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IMDb/Wag The Dog

Wag the Dog (1997)
Directed by Barry Levinson  ·  Rating: 2 of 10
2 of 10

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Wag the Dog DVD

Summary: A pointless waste

Some movies start with an interesting premise worth investigating. The premise of this movie might be a little bit far-fetched, but still it holds some potential. Also, with Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Heche around, you should expect some great movie. Instead you get a big disappointment.

Not only was the story far-fetched, it was even deprived of any believability throughout the course of the movie. Agreed, conspiracies do happen. Agreed, the media is an important tool not just for information, but to a large extent (and to an even larger extent than most of us would presume) it is very fit for disinformation. Using the media to create a phantom war, that's a story with potential. But letting this story, this idea, be executed by virtually three people, without the works of any major intelligence network, without even much more international contacts, that's dumb. What kind of message is that? We pretend to lead a war in Albania - they wouldn't know it? Hello? I'm sure somebody would notice some troop movements, or rather, the total lack of troop movements. Faking a video tape is one step, but it cannot be the only major one.

Furthermore, agreed, some public displays of politics, some aspects of the political process are a bit annoying and pompous. But the two key songs featured in this movie were situated that far in the realm of bad, no, worst taste I've ever seen. Forgive me please this expression, but I felt a very strong urge to vomit at these scenes. Even if you set this into the realm of satire, this is a very gross mis-accusation.

The only memorable running gag of the movie was the theme that a producer's work not only is never done but also never recognized. Apart from that, the film deteriorated continually. While at the beginning there was at least a hint of a story, at the end the piece merely consisted of the hunt for punch lines; satire transformed into slapstick. The sad thing is, Hoffman's acting was terrific - but he was the only one in this movie. Anne Heche tried to give a performance, but she didn't really get a chance. Even worse was the way Robert de Niro was dealt with - to have such an actor in a movie isn't just an achievement, it's a responsibility. But instead they chose to use him in a quite uninteresting, uninventive way, his efforts were condemned to failure. There has also been no single round character in this movie, and I don't think that was intentional.

And, finally, a word concerning politics. As this is a political movie, and as it was made during the Clinton presidency, and as everybody knows about the hype surrounding President Clinton's private conduct (again, private conduct), it seemed to coincide nicely with several affairs and subsequent wars. It still was made before the Lewinsky thing, but who cares. Fiction is always stronger than fact. Am I being naïve to think both things are something different? Am I being too suspicious not to trust the press at any time? Anyway, 'Primary Colors' did a much better job than this movie.

see also: Miscellaneous Essays, Pts. 7+8, Diary entries # 35 and # 39

July 29th, 1998

IMDb/What Dreams May Come

What Dreams May Come (1998)
Directed by Vincent Ward  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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WhatDreamsMayCome DVD

Summary: Intense and daring

"This isn't about understanding - this is about not giving up" - this is about not giving up a love, not giving up a family, not giving up one's own life and prospects, not giving up hope, not giving up the future. What is hoped and dreamt of can come true - what dreams may come, they will become reality. This is a very emotional movie, a movie being created by emotion.

The worlds Chris Nielsen encounters after his death are created by himself, by his mind, by the only thing which is left of him, by the only thing of himself that has ever been real. But what is shown as the mechanics of a possible life after death is also similarly true for our reality - "You see a body because you like to see a body": Our interpretation creates a universe of its own; our thinking and our actions determine our options, our outlook on life can influence our future. 'Quand on veut, on peut' - 'What you want, you can': Mind over matter, or to be true, matter doesn't matter at all.

Sometimes when you win, you lose. Sometimes you are confronted with storms you cannot wither, sometimes a perfect world seems to break apart - confrontations which seem like an exercise, a test. The concept of hell portrayed in this movie is a place for those who don't know how to deal with their situation, it is a place created by those who inhabit it. But an escape there is, again: Mind over matter.

Sometimes when you lose, you win. - I've encountered some reviews which approached this movie from a totally negative point of view, claiming it to be too emotional, even kitschy. I don't agree, I definitely don't. Yea, this one's very emotional, but it is a movie about emotions. You see, it just doesn't make sense to make a movie about emotions without portraying them. Having seen the movie, I still feel deeply moved by it, by its portrayal of emotional reality. Not many films can do that.

November 28th, 1998

IMDb/What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath (2000)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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What Lies Beneath DVD

Summary: A new classic

Horror movies are always a risky business. It is difficult to actually create something scary and intense, as there is always a very fine line between horror and ridicule, also, you cannot really profoundly scare people with old stuff: You have to be inventive and actually create something new, or, to present something old in a stunning new way, like Carpenter did it with 'The Thing'. While recently, there has been something like a boom of horror movies, this boom rather reveals itself as a mixture of lots of horror-wannabes with only some very rare original exceptions, like 'Blair Witch 2'. Zemeckis now took up the task of making something like an hommage to Hitchcock's suspense-filled classics, especially with 'Psycho' in mind, while trying to be original, too. And he succeeds brilliantly.

The first big coup is the casting of Harrison Ford. He is an acting genius, and everything he does feels authentic and profound, which is especially important with this film. But even more important than Ford is Michelle Pfeiffer here - as she's the lead. And she is superb. With those two, very strong leads, the movie's on its best possible track. Add some great 'Psycho'-inspired music by Alan Silvestri, an intelligent plot, beautiful sets and scares both on the psychological as well as on the conventional level, and you get something like a new classic. Even more, the movie's not just solely chasing for effects, but delivering some nice ironic reflections on the paranormal - thus invoking the feel of ages past, of Robert Wise's 'The Haunting', Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' and 'Psycho' and also 'Carnival of Souls'.

Especially interesting is the film's climaxing in one central scene: The bathtub. Isn't this a classic ideal: One movie, one central scene. One scene holding it all - and being so memorable that the movie will be remembered by it. One central moment of truth; but of course, this demands for more than just solid acting and a great atmosphere. But Zemeckis and his cast and crew succeed with all that, hopefully setting standards for films to come. Let's hope this will serve as a guiding example for other horror directors. And could the film possibly have a better and more ambiguous title?

January 2nd, 2001

IMDb/The Whole Nine Yards

The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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The Whole Nine Yards DVD

Summary: Hilarious

Usually, a dentist's life is supposed to be anything but captivating. Usually, a dentist should neither have to deal with hitmen nor be their target. Usually. But this is no usual movie, this is anything but usual. And nothing could have prepared me for it.

Matthew Perry scores high with his performance, being the quirky point of unease and nervosity besides Bruce Willis. Willis then, well, I guess if someone were to be said to have invented screen presence, it has to be him. He enters the scene and the scene belongs to him. He enters a movie and the movie is his. Not even John Wayne, not even Sean Connery, not even Patrick Stewart can compete with him in that respect. So Willis can play gentle and still be the man, but when he plays furious, he's unstoppable. Not even Michael Clarke Duncan can keep up with him in this film, but he comes very close.

This strange humorous picture with its twist and turns and strange combinations stands out amongst comedies through its darker tunes, and within the serious stuff through its somehow sick humor. Who'd have guessed a dentist's life could be that interesting...

April 30th, 2000

IMDb/Wild At Heart

Wild At Heart (1990)
Directed by David Lynch  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

  Subseq. Pages - TP/David Lynch 
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Wild at Heart VHS

Summary: Strange and bizarre

Four Years after 'Blue Velvet', David Lynch returned to the big screen with a roadmovie featuring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern amongst the 'usual' supporting actors to be found in Lynch's films. With this movie, Lynch goes farther than in 'Blue Velvet' concerning to inserted scenes of weirdness, so to say, while he also doesn't return to the drastic symbolism of 'Eraserhead'. There are even more Twin Peaks associations here, most obvious of all the appearance of Sheryl Lee as an angel at the end of the movie. Striking as it is, it's mostly the experience that counts: While there is no obvious connection to the content of his other works, especially to Twin Peaks, the look-and-feel is similar. He sort of creates a visual meta-structure spanning all his movies, linking them to each other in a certain way - you might call that Lynchification.

'Wild at Heart' now adds another important factor to the Lynchian universe - or rather, this factor is being amplified and emphasized here: Love, already mentioned in 'Blue Velvet' (the robins), is getting another level of intensity here. 'Wild at Heart' is not just the title of the movie, it is the concept behind both this one and Twin Peaks. Without agent Cooper falling in love with Annie in the second season, the climax of Twin Peaks would not have been possible. This concept also drives Sailor (Nic Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) - without that, the movie would make no sense, love would make no sense. But the concept of being wild at heart also implies a certain dark side - making it possible for Sailor to take part in something he otherwise wouldn't have done. His love drives him crazy - he will do anything for her, in the negative sense, this would also include criminal action. Still he remains the hero of the story because his motives are true and pure - motivation becomes more important than action, the small micro-universe between Sailor and his girl becomes more important than any global consequences. The world is deconstructed to its smallest unit.

August 26th, 1998


Windtalkers (2002)
Directed by John Woo  ·  Rating: 1 of 10
1 of 10

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Windtalkers DVD

Summary: Utterly Forgettable

John Woo is a master of highly stylized entertainment, being able to create overarching heroes and foes, who in their unnatural grandeur fit the flair of an oversized fantasy tale. Yet it seems that when it comes to a more or less realistic portrayal of a serious matter, that's a totally different thing. Nevertheless, my expectations in choosing a John Woo film with Nicolas Cage in the lead were high, how could I expect something like what was about to unfold?

'Windtalkers' is horrible from beginning to end. It's not even horrible in a funny way, that's not really possible in a WW2 film. To tell a story about Navajo code talkers may be a very noble idea, yet it's always the execution of an idea that makes a film. 'Windtalkers', however, is a total disaster, failing on every account. The dialog is irrelevant, the acting of Cage is easily overshadowed by Christian Slater and those playing the Navajo, the battle scenes are brutal but unmotivated and unrealistic - Rambo-style combat just doesn't win a war. Where was the air superiority, why did more Japanese soldiers die from American bullets than vice versa, and so on. Every possible cliché from every possible war film made it into this one, like the American soldier giving medicine to the Japanese woman, or the minefield, or the kitschy heroic ending. There's nothing of Woo's style in this picture either, and while Horner's music is not bad, that doesn't save this unmotivated film from becoming a boring and utterly forgettable waste of time.

August 6th/26th, 2002

IMDb/Wings of Desire

Wings Of Desire (1987)
Directed by Wim Wenders  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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Wings of Desire VHS

Summary: Artsy, but intense and poetic

I watched 'Wings' after I had seen City of Angels. To say it first, I liked 'City of Angels' better. That doesn't mean that 'Wings of Desire' is a bad movie, nor a mediocre one, to be true, it's quite a fine movie, but I just don't like it that much, compared with its remake. 'Wings' is a very special film, a film with a strange pace, well, with something like a no-pace.

The most interesting thing about this movie is the switching between black-white and colored reality, the first being that of the angels', the second that of the humans. Another is the ability of the angels to overhear the thoughts of the people. In its portrayal of the lives of 'ordinary' people, the film is a masterpiece, it also creates a very special kind of atmosphere, similar to that one of its successor; kind of a feeling of cosmic unity or something like that.

But then, the movie is a bit tedious at some moments, it also has kind of an intellectual touch. The German original version had Peter Falk speak his texts in English and the girl hers to a large extent in French; both without subtitles. That's nice if you're able to speak those languages, but it's not a very nice gesture towards the general audience. But apart from that, it's not a bad movie. (See also: City of Angels review.)

November 28th, 1998


The World Is Not Enough (Bond # 19, 1999)
Directed by Michael Apted  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Finally, a truly great Bond

I am quite a traditionalist regarding Bond movies. To me, Bond means sort of a sixties gentleman type, John Barry music, a spy story rather than an action movie. Obviously, things change - things changed once with Lazensby (charting the more silly regions), returned to normal with 'Diamonds are Forever', then moving into action with Roger Moore and getting hard-edged with Timothy Dalton. Brosnan's first, 'Goldeneye', was an even more modern Bond, this being explored further in 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. His latest, the nineteenth in the series, tries to continue this line of thought while also implementing elements of the Connery movies. Pierce Brosnan seems to become the ultimate Bond, even adding new character traits to a character that is as incoherent as he could possibly be. Bond has no history apart from the movies; but he moves through time and remains ageless while all the changes occur around him, only Q having accompanied him so far.

Things change. Not only did he have a tough female partner in 'Tomorrow Never Dies', now he gets a female adversary. Even more, he can actually be seen as being part of MI6 - what once was rather a frameset, providing him with missions, now gets to be his agency - he gets a life. Judy Dench's M takes part in the action, even Moneypenny has some more lines than the usual few ones. And with Christmas Jones, the funny-named side-chick joins a long tradition which is being deliberated upon even further in the 'Austin Powers' series. Humor and well-placed sarcastic comments add to it - and so do the effects. All in all quite an entertaining ride.

Not just this: we even get a story, we even get an enemy with a face. Not just a rich guy who wants to get even richer, like Godfinger or a Cold War story or some megalomaniacal Dr. Evil-kind of guy. Of course the stakes are higher than in ordinary movies, but this time it's rather personal, this time it's rather twisted and spontaneous. Bond is drawn into a grander plan which he - at first - cannot figure out. Bond is lost and has a real conflict of interest, a conflict of emotions even: That's quite a new one. Bond grows as a character, thus making him more believable. He isn't the cold-blooded spy any more; Brosnan and Dalton having provided their character with some depth behind the shiny façade: Bond isn't always cool. He isn't always pensive and cold. Now he can be surprised, shocked, threatened; in one word, human.

There's also one further aspect getting through which used to be hidden once behind Connery's charming glamour and Moore's steady smile - Bond is a killer. He isn't the good guy, neither is he the bad one - he's in between, a shadow creature. He does his duty - he kills the bad guys to save the good guys. But he doesn't care about the means necessary to achieve his goals. Whether he has to use a gun or a girl doesn't matter to Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Thus the new Bond is the old Bond again, only that you get the chance to look into him more closely.

Brosnan has a strong presence on the screen - having worked out his role already partly in Remington Steele, only now he plays with less cartoonish humor. Judy Dench makes a great and strong M, Q's as loving as always, Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle add to the cast perfectly - only Denise Richards could have gotten a bit more action rather than only improving the visual aspect of the movie. David Arnold has outdone himself again with the score, the effects are great, the action sequences bigger than everything else. And those who care about believability should be reminded that this is a Bond movie. It's still way more intelligent than any other action movie - Bond is setting the standards again. And with the complete failure of the utterly disappointing 'End of Days', this seems to be the last movie highlight of the century. But as this is not enough, he'll be back. The world is not enough.

December 19th, 1999

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