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Metropolis

Going into the film I knew all the basics, robots, big cities, oppressed masses. It’s a lot of blah blah blah. But I know if you’re reading this, you’re not looking for a plot summary. You want to know about the technical whatever. If you are looking for a summary of the action, leave right now. I’m not the man to talk to. I don’t have the time to slow down for you people.

Anyway, as the technical merits go, the film looks great. The print was about a week old by the time we got to see it so it wasn’t pristine or anything but it was most definitely an improvement over the tired formulatic pablum that has been foisted onto the public that wished to view this film in the recent past. The original score has also been fully restored and, while repetitive, it does set the mood of the images well.

As for what I thought of the film, it was good. Not great, not amazing, just good. The visuals are impressive for when they were made, and that’s where a lot of the good for the movie comes in. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I spent so much time at a movie in my life. The film drags badly, though perhaps it’s my fried synapses that are talking in this case. Another thing I would like to note is that whoever was running eyeliner companies back in 20’s must have been making a fortune off the Germans. Every lead in this film had at least some make-up around their eyes, more than a few looking like bloody raccoons, or at least like Gwynnie in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Good movie. Impressive visuals. Slow pacing. If that sounds like your style, make a point to catch it. At the very least I would say you should to see what they managed to pull off with the extremely limited technology they had at the time with the visual effects. Hollywood don’t got nothing on this movie, especially those skinny assed surfer chicks.

Rating: B
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Brother

To do a minor story recap, Yamamoto (Takeshi) is forced to relocate to America following a mob war in Japan that he lost. He goes to find his kid brother Ken (Kuroudo Maki), who he has been sending money for school to, only to find him dealing drugs on a street corner with Danny (Omar Epps) and his friends. Yamamoto takes over their gang and immediately turns them in to a major underworld in LA, which leads to a conflict with the local Mafia.

The first thing that I’m sure will strike people when they see this film is the violence. To be honest, this is a very violent film, in an uncompromising way that makes it entirely clear that this is not a life one should want to try and emulate. While I’m sure that if this film becomes a hit (which it deserves to), it will immediately be hammered on by Senators Lieberman and Clinton as more evidence of Hollywood attempting to corrupt the youth of America. Frankly, I hope that both of them and their stupid asinine bill go away quickly, but that’s another thing entirely. The bottom line is that for all the violence, this isn’t a film about how great it is to shoot and kill people. It is a film about the friendships we make and how those will sustain us through everything. I hope that this is what is pushed when people discuss the film, but I know that it won’t be and that saddens me.

As for the technical merits of the film, they are outstanding. Kitano infuses the film with a completely objective eye, viewing everything for it is and nothing more. Even in the most violent scenes he never uses the camera to convince you of who is “evil” and who is “good”. He leaves that judgment up to the viewer, without forcing emotions on to the audience as most Hollywood directors do. The editing of the film, while keeping the pace moving, never uses the insanely fast cuts favored by most people when shooting action films. All of this serves to draw in the viewer by allowing him or her to just let the images soak in and affect them in whatever way they wish them to.

The acting of the film is all-around solid, with probably the best performance I’ve ever seen out of Omar Epps. To be honest, he was the person I was most worried about going in to the film, but he definitely surprised me with the depth of his performance. The way he and Takeshi played off each other allowed me to easily believe in the connection that the two of them had to have to make the story have its proper style and gravity. I hope to see more of all of these actors in other films, as they all gave great performances.

Overall, this was just an amazing film. It releases for the general public in July, and I cannot stress enough they you should seek this film out as soon as you can to see. In a year of fairly weak films, this is unquestionably a bright spot and one of the best films I have ever seen.

Rating: A+
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O

To do a plot recap, which you should all know anyway since it’s fucking Shakespeare, Odin (Mikhi Phifer) is the star basketball player for his high school team. When he is named MVP of the team by Coach Duke (Martin Sheen), he chooses Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan) to share the award with him rather then Hugo (Josh Hartnett), which sends Hugo in to a rage against Odin and leads to his planning the downfall of Odin and his girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) and everyone else around them.

A large portion of what sets this movie apart from all the other Shakespeare adaptations that have been for teens lately is that it is not taking one of the Bard’s lightweight comedies, but one of this greatest tragedies in Othello and it treats the source material exactly as it should be. Of course, the reason this film was pushed back was because of the fact that teenagers are killed in the end, and mostly by gunfire. As I said with a person after the movie was over and we were discussing it, the only people who will be offended by these scenes are the same ones who will never truly understand what it is that causes these situations in real life. I can only hope that they will realize what this movie is partly attempting to say about the way teenagers can feel isolated and as if they have no way to turn anymore when they are left without any friends.

As for the technical elements of the film, Tim Blake Nelson has shown me with this film that not only is he a great actor, but he is also a tremendous director. There are moments in the film where it is just simple small quiet interludes that he inserts that make emotional statements in ways that no spoken word could ever come close to. His staging of the basketball scenes for the film are stunning in how well they keep the action moving while also allowing some beauty of the poetry of the motion of the players extremely obvious. Overall, the film is beautiful to look at and perfectly shot in every instance.

The writing of the film, by Brad Kaaya with his first script, is splendid with a few exceptions. For the most part, his characters and their motivations are very well scripted out, except with Hugo. In Shakespeare’s play, Iago refuses to discuss all that he does at the end of the play, which makes him all the more mysterious and perfectly written as a character. Hugo explains a little too much for my taste in the end why he did everything that he did, though he never does so to the rest of the characters in the film. I guess I just wanted the original ending a little too much, but I am happy with what Kaaya did with his own situation of writing a film that had to work for modern movie audiences.

The acting of the film was note perfect for all of the roles. Phifer did the slow erosion of a tragic hero exactly right in all of his scenes as the film progressed. Stiles handled the vulnerability and strength that Desi has to have at the same time just as any great Shakespearean actress would have. Martin Sheen was, well, Martin Sheen. He’s just a great actor. Josh Hartnett actually surprised me with how deceptively evil he was throughout the film, just as any great Iago would have to be. I refuse to see Pearl Harbor until video, but if he acts half as good in that film as he does in this one, then it will probably be a very solid performance. All of the other small supporting actors nail their parts just as they should based on the personalities that Shakespeare gave the characters and that Kaaya carried over to the film.

After the feature, there was a scheduled Q&A with Tim Blake Nelson about the film. Brad Kaaya was also in attendance at the premiere and Nelson invited him up to stage for the Q&A as well. The first question was what the entire story was about what had happened with Miramax and the releasing of the film, which I covered in the introduction to this review. I got the second question of the session, which was if either Kaaya or Nelson would be willing to make another movie for Miramax after all that they had been put through with this film (it should be noted that the Dimension logo was still in front of the print of the film which was screened at the premiere). Nelson and Kaaya hemmed and hawed a bit in response, with Nelson eventually telling me that if he knew me better, he’d quickly give me an answer to that question, but based on the situation we were in, he couldn’t really answer it. Kaaya said that he was working on another film for Miramax, so I don’t think he’s holding much of a grudge against the company. A few more questions came around mostly about the story and the process of writing the film, with a particularly interesting question being which scene was the hardest for Nelson to shoot. He said that he had thought the basketball scenes would be the hardest, but what he wound up doing was using a technique very similar to Terrence Malick’s from The Thin Red Line with the battle scenes in that movie to shoot the basketball scenes, which made them very easy to shoot. I got the final question of the evening, in which I asked him about how he selected the music for the film (which was all excellent and well selected). He stated that going in to the film, he knew nothing about rap music, so during post-production he listened to about a thousand rap songs, and then the soundtrack label came onboard and almost all of the songs he had picked went out the window. He also said that the score of the film, written by Jeff Danna, was done with all Elizabethan ear instruments, which gave it a very rustic feel which was very fitting for the film. Finally, to bridge the gap between the rap music and the original score, he used the “Ave Maria” from the 19th century opera Othello, which fit perfectly at the film’s climax.

After the Q&A, I went up and shook Nelson’s hand, and thanked him for making a great film. He is a great speaker, and the Q&A was very good as was the film. I’m glad that Lion’s Gate is finally allowing this film to be released and I hope that people give it a chance rather than just ripping it because it happens to have rap music and trys to tell a Shakespearean story. I highly recommend that people seek it out and give it that chance.

Rating: A
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