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Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Man with No Name Trilogy" Part 2. "For a Few Dollars More" Review

                Ah! That moment when you realize you are going to like a film you initially had doubts about. “For a Few Dollars More” is the result of a director telling himself “My previous film was ok, but you know what would be even better?” This time around, Sergio Leone creates a much more interesting version of the old west with better sets, grittier characters, and a plot that won’t have you scratching your head.

                Once again, Clint Eastwood plays a poncho wearing, cigarette smoking, sombrero donning, gunslinger, and plays him damn well.  Joining the cast is Lee Van Cleef, who has such piercing eyes you can’t help but wonder if he can see into your soul. The two actors play nicely off each other as bounty hunters teaming up to get to a ruthless killer who uses a musical pocketwatch to initiate his duels. It is very interesting to watch everything play out as it does because Leone has an act for directing interesting characters.

                There is one fabulous scene in the film that takes place a bit after the two bounty hunters encounter each other for the first time. It involves guns, hats, and one-upping.  It is a very quiet scene and yet there is so much tension in it you are at the edge of your seat biting your nails to see what will happen.

                The movie however is not without its missteps. While all the technical aspects that were wrong with the first film are improved in this film, they are still noticeably lacking. The sound hasn’t been worked on too much, the story is more interesting but still seems as if there is something missing, and the cinematography just made me mad; there is a certain technique often used back in those days where a scene is shot during the day but them in post-production the footage is darkened to look as if was shot at night. That trick to me is not only frustrating but outright insulting because instead of looking like it is a scene shot at night it looks like a scene shot in the day with the footage darkened in post-production, and they think we actually are dumb enough to believe that it is actually a scene in the dark? This film uses that technique quite a lot and was distracting enough to drag me out of the story.

                But in the end all the missteps are forgiven because it is much easier to watch than its predecessor and Leone’s vision is not being held back by his empty pockets. This is a fun film to watch and you will be proud of yourself when you do. Make sure to forget what the earlier film taught you to expect though because this film is the real thing.


But what about you? What is your favorite spaghetti western (aka a western directed/produced by Italians)? Click here to cast your vote.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

“Man with No Name Trilogy” Part 1. “A Fistful of Dollars” Review

                Many popular filmmakers today consider classic western’s to be an influence on them. Such filmmakers include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, and the Coen Brothers. I personally don’t understand the fascination with them; I prefer the modern westerns over the classic ones but that isn't to say I haven’t enjoyed some oldies myself. Arguably the most famous movies of the genre are the Sergio Leone directed “Dollars” films also known as the “Man with No Name Trilogy”, the big joke being that they are not actually connected to each other even though it might seem like it.

                The first one in the “trilogy” is “A Fistful of dollars”. I believe that in a review critics have an obligation to give as little information about a film as they can while still peaking interest in it(or not), and since telling you anything about the plot would ruin the movie I am going to focus on the most important stuff. Clint Eastwood is the “Man with No Name” (Actually he has a name and it is Joe). His clothing consists primarily of boots a hat and a poncho. That imagery is perhaps the main reason why people consider the three films a trilogy because Eastwood wears the same clothes in all of them. After the clothes, the music is also interesting. It has the type of quality you can expect from Ennio Moricone, and after all a western isn’t a western without its cheesy music.

                This style is what makes Sergio Leone the King of Spaghetti westerns. His vision is truly unique and is perfect for the genre. Unfortunately the vision could not get past the film’s poor execution. The confusing narrative, the bad cinematography, and the disappointing acting, all make this film quite boring. A lot of it has to do, I’m afraid, with the low budget the film had, a shame considering the next two films had the same style but were much better. It just goes to show that a lot of the times if someone has a vision, people have to back it up. Take the movies of James Cameron for example: They keep giving him astronomical budgets and he keeps making excellent movies. Luckily the budget’s tripled for the “sequel” and went even higher for the third film.


But what about you? What is your favorite of the “Man with No Name Trilogy”? Click here to cast your vote.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

They May Take Our Lives But They Will Never Take Our OSCARS!!! “Braveheart” Review

What an emotionally charged film! “Braveheart” goes beyond the Hollywood warrior movie and brings us a tale about the pursuit for love, happiness, and freedom.  Mel Gibson, who starred in this film and directed it, is responsible for making people around the world see that sometimes liberty is more important than life.

                William Wallace is a Scotsman who leads a small army of Scots to rebel against the English. He is motivated by more than just frustration over England but for personal reasons as well. It takes some time for the battles to take place in order to establish character in the beginning but the battle scenes themselves are worth the wait.

                Mel Gibson does a splendid job both directing and acting in this movie while the rest of the cast doesn’t disappoint either. The music is probably one of the best elements of the film as Scottish history is the best breeding ground for the ideas of James Horner’s Celtic influences. Bagpipes and synthesizers go together quite nicely and the result is something so good that if you didn’t like the film you could close your eyes and just listen to the music and would not regret the experience.

                The one thing “Braveheart” looses points on is pacing. Watching the movie is like being on a rollercoaster; there are slow parts but when it accelerates it is worth it. Every battle scene is great and emotional because it is not simply a war film but a film about how in battle it is not the numbers that matter but the spirit of the soldiers (Sorry “300” but “Braveheart” did it first).

                As some of you may know, this film won Academy awards for Best-Picture, Best Director, Best-Cinematography, Best-Sound Editing, and Best-Makeup. It stands as one of the handful of films to win the Best-Director Academy award without also wining the equivalent Directors Guild of America award; that year it went to Ron Howard for “Apollo 13”. I guess the Academy realized that this film is more emotional than you would expect.


But what about you? What is your favorite epic warrior movie? Click here to cast your vote.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Ain't Afraid of no Marshmallow. "Ghostbusters" Review

     People in their late 40s to early 50s would usually think about Chevy Chase or John Belushi when asked about Saturday Night Live cast members. People in their mid 30s usually think of Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, or Will Ferrell, and people in their teens or 20s think of jimmy Fallon, Kristin Wiig or Tina Fey. Personally I think of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd together. I don't know why I think of them because I never watched the old SNL and I didn't watch "Ghostbusters" until I was about 16. When I am asked about Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd however I don't think of SNL I think of "Ghostbusters". 

     "Ghostbusters" is a film that knows how to handle its bizarre genre. It is a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and comedy doing them all well, a hard feat to accomplish since those types of movies rarely mix well together. 

     Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, star as "scientists" who specialize in the paranormal. They have never actually seen anything that is actually ghostly or spectral but they have high hopes. Luckily a ghost appears in the area and they are there to investigate. After failing to talk to the ghost and to not be scared shitless, the trio runs away and decides to open their own ghost-catching business. It wouldn't be a spoiler to say that their business is successful since if it were not then the movie would have ended right there. Besides we all know how the song goes "Who you gonna call?"

     Sigourney Weaver plays the trio's first customer and does a nice job not coming off as another damsel in distress, although considering this is Sigourney Weaver we are talking about that is not to hard of a job - seriously watch "Aliens" if you don't believe me. Rick Moranis is also in the film providing comic relief to a comedy; his character is so annoying but after every one of his scenes you cant help but think "Bless his heart".

     When I reviewed the film "TRON" I mentioned a lot of the popular science fiction movies that came out in the 80s but conveniently disregarded this one. I wanted to save it for a full review because it doesn't exactly fit squarely into science fiction. Yes it is more of a sci-fi than a comedy but even when the film tries  to be serious and engage us with some high concept sci-fi "proton packs", and "Containment units" it is extremely lighthearted and fun. The proton packs are leaf-blower-like machines that are able to shoot beams of light that can trap ghosts, but do NOT cross the streams! The ghosts themselves are never scary; they are funny, cool, and even cute.

     The comedy in this movie comes solely from the characters. There is no slapstick, no screwball scenes, no fish-out-of-water scenarios, nothing is being spoofed, and there is no toilet humor (unless you count being slimed as toilet humor).

     My review for "The Princess Bride" said that even though there was nothing wrong with the film, it was aimed towards children so I wasn't entertained. This film has nothing wrong with it and is aimed towards the whole family. Naturally that would describe a perfect film right? "Ghostbusters" is far from perfect and nothing really wows you but back in the 80s it was very original and as of today I have yet to see a movie that approaches ghosts with comedy and science fiction. You will like this movie no matter who you are and it will have you singing the theme song for days. Try not to think of it as a sci-fi movie thought because this is a comedy with ghostly special effects.


     What about you? What is your favorite SNL cast member? Click here to cast your vote.

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die! "The Princess Bride" review

     I was torn between the theatrical poster and the 20th aniversary edition cover featuring the title as an ambigram in selecting the graphic to use for this review. Normally I would go for the theatrical version but I think the one I ended up using looks better don't you agree?

     Before Rob Reiner turned into a fat and annoying political activist, he directed a few movies that happened to be quite good. Coming off the success of "Stand by me", Reiner made "The Princess Bride", a story that has been told myriads of times: A young woman named buttercup (Robin Wright) is to be married to a prince but her true love (Carey Elwes) is thought to have been killed by a pirate. She gets kidnapped before the wedding by a Spanish swordsman, a giant whose vocal register is so low Xerxis from "300" would be ashamed, and their irritating but funny Sicilian boss. But guess who is there to rescue her? Her one true love in disguise of course.

      As I said, we have heard of that story so many times we know how everything turns out. So when someone takes the responsibility of bringing something so familiar to the screen they should try to make it stand out from the other ones right? Rob Reiner doesn't even try and instead gives us the most basic fairy-tale anyone can ask for. The result is a surprisingly charming film that will put a smile on everyone's face and make children laugh out loud. 

     Both leads become their roles like no one else could have. That is not to say that you would be amazed or surprised by their performances as they are both playing roles similar to what they have played through their career. A funny cameo by Billy Crystal with an unrecognizable face but an all too recognizable voice bookends the film's interesting cast.

     What made me want to watch this film when I first saw it was the amount of hype that surrounded it. A lot of websites would have it high on their "best-of" lists and quite a few people from both sides of my family were recommending it including an uncle of mine who is slightly picky. You can imagine how high my expectations were when I watched but you probably couldn't imagine my disappointment after I found out what type of film it actually was. When grown men and women endorse a film I usually expect it to be a film for adults but in the case of "The Princess Bride" I felt like I had been robbed of another film like "Return of the King" or "Pan's Labyrinth". 

     This is the movie that made me realize that there actually is a difference between a family film and a children's film and this one is definitely the latter. Everything is aimed towards children and thus didn't entertain me as much as it should despite being nothing actually being wrong. From the slapstick humor, to the corny music, to the deliberately overplayed performances, to the colorful sets and landscapes, this movie seems like nothing but an expertly crafted, 98 minute, very expensive, Saturday morning children's program you would find on the Disney channel rather than a theatrical release worthy of being in various top 10 fantasy movie lists.

     If you watch this movie thinking you want to be entertained and you are over 13 years old you're in for a surprise, but if you want to put on something for your kids to watch and keep them quiet then this is perfect.


     But what about you? What is your favorite fantasy movie? Click here to cast your vote.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Dude has a Name and it is Kevin Flynn. "TRON" Review

     Ok so now that my Godfather review is up and I feel comfortable that I have started strong, I can relax and take my time choosing my upcoming reviews. I didn't need to think that much for this review because the movie "TRON" just popped into my head out of the blue and told me it was perfect.

     My idea of science fiction usually involves flying cars, futuristic guns, aliens, and time travel. "TRON" challenges all those preconceptions while managing so remain dead center in the genre. When "TRON" came out in 1982 it became part of the Sci-Fi craze of the 80s. They say that a decade always starts right before it begins and that is definitely true for the 80s. Movies like "Back to the Future", "The Terminator", "E.T", "Aliens", and "The Empire Strikes Back" were all products of a fad that begun in the late 70s with "Star Wars", "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", and "Alien". "TRON" stands out from all of those films because of its surprising originality in both its premise and its visuals.

     A beardless Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a man who literally gets absorbed by technology and finds himself inside a video-game world. Before he can get out, there are various games within the game he has to play, among them one played with discs that resemble Frisbee's  and another played with the now infamous "light cycles" which are futuristic looking motorcycles that leave impenetrable walls of light in their wake. If you have ever played a video-game that predates the era of first-person-shooters or mmorpg's then you may find it cheesey but enjoyable to watch some scenes that pay tribute to those games such as when Flynn drinks a special liquid and regains health.

     This film has gained cult status over the years and there is no questioning why. The idea of virtual reality had never been explored before "TRON" and has since only been used successfully with "The Matrix" and to some extent "Inception" and "Avatar".

     The other thing that is so original about this film is its visual style. Everything inside the game world is genuinely breathtaking to a level that you could almost call it beautiful; a word that seldom describes a science fiction film especially of the 80s. The art direction, the cinematography, the costumes, and the effects all contribute to what I could only describe as an orgy for the eyes. The visuals are so original because they don't try to be futuristic or science-fiction-looking; instead they achieve their purpose of creating the world of the insides of a computer which writer and director Steven Lisberger imagines as something that is constantly under a black-light.

     Jeff Bridges does such a great job being Flynn that I am surprised he gets recognized more often for his work as "The Dude" in another cult film "The Big Lebowski". In fact every actor in this film delivers a splendid performance and gives life to it.

     Unfortunately though the film's focus on style over substance becomes the Achilles heel of the production. I am usually not one of those critics that brings up style over substance as a negative because that type of film can work very well if done correctly, as is the case with some of Zach Snyder's films or the aforementioned "Avatar", but in this case the visuals and originality are not enough to get bast the dead story-line. While the idea of entering a video-game, riding motorcycles, and throwing Frisbee's around might be very original and exiting to think about, it is very poorly written in and the result is a lethargic bore-fest with a confusing plot but brilliant visuals.

     Watching "TRON" is like walking into a restaurant and seeing dish that looks and smells so great but you can't afford to pay for. Dont get me wrong I enjoyed this film quite a bit for all the reasons I mentioned above, I just couldn't get past its flaws. I'm glad I watched it though and I think you will be to, whether you agree with my criticism or not. Nice try "TRON"!


     But what about you guys? What is your favorite 80s Sci-Fi movie? Click here to cast your vote.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Best Film Ever Made? "The Godfather" Review

This is my very first review ever on this blog and to tell the truth I am actually a lot less nervous than I thought I would be. I have always believed that when you are creating something you should always start strong. So for my first review I sat down and brainstormed to find a film that could give me the strongest start possible and I thought "What is the best film ever made?" Now its important to know that the "best" film and my favorite film are two different things. The first answer that came to mind was "The Godfather of-course". But then I thought that it might be too cliche to review it and it would also be the obvious choice. Many other films came to mind only to be rejected for one reason or another like "Citizen Kane"(more inovative than actually great), "Star Wars"(I should save it for when I discuss the whole series), "Gone With the Wind"(I haven't seen it yet. Guilty!), "The Wizard of Oz"(Not really appropriate for a first review), and "Forrest Gump"(A modern classic but I should focus more on an older classic for the first time). As much as I tried to find ways around it I inevitably landed back on "The Godfather" and realized that it is truly the best movie ever made although not necessarily my favorite. So without further  delay here is the very first Mike's Review.

     "The Godfater" is the story of the Corleone family. The family is made up of Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando in an Oscar wining role (although he did decline to accept the award), his sons Sonny, Michael, Fredo, played by James Caan, Al Pacino, and John Cazale respectively, his daughter Connie played by Talia Shire and many other family members that all get developed as much as they need to. Vito is the head of the family and is referred to as the Don or simply "Godfather". He is truly a character that is so well written we don't even care that he has such a small amount of screen-time compared to how much he is advertised as a lead. Brando gives such an excellent performance it is almost scary. There are moments in the film where you would have a difficult time remembering that Vito is a fictional character. Michael is the son that doesn't want to be involved in the family's criminal affairs and is happy with his girlfriend Kay played by Diane Keaton.

     Essentially the film is about Michael as it follows the decisions he has to make regarding Kay and becoming involved in the families business. He goes through many changes, has to make many sacrifices and by the end of the film he becomes a man that the audience deserves to see him become. 

     Director Francis Ford Coppola uses the most tricks in the book he can to make the film interesting and thrilling while successfully avoiding overkill. One of the most memorable components of the film is the brilliant music score by Nino Rota which is sometimes menacing and sometimes soothing. 

     After watching this film for the first time I thought it was a joke; I couldn't believe that a film that perfect could actually exist. It was as if someone had scanned my brain and made a film customized to perfectly fit my taste. But this film is not one that only I thought was perfect because it is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever. with a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 100 on Metacritic this movie is idiot proof. I cannot guarantee that you will believe it is the best movie ever and I cannot guarantee that you will even like it but I can tell you this: If you haven't seen this movie you owe it to yourself to do so. And if you happen to be one of those people who just doesn't like the movie then you should keep it to yourself.


What about you? What do you think is the best movie ever made? Remember not your favorite but the best. Vote in this Poll

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mike's Reviews.

  All of my life I have loved movies. Everyone appreciates watching a good film but my fascination towards cinema goes beyond that of the average moviegoer. Before we get into my obsession with film however it would be better If I gave you folks some background on myself. I was born in Modesto California and I lived there until the age of 7. My mother is Greek and my father American. I also have a sister named Amy that is 4 years younger than me and together the 4 of us moved to Greece and I remember not being to happy about it. But if my memory serves me well i handled the situation as well as any 7 year old would be expected to. I soon got over it though because life there was nice and my mother has a huge family in which all the members are very close so I didn't feel alone. But then when I was about 13 years old my parents divorced and my father moved back to California so me and Amy lived alone with my mother.
     For a lot of people the divorce of their parents can be traumatic but for me it was quite interesting. They split up on friendly terms, they did a great job making sure it didn't affect us negatively by telling us "Dad is moving to American to take care of Grandpa", and since my dad was now living in California, me and Amy had excuses to travel for the summer and spend our vacation with our American family and friends. One very popular pastime for me Amy and our Dad was going to the movies. We didn't go to the movies that much in Greece because movie-going is not as hot there as it is in the US. So in a way you can say that had my parents not have separated I wouldn't have become the cine-file I am today.
My Brother Nektarios
     Today my life is very different: I am now 20 years old I have been living with my dad since I was 17 because I finished high school in Greece, and with enough persuasion from my parents, I decided to pursue a higher education in the US. My dad has since remarried and my mother surprised both me and Amy with with a little brother back in 2007 named Nektarios who is now 4 years old and makes me smile every time I talk to him.
     I aspire to be a filmmaker someday but for now I think that reviewing films will satisfy my craving for interesting movie discussions and will give me room to voice my opinion.

"Every great film should seem new every time you see it." Roger Ebert
     On this blog I will review movies and give them a rating on a 1-10 scale based on their merit. I will be focusing more on classic movies rather than new releases but occasionally I might review a new film if it is worth reviewing. By classic movies I don't necessarily mean old ones, just ones that have or will stand the test of time as well as some obscure ones of my choice. I will also accept requests occasionally and will post special blogs where my audience might get to review a film.
     So if you are skeptical about a film before you watch it and want a film lover's opinion, look no further than Mike's Reviews. The only thing I ask of you aside from relaxing and enjoying my content is to provide feedback. LOTS AND LOTS OF FEEDBACK!!! I can assure you that the more feedback I get the better I will be. You don't have to analyze every aspect of my blog or give me a report for every post, but a simple comment saying "Great post Mike! Excellent job. Cant wait till your next review" will go a very long way. So are you ready to begin a relationship that will benefit both of us? My first review will be up soon (actually within a few hours) and we should start strong. I use WE because this is not my blog it is our blog and it will only work if both of us really want it to. So get that popcorn ready and lets watch some movies!