4 For 1 Movie Review

- wadE

With not much on the schedule this past weekend and being woefully behind on my movie watching, I joined a new video store that's just down the street in hopes that it would be cheaper than Hollywood Video or Blockbuster.

And it was cheaper, by 20 cents.

Sixteen dollars and change later I left with 4 movies: Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Cooler, The Bourne Identity, and Bowling for Columbine. Each movie was one I had been meaning to see. I also ended up going to the theater to see Kill Bill Vol. 2. Yes, that's 5 movies in a weekend. Like I said, I didn't have much going on.

Since all of these movies are on video/dvd, my rating descriptions don't apply, but so what.

Quick refresher on wadE's movie ratings:
10 - Go out and see this movie right away! In fact, see it twice!
9 - Go see it, it's really good!
8 - It's pretty good, worth your 8 bucks.
7 - It's alright...not worth 8 bucks, but maybe a matinee.
6 - It's ok, wait for it to come to the dollar theater.
5 - It's decent, wait to rent it.
4 - It's mildly entertaining, catch it on HBO.
3 - It's not so good... but if you are up at 2AM and it comes on USA, TNT, or TBS, go ahead and watch it.
2 - It's terrible...if you are up at 2AM and it comes on USA, TNT, or TBS, turn the channel immediately.
1 - It's a crime against humanity...absolutely awful.
0 - How does a movie like this even get made...I mean really...how much crack is being smoked in Hollywood???

Let's start with Kill Bill Vol. 1. People have said this film is horribly gory. People have said this film sucks. Well, they're both wrong. Maybe I am too conditioned to violence to notice, but yes lots and lots of people get killed in this movie, and in very violent ways, but the violence is so cartoonish. Blood spraying out of severed limbs like a fire hydrant, eye balls plucked from faces, and superhuman martial arts and swordplay. Wasn't the violence in Saving Private Ryan more disturbing?

I liked the movie, only because from hearing so much about it beforehand, I went in expecting to see a movie that was an homage to kung fu movies, and it was. The music was horribly cheesy (especially the sirens going off before Uma started killing), the violence was cartoonish, the plot was thin and weak in parts, and the characters were superhuman. But that doesn't mean it was a bad movie. The movie does a great job of blending the American violence that Tarantino does so well, with the soul of a kung fu movie. Using David Carradine as Bill makes the homage (or is it homage/satire) perfect. If you went in expecting a deep (yet violent (hey, it's Tarantino, you can't be an idiot)) drama about murder and revenge, you were probably disappointed.

This movie isn't Pulp Fiction, it isn't Reservoir Dogs either, but it's better than Jackie Brown.

The acting was good, which is what you expect from the usual suspects involved in a Tarantino film. Vivica A. Fox is still damn sexy, Uma is... Uma, however, Darryl Hannah? How is she getting work in Hollywood? She looks like hell (not just in the movie mind you), she embodies the saying "can't act her way out of a wet paper bag", and honestly looks like she's on drugs (again, not just in the movie). Outside of her, the rest are very good.

Overall, I'd give the movie a 6. If you like Tarantino, see this movie. If you don't, skip it. This isn't a movie people will be talking about 10 years later like people do with Pulp Fiction, but still worth seeing (if only to know the background for watching Kill Bill Vol. 2... )

Next is The Bourne Identity. Let's face it. Matt Damon is not Tom Hanks. Even Tom Hanks isn't Tom Hanks anymore. But he's a better actor than Ben Affleck, and he actually doesn't mess this movie up, too much. Damon pulls off the angry confused thing well enough (see Good Will Hunting) to make this movie worth watching. The movie is based off of a best selling novel by Robert Ludlum. "Based" is stretching it. A couple of quotes off of a forum on IMDB.com: "... I must mention that it is my feelings that this movie is a 'Little golden book' version of content from the book." and "The movie is just fan fiction that features Jason Bourne." From what I read, the changes made pretty much nullify following the other books as templates for sequels.

Since I haven't read the book(s), I'm going to judge the movie as a standalone. Very good plot that could have been written a bit better and acted a bit better. A young Alec Baldwin/Harrison Ford turns this movie (and the sequels, Bourne Supremacy out later this year) into the same franchise as the Jack Ryan movies (Hunt for Red October, Patriot Game, Clear and Present Danger). However, a good sophomore showing for both the writers and Damon could still turn this one around.

I was mixed on the rest of the cast. I loved Franka Potente (from Run Lola Run), but for some reason didn't like Chris Cooper (a more obscure "that guy"), although Julia Stiles was good in that even though I don't like her, her character acted just like I would expect the actual Julia Stiles to act.

Regardless, some good action, realistic fight sequences (i.e. no matrix-like crap), and the love scene was mercilessly short (which is only a good thing b/c there was no nudity, if it's going to be long, let me see Franka naked).

Anyway, I digress. Another 6. Glad I saw it, but not disappointed it took me so long to see it. But good enough to get me interested in seeing the sequel.

Up next is The Cooler. This movie had a lot of buzz after it came out. Alec Baldwin got a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, steamy sex scene with a naked William H. Macy, and more importantly a naked Maria Bello! I had high hopes for this and was moderately disappointed. I found the plot very weak (although one big hole in the plot is nicely taken care of late in the movie). The acting was fantastic though. Which means if you took this movie and did it up a la American Pie (as in using no-name limited talent actors) it would have been terrible. The actors hold your attention, and not much else. I also enjoyed Ron Livingston (who you might remember from Office Space) ... who I suppose has been too busy working on Band Of Brothers to do many movies, but how does this guy not get more work? Somebody make a movie with more of him in it...please! Ahem...

Anyway, I ended up watching the Sundance Film Festival's "Anatomy of a Scene" extra on the DVD which actually gave me greater appreciation for the movie. When you think of it as a Film Noir/Fairy Tale... it works. It makes sense. Some good twists at the end made the movie worth watching...along with many naked shots of Maria Bello... that made up for the nakedness of William H. Macy. Oy! (nice butt for an older guy though...must have been a butt double) :-D

All in all... another 6. The fine acting saved a plot that I just didn't buy into.

And finally, Bowling For Columbine.

I watched this last night and was ready for a movie dedicated to stickin' it to the right-wing nuts at the NRA. But the documentary seemed to lack focus.

We looked at the Michigan Militia, then at the NRA, then at the media, then at Lockheed Martin (???), then at K-mart, then at the economy, then at the US history of violence, then at white people's fear of black men, then at government policies. It was a real shotgun approach (pardon the pun).

What I found most interesting was that Michael Moore is a member of the NRA (joined when he was very young), Charlton Heston's house is god-awful ugly (and he's a bit of a dick), and that Canada has 7 million guns for 10 million homes, and had about 1% of the gun-related deaths the US had on a yearly basis.

Moore eventually rules out many of these factors by making comparisons to other western countries of the world: Canada has a lot of guns per person, Germany has an even more violent and bloody past than the US, unemployment is higher in other countries, most violent video games come from Japan, etc. Even the NRA, while incredibly unsympathetic and insensitive, is pretty much let off the hook. Although his interview with Heston is interesting. When Moore asks Heston why he thinks there is so much violence in the country Heston says it's in our past. When refuted by Moore (Germany, UK, etc. has had even more violence), Heston then says that the reason maybe because we have so many different minorities here (I'm paraphrasing). But he didn't say that again, and went back to his stance that it's because of the violent history. He may not have intended it to sound racist, but it certainly came out that way to me.

At any rate Moore finally seems to settle on the one thing that makes our country different, and therefore more violent; it's the media creating a culture of fear...mostly a fear of black men.

It's an interesting premise. It does seem that the nightly news is filled with reports of black men committing crimes. White people have used the black man as a cover-up for their own crimes. A black man stole my children, a black man killed my wife. And for the most part, people buy it. I think fear is a contributing factor, but in my mind the main factor is one that Moore dismissed quickly, and that's poverty. His only explanation is that unemployment in Canada is higher than here.

So first you have to make the jump that poverty is worse in Canada than it is here as well...which may or may not be true. Then you have to forget that Canada is a socialist system. Even those in poverty can get basic needs, food, health care, housing.

I could go on, but I find his arguments simplistic and shallow...not shallow as in without merit, but shallow as in poorly defined.

I can understand why this documentary won awards. It contains powerful images, and compelling stories. But the haphazard way they are put together, and the poorly communicated message from Moore makes the documentary disjointed.

I give Bowling For Columbine a 4. I said it before, but the best way for me to describe this movie is that it lacks focus. While a documentary doesn't have to give answers, we're talking Michael Moore here. He wants nothing more than to tell every conservative person where and why they are wrong.

So, 4 rentals, and nothing spectacular out of the bunch. I had high hopes for each of these movies, only to be disappointed (to varying degrees) with each one.

Better luck next time.

- 06/07/2004

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