Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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#203 - Shine
Scott Hicks, 1996

Based on the true story of David Helfgott, a gifted pianist whose drive to become a great pianist causes complications for him.

As far as biopics about gifted individuals with mental health issues go, Shine is ultimately a pretty standard one. It's distinguished somewhat by the fact that the film apparently covers several decades in Helfgott's life, with him being played by three separate actors in the process. Though it's Geoffrey Rush who most notably plays Helfgott as an adult, some credit has to go to Noah Taylor playing the adolescent Helfgott as he navigates his teenage years. The film is pretty evenly divided between the two (save for a handful of scenes showing Helfgott as a child). Throughout it all, Helfgott's father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) remains a constant presence. Though his character does cover familiar ground by being both a restrictive parent and a perfectionist mentor, Mueller-Stahl makes it work well enough and comes across as a sufficiently complex character. As for Helfgott himself...well, to be honest I was underwhelmed. Rush does go the extra mile to learn piano and convincingly play piano, but otherwise he doesn't do anything amazing. His portrayal of Helfgott (after the mental breakdown that leads to him being institutionalised signals the end of the Taylor sequences) involves him being a free-associating motor mouth and prone to erratic behaviour and it's not bad or anything but it doesn't help that Rush's scenes in particular aren't anchored to an especially engaging part of the narrative as he heads down the road to recovery.

As far as technique goes, the film has the occasional flair. Slow-motion close-ups and focusing on details are as striking as the visuals get during the piano-playing sequences. Fittingly enough, the music on display consists mainly of classical pieces being played on piano and they are definitely played well. However, despite the rather intriguing development of having the film be pretty evenly split between Helfgott's developing years and his post-breakdown return to fame, this ultimately leaves the film feeling quite unbalanced and anti-climatic as a result. Both Rush and Taylor deliver equally good performances, as does Mueller-Stahl (even John Gielgud commits to a fairly small part) but these performances aren't quite good enough to carry an otherwise unremarkable film.

I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.

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#204 - Bad Boys
Michael Bay, 1995

A pair of detectives must find out who stole a large amount of heroin from a police station with the help of an uncooperative witness.

Bad Boys features a prime example of what Roger Ebert would call an "idiot plot", in which the plot could be resolved much quicker if not for the in-universe ineptitude of its characters. The plot, such as there is one, involves its two lead detectives - Martin Lawrence's put-upon family man and Will Smith's smooth-talking womaniser - chasing after a ruthless drug lord who managed to break into a police station. So far, so standard. What sends the film into truly ridiculous territory is that the detectives' main lead is a friend of Smith's informer (played by Téa Leoni) who ends up witnessing the informer's murder by the drug lord, but refuses to trust anyone but Smith, which gets complicated when circumstances force Lawrence to pretend to be Smith. Thus, a good chunk of the film is devoted to an incredibly tiresome comedy of errors that should never have lasted as long as it should have - even if it does occasionally (and I do mean occasionally) result in an actual laugh (logic be damned). Despite the film's overt comedic angle, it manages to get more laughs because of how nonsensical some of its more serious scenes tend to be - a good case in point where these two supposedly top detectives discover the scene of a murder and immediately start touching evidence with their bare hands.

Outside of that...well, just look at the director's name. Hell, look at the header image, which shows our heroes taking cover behind a propane tank in the middle of the gunfight. The lack of sense behind a lot of the action sequences will astound you, and depending on your particular sensibility that will be in either a good way or a bad way. Even so, there's no way the film really needed to be two hours long (especially considering the silliness in keeping the "mistaken identity" plot going no matter what) and it's hard to take the action seriously or even find it thrilling, but I guess getting some disbelieving amusement out of a ridiculous piece of action is better than nothing. Even so, this is still worth a watch if you have the constitution to put up with unnecessary farce, every cop movie cliché in the book, typical Michael Bay shenanigans (though not quite to the same excess that turned him into a walking punchline), and the surprising lack of chemistry between its two supposedly comedic odd-couple leads. I usually comment on certain cinematic characteristics such as the acting, cinematography, or music, but you can probably tell that this isn't the kind of movie where that kind of stuff is good or relevant. I'm just thankful it's not as obnoxious as it could have been. Despite this film being full of holes, the kicker is that I now consider this my second-favourite Bay film. Make of that what you will.

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#205 - Metropolis
Fritz Lang, 1927

Disclaimer: This review concerns the 2002 restoration of Metropolis.

In a futuristic city that is divided into the luxurious upper half and the oppressive lower half, the son of the city's wealthiest businessman becomes embroiled in a plot to engineer peace between the two halves.

I've made at least one or two attempts at watching Metropolis over the years, but I've never made it to the end. This wasn't necessarily because I found it boring or uninteresting - more like putting down a book and never quite getting around to picking it back up again. Now I've picked it up again and am definitely glad that I did (making sure to find a DVD copy of the 75th anniversary restoration so I can eventually compare it against the 2010 restoration that's currently available on Netflix). All I can definitely say about Metropolis (in this version, at least) is four words - "better late than never".

Metropolis has definitely held up well over the decades. Though it has undoubtedly been imitated and improved upon by subsequent films, at its core it's still a fundamentally strong example of science-fiction. The nature of its allegories and metaphors don't exactly come across as subtle, especially considering how one of the title cards spells out the film's message before the film proper even begins, but there's still a solid dystopian narrative that manages to make quite a lot out of its examination of class warfare and opportunism. The sets and models are especially impressive in their scale and detail, especially during the exceptionally ambitious climax. The acting, well, it is what it is for a silent film, but the actors do put considerable effort into striking the right balance between too subtle and too overstated - though when they are supposed to show range, it works (especially with Brigitte Helm, who has to display a variety of emotions due to the demands of the story). The music on display in this version is also impressive and invokes a variety of moods despite its relative simplicity.

Though this particular version of the film is still missing large chunks of it that have to be filled in with lots of text (some of which sounds quite captivating in its own right), it's still solid enough. Hopefully the 2010 version will fill in those gaps. Regardless, what remains of Metropolis is still quite the masterwork. Never mind the simplicity of its story in relation to its lengthy running time, it more than makes up for it with some stunning effects work and elaborate production design that I still have a little trouble believing was achieved in 1927. Expect a review of the 2010 version at some point in the future - hopefully it will improve on what's visible here, but it's not like there's much that needs improving.

"""" Hulk Smashhhh."""
I really enjoyed Bad Boys. it's great fun,,, but ime a sucker for action so!.
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It has a very peculiar mix of both intentional and unintentional fun (arguably more of the latter, but fun is fun).

Good whiskey make jackrabbit slap de bear.
I like Bad Boys quite a bit. Ridiculously cheesy, but fun.
"George, this is a little too much for me. Escaped convicts, fugitive sex... I've got a cockfight to focus on."

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#206 - All the President's Men
Alan J. Pakula, 1976

Based on the true story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two journalists who work to uncover the conspiracy behind a hotel burglary that would eventually be known as the Watergate scandal.

It's not often where you think of a film as a screenwriter's film (excepting the many instances where the director is also the screenwriter, of course) but when I think of such a well-regarded screenwriter my first thought is William Goldman. This instance is different in that he is working off existing material - namely, the book of the same name written by Woodward and Bernstein. Goldman, of course, is capable of giving the material his own spin with a tightly written tale about the struggles in trying to uncover and deliver the truth behind the notorious break-in, which often involves a lot of unco-operative civilians and officials both inside and outside the press itself. The cast and directing naturally rise to meet the challenge set by the strong writing. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman make for great leads as Woodward and Bernstein respectively - I thought it was a nice touch that they never had any initial conflict upon being paired together and that their in-universe personalities weren't simplified for the sake of creating contrast for the sake of contrast. The supporting cast is solid - Hal Holbrook gets very few scenes as the infamous informant "Deep Throat", while Jason Robards does rather well as Ben Bradlee, the editor who encourages the two leads to keep fighting the good fight through a crusty, world-weary exterior. Good though he is, I'm still not sure he quite gives off the kind of captivating performance that would guarantee an Oscar win, but seeing as I've seen the rest of the year's nominees I guess he makes for a sensible choice. Other actors of note are scattered throughout the film in various small parts - though they get small roles, it's a testament to the writing how even the small roles work well.

Stylistically, this is very well-done with some stylish cinematography courtesy of The Godfather's Gordon Willis that perfectly evokes feelings of isolation, paranoia, and fatalism. Despite being over two hours long and having its fair share of quiet scenes, it never does stop being interesting, but conspiracy thrillers rooted in truth are always interesting at least (or at least I haven't seen any films that'd contradict that hypothesis yet). All the President's Men is just as great as I've been led to believe and I strongly recommend it to people who want a good classic thriller.

Another fan of Bad Boys here. Or, at least, I was. I don't know if I could put up with it now. I think that was the first film I saw at the cinema which had me saying "Sequel in a couple of years?" as I left. It's always seemed a little strange to me that it took so long. I know why, but seeing as it was so obvious by '95 that this kind of thing would have a sequel regardless of need, quality or anything else (or it was the first one I noticed at least) it's struck me ever since.

All The President's Men is on my 100 and I don't know that it could be better.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

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Out of curiosity, have you seen Bad Santa?
No, I haven't. I shortlisted it on Netflix but figure that there's not much point watching it outside the Christmas period.

Another fan of Bad Boys here. Or, at least, I was. I don't know if I could put up with it now. I think that was the first film I saw at the cinema which had me saying "Sequel in a couple of years?" as I left. It's always seemed a little strange to me that it took so long. I know why, but seeing as it was so obvious by '95 that this kind of thing would have a sequel regardless of need, quality or anything else (or it was the first one I noticed at least) it's struck me ever since.

All The President's Men is on my 100 and I don't know that it could be better.
So the passage of time would allow for more mature storytelling, obviously. Also, the world needed to see Pearl Harbor.

I prefer the original version of Cape Fear over the remake, but Tootsie and All The President's Men are great movies.
I still need to see the original.

Suspect - any particular reason you decided to share that video? I'm honestly not sure if that's supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing.

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#207 - Senna
Asif Kapadia, 2010

A documentary chronicling the career of Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna.

As this thread will probably indicate, I don't watch documentary films all that often. Out of all the documentaries I have watched, there has been only one other film aside from Senna that focused primarily on sports - Steve James' Hoop Dreams. I don't follow basketball or Formula One racing, but I definitely respected Hoop Dreams as a cinematic experience for its use of NBA hopefuls as a springboard for an examination of subjects like race, class, and family, in addition to just being an emotionally powerful tale. With that in mind, I decided to keep an open mind about Senna - considering the praise it has gotten, I figured it was worth a shot.

Interestingly enough for a documentary, Senna consists primarily of archival footage captured during Ayrton Senna's professional racing career, from his 1984 debut to the collision that claimed his life in 1994 (with the occasional home movie thrown into the mix as well). As far as new content goes, there's nothing more than audio-only interviews with family members and racing industry professionals. It's an interesting take on the material, almost to the point of it being a flaw. When it comes to documentaries about past events, I'm so used to the insertion of present-day footage being used not just as a means of conveying information but also as a means of pacing a film so that it doesn't end up numbing you to the constant usage of old footage. Appropriately enough for a film about racing, Senna offers no such rests as it guns through ten years in 100 minutes. In addition to racing footage, there's footage of other stuff such as press conferences, fan interviews, safety commissions, and so forth. I guess that's what counts for slowing down the pacing in the film, but unfortunately it works too well and ends up making the film drag. Even so, there are moments that are somewhat interesting, such as scenes that foreshadow the film's conclusion by mentioning other fatal racing injuries and Senna attending safety commissions to express his own concerns.

Otherwise, the parts of the film that actually feature racing tend to get a bit monotonous. Racing has never really been much of a sport I've cared for and watching race after race doesn't do all that much to keep my interest by itself. Senna wins some (and wins big), sometimes he loses (often because of his own mistakes, such as an early race where his lead keeps getting larger and larger until his speed leads to him losing control and, ultimately, the race). The film also tries to build some conflicts out of an otherwise affable Senna butting heads with officials and, most notably, his long-time teammate Alain Prost (almost as if the film was trying to manufacture a rivalry between the two to add another undercurrent of tension, but it naturally doesn't pan out well considering how the two ultimately liked and respected each other at the time of Senna's death). The film goes so far as to end with footage of Senna's fatal accident and the mourning of family, associates, and fans alike, before going on to point out that his death, sad though it was, was the last Formula One fatality to happen as of the time of the film's release. A bittersweet ending, but it's about what this film deserves. Though not exactly the masterwork I was hoping for, Senna is still a solid enough attempt to put together an account of a legendary driver and the highs and lows of his journey to success. It may not transcend my general disinterest in sports the way that Hoop Dreams did, but that factor by itself does not make it a bad film.

I enjoyed Senna more than you did. I'm not a massive fan of Formula 1 and don't watch it regularly, but the film had me gripped to the screen, wanting to find out more and more about Senna. I never got the impression that his rivalry with Prost was manufactured or exaggerated by the filmmakers either, and as far as my knowledge goes, it was very much how they showed it.

Also I recently watched most of Scorsese's Cape Fear. I wasn't that impressed, I liked the original, but a lot of the creepiness and tension was lost on me and it seemed more like a silly over the top horror film.

The rivalry with Prost was definitely not manufactured. The best two drivers of their generation, but completely about themselves to the exclusion of everyone else. It was like Hunt/Lauda again. Prost was The Professor, planning everything and moving the sport on intellectually, focusing more on tactics and strategy. Like Lauda, if he could find a way to go a tenth of a second quicker, he'd do it. Senna was pure talent. Selfish and driven, but also a playboy whose ability meant he didn't have to work as hard as he did, but his determination meant he did it anyway.

I loved watching Senna for the nostalgia it brought me, but I didn't like it as much as a lot of other F1 fans did. There's a good documentary called 1 The Movie (Formula One) the makers of which gave lots of assistance to Ron Howard and his crew when making Rush.

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#208 - Star Trek: Nemesis
Stuart Baird, 2002

The TNG crew are sent to discuss a peace agreement with the new leader of the Romulans only to learn that the new leader is actually a clone of Picard.

It's kind of sad how the Star Trek films featuring the TNG were, for the most part, really disappointing. First Contact made out alright by managing to come up with a genuinely tense plot involving the Borg, though it did so by emphasising action at the expense of its time-travel sub-plot. Otherwise, there was the haphazard fan-pleasing of Generations, the fairly trite attempt to create a big-budget version of a TV episode that was Insurrection, and then...this. While it was intended to be a big-screen send-off for the TNG cast in the same way that The Undiscovered Country was supposed to send off the TOS cast, it ultimately means that this time around the crew go out not with a bang but with a whimper. Of course, this was my assessment after my first viewing at the tail end of 2012 - seeing as it was on TV recently, I decided to re-watch it and see if it might be any better a second time around.

Unfortunately, it's not. Nemesis makes the unfortunate mistake of trying to provide a TNG counterpart to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by trying to set up an antagonist who wishes to get vengeance on the captain of the Enterprise. The antagonist in this case is Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who suffers from the fact that his character could have been interesting as an evil counterpart to Picard (Patrick Stewart) but the film in general seems a bit muddled as to what to do with these two. There is a bit of a nature-versus-nurture debate as Picard is made to question whether or not he could have ended up being as villainous given the same circumstances, though it does feel like a retread of similar themes from First Contact. Aside from that, there's a sub-plot that involves Data (Brent Spiner) encountering a prototype android that resembles himself, though that plot only serves to set up some weak comedy built off the new android's cluelessness about social cues (as if we hadn't already seen seven seasons of that already) and it only just manages to pay off in the film's final scenes (to debatable effect, mind you). Otherwise, the rest of the cast kind of gets shunted off to the side into their usual roles. Troi has a couple of scenes involving telepathy, Worf is grumpy and serious, etc. For a film that's supposed to be intended as a final adventure for this cast of characters, it's disappointing how little it uses the bulk of its ensemble.

As far as being a compelling film on the merits of its story or action - again, it is not. The film does take its time approaching anything resembling excitement, and when it does the effects work generally isn't strong enough to keep it up. Space battles just kind of happen, as do the fight scenes. It builds towards an emotional climax that I'm not convinced the film earns. It being a Star Trek film, I don't truly hate Nemesis, but it's definitely one of the weakest films in the franchise, if not the weakest. Oh, well.

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#209 - Armageddon
Michael Bay, 1998

When a giant asteroid starts hurtling towards Earth, the military is forced to call in an crew of eccentric oil rig workers in order to drill through the asteroid so they can set off a bomb and destroy it.

If you had to pick one film to accurately sum up just what kind of filmmaker Michael Bay is, then you'd have to go with Armageddon. After directing a half-decent action-comedy debut with Bad Boys and a fairly good high-octane blockbuster with The Rock, he gave us...this. To be fair, the high concept of Armageddon alone does have a lot of potential to be a solid enough action film in the hands of another director. Unfortunately, this was the first of many films where Bay's tendency towards pyrotechnic self-indulgence reached a considerable high and makes the film hit a considerable low as a result.

While it's somewhat understandable that a film such as this one would prioritise spectacle above all else, the drop in quality when it comes to every other cinematic attribute is astonishing. There's the fact that the premise comes from the fact that NASA decides to train a ragtag crew of incredibly eccentric oil-rig workers to carry out the mission even though common sense would dictate that it would be easier to teach actual astronauts how to drill. They do this on the word of a legendary oil-rig worker (Bruce Willis), who is of course dealing with the fact that his daughter (Liv Tyler) is carrying on a forbidden romance with a gifted yet irresponsible surbordinate (Ben Affleck). The drama caused by this conflict is supposed to make for the emotional centre of the film, but it doesn't help that the Affleck-Tyler dynamic is especially cringe-inducing even for an incredibly ancillary romantic sub-plot, while the attempts to depict Willis as a sour-faced yet responsible leader are skewered by his introductory scene where he hits golf balls at Greenpeace protestors before chasing Affleck around an oil rig and firing a loaded shotgun at him in the process. Otherwise, the characters are a collection of stereotypes that range from the blandly serviceable to the insufficiently comedic.

If anything, the only genuine fun one can really get out of Armageddon is just being amused at the sheer implausibility of it all, not just at its premise but also due to the countless contrivances that keep the narrative moving along and widespread destruction happening for the flimsiest of reasons. Even in that regard, that doesn't stop the film from struggling to be entertaining during its excessive 150-minute running time. Even the sequences that are remotely justified by their contributions to the narrative feel especially drawn-out and unnecessary (there is no better example of this than the whole space station sequence about three-fifths of the way through the movie). I know that people will joke about how this managed to be released as part of the Criterion Collection, but in a way it makes perfect sense given its dedication to preserving important films - if ever you needed a stellar example of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that sacrifices just about everything in the way of logic, common sense, characterisation and brevity for the sake of creating an apparently entertaining series of flashy action sequences, look no further.

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#210 - Giant
George Stevens, 1956

Focuses on the decades-long rivalry between a wealthy land baron and an opportunistic ranch-hand.

Despite its grand scale and considerable star power, Giant is ultimately a rather flat experience. It fills out three hours by starting off with the sudden relationship forming between Rock Hudson's Texan cattle rancher and Elizabeth Taylor's Maryland socialite before the pair head back to Texas to start a life together. Once there, Taylor has trouble fitting in with the locals (especially in one scene where she protests against the dismissive attitudes of Hudson's colleagues) while also earning the interest of James Dean's rough-edged yet good-hearted ranch-hand, who has a very tense relationship with Hudson (which only escalates as Dean develops an unrequited affection for Taylor). From there, a variety of things happen across the decades as Hudson and Taylor grow older and start having children who also end up growing older and having sub-plots of their own - meanwhile, Dean goes on to become a wildly successful tycoon but he still feels alienated by his good fortune.

While Giant does have some decent visuals and scenes (look no further that the scene from the header image where an oil-covered Dean heads straight to Hudson's ranch to show off his success), it all gets stretched a bit thin as a result of its attempt to span decades and introduce new characters over the course of three hours. It addresses a number of themes such as the nature of success, racism, classism, and tragic romance, but its elaborations on these themes is fairly underweight despite the film's many scenes (given the period in which the film itself was made, it is rather noteworthy how even-handed it is in its treatment of such subjects for 1956, I suppose). The three leads also seem to coast by on their own raw talent rather than do anything sufficiently challenging - Hudson and Taylor are alright if not spectacular, while Dean is easily the most noteworthy presence in the film. Giant isn't bad, but it's a very dry and long film that doesn't quite live up to its considerable ambitions. I do have some respect for its attempt to create a challenging and lengthy period drama, but respect only goes so far when the results ultimately don't pan out as well as they should.