mother (Frances O’Connor), who later decides she can’t love him back. She abandons him in the woods, where he begins an inexplicable journey to chase down a fairy tale character that he believes can make him human. Through a complicated and nonsensical series of plot twists, he wakes up two thousand years in the future when humanity is extinct. The robots running the world then manage to bring back his mother for just one day, and she tells David that she loves him and everything is alright.

 

At no point is there a coherent plot or theme. The dialogue was bland, and there was no sense of purpose or direction. The kid was on a journey that audiences immediately know has an impossible destination; the film makes no attempt to assure viewers that there is even a small possibility of achieving his goal. From that point on, nothing the movie tries to do has any meaning whatsoever.

 

The last half hour or so is a complete disconnect from the rest of the film. With two of the world’s best writers working on it, I would think they could come up with something better than a total deus ex machina to resolve David’s inner conflict. For example, his mother realizing she made a terrible mistake and finding him. That would have been far simpler and more realistic than the ending that they gave. It probably would have left the audience more satisfied while tying up loose ends, too.

 

Anyway, this one left a bitter taste in my mouth. One star, and it’s lucky it gets even that. Did you think something different about it? Let me know.

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Young Frankenstein

I don’t give out five-star ratings lightly. In fact, you probably won’t see me give them to more than a dozen times out of the 400 reviews i’m going to write. So, when I say that Young Frankenstein deserves one,  I really mean it. From start to finish, the film was nothing but fantastic.

 

Young Frankenstein is a 1974 retelling/parody of the 1930s Frankenstein films. It is based on the premise that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (portrayed by Gene Wilder, and pronounced FRONK-in-steen), a prominent neurosurgeon, wants nothing to do with his crazy ancestors, especially his infamous (and deceased) grandfather, Dr. Frankenstein. However, he inherits the latter’s castle, and by some strange twist of fate continues his grandfather’s work. The monster that he creates (the late Peter Boyle, better known as the grandfather from Everybody Loves Raymond) breaks loose and creates chaos. Villagers who remember the damage done by the Frankenstein family start a riot, and Frankenstein risks his own life in a last-ditch effort to save his creation from the villagers’ wrath.

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Robin Williams Double Feature part 2: Bicentennial Man

Good morning, everyone. I finished late last night, but alas, my bed was calling to me. Better late than never, though.

 

Based on the novella The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov (probably one of the greatest and most prolific science fiction writers in history), this 1999 film explores such complex issues as what it means to be human. The protagonist, Andrew Martin (Robin Williams), is a robot who achieves sentience by some strange freak of technology. Over time, he develops the desire to become more human, much like Lt. Cdr. Data from Star Trek: Then Next Generation. Also like Data, he is constantly studying the humans around him in an attempt to emulate their behavior and “fit in” better. This eventually includes a prosthetic face, and then prosthetic organs (complete with central nervous system) and finally blood which will allow him to age and die. As time progresses, he experiences increasingly complex emotions, including happiness, anger, jealousy and love. Unlike Data, he is eventually successful. The World Congress declares him human in the year 2205, just as he dies on his two hundredth birthday.

 

The film took on the ambitious task of dealing with a form of prejudice which hasn’t happened yet, prejudice against artificial life-forms. At every step of the way, Andrew is discriminated against. His struggle for the rights that humans take for granted, such as the right to choose his profession (and earn money from it) or to marry the person he loves, mirrors the battles fought by blacks historically and, more recently, LGBT people. If the progress made by the MIT and Stanford AI Laboratories in recent years is any indication, humanity will soon be forced to consider the issue of what rights and freedoms artificial life should have.

 

The first half of the film was thought-provoking, and dealt with some intriguing issues. Andrew slowly becomes sentient, with liberal amounts of classic Robin Williams humor. He learns about such human concepts as humor and sex. Eventually, he develops a desire for freedom. When he achieves it is about when this movie starts to tank. The next several years are dismissed with a handwave, and then Andrew goes on a failed quest to find other unique robots (another 20 years gone in seconds). It would have been interesting to see what he did with his newfound freedom, and the struggles he would have had to face immediately after. The rest of the movie shows how he wanted to become more human, with prosthetic skin and organs. The story gets dull and plodding here; it suffers from bad scriptwriting. Even Williams’ usual witticism can’t spice it up  much. It tries to show the end stages of Andrew’s struggle for humanity, but honestly I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much. It lacked the flavor of the first half, which is what would have made it so special.

 

One thing that absolutely does deserve accolades is the makeup artistry. In the beginning, Williams is wearing a metal suit that successfully fuses Robin Williams with an artificial robot. As time passes, his features become more and more human. The talented artists managed to make it look fantastic at every stage of development. It even won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Makeup.

 

The wonderful makeup artistry and excellent first half of the movie props it up, but the bad script means that the second half drags. I award it three and a half stars, out of five. Better than average, but it has deep flaws that prevent me from considering it a truly good movie. Still, I don’t regret watching it.

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Robin Williams Double Feature part 1: Good Will Hunting

A quick “hello” to my readers, and apologies for not posting anything Wednesday or Thursday. I’ve had a hectic few days. Anyway, I’m back. On this wonderful Friday night (probably Saturday morning by the time this gets posted) I’ve chosen a late night double feature of Robin Williams movies I happen to have. The reviews will be posted separately, for easier tracking.

 

The first, Good Will Hunting, is the story of MIT janitor and reluctant genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon). An orphan from the Southie projects, Will had been squandering his gift for mathematics by drinking and getting into fights along with his loser buddies, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), Billy McBride (Cole Hauser) and Morgan O’Mally (Casey Affleck). Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers his hidden genius when Will solves a difficult math problem the Professor left for his students to attempt. Lambeau, a Fields medalist (the most prestigious award in mathematics), realizes how smart Will is, and puts him to work in the mathematics department solving problems he never could. Will came from an abusive childhood in a poor neighborhood (for my non-Bostonian readers, South Boston is the poorest and most dangerous part of the greater Boston area). Before he can pursue his future, he must understand that the past was not his fault, and be able to let go of it. With the help of the Professor, as well as his court-appointed therapist (Robin Williams), Will begins to battle his inner demons and realize his potential.

 

I found this film to be deeply moving. Damon played his part well, giving the character of Will Hunting plenty of emotional depth, not to mention a gorgeous body. I mean, seriously, the only thing that could make the then-27 year-old Damon better would be chocolate syrup dripped down his……..sorry folks, that one sort of got away from me. As a sidenote, I once saw a porn star that looked exactly like Matt Damon. Anyone looking for a treat should check out The Porne Ultimatum. I promise, you won’t regret it.

 

Anyway, Damon did a fantastic job showing us his character’s internal struggle to rid himself of his self-loathing that cripples his present and future. Even his friends recognize that he deserves more, and Ben Affleck’s character tries to give him the push he needs to better himself. I found myself empathizing with Will Hunting as he was torn between his comfortable (but unfulfilling) old life, and an uncertain future. Some of it mirrors what i’m dealing with right now, so I truly was moved by it.

 

Now that i’ve gotten all emotional (and a little turned on), stay tuned for part 2 of the double feature: Bicentennial Man!

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Demolition Man

Alright, here is the first of many reviews. To start the project off with a literal bang, I chose Demolition Man today. This 1993 blockbuster stars Sylvester Stallone as Detective John Spartan, a modern-day Rip van Winkle who wakes up in a 2032 after being imprisoned by cryogenic stasis. The antagonist in this one is Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), who also served time in a cryo prison after carving out an anarchistic kingdom in Los Angelos during the 1990s. Phoenix escapes from during a parole hearing, and Detective Spartan is sent to catch him. The city of San Angelos, portrayed as a utopian planned society where violence, swearing and unhealthy foods have been outlawed, is completely unequipped to deal with a menace like Phoenix. So, they thaw out John Spartan to solve their problems.

While the movie was very enjoyable, I really can’t give it a thumbs-up. Stallone did a nice job portraying the out-of-his-time cop prone to massive overkill (hence his nickname, Demolition Man). I liked seeing him try to adjust to life in 2032, and generally failing to integrate. In a world where liberalism has been taken to an absurd extreme, Spartan is frequantly derided as a “Neanderthal” and “cave man”. Still, he manages to catch the bad guy and introduce a little chaos into a society that badly needed it.

What I do have a problem with, though, is Wesley Snipes’s character, the main antagonist. Simon Phoenix, while adequately demonstrated to be a complete sociopath, is ridiculously camp for a terrorist. Between cackling like a witch and delivering snappy one-liners right before a bit of gratuitous violence, I wondered if perhaps I had put on To Wong Foo (something I plan on reviewing sometime in the future) by mistake. Phoenix certainly seemed like he should have been wearing a dress and heels, if his obviously flaming personality was any indication.

The scripts was also poorly written. Jokes became repetitive fast (How many times can the characters be given a ticket for swearing before it gets old?) and the dialogue was lackluster. Spartan’s sidekick Lieutenant Huxley (Sandra Bullock) must have mistaken early 1990s phrases in a vaguely homoerotic way at least a half dozen times. Speaking of Bullock, I feel that she never really had the chance to shine in this movie. Her character had enormous potential, but the writers failed to develop her enough. Instead, they portrayed her as rather one-dimensional, waiting until the end to give her even a small piece of the spotlight.

The one thing that may redeem this film is that the thematic elements are strong here. Drawing from Rip van Winkle and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the idea of one man standing against liberalism run amok is compelling. In history’s eyes, this is what will make Demolition Man a valuable part of American culture.

 

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Film suggestions, please!

I do have quite a large library of DVDs, but it won’t get me to 400 (and I’ve already seen most of them). So, I need some suggestions. I want a wide variety of genres, good movies and awful ones, the thought-provoking and the shallow. If you loved it, hated it, or just want to know what I would think of it, please leave suggestions here in your comments. I can’t promise I will watch all of them, but I’ll do my best.

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