erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews posts

Thursday May 28, 2015

Well, At Least One Person Agrees with Me about 'Meh Max'

From longtime reader Daniel, whose criticism of “Mad Max” gets closer to the problem than my review did:

Thank you for the critical review of Mad Max! I saw it Thursday, and I already knew of its acclaim which might have primed me for a letdown; but if I had to pick one word to describe this movie, that word would be ďdull.Ē

I agree with your praise of the movie, and would add that the visuals of it are impressive and both Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy have terrific charisma and are mesmerizing to watch even when they are looking out a window. That said, I donít think I found it dull just because I donít like chase movies. I think itís dull because we are given no reason to care about any of the characters.

Honestly, do you feel as though you have a sense of a full human being with any of them? Our eponymous character is closest, but how would you describe him? Heís tough and taciturn and plagued by nightmarish images of his past. Thatís the best I can do. Thatís the starting point for a character not its end point. By the way, the loved ones he didnít save Ė did he make a choice of some kind to save himself rather than them? Or, were their deaths inevitable given the dire situations in which they found themselves? Itís ambiguous, but nothing is done with that ambiguity.

Mad Max: Fury RoadFuriosa? She is tough and taciturn. She wants redemption. But, wait, redemption usually means righting a past wrong. Is that what it means for her? Did she do something particularly wrong for which she feels guilty? Or, does she just want to do away with the maniacal patriarchy? Itís ambiguous, but nothing is done with that ambiguity either. What was her goal anyway? If she managed to bring the breeders to the green place, why wouldnít that just lead to numerous raiding parties from Immortan Joe to that green place probably destroying it if it had not been destroyed already. Is Immortan Joe unaware of the (formerly) green place a dayís ride away? That seems unlikely, doesnít it? Iím confused.

What about Nicholas Houltís character? He is maniacally loyal to Immortan Joe and full of competitive machismo Ė until he isnít because Ö um Ö heís convinced that Immortan Joe would never forgive me for letting his favorite die. Why does he think that exactly? Heís an underling. Why wouldnít he immediately think that Joe would want revenge and would reward him for killing those who killed his favorite? Isnít Immortan Joe the angry vengeful sort?

As for that favorite, what can we say about her? Sheís attractive. She starts acting heroically before she dies. But we arenít given a sense that any of the others think of her as special outside of the fact that she is described as Joeís favorite, a description that isnít prefigured in any way. And once sheís dead, she wonít be mentioned again.

Zoe Kravitzís character? Sheís feistier than the others. Actually, sheís legitimately feisty. Thatís a character trait, so good for her.

The brunette? She despairs at one point. But that despair isnít prefigured in any way and once the one minute scene is over, it wonít be mentioned again either. And despairing at one point is not a character trait. All of these moments that arenít pre-figured in any way and have no broader connection to the ďstoryĒ are what I like to call ďBad Writing 101.Ē

The red-head? She is affectionate around Nicholas Houltís character and seems attracted to him. That isnít a character trait. She seems vaguely more motherly than the others, but three of the others (the favorite, the brunette and the blond) are such non-entities that being a bit more motherly than they are isnít saying much.

The blond? She mentions that sheís pregnant. Itís a comment that isnít prefigured and will not be brought up again at any point. Obviously, being pregnant isnít a character trait, but what else can you say about her?

As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe and his brothers are so grotesque as to be cartoonish. In fact, it has to be said that Ultron is less cartoonish than they are. He has actual goals. Their goals Ė wait, what are their goals? Does he just want his models, I mean, breeders back? Does he just want to demonstrate that no one can escape his authority? I guess that makes sense, but his society doesnít seem susceptible to those kinds of worries Ė although itís shown to be fragile at the end of the movie Ė which wasnít prefigured in any way, sigh. I think he is just supposed to be angry and maniacal and patriarchal, and heís giving chase with an army because: angry, maniacal, patriarchal. These arenít actually goals in any real sense of the word. Outside of Nicholas Hoult, the big guy and the guy with the flaming guitar, the chalky underlings are less distinguishable than Despicable Meís minions. They die randomly, and it doesnít seem to matter to anyone at all. I realize that it isnít supposed to matter, but with no real characters at all, it would help if the ďvillainsĒ were interesting Ė well interesting other than visually.

I also have to say, I like that so little was done with CGI, but the stunts gave scenes visual heft but not emotional heft. Emotional heft is what matters, it is what gives a chase scene (or a chase movie) tension and drama. This movie is loud and frenetic, but it isnít dramatic Ė which is why I found it so dull. Sometimes I will say about a movie that itís very good but has some noticeable flaws. This movie is the inverse; itís terrible, but it has some noticeable good points.

I did not intend to write this much. I think Iíve felt more exasperated by this movie than most because I do not understand the critical acclaim for it. Fairly often, if a movie is broadly critically acclaimed, and I did not enjoy it, I seriously wonder what I might have missed as you seem to have done by asking about your ďmajor malfunction.Ē I havenít felt that way with this movie. This movie strikes me as objectively awful, and, yes, I believe there is such a thing. Your criticism of it gave me something to which I could respond, and I hope you donít mind my sending what Iíve written your way. Thank you for continuing to think and write. I appreciate it.

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Posted at 05:48 AM on May 28, 2015 in category Movie Reviews
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Thursday May 14, 2015

'Mad Max' is 'One of the Finest Action Films Ever Made'

From Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere:

I've more or less said it already: George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros., 5.15) is one of the finest action films ever made ó phenomenal, triple-A, pulse-pounding, perfectly performed by a live-wire cast topped by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, occasionally hilarious and superbly cut, timed, captured and choreographed...a grand slam if there ever was one for this type of thing. And what would that be? Call it an apocalyptic chase thriller with heart and humanity (underneath the rubber and fire and flying bodies it's about wounded characters rediscovering their compassion and trust). And it's extra special, I feel, because of the respect and allegiance it shows for women as leaders, fighters, nurturers, survivors. Without taking anything away from Hardy, who brings the legendary Max Rockatansky to life just as winningly as young Mel Gibson did 30-plus years ago, Fury Road is very much a woman's action film, and all the richer for that.

Despite being a big Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron fan, I wasn't too excited for this. I'm not a fan of either Aussie exploitation flicks or postapocalyptic yadda yaddas. But Wells' enthusiasm has me intrigued.†

Certainly looks pretty.†

In his post, Wells also gets some good digs in at “Furious 7.”

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Posted at 08:56 AM on May 14, 2015 in category Movie Reviews
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Wednesday September 03, 2014

A Personal Journey Through Martin Scorsese's Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

It was fun comparing and contrasting Siskel and Ebert's top 10 love for Woody Allen recently, so I thought I'd try it with other directors. 

One of the most startling revelations in the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times and films of Roger Ebert, comes from Martin Scorsese. He admits he was depressed in the 1980s, but we all knew that. He also admits he was suicidal, and what helped bring him back from the edge was an award he won at the Toronto Film Festival, instigated by Siskel and Ebert. He basically says they helped save his life. Pretty cool. Then they panned “The Color of Money,” which is even cooler.

That said, how much top 10 love did Marty get from S&E? 

A lot. Here's a list of all of Marty's movies from 1973 to 1999, when Gene died.

Scorsese's Movies Siskel  Ebert
Mean Streets (1973) #5 #8
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)   #3
Taxi Driver (1976) #7 #2
New York, New York (1977)    
The Last Waltz (1978)    
Raging Bull (1980) #1 #2
The King of Comedy (1982)    
After Hours (1985)   #2
The Color of Money (1986)    
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) #1  
Goodfellas (1990) #1 #1
Cape Fear (1991)    
The Age of Innocence (1993) #7 #2
Casino (1995)   #5
Kundun (1997)    

He got more love from Roger (8-6) but ... a higher degree of it from Gene? In an 11-year period, 1980 to 1990, Scorsese directed Siskel's #1 movie of the year three times. He also directed one of Siskel's top 10 movies of the 1970s (“Mean Streets”) and his top movie of the 1980s (“Raging Bull”). “Goodfellas” probably wouldn't have been Gene's top film of the 1990s, not with “Fargo” and “Hoop Dreams” around, but it would've made the cut. Third or fourth, I'd guess.

Interesting that Roger has “Alice” in there at #3 for 1974, then “Age of Innocence” at #2 in 1993. These are the more womencentric Scorsese flicks, which tend to get dismissed. Certainly not rewatched. Maybe I should rewatch them.

I also like their big, mid-1980s Scorsese battle. Roger chose “After Hours” as his #2 movie of 1985 while it didn't make Gene's list; Gene chose “Last Temptation” as his #1 movie of 1988 while it didn't make Roger's list. I think the former has the bigger cult following, but “Last Temptation” got lost amid all the fundamentalist handwringing. Another movie worth revisiting. 

Which of Marty's movies would have made my top 10 list? I don't know. All I know is the greatest double feature I've ever seen happened at the Neptune Theater in 1992, when I saw—both for the first time—“Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Doesn't get much better than that.

Raging Bull

They didn't agree in 1980, when it was Gene's #1 and Roger's #2 movie of the year, but by 1990 they both agreed “Raging Bull” was the #1 movie of the decade.

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Posted at 12:21 PM on Sep 03, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Thursday August 21, 2014

'A Parody of a Parody of a Simple-Dick Noir Cartoon'

“I lasted about 45 minutes with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller‘s 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.' Not to sound pervy but I waited for Eva Green‘s nude scenes. Honestly? They were pretty damn good. That’s what this film is selling, right? Hard-boiled hard-ons. The first 'Sin City' (’05) was a simple-dick noir cartoon crammed with gruff machismo and brazenly sexual temptresses. 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill' For is a parody of a parody of a simple-dick noir cartoon ...”

-- Jeffrey Wells, “Candified Bird-Turd Noir,” on his Hollywood Elsewhere site. My review of the first “Sin City” here.

sexy Sin City posters

Green, Dawson, Alba: dames worth insulting your intelligence over?

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Posted at 12:31 PM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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Did Siskel and Ebert Agree More the Longer They Worked Together?

One of the kicks I got out of the documentary “Life Itself,” about the life and times of film critic Roger Ebert, was watching Ebert and his TV partner/nemesis Gene Siskel battle over movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (which Roger loved and Gene dismissed for its last, rambling 30 minutes) and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” (which Roger dismissed and Gene loved). These guys fought about Vietnam war movies the way the rest of the country fought about the Vietnam War.

All of which revived a thought I had as their various shows (“Sneak Previews,” etc.) wound their way through the years: Did Roger and Gene tend to agree more the longer they worked together? It seemed so to me, anecdotally; but unless someone counted the thumbs ups/downs, we’d never really know.

Let me say right off: I’m not about to count the thumbs up/downs for 24 seasons of “Sneak Previews,” etc. No way. But I did compare and contrast Siskel and Ebert’s annual top 10 lists to see how they stacked up there. Here are their number of top-10 agreements over the years: 

Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1975  x  x  x        
1976  x  x  x  x      
1977  x  x  x  x      
1978  x  x  x  x      
1979  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1980  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1981  x  x  x  x      
1982  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1983  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1984  x  x  x  x  x    
1985  x  x  x  x  x    
1986  x  x  x  x  x    
1987  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1988  x  x  x        
1989  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1990  x  x  x        
1991  x  x  x  x      
1992  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1993  x x  x  x  x  
1994  x  x  x  x      
1995  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1996  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1997  x  x  x  x      
1998  x  x  x  x      

For a while there, as I was tabulating, it seemed like I was onto something. They start out with only three agreements in 1975 but within a few years they’re together on 7 of the 10. But then it slips. And rises? And slips. And then back to three? But back up again. And we wind up with something fairly inconclusive.

Siskel and Ebert did seem to agree on the No. 1 movie of the year the longer they were together:

Year The Same No. 1 Movie
1975 Nashville
1983 * The Right Stuff
1989 Do the Right Thing
1990 Goodfellas
1993 Schindler's List
1994 Hoop Dreams
1996 Fargo

* 1983 may have been their most agreeable year, since they were exact not only one No. 1, but No. 2 (“Terms of Endearment”), No. 4 (“Fanny and Alexander”), No. 7 (“Silkwood”) and No. 9 (“Risky Business”). 

Their agreements are even starker with the best-of-the-decade lists. They agreed on only one movie as the best of the 1970s:

The Decade (1970s) **  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
Last Tango in Paris An Unmarried Woman
The Sorrow and the Pity Apocalypse Now
Annie Hall Amarcord
The Emigrants & The New Land Breaking Away ***
The Godfather I & II Nashville
The Conversation Days of Heaven
Mean Streets The Deer Hunter
The Last Detail Heart of Glass
Saturday Night Fever Cries and Whispers
Le Boucher The Godfather I & II

** Not in order of preference; simply in order presented.

*** Yes, I was tickled that this made Roger's cut.

But they agreed on four films in the 1980s:

The Decade (1980s)  
GENE SISKEL ROGER EBERT
1. Raging Bull 1. Raging Bull
2. Shoah 2. The Right Stuff
3. The Right Stuff 3. E.T.
4. My Dinner with Andre 4. Do The Right Thing
5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit 5. My Dinner with Andre
6. Do The Right Thing 6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Once Upon A Time In America (long version) 7. Ran
8. Moonlighting 8. Mississippi Burning
9. Sid and Nancy 9. Platoon
10. Kagemusha 10. House of Games 

One could argue, of course, that since there were so many great movies in the 1970s, it was easier to disagree. I’ll take “The Conversation” and you take “Apocalypse Now”; you get “Days of Heaven” and I get “Mean Streets.” There were fewer such options in the 1980s. If not “Raging Bull,” what? “One from the Heart”? “The Return of the Jedi”? “Three Men and a Baby”?

(Sidenote: While “Raging Bull” is Roger’s best of the 1980s, it wasn’t even his best of 1980. He gave that one to “Black Stallion,” which, of course, didn’t make his decades-end list. Some movies just work on us better.)

But all in all, I wasn't noticing statistically what I'd noticed anecdotally.

Then I realized that I was only documenting their time together. What about the years when they were both reviewing movies in Chicago but weren't doing the show yet? What story would that tell?

This is the story it tells:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1969  x  x        
1970  x  x  x  x  x  x  x
1971  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1972  x  x  x  x  x    
1973  x  x  x  x  x  x  
1974  x  x  x  x  x  x  x

In terms of top 10s anyway, they actually agreed more before they got together. From 1969 to 1974, they averaged 5.66 top-10 agreements. From 1975 to 1998? Only 4.95.

So I actually kind of proved the opposite of what I wanted to prove. I guess that’s why we crunch the numbers.

But we won’t know for certain if Siskel and Ebert agreed more, less, or about the same as the show progressed, until someone does a show-by-show, year-by-year analysis. Someone, I should add, with a lot more time on their hands than me.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

Siskel and Ebert: One liked “Apocalypse Now,” the other “Full Metal Jacket.”

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Posted at 05:33 AM on Aug 21, 2014 in category Movie Reviews
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