For some reason I stopped posting reviews up here a while ago, so I'm gonna start again. These are old as hell, btw.
Mars Attacks (1996) **
When I first saw this movie in 1996, I hated it. I was a kid, and I thought it was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen. I saw it again now, a slightly older kid... and I still think it sucks, although now I understand WHY it sucks. Based on a series of trading cards, Mars Attacks features Jack Nicholson as the President of the United States who gets wind of an upcoming visit to Earth by the Martians; they come in peace, but due to a misunderstanding, they instead decide to wipe out the human race. It's meant as a sort of homage/parody of the Mars-invaders subgenre of the 50's, and visually, it pulls this off. As far as laughs or originality goes, well, better luck next time. The film obviously relies on its gargantuan cast to run free with the material, but it soon becomes a tired game of Kill-the-Celeb. Still, when you put Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones (the one and only), Jim Brown, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Pam Grier, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Joe Don Baker and Paul Winfield in one movie, you're bound to have at least a couple of moments. These are too few and far between to ever make the movie more than that: an endless series of cameos and bad jokes that could not have been funny to anyone except to a writer who, tellingly, only did a small film since.
Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004) ****1/2
In many ways, I think that this one is a lot more Tarantino-esque than the first one. It's a more atypical film but it's also a more rewarding film than the first volume (which, mind you, I loved). So, when we left off the Bride at the end of Volume 1, she had gone Krakatoa on both O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green; this leaves hillbilly strip-lcub bouncer Budd (Michael Madsen), one-eyed, cold-hearted bitch Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) and of course, Bill (David Carradine). Predictably, The Bride doesn't get it too easy; she's buried alive, beaten repeatedly, shot in the chest with rock salt, cut, punched, kicked, slapped and maimed in pretty much any way you can imagine. There's a lot less action this time around, but we ARE treated to a great scene where The Bride is trained by martial-arts hardass Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). Tarantino's famous dialogue is a lot more present here, as well. The acting is exemplary all around, with Carradine superb as the titular Bill. I have trouble writing down my thoughts about Tarantino films, because... there truly is no writing that can do them justice. Tarantino makes such vivid, visceral films that they really do speak for themselves.
A Walk In The Clouds (1995) ***
This is one of those movies that people refer to when they say something happens 'just like in the movies'. Every single damn thing that happens in this movie is predictable... oddly enough, this ends up being one of the film's biggest assets. Keanu Reeves plays a young man just in from the war who goes off to "find himself". He proceeds to 'meet cute' about 12 times with a young woman named Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who reveals to him that oen of her professors has gotten her pregnant and that her father (Giancarlo Giannini) will not have any of that. He agrees to pass off as her husband for one night and act like he has deserted her... but of course he falls in love with her and her family's vineyard. It's a very, very, very familiar story and it appears there's been no attempt to ever make it anything but; it's an old-fashioned Hollywood romance, complete with scenes of Reeves serenading Sanchez-Gijon by her window and lame, soundstage-shot war flashbacks (actually, flashback, as far as I can tell it's always the same footage). This familiarity actually suits the film to a point... that is, if you can get past Keanu Reeves' jawdroppingly bad performance. I've seen quite a few movies with this guy, and he's rarely any good... but this is possibly the worst I've ever seen him do. He keeps the same expression frozen on his face in every scene and delivers every line in the same flat tone. The rest of the cast does much better, however, and Anthony Quinn positively walks off with the movie as Don Pedro, the patriarch of the Aragon family. It's beautifully shot by director Alfonoso Arau and entertaining enough; I suppose the film's main quality is that it manages to work despite an extremely weak central performance.
Thirteen (2003) **
99 minutes of screeching teenage hypberbole; yay. I'm always on the lookout for a teen film that doesn't trivialize adolescence... but this is the complete opposite. Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a typical thirteen-year old girl who lives with her hippie-ish hairdresser mother (Holly Hunter) and her brother. After the coolest girl in school makes a crack about her socks, she decides to change her image and befriends said coolest girl, Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), in one of the most unconvincing let's-be-friends scenes ever. They proceed to become best friends and do literally every rebellious-teenage-girl thing you could possibly think of: shoplifting, dope, snifing paint fumes, cutting, anorexia, random sex, drinking, tattoos, piercings, and probably some more stuff I forgot about. The film was written by 13-year-old Reed... and it shows. It has the overbearing tendency to exaggerate and amplify even the smallest things; it doesn't take too long before the film grows laughable. Not helping is the bipolar direction. The director apparently isn't sure if she's making gritty cinéma-verité (this shows up on screen by the use of hand-held cameras and a nifty, but pointless, progressive color drain) or a freakin' Kyla Rose music video (which shows up on screen with glitzy musical montages set to throwaway pop songs in which the characters are shopping, more often than not). I'll credit where credit is due; the actors are very good. Wood is extraordinary, even. But good actors doing bad material remain good actors doing bad material; Laurence Olivier shaving a monkey would suck regardless.
Matchstick Men (2003) ***1/2
First things first: this is a twist movie. It's also a con movie, and if you've seen one ad for this movie, then you'll probably be able to figure out the twist in half-a-second. Roy (Nicholas Cage) is an obsessive-compulsive con man who works out of his office with his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell), conning old people into overpaying walter filtration systems. Roy gets a new psychiatrist (Bruce Altman) who theorizes that his obsessive-complusive disorder may be traced back to his ex-wife and their child, whom Roy has never seen. That is, until he is reunited with his fourteen-year-old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman, in a breakthrough performance), who desperately wants in on her daddy's business. The plot is pretty standard stuff; the main con itself is a pretty dull money-laundering scheme... but the screenplay wisely puts the emphasis on characters. The father-daughter dynamic, an angle that pretty much every movie in the world has ALSO covered (most notably Paper Moon), is pretty well-explored and works well thanks to a luminous performance by Lohman. Really, the entire film revolves around wether or not you buy into the performances. Cage is overacting (how surprising) and Rockwell is freakin' hilarious (although, not stretching his range much). Ridley Scott's trademark visual flair gives this pleasant but decidedly minor film a boost in the right direction.