Benicio Del Toro plays a Special Forces assassin who has cracked after years of witnessing and performing violence. When he takes off into the wilderness, easily killing everyone they send out to get him, FBI brings in the man who trained him, played by Tommy Lee Jones.
On the whole I was really not impressed with this one. The basic premise has been done to death (no pun intended) but is still worth doing if you can do it right. The movie starts with a rushed and hurried look at one of the assassin's operations in Kosovo, obviously intended to paint for us the horrors which have driven him to his current state of mind. It comes off as just gratuitous violence and fails to move the audience on any level.
The movie develops nothing, even though it hints at good material from time to time. At one point Del Toro talks about chickens, how billions are slaughtered every year, and questions how we would feel if a higher race were using us for food with the same total lack of respect. And then the movie just drops the subject, stone cold! Pity.
Del Toro plays a good "unstable" sort, but frankly, without the accent we are used to from him, it feels off. Tommy Lee can't help but be likable as the good guy but he's aging, and as such, the fighting and so on which his character does in the movie is that much less believable.
There is a Commentary Track by director William Friedkin. He spends time talking about related topics, not always about what is transpiring in the movie. There is often extended periods of silence from him but we do learn a lot about the real man who inspired Tommy Lee's character and a lot of other interesting things which failed to come through in the final movie.
There is a set of four making-of features which really could have been woven into a single more concise piece.
Deleted Scenes. I'm not sure what the recent obsession is with deleted scenes. In the rare instance, such as the plantation scene in Apocalypse Now, there is good reason to revisit the material, but most of the time these scenes were cut or dropped for good reason. I guess they are a cheap extra to make since its really just a matter of grabbing the footage and getting the director to say something, but in this case, you don't even get that, so watching these leaves you wondering about context.
The soundtrack is quite good but not stellar. It is dynamic but at times piercing and over the top. Environmental cues are excellent though, the various spaces of nature rendered with aplomb. Dialogue on the rare occasion feels muffled and a little hard to understand.
The video quality and transfer are only par, which is to say less than good. It is on the soft side and feels robbed of detail. There is the usual amount of edge enhancement and video noise, that is, just enough to distract you. It is consistent though, with blacks and grays that do not wash out and a color channel which is solid and does not bleed.
As for the MPEG PIC flags, this is one of the very rare discs from which our software is currently unable to extract the flag data.
- Brian Florian -
Michael Moore hits the road again, getting interviews from lots of people as to their opinions on guns and violence in America. The film won an Academy Award in 2003.
Michael Moore has been around for a few years, making films like "Roger and Me". He does not like big corporations who give the shaft to the little guys, and he does not like Republicans. So, targets include General Motors, GE, and George Bush.
In this latest installment, he opens an account at a bank that offers free guns to new account holders. From there, it is a combination of hilarity and sadness as we find out how "scared" we are here in the USA. While people in other countries leave their doors unlocked and have 60 gun deaths each year, the USA has more than 10,000 such deaths in 1 year, and home security companies are doing a great business. Is this because we have so many violent video games, so many violent TV programs, so much poverty?
Canada has lots of violent video games, they love our American bloodbath movies, and there is more homelessness. The difference? Canada has seven million guns in the entire country. Americans, on the other hand, own hundreds of millions of guns (I have four myself).
So, why is there so much more violence here in America than in other countries? Watch Charlton Heston, former President of the National Rifle Association, choke on the answer when Moore interviews him at home.
This movie is a Must See.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -
When a premonition given to Kimberly helps her prevent a group of motorists from dying in a tremendous freeway pileup, death begins to track down the survivors one by one.
This movie is just plain fun. Much the same as the first one, neither can rightly be counted as horror films, as they lack the tension and sudden scares which are hallmarks of classic horror. Rather, it could be termed a gore-thriller with a focus on finding ever extravagant "freak accidents" by which people can die. And therein lies the genius: There is no nut case in a hockey mask whacking people left and right, no haunting ghost of a long dead butcher ripping hearts out of its victims. Death per sé does not even have a form, and the killing is all sort of natural. There is not even the darkness of nighttime we normally expect: Its all in broad daylight. Thus, the violence, though extreme to be certain, is hardly offensive and dare I say, it's almost funny. It's that kind of movie everyone shouts "Whoa! Did you see that? Wild!"
Visual effects are absolutely exquisite. The freeway pileup is an absolute trip! The acting? Well, that's not really important here, is it?
We find it cheap and vulgar that New Line keeps pushing "Infinifilm". Infinifilm is nothing special! It is not some unique DVD technology. It is what the rest of the world agrees to call "Extras" or "Bonus Material", and as such, New Line's Marketing department can go fly a kite. Anyway . . . .
You can elect to watch the "InfiniFilm" which is to say, watch the movie and periodically a line will come up giving you the option of jumping to a segment relating to the scene at hand, after which you will be returned to the movie. Again, this is nothing special. Many other DVDs offer this, but don't feel the need to give it a trademarked name.
There is of course the Commentary Track by the director, producers, and writers. This really is not the sort of film I'd be even remotely interested in sitting through a commentary track on, but if one is a budding film maker, there is likely lots of good material here.
There is a half hour feature on the making of the film that starts with a retrospective on the "Splatter Film" genre, including a look back at the origins of gore in cinema. It then goes on to give us a terrific look at the visual effects processes which make this sort of movie possible.
There is a set of Deleted Scenes, plus a couple music videos.
There are a couple segments which present material related to the movie but not specifically about it. The first is "The Terror Gauge" where we learn about measuring human response to terror, such as when watching Final Destination 2. There is a section on people who have died and been revived. There is "Chose your fate", which is essentially an electronic Magic 8 Ball. Finally there is a text fact track which can be viewed while watching the movie.
We find it tremendously amusing that these and other titles from New Line persist in proclaiming "Audio Optimized for DVD, No Equalization Required" in the sound setup section. This is of course a jab at Home THX processor's Re-Eq function. If they would read our article on Cinema Sound and Eq Curves, they would realizes that Re-Eq has to do with room acoustics and NOT the spectral content of a soundtrack (contrary to THX's own misleading information). New Line has no idea what our rooms sound like, so telling us that we don't need Re-Eq is just plain arrogant, not to mention wrong. That issue aside . . . .
The soundtrack is excellent. It's dynamic, punchy, with aggressive surrounds and a deep prodigious LFE track which does not bloat. Dialogue is perfectly intelligible at all times. The Surround EX enhancement is well employed, but there are just a few audio pans which are a little too hard and can distract. The spectral content was perfectly balanced, in my room with Re-Eq on. We found the DTS ES track to be perceptibly the same thing as the Dolby Digital EX track, no better.
The video and transfer quality are OK, but they leave a little to be desired. There is enough edge enhancement to be noticed, but it is video noise that brings this one down. Any area of flat color shimmers and dances. We checked the included color bars with Pluge against our D6500 calibrated display and found it to be correct, but the blacks in the movie itself did feel a little too low, likely an artistic choice rather than a error in levels. The color is nicely rendered and solid.
As for the MPEG PIC flags, they are not very good.
- Brian Florian -
In the early 1950s, medical researcher Alden Pyle (Fraser) comes to Saigon, a city in then French Indo-China, to get information from journalist Thomas Fowler (Caine) about the people and the country so he can treat their eye afflictions. Alden meets Fowler's girlfriend Phuong (Yen) and falls in love with her, complicating the relationship considerably.
The triangle becomes even more strained because Thomas is married and cannot get a divorce from his wife, while Alden is unattached.
Amidst the background of war between Communist insurgents and the ruling colonial French, Alden must decide how to get the girl, yet still obtain information from Thomas.
The story is a prelude to the overthrow of French control, the division of the country into North and South Vietnam, with Communist rule in the north.
Michael Caine was nominated as Best Actor for his performance in this film, and he vastly overpowers the more limited acting skills of young Brendan Fraser. It did not do all that well at the box office, no doubt because it is a story about people rather than about special effects. Nevertheless, it is an excellent movie, and is the kind of thing that will be remembered by movie aficionados long after Terminator has been excreted from the orifice of film history.
Extras include commentary by Noyce, Caine, and Fraser, along with a featurette, a Vietnam study guide, and book reviews of the story by Graham Greene.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -