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IMDb/The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Directed by Anthony Minghella  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Talented Mr. Ripley DVD
 

Summary: Fascinating character study

The logics of crime are explored in this film, the consequences it demands for, the consequences that create it, and the impact it has on a person. Starting with opening credits somehow looking like a hommage to the original 'Thomas Crown Affair', the film somehow moves slowly to a yet to come moment of crucial importance, up to then it only depends on the actors' determination to get the audience interested in the story - and somehow they succeed. Matt Damon is brilliant, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett worthily supporting him, only Gwyneth Paltrow looks as pale as ever, although in the end she seems to grow a bit. But the key to the movie is Damon's performance as Ripley - and it is actually possible to feel sympathetic for this impostor.

Damon is providing Ripley with a face, and in his face the motives for his character's actions lie bare. The terror of what could happen, the desperation when a perfect situation turns out to be a dead end, the attempts to find a solution - but through his clinging to his own happiness it is that his actions develop as the logical consequence of his needs. And everything is so simple: He just wants to have a home, he wants something more than just an ordinary life with nobody taking an interest in him. Temptation wins, and through his superior intellect, all the problems in his way become a project, an intellectual challenge. A game of chess - and he becomes more daring with each move. We see him seemingly safely captured, and yet he manages to free himself time and again, growing in expertise as well as in sadness, losing in humanity.

He constructs himself as a tragic hero, trying to find somebody he can relate to, somebody to whom he can open his cellar, his past, his hidden secrets - but he will destroy everybody in his way, be it a man or a woman. Like a caged animal, having encaged himself, having bound himself to his past crimes, he has to move on - consequentially haunted by his past. The tragedy of Ripley's character is masterfully directed and played out, the beautiful sets in stark contrast to the actions taking place. And if Ripley would say he didn't mean to do any harm, Matt Damon would actually be able to make his audience believe.

PJK
February 23rd, 2000







IMDb/Thirteen Days

Thirteen Days (2000)
Directed by Roger Donaldson  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Thirteen Days DVD
 

Summary: Intense

History can actually be exciting, though the outcome is usually known. The key is to tell it as poignantly and masterly as possible, and to maybe establish some new angles on an old topic. All that is done by 'Thirteen Days', and it's believably played by Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp and, believe it or not, Kevin Costner. A neat combination of documentation and suspense make history seem as alive and intense as only possible, and most of all, human.

PJK
August 26th, 2002







IMDb/The Thirteenth Floor

The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
Directed by Josef Rusnak  ·  Rating: 2 of 10
2 of 10

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The Thirteenth Floor DVD
 

Summary: Dull Matrix-rip off

Some movies start out promisingly and fall back at the end. This one doesn't. On the contrary, it starts that weakly and remains thus throughout most of the time that even a slight improvement would create a stark difference. This isn't 'The Matrix', it's way far from that. The three main characters are quite good, just above ok. But everybody else's performance in this movie is forgettable at best, if not humiliating. Everything looks a bit pushy, everybody tries hard - but you actually see them trying. They don't succeed - it's like a bad tv movie.

The story proves to be not uninteresting, but it cannot live up to 'The Matrix', and the dilemmas of artificial life and reality are much more thoroughly dealt with in respective Star Trek episodes. The effects - what effects? Why needs there be that stupid green laser-show in the lab? - This movie is perhaps a nice try, but a grave disappointment. It could have done better, Ronald Emmerich as producer could have done better. This is both unprofessional and uninspired - and quite forgettable.

PJK
December 30th, 1999







IMDb/The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Directed by Norman Jewison  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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The Thomas Crown Affair DVD
 

Summary: Inconsequentially inventive

I had seen the sequel first; and that one I really liked. So for me it was Steve McQueen who had to live up to Pierce Brosnan's performance, and not vice versa. Both did great, each of them having their very own style. McQueen was a bit more diabolical while Brosnan had rather the air of an English (or rather Irish) gentleman, while Faye Dunaway didn't have that strong a part as Renee Russo. But so much for comparisons for now.

The film captured me from the very beginning, I couldn't help but being impressed anew with each scene, that is, until the movie changed pace with the introduction of Faye Dunaway's Character. But not only did the pace change, but also the ingenious way of telling the story so far with the partitioned screen and the fast-paced sequences. Still, a movie needs a break from time to time, so I waited for it to regain its momentum. That, however, didn't happen, only very partial and inconsequential.

What was missing was a showdown - a visible showdown, not just two minutes of bringing all threads and threats together in a rather inconclusive way. Much more, with the sequel and its impressive showdown in mind, the original seems to remain quite imperfect and unbalanced. And what a shame - wasn't it rather promising? Once a movie starts in such a spectacular way, it cannot fall aback again, both the story and the audience would expect a bit of coherence and closure. If you aim high right from the beginning, you have to maintain this through the entire duration, and to aim even higher at the end. Like 'Fight Club', this movie ended somehow uninspired, you couldn't even call that an anti-climax. I guess that makes it still above average, but far from reaching perfection. A could-be great film.

PJK
December 30th, 1999







IMDb/The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Directed by John McTiernan  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Thomas Crown Affair DVD
 

Summary: Perfect

Not having first seen the original with Steve McQueen, this remake didn't make the impression it was copying anything. On the contrary, it proved to be quite an entertaining and interesting film, one of the year's best so far, with great acting on the part of Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. The ending sequence is brilliant, the overall impression and atmosphere too. There's nothing more to say about it, it seems like an instant classic.

There's just one more thing. I don't understand the criticism against doing remakes at all. Movies are supposed to be something having originated from theater - and in theater it is normal to have a play performed by different actors time and again. Why the sudden change of the premise? Isn't it interesting to get a new, a different perspective of things? To see little variations, to see how different people do it differently? This movie shows that a remake can be a good thing, something really good.

PJK
September 18th, 1998







IMDb/Three Kings

Three Kings (1999)
Directed by David O. Russell  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Three Kings DVD
 

Summary: A sublime mixture

Every single review I saw in newspapers, magazines or teletext proved to be negative, so I went into this one not expecting anything good. The first minutes seemed to underline this, seeming to indicate a comedic approach with little relevance. But then, everything changed - the comedy proved to be satire, bitter satire, it proved to be the anticlimax, the contrast set against what would follow: A rather tough and gripping war story, portraying not the finest heroes but a difficult bunch of people set into a grim situation. The contrast between the satire and the horror of war grew to sublime dimensions, the moral questions raised, as well as the political ones, suddenly propelled this film into the upper league. Against this, 'Saving Private Ryan' is the more uninspired and harmless. 'Three Kings' is really tough stuff.

George Clooney proves again that he is a great actor, Mark Wahlberg too, even Ice Cube can act. The conflict becomes believable through these actors and the rest of the cast, and a difficult conflict it is. The media war is portrayed as a media war - only this time, all of the difficult sides are shown. There is no real place for doubt in the necessity of Coalition intervention in the region, despite anything which didn't go the way it was supposed to go. The Saddam regime isn't made to look better - but the situation of the people, the strange non-solution of the war is shown. And it is made clear that nobody has won (except perhaps Kuwait), but everybody has lost. The group of American soldiers navigates almost helplessly and desperately in a region they don't understand, in a region where Western culture is an intruder, where only Jeans and watches and cars are wanted but not the economic and political consequences. There are no rules in war - and a cease fire doesn't mean peace. For the people living there, it is difficult - to say the least.

But the film doesn't want to preach - it works through disturbing and unnerving pictures, through a satire of a certain sickness, through making an almost casual appearance. Everything seems real even in the greatest absurdity. That's the greatest achievement: A war gets a face. Not the tidy one which sometimes is tried to be portrayed, but also not the overly derogatory one (for overblown excursions into the so-called "military-industrial complex", cf. The X-Files). It is rather shown from the perspective of those who have lost everything, the soldiers only stumbling into the situation. And it is about growth in morality: a band of robbers really becoming saviors out of insight into what's really important. The humor in the film is deeply necessary to make it endurable to watch the rest of it - in this odd mixture, the movie has to count among the very best of its year.

PJK
February 27th, 2000







IMDb/Titanic

Titanic (1997)
Directed by James Cameron  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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Titanic DVD
 

Summary: Fascinating and multi-layered

A very simple idea: A love story on the most famous sinking boat in history. I didn't want to see this film, but I had to as I learned that it had gained such a fellowship. I didn't really like 'Aliens' which was also the result of Cameron/Horner, but this one is quite perfect for what it is.

It is the details that make this film so remarkable, the little scenes, like the one showing a single lifeboat returning to the site of the accident, navigating around the dead bodies, and Rose finally releasing the dead body of Jack but not breaking her promise; no words are necessary. It is moments like this 'Titanic' consists of, moments enfolding the entire universe within the wink of an eye, revealing class and gender conflicts via the flow of the movie, illustrating them rather than just pointing a finger.

'Titanic' is not a movie that has a lot to tell directly, it tells things via atmosphere, via pictures. It's in a way a silent movie functioning less on pensive and more on an emotional level. It's quite a classic tale, and classic tales are almost always simple but effective.

PJK
March 11th, 1998 / August 25th, 2002







IMDb/Titus

Titus (1999)
Directed by Julie Taymor  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Titanic DVD
 

Summary: Sick, mad, crazy, bloody, Shakespeare

Shakespeare usually is a big hit in schools. It's Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, or perhaps A Midsummer Night's Dream and Othello. But it's rarely Titus Andronicus. Also, Shakespeare is much more often read than seen. He wrote stage plays, today he would probably be writing screenplays for movies. But he surely never wrote something which was simply to be read on paper. He created a tangible world not just of words but also of visible persons and actions - his works are supposed to be performed and watched rather than printed and read, however fancy his writing style may be. Theater now may seem the ideal stage for his plays, however, who goes there? It's just a small portion of the population nowadays, and for me, too, it's rather an acquired taste. Today, the cinema has taken over the position of the once popular stage - and Shakespeare was a popular writer. Thus it seems logical to create movie adaptations from his works; that's part of being true to his legacy.

Shakespeare is not a very original writer when it comes to the actual story and the action of a play. Sometimes he even borrowed the story from existing ones, like with Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, or he based his characters upon historical figures. Yet that's unimportant, Shakespeare's genius lies elsewhere. It's not the story, it's not what he tells us - it's the how, it's the way he brings his characters to life - it's his poetic language, and it's the humanity he applies to his characters. The reason he was so successful with his plays, even if their stories were rarely original, was that he - more than others - was and still is a genius in tapping into the human psyche, in depicting humanity in all its tragedy and comedy, in conjuring up an experience that stays with the audience.

Julie Taymor now has undertaken the job of bringing his most violent and most successful play to life - Titus Andronicus, and you then come to realize why it is that this play is seldomly read at schools. With all the ridiculous and violent criticism of violence on TV and in the movies and in art, all of that seems ridiculous compared to this piece. There is rarely human tragedy portrayed as well as in Titus, there is rarely evil so clearly manifesting itself as in the figure of Aaron, there is rarely another incidence where horror, tragedy, violence and comedy mix so sublimely as in this play. Titus is the work of a genius, it is sick, mad, crazy and bloody and it makes you laugh.

However, this is supposed to be a movie review, not a review of the actual play. A movie can still do great harm to a perfect play, like it happened with 'Romeo + Juliet', so you're not really on the safe side yet once you have the play. You need more. You need to put the play into action - by interpreting it with the means of visuals, music and acting - and by carefully selecting the text. For today's audiences and restrictions concerning the length of a movie, you cannot possibly feature the text uncut. Three hours are the utmost maximum, while less is preferred, and also, not every single line is that perfect; the director has to make certain adjustments, and he can do so with still staying true to the nature of the play. And Taymor does her very best to not mutilate the text as 'Romeo + Juliet' did, on the contrary, she seems to have preserved a whole lot of dialog so that the entire thing feels rather authentic.

The acting is brilliant, on part of everyone, be it Anthony Hopkins (Titus), Jessica Lange (Tamora), Alan Cummings (Saturninus) or Harry J. Lennix (Aaron), and even the tiniest role is perfect. The music - where should I start? As soon as I had the soundtrack CD, I knew I had to watch this film - Elliot Goldenthal having composed his very best work to date, a thrilling, mad and sublime mixture of various styles providing for an uncertainly dark and comedic score. But the key aspect of this film are its visuals and the setting.

Shakespeare conceived of this play to take place in Ancient Rome. Taymor now did a strange thing: She still left it there and didn't bring it into our contemporary frame - she didn't move the past into the present, on the contrary: She moved elements of a present past, the Thirties or Fourties, into the past of Rome, thus confronting past and present and in this way interpreting them both in a very twisted way, showing the fascist reality of Rome and the legacy of Rome today, and the timeless properties of the play as such: In a setting where past and present are mixed that wildly, time has no meaning, the characters and actions indeed become timeless: Lacking the restrictions of time. Modern settings and modern hierarchies get Roman names, Mussolini's architecture is transferred to Antiquity, all of that isn't just done to create a hip version of the play: It's the vision of a very gifted director, transforming a piece of art into a new piece of art, and I dare say, making a perfect play even better.

You will not like what you see, but you will not be able to not continue watching. You will be disgusted by it, and you'll love it, you'll feel sympathy for Titus, and you'll have to confront that feeling with his transformation, you'll be shocked and equally drawn to the visual power Taymor evokes. This is not a film for everyone, surely not for the faint-hearted, and surely not for those for whom art has no meaning. The movie wasn't very successful financially, and there are reasons for it. Let's just hope this won't hinder Julie Taymor from making another movie.

One technical remark: If you want to make the experience perfect, get the DVD - there are loads of special features, a lecture by Taymor on the movie plus an almost hour-long feature on the making of the film, plus commentaries.

PJK
January 3rd, 2001







IMDb/Bond 18: Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies (Bond #18; 1997)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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T.N.D. DVD
 

Summary: Bond never dies

A Bond film. So what? Is there any description necessary? You know the contents, every one knows the contents. Some evil guy endangering some organization or project or - always sounds best - the whole world; James Bond as the secret weapon against this soon-to-be-ex-guy; and this Bond accompanied by women and some technical gimmick especially designed for him.

That's it, and that's what it supposedly will be for ever. Or isn't it? This time it's again Pierce Brosnan as 007, and this time this really amazing actor who was playing James Bond all the time in the mask of Remington Steele, really got a script.

I didn't like Goldeneye, for it just didn't look good, and it was just - I can't explain it. But with TND he got a female partner that did not just assist him but contributed to the story a very great deal. Jonathan Pryce played pure evil in form of the above described guy, but what was really incredible was the fact that China and the West worked together. Should this even be a hint for the real world?

All in all, this was a Bond film that can match some of the previous, although 'Licence to Kill' (Yes, with Timothy Dalton) and 'Thunderball' remain my favorites.

PJK
January 28th, 1998







IMDb/Traffic

Traffic (2000)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh  ·  Rating: 3 of 10
3 of 10

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Traffic DVD
 

Summary: Over-hyped, Underdeveloped

The rhetoric of the War on Drugs may be over, but the war itself is still ongoing. Drugs, the fight against drugs, as well as the demonization is still ongoing. With 'Traffic', this rhetoric has reached both its epitome and its impasse. While safely set within the mind-frame of said war, repeating the same old accusations and stereotypes, it also, to a certain degree, proves the pointlessness of any effort by taking the fight into the family of the drug czar himself.

Trying to show both sides may be an interesting agenda. Yet the stereotypes usually associated with Mexico are repeated in the bluntest of ways by effectuating a color split between the clean/artificial/blue United States and the messy/natural/yellow Mexico. Of course, corruption isn't just at home in Mexico, but also in the US, as it is shown, but the color split rather counteracts this message; it still differentiates between the two sides, making it difficult to see any common cause and common problems, Mexico staying the grainy, underdeveloped and overexposed counterpoint to the US.

There are some nice sidekicks against Anglo-Saxon common culture, but that's about it. A vast array of big actor names isn't sufficient to bring this over-hyped creature to life, it conjures up demons it cannot deal with, staying pointless in the end and escaping into commonly known patriotic gestures of goodness and honesty, thus ridiculing the subject and not providing the audience with any new answers. Big guns alone don't make a point.

PJK
August 26th, 2002







IMDb/The Truman Show

The Truman Show (1998)
Directed by Peter Weir  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Truman Show DVD
 

Summary: Fascinating, intense, relevant

"On the air - unaware." What sounds like a comedic approach, illustrated by Jim Carey's usual talents also sometimes being used in this movie, turns out to be a horror scenario with seemingly incredible dimensions. I'm writing this after just having seen the movie, so I'm still a bit dizzy. The impact of the movie is just as big as the impact of the fictive television 'Truman Show' the movie is about. First, the fate of Truman. There is a crime happening on the tv screen, and everybody seems to be watching it, not so many caring about that. A man has been imprisoned for more than thirty years in an artificial world, reality as he knows it is merely a construction, constructed by a scrupulous tv producer. He has committed no crime, he is just held captive for no particular reason but for the profit the producer makes, who feels about him like someone may feel about a pet.

Secondly, this man tries to escape. His whole world is shattering down when a love-at-the-first-sight-woman tells him that the things around him are not what they seem. As Truman realizes that something strange is happening around him, he begins to explore this further. He then begins to understand his situation and tries to escape - but is held back. Only as he surpasses his deepest inner fears (which were purposely created by the writing staff) he can succeed. His 'creator' was ready to kill him for that - how did Truman dare to try to live a life of his own.

Thirdly, and this is the post-structuralist thing about the movie, our very own reality is cracked wide open: When Truman sees the clouds above the ocean as they are painted against a wall, and when he touches this wall, the end of his world, he is the happiest and most unhappy person: Unhappy, because all he previously perceived was merely an illusion. But happiest, because he actually is able to really grasp this illusion, grasping it both in a physical and mental sense. He has solid proof for this, and he can leave the illusion to enter the 'real' world. But we can't do that. We might not live a public life on tv, we might not be monitored all the time (except, if you feel confident with religious concepts, by a creator-god), but nevertheless our understanding of reality is always incomplete, it is a construction created by ourselves and the world around us (see General Discussion Pages. We should question reality much more often than we do, and we will be quite surprised by what we find.

(see also: The Truman Show Discussed \ Contents Synopsis)

PJK
November 17th, 1998







IMDb/Twin Peaks FWWM

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Directed by David Lynch  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

  Subseq. Pages - TP/David Lynch 
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Twin Peaks FWWM DVD
 

Summary: The truth behind the masks

The end of the television show Twin Peaks was quite a shocking event: Various story lines ended in a disaster, amongst all Agent Cooper's fate took a disturbing twist. So what everyody was waiting for was a conclusion, a continuation. Never expect the obvious from David Lynch - it won't happen. And so we got a prequel instead of a sequel, but what a movie! There is just one major flaw: For those who never watched the tv show, the film must remain a mystery. But how else could it have been done? Perhaps the uncut version (if it still exists), which is said to take more than four hours, would have been more user-friendly. But what am I talking here - Lynch being user-friendly? Come on ;-)

Anyway, the prequel also contained scenes from within the Red Room, so it presented us some clues regarding a future development - as time does not exist there. Furthermore, a prequel made perfect sense after all: The question haunting the audience of the tv show has been, after all: Who killed Laura Palmer? And this one is answered, finally, in all the detail we needed to hear. Almost the entire cast except Sheriff Truman is present, only the actor for Donna being replaced, and Windom Earle, of course, needn't make an appearance here. And so this was the perfect movie to provide the audience with some answers.

Visually, this is perhaps the most extraordinary of Lynch's movies after 'Eraserhead', and it also features some great humorous scenes. Sheryl Lee proves once more what a fine actress she is, only Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) could have gotten a bit more screen time. The main titles music counts among my favorite piece of music, and it also makes perfect sense to play the Agnus Dei / Lux Aeterna of Cherubini's Requiem in c Minor at the end. And so this makes my favorite Lynch movie, and who knows, perhaps we might get another Twin Peaks movie in the future.

PJK
August 26th, 1998





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