The Game ★★★★

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The Game is a great movie that I found mysterious and unpredictable all the way to its ending and even past it. When the movie was over, it left me wondering whether the character was still stuck in a puzzling nightmare.

Played by Michael Douglas, Nicholas is a millionaire who runs a big investment company. He lives by himself in a mansion, spends a birthday dinner all by himself in the dimly lit kitchen, and then watches the late night news afterwards. A brief phone conversation with his ex-wife shows that he is slightly resentful towards her. He gives an improper goodbye, hangs up the phone, and looks back at the TV. Nicholas is clearly a troubled man and this is because of a childhood incident that is revealed in a flashback.

But then his younger brother surprises him with an unusual present: an invitation card that enters him into a recreational game. “Role playing nonsense” is Nicholas’s initial thought about the whole idea. He is given vague details by the games manager who says “First, admit to yourself that it sounds intriguing, then take the silly test and sign the stupid form”. This Nicholas does, and after the test, he receives a phone call from them telling him that his game application has been denied. And then he begins to go through a never ending series of strange events.

One thing I like about the movie is that it remains unclear throughout. There are hints, but very subtle ones. Several questions you might ask are: Is this game intending to punish Nicholas? To rob him? To get rid of him? Or is it just designed to help him? These questions will remain with you throughout because there are no obvious answers. Some of the pranks are cruel jokes because of the way they touch on his personal feelings. But then again maybe it isn’t cruel. The screenplay is written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris.

I am not usually too interested in explaining technical aspects of a movie. But I like director David Fincher’s style. His frames are usually elegant compositions that are edited with a smooth continuity. He clearly prefers the night setting, grey weathers, and minimal lighting. There is an affecting mood in his films. The camera movements are easy on the eyes. His movies are good examples of substance balanced with style.

 

 

 

Con Air ★★1/2

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Nicolas Cage has always been an actor of versatility. During the 90’s he made an impression by starring in three well known action blockbusters – The Rock, Face/Off, and Con Air. But despite his presence in these movies, I never thought of him as an action star. His performances were physical but his acting is first rate. I got the sense that he was mainly having fun with these movies, apart from collecting the paycheck offcourse.

In Con Air, Cage stars as Cameron, an army ranger who is sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for killing a man in self -defense. During this time, he has kept in touch with his wife and baby daughter(whom he has never met) by writing them letters. His prison term is almost finished and he is very excited to see them. But on his last day and when he boards a transport prison plane, it is hijacked by fellow prisoners. This puts him in a terrible spot, particularly as a soldier. He wants to serve his country but also to survive and see his family.

The film contains non-stop action. I think it primarily intends to be fun because of the personalities and humor. John Cusack and Colm Meaney are law enforcement agents that bicker about what strategy to use in capturing the plane. They yell at each other a lot. Cusack’s character is more of the intelligent type and wants to land that plane safely. Meaney is the rude, selfish type, hot tempered, and wants to shoot down the plane. Then there’s the convicts. Just consider their names. John Malkovich leads them as Cyrus the Virus. Ving Rhames as Diamond Dog. M.C. Gainey as the Swamp Thing. Danny Trejo as Johnny-23, and Steve Buscemi as Garland. As expected, the one with the simplest name is the most dangerous.

But despite all the crazy behavior and wall to wall action, I really wouldn’t characterize it as fun. It is more of a very violent movie. It also gets a little sloppy towards the end. For instance, when Cyrus is stuck onto a ladder (of a fire truck) that crashes him through a skywalk, there is a lacking sense of location. Before the crash, we notice that there are buildings and shops around the skywalk. But after the crash, Cyrus suddenly finds himself in a large construction site that isn’t seen beforehand.

The director is Simon West and the producer is Jerry Bruckheimer, both experienced with expensive and large productions. Con Air is another financial success in their resume. I was entertained by all its flash and explosiveness. But I also got exhausted with the movie before it was over.

 

Heat ★★★

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Heat is a police procedural that is much more concerned with its characters than their actions. This makes the movie feel more like a drama. But that isn’t a mistake since the stars are Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in roles that we have seen them play masterful.

The cops are led by Vincent (Al Pacino), a tough and smart Los Angeles police detective who is able to discern the activities of criminals much quicker than his peers. In one scene for instance, they are standing in the middle of an industrial zone. They are trying to figure out what the criminals are planning to do in that place. Then it suddenly makes sense to Vincent. A robbery isn’t being planned. The crooks just wanted to take a good look at them, the police. And true enough, sitting high up on a tower is the criminal mastermind Neil(Robert De Niro) who is observing them.

Neil is just as tough as Vincent but probably more disciplined. This guy lives by a most difficult rule : to never let himself get attached to anything that he cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat when he spots the heat around the corner. Neil is a loner because of this rule and lives in a near-empty apartment that shows one couch, a coffee maker, some cups, and a view of the ocean. He dresses like a business man. His crew (played by Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo) are highly organized, very resourceful, and professional. I got the sense that if these guys decided to work in legal occupations, that they can be very successful with big paychecks. But as one of them says, “The action is the juice”, which is why they prefer the high risk lifestyle of criminality. As Vincent comments “Drop of a half, these guys will ‘rock and roll'”.

 And the action scenes, as few as there are, is what this movie is capable of staging. There are only two or three, but they are very loud, explosive, and there’s a certain amount of realism applied that makes them unforgettable.

As mentioned though, the movie isn’t about the action. It is about the lives of its characters. The film carries a current of sadness, loneliness, and death because of them. This is most evident in the films famous scene where Neil and Vincent decide to sit down and have a cup of coffee.

The scene is very restrained and that’s not only because these two men are highly experienced, but because I also think that they find peace in each others company. Their conversation reaches a shared conclusion: That they are both sad men. Neil is unsatisfied with robbing banks and wishes he had more time to do the things that he wants to do. Vincent is unhappy with his marital issues because he doesn’t make the time for his family. These men are passionate about their profession and yet are unsatisfied. In this regard, I thought the movie veers with subtly towards the direction of existentialism. In a way, Neil and Vincent are seeking more meaning in their lives. And in the films parting shot, there is a certain tragedy felt that these men were never going to find any answers towards happiness.

This is an intense but sad movie. The drama is also stretched out too much in some scenes where the characters contemplate on their lives. But it’s directed by Michael Mann, who has created a police procedural that carries an authentic feel to the language, investigations, and violence of these experts in crime.

Jerry Maguire ★★★★

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I am not sure how to begin expressing my appreciation for this film. At the very least, it’s a feel-good movie. But there is a lot more to like about it. For one, the title. Because the movie is named after a person, we instinctively feel that the story is going to have some depth.

The character is a sports agent, highly active in a depiction of the dog –eat-dog world. His voice and body are constantly on the go, trying to win valuable contracts with expensive athletes. The man is filled with energy and personality.

But one day his conscience is suddenly awakened and he realizes that he is not happy with himself. So he writes a memo for his coworkers emphasizing how their business should focus more on caring for athletes instead of collecting them; How they should have lesser clients but better relationships. Naturally this upsets Jerry’s manager, and it eventually costs Jerry his job.

The writer and director is Cameron Crowe who is no ordinary craftsman of romantic comedies. His movies Say Anything, Singles, and Almost Famous demonstrate insight and wit in the dynamics of human relationships. In his movies, couples are made but the individuals also grow into or reveal a better side of themselves. The director is clearly in touch with humanity. In his movies, touchy feely scenes are rarely ever corny. This film has produced famous quotes, “Show me the money!” and “You complete me”, but they are well placed in scenes where the character is vulnerable and disarmed.

Jerry falls in love with his coworker Dorothy (Renee Zellweger), who quits her job after he gets fired from the company. Naturally, and according to tradition, the two fall in love. But the screenplay doesn’t make it that easy. Jerry has got some selfish issues to overcome, and I think Dorothy knows that and feels that they initially aren’t ready to be together. She loves him but doesn’t feel his love. So it’s touching how she continues to stay supportive to him throughout.

This is a wonderful movie. It’s a human journey that brings out all emotions. Make no mistake, the film has lots of humor, some of which are delivered by Dorothys young smart son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Rod (an energized Cuba Gooding Jr.) a loud and arrogant football player who ends up as Jerry’s one client.

Tom Cruise is a great actor in the non-traditional sense. I don’t think he falls under the method actor category nor is he a chameleon in his movie roles. But he seems to work very hard, knows his acting strengths, and performs with zest and vigor. This is one of his best films and one of my favorite movies from the 90’s.

There’s Something About Mary ★★★

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There’s Something About Mary is a one of a kind romantic comedy. It pushes beyond the boundaries of humor that it becomes tasteless. And yet when it isn’t vulgar, the film can be very funny. The movie can leave you with a very shaky opinion.

For example, what would you think about a movie where a man pulls his zipper too fast that he seriously hurts himself, and the scene decides to show a close-up of how the injury looks. Or a movie that uses the behavior of mentally disabled people for comedic purposes. Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz are made to do things in this movie that are quite uncomfortable to watch.

The screenplay is written by Ed Decter, John J Strauss, Peter Farrelly, and Robert Farrelly which probably means that many ideas were placed together. It contains a story that presents plenty of opportunity for good comedy. With that said and apart from its vulgar moments, I must admit that the writers capitalized on it.

The first scene begins during 1985 at a high school. Mary (Cameron Diaz), a beautiful blonde, arrives at campus riding on her bicycle. Among her many admirers is Ted(Ben Stiller) who is goofy and unconfident but also a sweet guy. After protecting Mary’s brother from getting beaten up, Mary grows attracted to Ted’s kindness and asks him to the prom. But this doesn’t work out due to an unexpected horrifying accident. Thus they don’t end up together. But many years later, we see Ted who is still thinking about Mary. He has become infatuated  to the point of  hiring a private investigator to spy on her. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The story begins to reveal itself to be unpredictable with several twists and turns.

One of the main delights of the movie are its different nutty characters.These are a group of individuals who have lost control as manifested by the extent of their actions and behavior. The film exaggerates them because it is also a slapstick comedy. The private investigator, Pat Healy, is played by Matt Dillon as sleazy and a little dumb. Other characters are Chris Elliott as Woogie who likes to order his wife around like a waitress, and Lee Evans as a very British Architect who uses crutches to walk. And this is where the main enjoyment lies, in seeing these characters appear and watching them stumble from one mistake into another.

If the film is not a very good comedy, it’s because of the off-color humor. Otherwise there is entertainment here for all audiences. One of my favorite scenes is when Healy gets into trouble with a pet dog. The way Matt Dillon assumes the role is very funny.

The Mask of Zorro ★★★

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The 1990’s appears to have been a good time for the career of Antonio Banderas. He became an action hero in Desperado and co-starred with Sylvester Stallone in the much anticipated Assassins. But The Mask of Zorro remains his best movie for me.

As the legendary outlaw, Banderas fits the part too well. His accent is thick. The Latino swagger is natural in him. And the hot temperament also seems present. So as a masked horseman, he is very entertaining to watch.

The film is directed by Martin Campbell, who is more known today for his work on Casino Royale. But observe The Mask of Zorro, and the director exhibits a skill, flair, and timing in the action sequences.

The story takes us into California during the early 1800’s when the nations oppression and poverty has driven its people to rebel against their Spanish rulers. Fighting for them is a mysterious masked man they call Zorro. In the movies beginning, he rescues a group of innocents from a firing squad by only using a saber and whip, his two trademark weapons. This enrages a Spanish lord, who witnesses the event and is injured during a brief visit from Zorro (who carves the letter Z into the lords neck, further driving him to seek revenge). On the verge of being ousted from his rulership, the Spanish lord is a greedy schemer who tries to hold on to his vast properties by passing them on to other noble men under his control.

This is only the beginning of the movie. It gets better. The Zorro we first see is Don Diego played by Anthony Hopkins, a strange pick for the part but not a wrong choice. He performs a class act as an aging fighting hero who is in need of another to fill his shoes. Thus he finds an apprentice in Alejandro played by Antonio Banderas.

But just when the movie becomes intense, it also grows sensual by the introduction of another character named Elena. Like Zoro, she is a fighter by heart but a lover according to her tender nature. Catherine Zeta Jones delivers a very attractive performance.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It is conventional in many ways, but the conventions are handled with care and respect. The result is a thoroughly entertaining swashbuckler.

Anaconda ★★★

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Given the right approach, Anaconda can be a fun motion picture. When I first watched it at the theater, I was disappointed. I was hoping for the same level of suspense as Jaws. That didn’t happen. The snake revealed itself too much that my imagination stopped working and i ended up frequently in view of an animatronic.

But then something happened. After watching the movie several times, the snake started to become irrelevant and a realization came forth: that I had been paying much attention to the wrong antagonist. The real threat in Anaconda is the snake hunter, Serone, played with relish by Jon Voight.

He convinces us with a South American accent. The character is a former priest who has become an adventurer. But he has also become evil. He can’t even conceal his sinister look with the squinted eyes and a smirk. Obsessed with snakes, he will allow anyone to become bait (in other words swallowed alive) just so he can catch a living Anaconda. 

The story begins with a film crew(played by Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Kari Wuhrer, Owen Wilson, and Jonathan Hyde) intending to search for a missing tribe down the Amazon river. They ride a wooden two-level boathouse. And along the way, they find Serone who appears stranded on a small boat. They give him a lift which turns out to be their biggest mistake. One by one, the crew will need to face two predators: Serone and a giant snake.

A fictional film about real life predators depends on how thrilling the action is. Anaconda has a few gripping moments. But as mentioned, because the snake looks like an animatronic, the action tragically looks superficial. But for a few moments of computer graphic imagery, it accomplishes some terrifying sequences. One would be a surprise attack (a surprise even for the viewers). Another is when the snake swims after the boat after feeding on a victim; we catch a view of its enlarged stomach taking the shape of its prey. But the most horrific is its encounter with the snake hunter, which gives us an interesting view of the snakes anatomy. 

Anaconda, directed by Luis Llosa, will satisfy the silly fun of an old fashion jungle movie. It was filmed on sight at the Amazon which gives the story a beautiful authenticity. But it also has a strong performance by Jon Voight, who elevates this picture and adds value to the other performances. When the other characters express fright, they do indeed have a reason.

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