Stefan Grasso's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

Mad Max
Mad Max (1979)
10 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Out of all the Mad Max films, this one immediately comes across as the odd one out. Whereas the other films play out as very stylized post-apocalyptic action films, this first film takes its cues from what was called the "new wave of Hollywood directors", which were more subtle in their approach than what you might see today. In fact, the film's director envisioned the film as something like a silent film, with the car-based action as an extension of the kinetic qualities of the kind of film he had in mind. Compared to its successors, the first Mad Max film is decidedly more experimental, resembling the modern equivalent of a Western film, only much darker and grittier. Indeed, the film tells a story of a good man who tries to cling on to sanity, but in the end is driven to the edge, and driven back into a job that he wanted to retire from. The story is slowly paced, but I think that makes sense given the film's direction. Unlike a lot of action films, this one gives us characters with actual depth, and I'm not just talking about Max himself. That being said, however, this is the only film in the series that gives any insight into what Max had to lose (specifically, his wife and child, who only appear in this film). Mel Gibson fits into the title role quite well, making for a convincing cop in a post-apocalyptic setting, and his character becomes all the more engaging as the film progresses, particularly towards the end. The villains are pretty much thugs, but they're not totally brainless, otherwise they wouldn't make for very good villains. The film emphasizes the madness of the villains in its script, but most of the credit should go to the actors portraying them. Their performances really bring out the grotty, deranged, violent characteristic that should come naturally in the context of the post-apocalyptic highway setting. In other words, they were nasty in a very believable way. It's worth mentioning that the film was produced on a budget of only around 400,000 Australian dollars, which was quite low even for its time. For something like that, the film is quite an eye-catching visual spectacle. The vehicular action scenes are choreographed quite well, and at the very least they're more enjoyable to look at than a by-the-numbers car chase scene. Of course, violence is everywhere in this film, and Max delivers highly proficient justice to his enemies, with a particular highlight of the film being that one scene where Max handcuffs a man to his car and sets him alight. All in all, George Miller did very well in crafting a mad, violent world to life. It may not be as well-done as its successor (and it certainly doesn't hold a candle to Mad Max: Fury Road), but even today, it's a cut above a number of action films, and it continues to stand out brilliantly amongst the other films of its kind.

La Double Vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique)
10 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This film presents a unique, but rather confusing concept. The film revolves around two women who lead separate lives, have no immediate connection with other, are not related to each other, but not only are they physically identical, but somehow they have an emotional bond that transcends all physical boundaries, and they also appear to meet their end in the same way. In all honesty, that premise doesn't make any sense at all, but does allow for some distractingly beautiful film-making. As for the film's two main characters, the dual roles are played rather convincingly by the film's lead actress Irène Jacob, who drifts through the two roles like feathers caught in the wind. Her performances of the two characters almost mirror each other, although the script offers some slight differences between the two. Despite this being a foreign-language film, I felt I could get quite engrossed in the film's atmosphere, mainly because the film illustrates a kind of poetic communication that, I must admit, is pretty much impossible for me to describe in a way that doesn't make me sound like a gibbering lunatic. It's a beautiful film in terms of both visuals and acting, but I find that the film is hampered by a directionless plot. It relies very heavily on the presence of its main protagonist, but it leaves behind a major paradox that it doesn't even try to resolve, despite there being ample time in which to resolve it. Thankfully, this is the kind of film that emphasizes on atmosphere and immersion rather than plot. If the film lacked any semblance of atmosphere, then it would have been a masterstroke in the fine art of boredom. On the topic of atmosphere, the film does a brilliant job at presenting and conveying atmosphere, and as I could mention several times by now, the film's mesmerizing atmosphere is its biggest strength because it distracts the viewer from a muddled plot. The film's fixation on music is something else to consider. Both the main characters are involved in music in some way (one a choir soprano and the other a music teacher), and the film makes heavy use of a haunting orchestral score. To be honest though, the film feels more to me like a painting than a film. That said, however, the film-makers seem to be aiming for the same kind of delicacy in their film-making technique as would be called for in the context of fine art painting. That's certainly the impression I get from the film's subtle blend of colours. Despite its flaws, I find that this film can and should be taken as a film of many interconnected characteristics. The story will most likely raise more questions that the director was inclined to answer, but it offers a rewarding package of fragility, beauty, intimacy and mystery within the frame of a subjective narrative. If you're not thinking about where every little detail fits, you'll probably be immersed in the vivid and often mystical trip the film seems to offer.

A Good Day To Die Hard
11 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

You'd think that by 2013 Hollywood would have figured out that there's simply no room for the old action films, but apparently somebody actually wanted a "Die Hard 5". I can think of so many reasons why a fifth Die Hard film was a terrible idea to begin with, and most of them exemplify a central problem - Die Hard as a film franchise was only good for a few meritorious films, and then it hibernated for over a decade, and immediately lost steam as soon as the producers tried reviving it. Essentially, Die Hard was a film franchise that died, and was quickly forgotten, and the producers honestly thought they could just bring it back without even trying to make it relevant to a newer generation of cinemagoers. Needless to say, they failed spectacularly, and right from the beginning it's painfully obvious that they couldn't hide from that. Even the title sequence tries using trendy graphics to make gullible viewers think that this is a next-generation Die Hard film, but really it's just a Steven Seagal movie with Bruce Willis filling Seagal's shoes. Making matters worse is a clearly uninspired story plagued by wildly liberal use of outdated action film clichés, and an extremely frail script. This could be forgiven in a low budget straight-to-DVD production, but for a film intended for cinematic release, there should have been higher standards. Despite this being a by-the-numbers Die Hard film, the most jarring aspect of the film, believe it or not, is how much of an insufferable jerk John McClane became in this film. If you loved him in the classic Die Hard, get ready to hate him as he shouts at a Russian man because he can't understand what he's saying. Is that the action hero audiences came to love in the late 1980's? Also, he and his son are quite horrible to each other, but then again, I highly doubt that any of the actors playing them had any interest in the plot. As for McClane's son, who is played incompetently by Jai Courtney, his character doesn't surprise me that much. In fact, one could say that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree. The other characters simply blend into the background due to bad acting and even worse writing. Another thing I should talk about is the film's poor presentation. For a film that apparently needed an excessive $92 million to make, it looks absolutely appalling. There's a noticeable absence of colour here, to the point that most scenes look like they were coloured with a bad mix of grey and blue. The production values are beyond awful, and it just makes me wonder how the producers spent their money. Did it go towards marketing, makeup, drugs? It seriously begs an explanation, since I find it hard to believe that a project this expensive looks so cheap. Even the action scenes look badly done, to the point that it's extremely obvious that the producers were hoping to compensate for a badly written plot with guns and explosions, as if the producers had no idea that 1980's are long gone. Overall, it's definitely the worst Die Hard film ever made, but somehow it goes beyond just being that. In fact, I'd say this is undoubtedly one of the worst action films of all time. In fact, we'd probably be better off if the Die Hard franchise would simply stay dead.

Cat People
Cat People (1982)
11 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Right from the beginning, this film seemed like a very interesting film, and in all honesty, it is. I've heard that this is a loose adaptation of an older film of the same name, but I'm not here to compare the two, especially since I find this one more interesting. This film tries its best to be a different kind of horror film, with a narrative centring on a kind of mystique, and with an approach that emphasizes on skin rather than blood. That being said, however, despite the director's best efforts, the film finds itself in a bit of a bind in terms of direction. As a horror film, it's way too subtle to yield any direct chills, which would have worked well alongside its subtler fare, but its biggest problem is the plot. It opens with a scene that shows a woman being sacrificed to a leopard, and eventually transitions into the modern day setting, and for a time, the plot is pretty hard to follow. Eventually, you start hearing about the race of werecats, which explain the various leopard-related killings seen throughout the film, and even then, it's a good concept, but it's not executed very well. In this regard, I think this is because the film hides too much of what you might need to know. On the plus side, the film paces itself for long enough to create a level of intrigue that drives the plot forward. In a sense, the film is driven by mystique, and it's filled with surprises along the way, including the film's unexpected ending. The characters deliver good performances, but they don't do a lot to grab attention. The film's two lead characters, however, outperform all the others in the film, delivering splendid performances that are often as slick as the feline forms they often assume. In a way, the film illustrates the overall character of the film - slick yet animalistic. This character is also illustrated in how the film presents itself. The production values are fairly standard stuff for their time, but the film truly shines when day turns to night. The film also sports a lovely electronic soundtrack that creates a nice atmosphere for the film. Of course, the film opens with the signature song "Cat People", composed specifically for the film by David Bowie, whose music and vocals set a haunting mood for the opening scene of the film. One other thing that interests me about the film is its blending of horror with erotic fiction. This approach attempts to bring out a sense of primal, animalistic energy, and this was even reflected on the film's tagline ("an erotic fantasy of the animal in us all"). I'd say they've accomplished this with a lot of subtlety, to the point of it being artsy. I could also argue that the film's use of nudity as a primarily symbolic element is another accomplishment, especially as it is contrasted with the sudden gore scenes. It's very stylish and artsy, but it suffers because it's too subtle, and if you look at it seriously, it tends to come across as quite ridiculous softcore porn.

The Golden Compass
11 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Personally, I always thought of this film as a dumb, impotent Narnia clone when it was new, and nearly a decade later, it certainly hasn't aged well at all. I haven't exactly read the book this is based on, but I've heard dozens of complaints saying that the book toned down several of the anti-religious elements of the books in order to avoid angering the Catholics. I can certainly tell that the plot was written very lazily, and it seems that they tried fitting in all manner of plot devices, events and characters in a film that's clearly too short to handle everything. On top of that, the film is paced in such a manner that it seems as though everything's being rushed, and it leaves too little time for the characters to develop properly, and bodes just as poorly for the many unanswered questions that the film's haphazardly written plot leaves behind. To be completely honest though, the film's mythology could have been quite interesting, and there might have been some hope for it had the screenwriters made more of an effort, but they settled on a trimmed down, by-the-numbers fantasy flick, and to make matters worse, they deliberately designed the ending so that it could lead on to a sequel, never mind that it would never ever get a sequel, not that such a meagre film deserves one. The characters weren't overly bad, but they were written in such a way that you can't really feel for them no matter how hard the actors try to convince us to feel for them. It doesn't help that there's no sense of moral ambiguity whatsoever. You can immediately tell who is good and who is evil just by looking at the characters. I could just as easily make the argument that you could tell who the villains were just by looking at the poster. Nothing is left to your imagination, and that I feel is a serious problem, and is not conducive to good fantasy fiction. To compensate for all that, the film sports some admittedly decent special effects, but worryingly enough, the film is almost all special effects, and so the CGI effectively becomes the producers' way of overcompensating for a poorly written film that, if were very honest, was simply trying to copy the kind of success that The Lord of the Rings enjoyed years earlier. Of course, the visuals and the special effects are pretty much the only noteworthy thing about the film, and that's because they're the only thing the film has to show for itself aside from what I can guess is a bad transition from book to screen. Clearly they should have put more thought and effort into this film, because if they had, this could have been somewhat better than all the other LoTR clones that had sprung up throughout the 2000's. Instead, we have a film that is quite slavish in its copying of other fantasy films. Whatever potential the film could have had is ultimately snuffed out by its lack of originality and the laziness of its producers.