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Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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A riveting murder mystery about morality.
Akira Kurosawa's crime drama Rashomon (1950) is a near flawless film that ruminates on how the average person would act in a deadly scenario. Rashomon sees four witnesses to a murder recount the fatal events from their perspective. The twist is that they are all unreliable narrators and Kurosawa accomplishes this by only telling the audience what happened from their viewpoint. Endlessly intriguing, seemingly nihilistic, yet hopeful by the finale, Rashomon is a beautiful testament to the power of truth and decency as well as the dangers of lies. Kurosawa's script is one of complex rationality and touching sentiment. At first glance, Rashomon is so pessimistic that you may be put off by its hopeless parable, but a single act of kindness reveals that there is hope for humanity after all. Kurosawa's writing is biting and thoughtful with each line as justice prevails.
Rashomon is a fantastic fable with a dreamy atmosphere conjured by Kurosawa's striking direction. Constant rainfall contributes to Rashomon's dour tone, the sunlit forest is a lovely backdrop for unspeakable crimes, and the stark white court is an intriguing set for plain lies. Kurosawa's camera is always moving and the cinematography within Rashomon is fantastic as we always see from an interesting angle. Whether we are looking under a tree, above a stream, behind bushes, in front of a temple, or right in the face of characters, Rashomon finds the most fascinating camera placement choices. I will say that Rashomon is methodically paced, so that may be too slow for some viewers in the start, but the story is so riveting and the camerawork is so captivating that you are sucked into a horrifying tale of rape, murder, and deceipt. Rashomon is 83 minutes of suspense!
I love the use of light to brighten up faces and shadows on trees in Rashomon. The natural beams of light make even the most dire situations seem surmountable. The silhouette of the horse riding across the sunset is classic Kurosawa imagery. The sword duels are exciting and unorthodox. The first is exhilarating as we get to enjoy a flurry of sword swings in vicious strokes, while the second is a shocking display of cowardice and fear as the two men run away from each other desperately reaching for their swords. Rashomon is intriguing on its own story merits and filmmaking prowess, but the ambition and daring of Kurosawa to deliver a duel of frightened swordsmen is unparalleled.
I will say that Toshiro Mifune is hilarious and appalling as the excitable bandit. His cunning farce and brave persona are entertaining in their own right, but he depicts any number of layers as the bandit Tajomaru. Takashi Shimura is moving as the Firewood Dealer and witness to the dreaded murderous encounter. His ultimate honesty and act of compassion is heartwarming and touching. Shimura gives a subtle performance of understated agony, inner conflict, and quiet goodness.
I liked the upsettingly sad and wildly erratic performance from Machiko Kyo as the rape victim Masago. She acts with a gleeful fervor that's fun opposite the eccentric Toshiro Mifune. Masayuki Mori is solemn, yet intense as the wandering samurai and murder victim Takehiro. Minoru Chiaki is sympathetic as the kind priest going through a moral crisis of faith that mankind could be so cruel and selfish. Kichijiro Ueda is funny as the commoner listening to the four tales. His selfish act is both darkly humorous and deeply disturbing, yet completely honest for his character's desperate want. Lastly, I rather enjoyed the insane flailing and intriguing mystique of Fumiko Homma as the medium at court.
Overall, Rashomon is a nightmare of cynicism with a droplet of hope. I think it's moral questions will still resonate with audiences. Find moral clarity and solace in the sunlight of Rashomon!
A fast paced action thriller with lots to laugh along with everywhere.
McG's action comedy Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003) is an insane thrill ride meant to play upon the Angels' sex appeal and good humor. As ridiculous as the first Charlie's Angels, but deliriously entertaining. The whole movie is a series of ambitious stunts and goofy CGI action pieces. McG tones down some of outrageous editing of the first and pulls back to make way for endless strings of stunts with crazy over the top CGI slapped onto the action. It doesn't all work, but it keeps you laughing and having fun. The rapid fire cuts are not present here as much, but instead they do crazy zoom ins and goofy slow-motion shots to keep you interested and hide the fact that there's not really a plot here at all.
While the script is no great feat, the cast is incredible. Lucy Liu is still gorgeous and funny as Alex. Drew Barrymore is compelling and endearing as Dylan. Cameron Diaz is fun loving and likable as the dumb Natalie. Their chemistry is palpable as they feel like real friends. You can tell they are all just having a blast filming Charlie's Angels and that makes these movies all the more fun to watch. They never genuinely feel exploitative as the girls look like they want to be there and try all kinds of sexy and provocative things from overtly sexy dances, stripteases, fights, lovely hair flips, and playful faces. Liu, Barrymore, and Diaz make Charlie's Angels a delightful watch as they completely dive into the comedy, action, and allure of it all.
Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc are likable love interests, if underutilized. Bernie Mac is hilarious as the new Bosley after replacing Bill Murray, probably because Murray was infamously mean to poor Lucy Liu. I do not know how anyone could be mean to such a sweet woman, but I am glad Liu has done so well for herself. Can you believe a young Shia LaBeouf is in this movie? He's funny and seems sweet enough for a side character. The bit with John Cleese as the astonished and misinformed father to Lucy Liu is still funny and well executed each time it comes up.
I must mention Demi Moore is captivating as the villain here. She proves she is still stunning in her legendary entrance in a bikini as she stands next to the equally fit Diaz. She's funny, but also presents a more believable threat than the first movie's villain. She kills all her outfits, lines, and fights with a gleeful viciousness. Moore even appears here with a cool cameo of her ex-husband Bruce Willis with very stylish hair for once. Speaking of cameos, original Charlie's Angels star Jaclyn Smith appears to boost Barrymore's confidence and resolve in a sweet little scene in Mexico.
The cameos keep coming from Pink to Eve. Robert Forster, Robert Patrick, Carrie Fisher, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Big Boy, and even Chris Pontius is in this outrageous comedy. Of course, I still find it very cool that McG actually enlisted John Forsythe to narrate the voice of Charlie. He was the one and only Charlie thanks to his distinctly friendly voice as the mysterious millionaire donor and founder of the crime fighting girl group Charlie's Angels.
I love how weird and over the top Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle gets. Crispin Glover is practically having a meltdown on camera as the mute assassin Thin Man. Justin Theroux puts on a fun heavy Irish accent as Barrymore's former flame. He is violent and scary at times as a tribute to Cape Fear. Hearing Bernard Herrmann's iconic score is a wonderful homage to both classic iterations of Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro as the creepy stalker.
Yes, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is basically a terrible movie, but I love seeing it again and again. It never gets old despite how dated both of these Charlie's Angels movies are because the main 3 ladies are just that charismatic and engaging. You want to root for all 3 of them, so shouts out to Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Diaz. I love Charlie's Angels as well as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle!
Tongue in cheek campy comedy!
McG's action comedy Charlie's Angels (2000) is not a great film, but it is a blast regardless of its flaws. With hyperactive editing from split screens to rapid fire jump cuts, Charlie's Angels is like an early 2000's seizure of culture shock. From the alternative rock and hip hop soundtrack full of hit songs from 2000, you will never stop laughing at the music choices. It's constantly cool by trying way too hard to be cool, but Charlie's Angels is so self-aware, it's actually parodying action thrillers and martial arts movies. McG does a fine job directing Charlie's Angels with his slick fast paced style and even if this movie would grate on you for just how ridiculous the editing and effects are, it's only a quick 98 minutes and feels like a half hour tops.
I love the cast of Charlie's Angels as everyone seems to be having a good time filming it. Lucy Liu is sultry and charming as Alex Munday. She's my favorite part of Charlie's Angels because she pulls off effortless sexy charisma and cool spy work. She aces it as the dominatrix efficiency manager in a ridiculously over the top performance. She plays into the endearing, smart, Asian girl so well that you cannot help but like Liu the most here. She fights scenes are killer with the coolest kicks in Charlie's Angels. Did I mention there is a lot of martial arts tributes and parodies in Charlie's Angels? Lucy Liu's fight with the ever odd and interesting Crispin Glover as the mute Thin Man is awesome. His swings his cane saber hard and fast, but Lucy Liu's kicks are too powerful to stop.
Drew Barrymore smashes it as the flirty redhead Dylan Sanders. She gets great dramatic moments and romantic chemistry with Sam Rockwell, who chews up the scenery all throughout the second half of Charlie's Angels as Eric Knox. I like Drew Barrymore and she really finds a playful side to put on display in Charlie's Angels. I think most audiences fell in love with Cameron Diaz' overt sex appeal and silly charm as Natalie Cook. She hams it up and clearly is having the most fun of anyone dancing and fighting with the best of them.
Billy Murray is hilarious and rolls with the punches as the butt of the joke as the goofy John Bosley. Tim Curry is ridiculous and lively as Roger Corwin with his eccentric and strange peculiarities. Luke Wilson is charming and pleasant as Diaz' bartender love interest Pete Komisky. He doesn't get enough time to shine, but while he is on screen, he always gets a smile. Kelly Lynch is fun as Vivian Wood and gets more compelling as Charlie's Angels goes on, especially as her fight with Cameron Diaz is fun.
Matt LeBlanc doesn't get to do much as Lucy Liu's love interest Jason Gibbons, but he gets some funny moments like dropping her after an acting sequence or his bafflement as his trailer being shot up. LL Cool J makes a distracting entrance to open up Charlie's Angels for some reason, but I guess he's fine as Mr. Jones. Tom Green is just awful, awkward, and cringe inducing as Chad. But that's always been Green's brand of uncomfortable comedy that I was never a fan of honestly, but he's almost funny, I guess. Melissa McCarthy gets a quick cameo calling Lucy Liu a particular name that I laughed at, which is more than I can say for most of her comedy roles.
Lastly, it's very cool and quaint that McG actually got John Forsythe to narrate Charlie's voice like on the show. His distinctive deep voice is soothing and fun to hear.
In short, Charlie's Angels is a goofy comedy that doesn't always work, but the allure of the 3 leading ladies is more than enough to return to this farce. It's all good campy fun.
An amusing relationship growing over the years.
Rob Reiner's romance comedy When Harry Met Sally (1989) is a charming film wherein Reiner shows a casual encounter turn into a lifelong friendship, then grows into a real relationship. Reiner's direction is so interesting as he doesn't shoot sweeping romantic sequencing, but opts for earnest and intimate spaces that harness genuine conversations. Nora Ephron's script is a wonderful of realistic dialogue that asks the audience what kind of people should be in relationships together. She writes funny jokes that keep you laughing throughout When Harry Met Sally's brief 96 minute length. This film goes by so fast that you'll never realize you just watched an entire couple's love story blossom sincerely by the end. When Harry Met Sally is that rare romance comedy with charming characters, funny jokes, and grounded romance.
Billy Crystal is hilarious in When Harry Met Sally as a sardonic nihilist named Harry, who finds mockery and sarcasm is the key to any woman's heart. He is perfectly cast as the obnoxious know-it-all, who thinks he has love all figured out for everywhere around him only to find out he never really understood it himself. Crystal bears such a confident swagger that he's instantly likable and funny. He never feels actually sleazy or annoying in When Harry Met Sally, so that you still relate to him as he struggles to admit to himself whom he truly loves. When Harry Met Sally is easily Billy Crystal's best acting and funniest film. Crystal is a treasure to cinema and a pleasure to watch here.
Meg Ryan is outstanding as the sympathetic hopeless romantic Sally. She is so witty, playful, and snarky as the obsessive and insecure Sally that you genuinely like her as a person. I found Sally even more relatable and empathetic than Harry as her character is desperately trying to be loved, instead of finding validation for herself through her own confidence. Ryan is so effortless here as Sally that she exudes a distinct allure of earnest romantic desire that makes her feel all the more human. She bounces off of Crystal's manic energy and goofy ideas so well that the two make for one of cinema's sweetest couples in When Harry Met Sally.
Notably, I think Harry and Sally are meant to be together because they represent the most important part of any relationship, which is to respect one another. They listen to each other, feel their pain, share their joy, express their opinions, and ultimately respect their partner's opinions and values. They only improve and support each other, instead of drag each other down. When Harry Met Sally is so successful because of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan's natural chemistry, genuine charisma, and vibrant humor together.
Additionally, Carrie Fisher is delightful as the desperate friend of Sally's named Marie, who acts so casually with Bruno Kirby's fussy, yet supporting Jess. Lisa Jane Persky is fun as Sally's pushy friend Alice, who is so nosey and direct. The supporting cast is simply a nice touch of well rounded characters to fill up When Harry Met Sally with positivity and complexity.
In all, Rob Reiner lures you in with slick direction featuring regular conversations and intimate moments all with Nora Ephron's fantastic writing. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan bring Harry and Sally to life with undeniable charm and tender affection that is highly nuanced. I really liked When Harry Met Sally and it's such a cute movie that I feel I will revisit often.
A reverent biopic of The 14th Dalai Lama.
Martin Scorsese's historical religious drama Kundun (1997) is a testament to Scorsese's faith and appreciation for cultures not his own. Kundun fits nicely in between Scorsese's other faith epics The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence as they are all methodical and spiritual in nature. Scorese's devotion to his faith and tender affection for his subject matter is obvious in Kundun that it's refreshing to see someone earnestly direct an art film about The 14th Dalai Lama. Martin Scorsese remains a thoughtful and stalwart director with his magnificent feature Kundun.
I think most audiences may find Kundun too long and slow to be entertaining, so fair warning for anyone that doesn't like movies like that. But, I adored Kundun as the length never felt tedious and the pace is pretty steady to quick, that's to Scorsese' steadfast editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Her editing choices are bravely creative and strangely unorthodox. She creates an atmosphere of belief by cutting Kundun like it's a dream reflecting back on the Dalai Lama's life. She cuts could be at home in a David Lynch film. She always cuts before you get bored with any shot, but Thelma allows the audience to soak in the tone Scorsese finds.
Roger Deakins' cinematography is epic in scope and bears a forlorn grandeur as you see beautiful palaces, endless mountains, constant deserts, and pensive men all shot with a knowing eye for gripping camera work. Deakins' is a legend for a reason as all his scenes in Kundun look amazing to stare at for hours. I love the abstract and avant-garde classical and asian world music score by Philip Glass. His songs are sweeping in epic scale for Kundun, but create a magical atmosphere that is enticing at all times.
Melissa Mathison's script makes the Dalai Lama's plight sympathetic enough that you genuinely care about him and the Tibetan people by the end of Kundun. She crafts a haunting story of China invading the peaceful sovereign nation of Tibet. You feel all the characters' realistic personas.
The acting is great from a variety of Asian actors and actresses. The child actors are just as expressive as the adults. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong is the standout as the adult Dalai Lama. He is subtle as he expresses with his voice and face without revealing too much. I found his acting captivating in every scene. Tencho Gyalpo is moving as the Dalai Lama's mother coping with her lost son and country. Tsewang Migyur Khangsar is sweet and likable as the Dalai Lama's stern and supportive father. Robert Lin's Chairman Mao is very fun too.
In short, Martin Scorsese gave us another classic with Kundun that's withstood the test of time.