Tag Archives: kiefer sutherland

Dark City – Review

4 May

Getting lost in a really good science fiction story may be on my top 10 list of the best ways to spend my time. I recently had the pleasure to see one of the most surprisingly excellent science fiction films that I have ever seen. That move is Alex Proyas’ 1998 film Dark City. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post had this to say about the movie, “If you don’t fall in love with it, you’ve probably never fallen in love with a movie, and never will.” I think that’s the best way to summarize how great this movie actually is, and it’s going to be hard to pick out all of the great things while keeping this review a reasonable length.

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When John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bath tub with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there, he becomes worried. When he soon sees that there is a prostitute who’s been brutally murdered in the same hotel room as he is, he becomes terrified. As he wanders the city he finds himself in, which is suffering from a case of perpetual darkness, Murdoch soon learns that he is being chased by a mysterious group of pale men with psychokinetic powers. As the mystery thickens, Murdoch learns he also has a less than faithful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a psychologist (Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to want to help him, but who is also involved with the group of pale men called the Strangers. Meanwhile, Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) is in charge of a team that is investigating the mystery surrounding the murdered prostitute, but soon finds himself wrapped up in Murdoch’s own mystery that will completely change the lives of every citizen in the city.

A lot of stuff happens in this movie, and it isn’t easy getting in the important plot information to give a skeletal version of the story without ruining the plethora of surprises that this movie has up its sleeve. That being said, if you’re interested in seeing this movie at all, make sure you pick up or find a copy of the director’s cut, because the studio that was producing this movie demanded Proyas put a voice over in the beginning that was meant to give some background information, but ended up spoiling a lot of the mystery behind what is actually going on. That was, in my opinion, the best part of this movie. In the very beginning when Sewell’s character wakes up, we know just as much as he does which is absolutely nothing. As the film rolls on, I found myself trying harder and harder to figure out what was going on before any of it was revealed.

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With all of that talk of mystery, I have to point out just how well written this movie is. As someone who studies screenwriting with big hopes of doing just that for a living, I found myself thinking that this movie should be shown and studied in classes that have to do with writing. In terms of story, this is one of the best written movies I have ever seen. Alex Proyas along with Lem Dobbs (The LimeyHaywire) and David S. Goyer (Blade IIThe Dark Knight) have crafted an incredible screenplay filled with twists, suspense, and philosophy. Almost every good science fiction story has some sort of lesson or warning, and the one in Dark City asks a very good question: What makes us human? Is it our intelligence, moral code, or something else?

I can’t say a whole hell of a lot about the acting. It’s serviceable, but nothing special save for Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Mr. Hand. Fun fact about this movie, the Strangers are actually based off his character of Riff Raff in Rocky Horror. Anyway, while the acting is fine, I should talk more about the set design. Anyone who has seen Proyas’ earlier film The Crow knows how good he is when it comes to creating environments covered in darkness. Dark City just drives that point home. The city is a dark version of cities from many different eras of time. We never know what time period it is since the scenery is such an eclectic mix of old and new. Buildings seem like they could fall apart at any second and the lights and darks set a whole new bar for the subgenre of tech-noir.

It’s nice in these reviews to end by saying that I have a new movie to add to my list of favorites. Dark City is a mesmerizing and heady trip into the depths of science fiction and philosophy. There are a lot of stylistic similarities to Blade Runner, but (in a most unpopular opinion) I would much rather spend my time watching Dark City. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see what Roger Ebert called “the best movie of 1998,” then get working on finding a copy. It’s pretty mind blowing stuff.

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Melancholia – Review

19 Jul

Lars von Trier is no stranger to shocking and appalling audiences. It seems he relishes in the idea of giving the willies to unsuspecting audiences. Mind you, he isn’t some sort of horror film maker who fills his films with monsters and murder. His films give a more spiritual upheaval or a large dosage of mental anguish. Melancholia hits where it hurts, and leaves you feeling hopeless and completely insignificant. Sounds like a bummer, right? Well this bummer of a film is also completely mind blowing and will leave you in a state of thought for days to come.

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The film is broken up into two parts. Part 1 is titled Justine. It is the night of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael’s (Alexander Skarsgård) wedding. Arriving two hours late to their own reception at Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mansion, tensions are already running high. Throughout the night, Justine becomes more and more distant from everyone, leaving the party to sit by herself many times. Soon the entire party comes crashing down on everyone’s heads. Part 2 is titled Claire. In this part, we follow Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) as they allow Justine, who is depressed to the point where she can’t even take a bath, to stay with them. During their stay, a planet called Melancholia, is either going to pass closely to the Earth and allow a spectacular display or will crash into Earth, ending all life as we know it.

Visually, this is an incredible movie to look at. Lars von Trier has a way of making his movies look like moving paintings, rather than moving pictures. Every shot is so deliberate, even with the handheld style that he uses to give a more intimate look into the private lives of these people. What is really very impressive is the CGI visuals of the planets. In a breath taking opening sequence, we see planetary events from a remarkable view. While I know that it is all just special effects, it felt majestic.

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To many, Melancholia will be a prime example of a boring movie. The whole film takes place primarily on the grounds of John and Claire’s mansion. By the third act, the excitement and suspense really pick up, but for a bulk of the movie, not too much really goes on. There are some familial betrayals and arguments, but it’s very much just a family drama and character driven story. That being said, until the science fiction element of the story really kicks in, the plot moves fairly slowly. This is hardly a problem thanks to the excellent performances by the cast, with a special recognition going to Charlotte Gainsbourg for really conveying the emotional intensity of the story and characters beyond the screen. Kirsten Dunst also has a challenging role, and does a fine job at getting the physical and mental troubles of constant dread across.

A word of caution. If you’re in a great mood before watching Melancholia, be prepared for that happiness to be shattered. If you’re a generally sad or depressed person, than maybe this movie wouldn’t be the best thing to watch on one of your gloomy afternoons. By the end, you feel absolutely helpless and alone in the universe. All of the controllable and fixable problems that the characters have on earth mean nothing when an oversized planet is careening towards them. You are forced to put yourself in their situation, because you, no matter who you are, would be affected by this interstellar disaster.

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What Lars von Trier has done with Melancholia is blend beauty and tragedy, love and hopelessness together to create something that, to me, has surpassed what movies are really supposed to achieve. The reaction that I had to this movie is deep and personal because it deals with my own mortality. This movie isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t really traditional entertainment, but it has a way of sticking with you and affecting you. I implore whoever reads this to give Melancholia a chance for the visuals, the acting, and the internal turmoil that it is sure to cause.

Phone Booth – Review

29 May

How can a movie that predominantly takes place inside of a single phone booth possibly be interesting? Well, that is what I’m going to explain today with Joel Schumacher’s film, Phone Booth. This film is a success due to its fine direction, expert editing, and perfect pacing, packed to the brim with suspense and intensity.

Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is not a good person. He is a publicist, who isn’t particularly very good, but still enjoys the multiple lies and trickery needed in order to get ahead. While using a public phone booth to call a possible girlfriend-on-the-side (Katie Holmes), Stu is called by a mysterious man (Kiefer Sutherland), who just so happens to have a highly powerful sniper rifle aimed right at Stu, and will fire on him if he doesn’t obey his every word. Soon, the police arrive and Stu finds himself in a stand-off with the caller and the police.

There are many factors that would have caused Phone Booth to not work as a film. The biggest and most challenging factor is making a film that takes place mainly in a phone booth interesting. To do this, the pacing had to be perfect, and it really is. Not once during the length of this movie did I find myself getting bored. Of course, this is far from being a long film, only clocking in at a little over 80 minutes. This is just the right amount of time to properly introduce the characters, build suspense, and release all of the built suspense in a minute of insanity.

When I think of really good actors, Colin Farrell isn’t one that comes to mind, but after seeing Phone Booth I know that he has the talent to be great. Unfortunately, this isn’t really implemented save for a couple of films like In Bruges. Katie Holmes and Radha Mitchell do alright as Shepard’s love interests. Forest Whitaker gives a very emotional performance as a police chief with an obvious battered past. Kiefer Sutherland is the perfect choice to play the Caller, and he does so with menace and sounds genuinely like a sociopath.

The writer of the film, Larry Cohen, actually pitched the idea of a film centering around a single phone booth to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s, and Hitchcock thought it was a great idea but neither of them knew how to keep the character trapped in the booth. Cohen came up with the idea for a sniper in the 90s, but more to the point, this film definitely feels like it is a modern day Hitchcock film. The real intensity comes from the suspense and the performances, which is what Hitchcock was all about. Michael Bay was set to direct at one point, and the first question he asked was, “How do we get him out of the phone booth?” Getting Stu out of the booth would have ruined the whole point of the film.

Phone Booth had the potential to be a terribly boring movie, but Schumacher and his crew did a great job at crafting a meticulously good story filled with suspense and questions of morality. Do the sniper’s actions justify the means? Of course not, but the audience of this movie definitely have discussion points after this movie. I can easily recommend Phone Booth to anyone looking for a suspense fully wicked good time.