Film Review: The Game (1997)

Release Date: September 3rd, 1997 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Anna Katarina, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Spike Jonze, Daniel Schorr (cameo)

A&B Producoes Lda., Propaganda Films, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 129 Minutes

Review:

“They just fuck you and they fuck you and they fuck you, and then just when you think it’s all over, that’s when the real fucking starts!” – Conrad

I don’t think that I’ve seen this since the theater but I remembered really liking the hell out of in the ’90s and I had always meant to revisit it because Fincher’s other two ’90s films (not named Alien 3) were pretty much masterpieces.

This one doesn’t live up to the quality and iconic status of Se7en and Fight Club but it is a good filling within the ’90s Fincher cinematic sandwich.

The big selling point for me, at least when this came out, was that it starred Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. The thought of seeing those two great actors together made this picture a “must see” for me. Plus, the trailer intrigued me.

For the most part, this is a thrilling ride where you don’t really see what’s coming and how deep this “game” will go. It gets bigger and more complex with each twist in the plot and it’s a lot of fun, seeing it play out.

The problem with the film, though, is knowing that it’s just a game. Granted, the movie does its damnedest to make you question that and it really pushes the bar in pushing Michael Douglas’ Nicholas over the edge. However, I thought that the big reveal was really obvious, even before I knew the ending. In fact, I thought it was obvious from the trailer but I still was captivated enough to see how far the story would push things.

Overall, the plot doesn’t disappoint but being that so many things are so over the top and elaborate, the picture leaves me with more questions than answers. It would’ve been cool to see how all of this was pulled off but you don’t really get that and just have to accept that this is just the work of powerful pranksters with unlimited funding.

From a visual standpoint, the movie looks good and I’d say it’s less stylized than Fincher’s other movies. I’m not sure if he felt like he needed to be more reserved in that regard or of it was the work of the producers. But out of all Fincher’s movies, this one is the least Fincher-esque, as far as the cinematography goes.

As should be expected, it’s a picture that is superbly acted and the leads are truly great, here.

In the end, this is still fun to watch, even after knowing what the ending would be. As I stated earlier, I knew it was just going to be a game beforehand but that doesn’t make it a bad thriller. The big thrills still work and this is an intense movie that still packs a punch.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other David Fincher films of the ’90s that aren’t Alien 3.

Film Review: Cat’s Eye (1985)

Also known as: Quitters, Inc., The Ledge, General (segment titles)
Release Date: April 12th, 1985
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: stories by Stephen King
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark, James Naughton, James Rebhorn, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Starr

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Famous Films, International Film Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[to Junk] Forget the cat, you hemorrhoid! Get the gun!” – Dr. Vinny Donatti

My feelings on anthology horror movies has been made pretty clear on previous reviews. However, I really, really like the third and final story in this movie and it saves it from being a real dud.

The first story is interesting but in no way realistic. It’s entertaining to watch, though, simply because James Woods is so damn good in it and he commits to the bit with reckless abandon.

In this story, we see a man go to Quitters, Inc. in an effort to quit smoking. The organization’s methods, however, are extremely fucked up and life altering. It’s a cool idea but it wasn’t very well thought out before execution. Granted, that could also be due to the segment really only having about a half hour to tell its story.

The second segment is like a dam in the river and it almost kills the movie. I guess it works watching it for the first time but there isn’t much to make you want to revisit it. In fact, I only sat through it to re-familiarize myself with it for this review.

It’s about a rich mafioso type in Atlantic City that forces the man that’s fucking his wife to have to make a lap around his casino penthouse by shimmying along a narrow ledge. Of course, the asshole tries to knock the guy off several times. Ultimately, the tables are turned and you’re probably thankful that we can move on to another story.

The third and final tale is a really neat horror fantasy starring a young Drew Barrymore, as a girl who takes in a stray cat she names General. Now the mom isn’t too keen on the cat and keeps forcing it outside. However, there is a small goblin-like monster that sits on the girl’s chest at night and steals her breath. The cat, of course, is trying to save the girl from this tiny and clever monster.

I love this story so much that I feel like it should’ve just been its own movie. Maybe they couldn’t have stretched it out to 90 minutes but it’s still really cool and it leaves you wanting more. Honestly, it reminded me of the really great episodes from the TV show Amazing Stories.

In the end, this film is okay. It’s really held back by the second segment but it is then gloriously saved by the great finale.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s horror anthology movies, as well as films based on the work of Stephen King.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Leland Orser, Lyman Ward, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

Film Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Release Date: December 12th, 1999 (Fox Bruin Theater premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Written by: Anthony Minghella
Based on: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Gabriel Yared
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn, Sergio Rubini, Philip Baker Hall

Mirage Enterprises, Timnick Films, Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films, 138 Minutes

talented_mr_ripleyReview:

This was a picture loaded with a great up and coming cast of big stars at the time of its release. It features Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport.

I like the film but it does have its issues.

To be completely honest, The Talented Mr. Ripley is just too drawn out. The running time is pretty long and probably should have been shaved back a bit. Sure, 138 minutes isn’t excruciating but some scenes felt too long or unnecessary. Maybe it is a true adaptation of the book, I haven’t read it, but I feel like all of this could have happened at right around 120 minutes. It just needed to be tighter, especially the second half.

The thing is, the film has layers to it, I get that. But when you strip everything apart, a whole lot happens and then you hit a wall with the pace of the story.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) goes to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to return to America. While there, he becomes infatuated with Dickie’s life to the point of developing psycho stalker characteristics. Ultimately, Dickie grows tired and bored with Tom and rejects him harshly. Tom, losing his shit, murders Dickie. Tom, who is a self-proclaimed master of imitation, pretends that he is Dickie, so that he can live his life. Dickie’s lady, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) is then strung along with Tom’s charade, assuming that Dickie is still alive. Dickie’s friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) grows suspicious and winds up murdered by Tom. All the while, Tom continues to string Marge along, as well as everyone else that crosses his path. All that happens in the first 75 minutes or so. The remaining hour and its use of time is the real issue.

The film is pretty fascinating until you hit that wall. Then you just kind of want to see it wrap up and it finds ways to add more layers, mostly unnecessary to the resolution. Spoiler alert, there really is no resolution. There were multiple Ripley books however, so maybe the film was left with an open ending because of that. As a stand alone film, it just feels sort of empty and Tom getting away with his final awful act just seems implausible, considering what he’s done up to that point.

The other thing that works against this film, is that no one is remotely likable, except for Jack Davenport’s Peter Smith-Kingsly and Cate Blanchett’s Meredith Logue. Both of them, however, while important to the story, don’t have anywhere near the amount of screen time as the top billed stars. Both are tragic characters, due to their association with Tom but they aren’t as fleshed out as they should be.

Another negative was the opening credits sequence. The titles felt odd and out of place and were somewhat distracting. The editing techniques were maybe done to convey that Tom is broken or has a split personality but it makes the film feel dated in a bad way. Here we have a majestic looking motion picture that primarily takes place in 1950s Italy but the first thing we see is an over-stylized 90s credits sequence.

The story has a very Hitchcockian feel to it. Frankly, I’m surprised that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t try to tackle this book. It has everything that makes those classic Hitchcock films work yet it just didn’t capture the same sort of magic. And that’s not really due to having a mediocre director, as Anthony Minghella has helmed some fine films: The English Patient and Cold Mountain, for example.

The acting is superb, the cinematography is stellar and the overall direction was great. There is a lot to love about The Talented Mr. Ripley, despite my complaints.

Matt Damon was friggin’ perfect as Tom. Jude Law was charismatic yet despicable as Dickie. Gwyneth Paltrow was a bit grating and annoying at times but that was due to how her character was written.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is worth watching, for the most part. I just don’t think that it was as effective as it could have been.

Rating: 6/10