Tim Allen's movies usually come with a serious touch besides the comedy, but not quite this one. Serious moments are rare here, but the fun factor is of extraordinary proportions. The whole theater was vibrant with laughter, and rightly so. This is the joyride of the decade. Intelligent but harmless family humor with lots of satirical elements.
Speaking of which - there does exist intelligent life among trekkers. Really. Not all of them wear uniforms, not all of them attend these bleeping conventions, some of them are actually aware it's fiction, some of them have a life. Including the one writing this review.
Alan Rickman is brilliant as (Klingon?) scientist, Tim Allen does a great Kirk and Cyrus a great Khan, but Tony Shalhoub is just unbelievably cool. The effects are top-notch and the story's ok. It was made to be fun, and it is just that. Pure and simple. Screaming for a sequel. Never give up, never surrender.
Summary: Weighty and lengthy
Science fiction used to be philosophical in its foundation, an aspect most obvious in Star Trek, otherwise rather secondary and hidden, it seems to have reemerged in the non-Trek world with 'Gattaca'. In its speculative nature, good SF bases its judgement in past and present, foreseeing future problems.
The issue of genetic engineering has nothing to do with modern science really. "Controlled" breeding can basically lead to similar results, in its most extreme vitalist approach a euphemism for controlled extermination of Nazi scope. The story told in 'Gattaca' is centuries-old; a story of exclusion and discrimination and affirmative action. The prospect seems real and disturbing. In such a future society, virtually none of us would be allowed to emerge. Black and White, Male and female, Gay and Straight, Believer and Heathen - all of these binary oppositions would seem dwarfed in the light of such things to come. The Coda cut from the movie, accessible on the DVD, shows a long list of those who wouldn't have been permitted to exist: Amongst them Einstein, Dickinson, Gandhi, Kennedy. But mankind has been built upon the harmony and constructive use of difference, imperfection, chaos. Any attempt to negate and destroy diversity has been fatal, and a society doing so would soon cease to progress. Progress cannot be planned, cannot be engineered. It can be organized and bureaucratized, but genius and ingeniuity occur at random. Fate is not predictable, any attempt to do so will fail. And in 'Gattaca', the "invalid" Vincent is stronger than his "valid" brother.
As a movie, 'Gattaca' succeeds in its strange colors and photography. The story however, despite its philosophical content and potential, drags on a bit while centering on details. The acting on the part of Jude Law is remarkable, but that's it. The music is nice, and that's it. There are some beautful and sublime images, but in whole, the subtext is stronger than the actual film. Thought-provoking, yes, great film, no.
Summary: Thrilling, a visual revelation
A movie can commence in a decent way, it can start action-loaden, it can start slowly; but it is a very rare event that the beginning of a movie is actually breathtaking. But for 'The General's Daughter', this is true. Never, ever, have I seen such a perfect beginning yet, a beginning which is also the simple essence of the entire movie. The music of "She Began to Lie"/"Sea Lion Woman" accompanies a series of utmost sublime and also beautiful images, ranging from promising right up to demonic, building up an early climax which seems to include everything there is yet to come. But unlike with films like 'Fight Club', that's not all. It doesn't stop with that only to be recurred to at the end. Here it goes through and through, from start to finish.
Neither does it stop with photography. John Travolta is simply unbelievable in this movie, and so is James Cromwell, so is also James Woods. But Travolta really dominates each scene he is in, making it a pleasure to watch simply for the sake of his screen presence. Rarely do you get such a powerful performance, rarely can you actually see an actor having fun when acting. Cromwell is the silent man in the background, the commanding stature. This man has grown so much since his days in various Star Trek episodes and since 'Babe'; deservedly he has become one of Hollywood's institutions, someone you just have to cast when you need an authoritative figure. And James Woods, while being a supportive actor, has finally gotten a role where he can get rid of that supplementary character and the B-movie feeling.
But back to photography and atmosphere. The key moment in the film is the night maneuver and what has happened there. The scenes are shot in such an incredible way that you would have to look really hard to find something as great as this. The stark contrast between the beautiful visual arrangement and the story that is told can serve as a prototypical definition for the Sublime and Gothic. Add the perfectly ambiguous music by Carter Burwell and you get a scene which would fail to find a competitor. Each shot, be it the initial fight in the harbor, the overview of West Point, the scene with the cat, everything is just right and even better.
And for the story, that's a tale of two stories actually of which they managed to cut one out or make it as ambiguous as possible while concentrating on the case. But the love story between the two investigators can still be seen thanks to the special features on the DVD. The final cut, however, works best, it keeps up the pace and lets the viewer still guess the rest, makes it less schematic also.
The most incredible thing about this movie, however, is how it possibly could have been missed at 1999's Academy Awards. To call it "underrated" is an utmost gross understatement, but then, not even 'Magnolia' nor 'Snow Falling on Cedars' nor 'The Straight Story' have received appropriate or any attention even. But perhaps I should not any more be puzzled by such proceedings. For my personal estimate, 'The General's Daughter' is a major movie of its year, also in a much longer time interval. Extraordinary in so many ways, it is a perfectly sublime piece of Southern Gothic.
Summary: Refreshingly good and bad
John Carpenter's style is becoming more and more twisted it seems. Somehow you don't know how serious he really is, what his movies are meant for. So if you try to approach his latest creations from the perspective of expecting something serious, something like his early films, you will be utterly shocked by what he has been throwing at the audience lately. Is this not the director of 'Halloween', of 'Prince of Darkness', of 'Assault on Precinct 13', of 'The Thing'? Is he not the alleged horror meister, the icon of terror, of suspense, of atmosphere, of simplicity? The man who elevated the term B-movie into the regions of an acknowledged form of art? Where is he in these films, his latest ones, this very latest one: Where is the spirit? Doesn't his latest creation feel tired, even bored? Pointless even?
I can only judge from the film at hand, and from his other films. But from what we are given, the contrary seems to be the case: There is no decline in strength and no lack of desire in making movies: Yet there is a shift of focus. You can do one thing only for a certain amount of time. He has done "serious" horror films. He has turned the B into an almost-A, without all the BS pretensions usually tied to an A production, to A productions that are at their core not even B, but rather C, like 'Pearl Harbor' and the likes. Now, here comes the shock: Someone obviously doesn't want to fit into any scheme, someone doesn't seem to care.
Movies are not just movies. A movie can also be a statement about movies in general, a movie by a certain director can be an interpretation of what he has done before, of what the genre and/or the entire industry has been doing lately, or in general. Grant an experienced artist the ability to know his stuff, grant him a bit more hindsight even: As a stand-alone film, the name John Carpenter removed, completely judged on its own, this is a hell of a bad film, almost, it still has some good moments and a strong desire for technical perfection. But taken out of context, this film, truly, must seem bad, though it has a killer soundtrack.
Yet context matters, context, discourse, is what this is all about. Some reviewer at IMDb gave this movie an alternate title of "Assault on Planet 13". Rightly so. You could also call it "Prince of Mars", "Escape from Mars", "Mining Camp of the Damned", "Zombie$" or whatever: This is a variation on a theme. Why do a variation? Why take a certain theme and distort, extent, mutilate, append, alter it? Variation is interpretation, is deconstruction. After some time, and some amount of artistic work, one needs to go back and re-evaluate the past: Art is always self-reflecting, self-defining and self-defying. To move further into another territory, you have to take a look back. To rediscover some sub-plots, like the Western setting, or even the original background of a B-movie. To some, that may seem like cannibalizing or distorting something. Maybe there's some truth in that, there's always a certain amount of destruction in deconstruction. But seen in context, this is a highly necessary move: Otherwise, style would be turning into cliché, and even more so, the cliché would be created by somebody else. Explore your own clichédness, retain control.
There is still something else to 'Ghosts of Mars': Simplicity, Carpenter's trademark, is still the main dominant in the movie. No big unnecessary pseudo-explanations, we're brought right into the game. The framing technique, letting the story be narrated and thus revealing the survivors, is a nice departure from his usual style, it's like saying, I spare you the guessing who's gonna live and who's gonna die. Thus, the film can focus on different things than the always uninteresting question of "how's it gonna end" - it's the journey, not the ending that counts, that's why most stories fail if they concentrate just on the pragmatic storyline and do not take into account that it's substance rather than a pointed arrow to the end that does the trick. Also, strangely, the framing provides something of an odd feeling of tension and suspense: Precisely because you know the outcome (or you think you know) is the fate of the characters the more gripping, proleipsis and foresight being well-known techniques in epic literature. They raise the tension, don't unbuild it, yet they focus more on the "how" than the "if", thus providing more substance and subtlety.
It may seem strange to be talking about substance and subtlety in the face of a movie like this, which, by all means, does its utter best to rule out both of those elements for itself. By constantly denying it, by pretty bluntly saying, this is just some fun piece, some nice little gory B-movie joyride, it can, in turn, achieve the opposite: By claiming to be trite, this is even more so put into question. The very buildup, the enactment, all of this is saying: Don't take me serious. I'm just a poor little flick. A stupid SF/horror story. Simple, dull story. Simple characters. B-class actors, a model and a rapper. Carpenter's lost his edge. It's called 'Ghosts of Mars', what could you possibly expect? Dumb down, eat your popcorn, it'll all level out in the end. - - - Really?
Summary: Magnificent, visually outstanding
Today's American movies frequently belong to the genres of either science fiction, horror, comedy, action, drama or thriller, but the historical drama disappeared long ago. The more surprising then it was to see a trailer for a movie starring the Roman Empire, even more astonishing was its director being Ridley Scott. Russel Crowe was still someone new to me until I finally came to watch 'The Insider', thus when it hit the cinemas, I was utmost eager to see it and went the first day. The thing with expectations is that high hopes are a dangerous ground and tend to be disappointed. The thing with being a student of history is that most historical dramas are viewed with an even more critical perspective. But either way, the movie succeeded in all aspects, throwing itself forcefully and justly into the upper league. This is what a historical epic is supposed to be, but it is much more. It is not just about Rome, that's just the frame of reference. It is an altogether thrilling and fascinating film, having caused quite some thinking and reflection on my part. You're about to read something of that.
I'm starting with the obvious first. This is a piece of fiction. There has never been a Maximus, Marcus Aurelius died of a plague (180), his son Commodus was pronounced Caesar (166) and co-regent (tribunicia potestas 176) even before his father's death, although he was generally perceived as simply being the worst candidate. He was the designated successor, but in theory, Roman successorship was not really based upon a genealogic principle and anyone could have become the next Caesar Augustus, thus a theoretical Maximus could have been offered this task. Commodus' sister Lucilla plotted against her brother and was executed with her co-conspirators still during the reign of Commodus (Fall 192). Another conspiracy, led by the prefect of his guard, succeeded in December 31, 192, by having Commodus strangled by an athlete during his bath. During his reign, Commodus brought the Empire at the verge of extinction by misjudging (or not caring about) border wars, by introducing absurd cults, being a sexual maniac, acting himself as a gladiator ("Invictus Hercules Romanus") and renaming Rome as Colonia Commodiana and the Senate as senatus Commodianus, thus proclaiming the entire empire as his personal property. His titulation now including twelve names, he chose to rename the months, using his names instead: Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Hercules Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius. Commodus was a madman dwarfing even Nero and Caligula, about that there cannot really be any doubt, and it is not coincidence when Gibbon sees the beginning of the decline of Rome in his reign.
The movie being fiction, it is nevertheless a more or less true account of the time portrayed. The movie is rather about the spirit of Rome and about Commodus than about Maximus (with the above paragraph in mind, the title 'Gladiator' gets a different twist). It is no new concept to intermingle fiction with fact, as it is also done in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. This anecdote-style is not to be taken seriously by word - but it can be revealing by the sense and spirit of the fictional work. And 'Gladiator' does a both splendid and devastating job in bringing the Rome of those days back to life. For the first time ever, thanks to (more or less) perfect (or rather too perfect) visual effects, the City has come to life. The battle scenes are realistic and terrifying, the Roman provinces in Spain or Africa being as lively portrayed as the urban area. This isn't something following the "monumental" style of those over-blown blockbusters from ages past, this is a serious attempt at portraying Rome - not in all its pseudo-glory but in all its nasty abhorring detail. "Unleash hell" - indeed.
Rome is the brute, the uncivilized civilization, a barbarian pseudo-Greek culture of farmers and soldiers come to power, pragmatic, not philosophical, ruthless even in the clemency of Caesar, absolute in her manifest destiny, thorough in her coercion, her machinery of subjugation running smoothly, her abhorringly euphemistic Pax Romana suppressing everything around the Mediterranean. The "civilization" she promoted is a pale, mass-market copy of Greek precursors, her genuine philosophy being about farming and war, the rest just a pale reflection and continuation of Greek thought; Greek meaning more or less Homer and Athenian schools. The Roman language, Latin, is weak and bulky in expression compared to Greek, which in turn is throughout elegant and elevated. Rome took the Greek ideal, imposed it onto the thinking of a society of warring farmers, intermingled with strong Etruscan influences, and thought of herself as having become part of the Greek world - so that she could follow the legacy of Greek achievements when she finally assimilated what was left of the Greek states. Her treatment of Carthage is her most shiniest example and the result of a paranoid obsession to assert control about everything. Roma Aeterna - that's not a benign promise, it is a threat and a daimonic mask. As our Latin teacher told us, the difference between the Roman and the Greek perspective can be seen in the greeting already. The Roman greats another with vale - be strong; the Greek, with chaíre - rejoice.
Granted, all of what I've just said is a gross oversimplification. Granted also that Athenian/Greek culture had its perversions and absurdities also. But the soul of Rome is force, brutal, canalized, effecient force - the result of which led to a strong influence on Europe mostly through language. The only magical thing about Rome is not that she had to fall, but that she was able to live that long. And in the incipient Christian world, it was due to fall. All the sins of Christianity (and there are a lot) remain pale in contrast to what Rome and her fascist successors "achieved". There is awe in Rome, sublimity - but the sublimity of terror, of barbaric energies mildly contained. After 'Gladiator', any slightest sympathy I still had with Rome is gone now. There may be something like an "idea of Rome", a truly benign and productive idea, but this idea - stripped off barbarity, transformed into cooperation and peaceful collaboration - this idea is only coming true in the America of the present and the Europe of the future. Rome was an experiment towards globalization which was due and just to fail because it was built upon crimes and blood. The end of Rome was the beginning of Western civilization, not vice versa. Only in overcoming this predator of nations in all its incarnations, only in overcoming this distorted image of a "pacificated" yet brute society, democracy and freedom are possible. Recurring to the historical Rome, be it to the Caesars or the Republic, is false in all cases except when looking for the bad example. And in its having transformed this seat of tyranny into a seat of peace and prayer, Christianity, still with all its human errors, has succeeded in nailing the final nails into the coffin of Rome. Isn't that ironic?
Once the movie entered the colosseum, I was at once reminded of Oliver Stone's 'Any Given Sunday', which also shows some frightening parallels. But one striking difference remains. Other than by accident, nobody is killed during a football game. Movies or television shows do show acts of violence, but these are elements of the narration: showing violence isn't the same as condoning it, and, nê tòn kúna, it isn't the same as enacting it. What we know as American Gladiators is child's play, even boxing is civilized when compared to the Roman circus. It really is about this thin red line. There may be something about "bread and circuses" in today's media culture also. But this is harmless compared to Roman dimensions.
Back to the movie now. Russel Crowe delivers a powerful performance with the touch of an anti-hero, but Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus seems to love playing the monster; he's just terrific. Hans Zimmer delivers a great score, and Ridley Scott's direction is fabulous. The haze and maze of battle and games is shown abruptly and disgustingly thoroughly, reminding of 'Braveheart', only with a touch of madness. We get to see human beings instead of stereotypes, and we also get some touch of sentimentality (which is nothing negative at all) and beautiful and touching dream sequences. This movie is a true gem, and a great starter for the new millennium, something future films, be they historical or not, have to look up to. It also can be quite thought-provoking, as you might have guessed from this awfully long review which is about to end now.
 Karl Christ. Geschichte der Römischen Kaiserzeit. München: C.H.Beck 31995, 345-349; cf. also "Commodus" and "Marcus Aurelius". Der kleine Pauly. Lexikon der Antike in fünf Bänden. München: dtv 1979; and of course Edward Gibbon's The Decline of the Roman Empire.
Summary: Honest action fun
I did not expect this to be great, nor interesting, nor something other than an effects movie. But as I now came to actually see it, I was proven wrong: This is a great movie, and I strongly suspect most criticts didn't even bother to watch it. It's even quite an intelligent film and perhaps the most perfectly made disaster movie ever. To see a completely dumb, boring and effects-loaden movie, check out the latest Star Wars phantom movie. 'Godzilla' is funny, has good acting and atmosphere, and it is stylish. It also can be very frightening at some moments, even surprising.
Emmerich follows the traditional buildup scheme for a disaster movie - presenting the problem, the central figures, their interactions, a perfect anti-hero, an emotional problem to being solved on the road, and, of course necessary here, the effects. They are utmost perfect and do not lead to an effects overload of this movie. The central characters even get a background, also some supportive roles get a life and some lines. Jean Reno and Matthew Broderick are quite an odd couple fitting perfectly together for their purpose, and there is quite a lot of comic relief and irony. Emmerich's desire to destroy America's national icons on screen seems to be unstoppable, but what he didn't do is to destroy Godzilla - on the contrary. He created a stunning entry into this series of movies, of which his obviously looks best - but that's also due to today's technology.
Among some minor problems (wasn't that camera destroyed by one of the babies?), one - for me - was that the scenes with Godzilla's babies reminded me - not just slightly - of 'Jurassic Park', but I guess that's inevitable if you portray giant lizards or dinosaurs at work. The movie also takes on the ecological message behind the original 'Godzilla' movies, doing it in a decent but nevertheless visible way. Godzilla himself isn't just a visual effect on the screen, he becomes a character I even felt sorry for - and that's the sad thing about it: He has to be destroyed for, otherwise, human life could be seriously endangered on the planet. It's either humans or their creatures - a sad choice, reminding of the usually unnecessary destruction of nature and life-forms performed by human beings, not at all in need of defense. So who's the monster here?
Summary: Powerful and swift
A movie about speed has to be speedy - a movie about shades of grey has to be in the grey zone itself - a movie about characters has to feature characters. In all that, 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' rises to a level of excellence. Cage has another anti-hero figure to add to his arsenal of impossible charcters, and Robert Duvall, as always, is simply another reason to watch this movie, so are Giovanni Ribisi and DelRoy Lindo - and, of course, Angelina Jolie.
The love for cars may not be politically correct in a time where ecological thinking should prevail. Portraying car thiefs as amiable may not be politically correct either. But who cares about political correctness? Surely not this movie - and that's good and refreshing.
This is a solid action movie which stays true to the genre and also succeeds in giving us characters with some depth and some nice car chase scenes plus a great score by Trevor Rabin. It may not be Shakespeare, but it never aspired to be that, and anyway, Shakespeare's generally overrated.
Summary: Pleasing and unnerving
The fates of some LA inhabitants lead them together in a search for safety, happiness and fulfillment - in a world drifting and falling apart. In this character piece, Kevin Kline and Steve Martin lose their comedic touch to show their dramatic abilities. The excellent cast being further enhanced by Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell and Mary-Louise Parker, this movie is not only a gem concerning acting but also - even in its portrayals of darkness and desparation - a sign of hope.
While sometimes the situation might seem a bit overblown, a bit too much issue-oriented, the general impression is rather pleasing as a movie, unnerving in the suddenness of the conflicts, in the overwhelming carelessness shown - but through the eyes of the six main characters, we see these people come together to unite against desperation and aggression. They grow as persons, their weaknesses as well as their overcoming them poignantly shown in which could surely be called one of the best, if not the very best film of its year.
Summary: Disturbing and subtle
Death row is a topic not rarely used in storytelling, the conflicts often being portrayed rather similarly, death penalty as such being portrayed as something outright wrong and in need to be abolished; so it is also with this movie - in part. It is different in the way the characters work, it has this touch of strangeness, this twist of being differrent: A strange mixture of tragedy and humor, very subtle but outright also. Not knowing the book hinders me from making a comparison; the movie itself, however, is brilliant in story, atmosphere and relevance.
With a cast featuring Tom Hanks, James Cromwell, Doug Hutchinson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Harry Dean Stanton and Debbs Greer, the beginning is made to deliver stunning performances - Hutchinson being especially spooky as he is so memorably connected with his X-Filean character of Eugene Tooms. But Hanks and Cromwell really carry the film with their incredible presence; Hanks through his playing a common and sensitive man, Cromwell through his authority. But every single one of these great actors is dwarfed by Mr. Jingles, the mouse.
The movie takes its time, carefully introducing, step by step, elements which will take the story further: The begining, the movie screening, the arrival of John Coffee, of the mouse and so on, thus creating tension out of anti-tension, thus increasing the impact of each extraordinary action. In its obvious analogy, the movie is both about morality and religion, in its scope, seemingly untreatable subjects are treated with care and decency. A rare occasion of a perfect movie.
What's the thing with movie reviews? ... I guess you just can't trust them. What a surprise. And you probably can't trust this review either. That's up to you. I guess you just have to watch it yourself; that's the best course of action anyway. Don't trust outside sources too much, see for yourself. You could be surprised with this movie. As for me, the rather devastating reviews nearly prevented me from seeing this.
But then, what a surprise, what a fresh approach to an old movie genre, what a great, ironic atmosphere, what a mixture of odd characters - and neither of these elements being too obvious nor clichéd, but instead rather believable and amiable. Liam Neeson can finally prove his worth again, Oliver Platt is overwhelming as usual, and even Sandra Bullock shines.
To call this movie "underrated" is already a euphemism. This is a surprise just like 'Analyze This', and while both share some elements, they are rather different in most aspects except excellence. 'Gun Shy' seems to be one of these films which are just overlooked, being overshadowed by some monstrous production occupying most ad space, and then too quickly dismissed. This one shouldn't.