It really took a while for me to finish up this number of the Weekly Updates, for as you can see below it’s been quite a crowded week. Plus, I’ve been overseas for almost two weeks, so there’s that. The next few numbers will go smoother, that’s for sure.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) - 9/10 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is undoubtedly Walt Disney’s most recent jewel, a film that singlehandedly makes up for the misfires the company has made in recent years. Few summer blockbusters end up being remembered over the years, but I have no doubt that this movie will still hold a place among the greats for decades and decades to come. What makes Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl such an outstanding experience is its ability to convey that swashbuckling adventure atmosphere last seen in the Indiana Jones series of films. As Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp creates a fantastic and truly memorable character that steals the spotlight every time he’s on screen and makes every scene he’s taking part in a delight to watch. Gore Verbisnki also deserves a high amount of praise for his excellent directing and the way he constructed the plot, knowing which elements to focus on by having a clear sense of what the audience expects from a film of this magnitude. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and it certainly won’t be the last, since this picture holds a special place in my moviegoer’s heart and I’m sure such is the case with many other viewers as well.
Stay (2005) - 6/10 Stay is, if nothing else, a mesmerising cinematic experience. As a psychological thriller slash drama, it’s not original in any way and all the techniques used in the film have been done before and mostly much better. However, the movie just has a unique aura about it and it certainly manages to convey the atmosphere that it was going for, particularly during its second half, when things start tending towards the surreal and the twist is built up. I wasn’t particularly taken with Marc Forster’s directing as it seemed to me that it was often unstable, making certain scenes less effective than others. Neither did the cast impress, which came as a surprise to me as I usually enjoy Ewan McGregor’s and Naomi Watts’ performances, but they just seemed to be lacking in this film. Ryan Gosling was somewhat better in that respect, but he didn’t stand out too much either. The finale of Stay is what makes it a worthwhile watch, as the movie concludes in a very emotional and gripping manner, making the build up to it relatively worth it. I’d recommend Stay to those looking for a psychological film marked by a sense of surrealism somewhat similar to David Lynch’s works, but for everyone else it is perhaps wiser to skip it in order to avoid a potentially confusing and unsatisfying ride.
Stir of Echoes (1999) - 7/10
I was surprised at how obscure Stir of Echoes actually is, having never even heard of it until recently. Sure, it may have been overshadowed by The Sixth Sense in 1999, but that still doesn’t explain why no one talks about it at all, especially considering that it’s actually quite a good horror thriller. The jump scares are perfectly sparse and executed very well, the premise is relatively intriguing and the first half of the film is truly outstanding, even though it does go a little downhill after that. I was especially impressed by Kevin Bacon’s performance, who really carried the film from start to finish as the leading character. On the other hand, Stir of Echoes is far from a flawless movie, and its faults increase significantly during the second part of the film, when it becomes apparent that the story will not deliver entirely on its very promising premise. The climax is particularly underwhelming and it also does not integrate too well with the ghost story motif, as I felt that ending things with newfound antagonists did not serve the plot well. Despite its notable flaws, Stir of Echoes remains a deeply atmospheric thriller and an intense and chilling ride.
Downfall (2004) - 10/10
I’ve been looking to get more acquainted with German cinema, so I decided that the critically acclaimed Downfall would be a good place to start. I had heard plenty of good things about the film, but I was most definitely not prepared for the masterful and heart-wrenching experience it turned out to be. Downfall is, without a doubt, one of the best acted films I have ever seen, boasting an ensemble cast of some the most talented German actors on top of which stands Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler with literally one of the greatest performances in cinema history. Critics have called Downfall one of the best movies ever made, and I can’t help but feel the same way about it. The sense of realism one gets while watching this film is simply astounding and once you get pulled in it simply doesn’t let go until the very end, delivering a deeply engaging and emotional journey. The film also excels in everything from sound design and editing to writing, costume design and set design. To put it simply, it is without a doubt a near flawless motion picture, a quality shared by few other movies. There’s so much more I could say about Downfall, all of it being praise, but I’ll just finish here by saying that if you love films and are not particularly weak of heart (because certain parts of the film are relatively difficult to watch), there’s just no excuse for not seeing this movie.
Memento (2000) - 9/10
You can’t properly judge a film like Memento in only one sitting simply because its complex narrative style and perplexing plot cannot be fully grasped straight away, requiring time and a little more attention to the overall experience than the usual cinematic fare. However, Memento is undoubtedly one of the greatest thrillers from the past twenty years and certainly an outstanding achievement in independent filmmaking. I often say that the script of a film can make or break it, and this movie is a perfect example of what the power of screenwriting can achieve. Memento delivers an incredibly intriguing plot that moves forward (or backwards, I should say) in a fascinating manner, delivering just the right amount of clues and hints along the way until finally concluding with a truly unpredictable twist and a flawless ending. Guy Pearce was great in the leading role, slipping in the role of the amnesia-ridden protagonist and effectively carrying the movie forward. Memento also excels in terms of cinematography and film editing, making for a cinematic experience that is thoroughly well-constructed and easy to follow. There’s not much else to say about the film that hasn’t been said already dozens of times, so I’ll just finish up by whole-heartedly recommending it to anyone who’s looking for a great and original film to watch.
The Silent House (2011) - 7/10
The only thing that may drive The Silent House out of obscurity for some people is that it’s supposedly been filmed in one long continuous shot, though that’s debatable and ultimately unverifiable. However, what really got me excited for this film was the trailer, which made it look like quite an intense and atmospheric horror ride, and as a matter of fact, it actually turned out to live up to my expectations. Right from the start, I have to mention that regardless of whether the movie was shot continuously or not, its lack of cutting scenes serves it incredibly well, keeping it an effective exercise in atmosphere from start to finish. Acting-wise, The Silent House doesn’t do much, with the leading actress delivering some obviously weak moments, but overall, there’s not much to complain about as the film is mostly focused on other departments. There’s little to no actual plot in the movie, and any substantial information regarding the events that are happening inside the ‘haunted house’ comes towards the end. Unfortunately, there’s also a twist to be had during the climax, and I say unfortunately because it’s probably one of the worst plot reveals I’ve seen in a very long time. However, there’s a post-credits scene (or during the credits, I really can’t remember) that somewhat makes up for the film’s badly implemented twist, so be sure to stick around for that if you decide to give this one a go. And in case you’re looking for a haunted house horror flick, I’d say you probably should.
Paul (2011) - 5/10
Who doesn’t love the duo made up of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, especially considering that they have starred in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two of the best British comedies of the 2000s. As such, I was really looking forward to Paul, their latest film, but I was also somewhat skeptical as to what they would be able to pull off without director Edgar Wright on board. In the end, Paul didn’t do it for me and I was ultimately let down by the film. There’s comedy to be found here, sure, but too much of it falls flat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against sex jokes and obscene humour, but here it just felt a little excessive and unnecessary. The writing is pretty underwhelming, delivering a somewhat standard plot where the main characters just travel from place to place and team up or come in conflict with other characters. I wasn’t a fan of the finale, either, as it felt too cheesy and cringe-worthy for me, especially since this type of feel-good ending has been done to death already. It was nice to see Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig in the film, though their talent was ultimately underplayed. As for Seth Rogen, he may have done a good job voicing the alien Paul, but to me his voice didn’t seem appropriate for the character. All in all, Paul turned out to be quite a disappointment in my eyes, but I guess it works as a decent comedy fare.
Kung Fu Panda (2008) - 8/10
I’m not sure why I never got around to seeing Kung Fu Panda up until now, but I am glad I finally gave it a go, because it turned out to be an instant favourite of mine. We’ve seen plenty of outstanding animated films in recent years, and I do believe that this film is right up there with the very best. Kung Fu Panda simply conjures such a perfect atmosphere that it’s hard not to be completely engaged by it, especially considering the film’s excellent animation style and CGI. I was also impressed by the writing, as the movie boasts a well-constructed plot and the dialogue feels believable and convincing, delivering plenty of memorable quotes throughout. The voice acting was top-notch, but that’s to be expected from a cast made up of first-rate actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane and Jackie Chan. Jack Black was great in the leading role, and this clearly was his show in terms of humour. Fans of animated films should give Kung Fu Panda a go if they haven’t done so already, as it will most definitely not let anyone down.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - 7/10
I’ve been meaning to check out A Fistful of Dollars ever since I saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a film which I consider to be among the best motion pictures ever made, if not the very best. I finally got the chance to see A Fistful of Dollars recently, and while it did deliver old school western just like I expected it to, I ultimately found it to be significantly subpar to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That’s not to say that this one wasn’t a good film, because it most definitely was, but it does present a few flaws along the way. I found that an important fault of the movie was found within its plot, which didn’t feel very well fleshed out and definitely seemed to drag during certain parts. On the other hand, Clint Eastwood delivered his usual top-notch performance as the badass ‘Man with No Name,’ a puzzling and well thought out character that boasts enough anti-hero qualities to make him one of the greatest show stealers in cinema history. The final showdown in A Fistful of Dollars is a thing of beauty and without a doubt an excellent example of typical western climax battles. Fans of spaghetti westerns should give this one a go, especially those having watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and looking for more of the same thing, even if it doesn’t quite reach that film’s level of greatness.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) - 8/10
It took me an inexcusable amount of time to get around watching Stanley Kubrick’s universally revered Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket, but as my very own motto goes, better late than never, eh? Needless to say, Full Metal Jacket is a top-notch picture and without a doubt one of the best directed films I’ve ever seen, but as a whole, it seemed slightly overrated to me, though that’s probably just due to the fact that I went into it with truly colossal expectations. I loved how Kubrick basically split the movie in two very different parts that ultimately complement each other perfectly, with the first half of the movie carefully setting things up for the horrifying effects of war that come to happen during the latter half. I was also impressed by the choice of music, with some really memorable and very fitting tracks popping up throughout the film. It really makes you understand what a powerful director Stanley Kubrick when realising just how he can turn a movie focusing on the basic act of war into such a deep and thought-provoking experience. As outstanding as it was, Full Metal Jacket is just one of the many films that Kubrick will always be remembered for in the history of cinema, and that’s saying a lot about what kind of a director he was.
Running Scared (2006) - 5/10
I was about fourteen or fifteen when I first saw Running Scared, an age that I now realise was terribly inappropriate for this film’s content, which features far too much swearing and a few truly disturbing scenes, including one involving pedophilia. After checking it out again recently, I have to say that the movie didn’t change much in terms of controversy, but I did find it lesser in quality than during my first viewing all these years ago. The plot was well put together, and the film was solid acting-wise as well, with Paul Walker and Vera Farmiga delivering pretty enjoyable performances, but there were other departments where Running Scared didn’t do as well, ultimately delivering only a decent action thriller. First off, there’s all the style that director Wayne Kramer tried to incorporate into the film, but it ended up backfiring by making the experience all the more muddled and unfocused. Then there’s the overly excessive explicit language that often feels gratuitous and unneeded. Last but not least, there’s the feel-good ending, which may feel like a satisfactory conclusion to the story for some, but it clearly feels out of place in comparison to the rest of the film’s dark and violent subject matter. That being said, though, Running Scared does shine in terms of plot construction, and it’s relatively unconventional storyline may make the movie worthwhile for some.