Ryanburg's Short Film Reviews

Three KingsB+Three Kings opens just after the Gulf War ceasefire in March, 1991. The American infrantry is celebrating and taking Iraqi prisoners. During the search of one prisoner, the soldiers (Mark Wahlberg, Spike Joonz, Ice Cube) discover that one Iraqi has a map stuck up his ass. This assmap is the key to the plot of the film. The three soldiers interpret the map as showing the locations of stockpiles of property looted from Kuwait and decide that they would have better use for it than Saddam Hussein. At the same time, the rumor that a map has been found stuck up an Iraqi's ass is now sweeping the base, becoming more exaggerated with each retelling. This attacts the attention of a reporter (Nora Dunn) who desperately needs a story to keep on the air and help save her career. The reporter and her military liason officer, Captain Gates (George Clooney), attempt to track the story down. However, Gates is two weeks shy of retiring and wants more than his meager army pension. He soon discovers who has the map and forces his way in to their plan. Gates is a former special forces officer and finds the real map hidden under the first. This map shows the locations of the looted gold treasury of Kuwait. They sidetrack the reporter, grab a humvee and head out into the desert to make their fortunes.

After a fun humvee ride through the desert shooting nerf footballs and blowing up cows, the foursome arrive in the village of their destination and, after searching tunnels underneath the village, they eventually find and load up the gold into a spare truck. They also find political prisoners who are being tortured by the Republican Guard troops, and on attempting to free them get in a firefight with the troops. Since they have broken the cease fire, they are attacked as they flee the village with the gold and the prisoners. One of them is captured by the Iraqies. The rest of the picture is Hollywood version of a french resistance raid set in Iraq.

Three Kings attempts to blend broad humor, attention-grabbing and graphic violence along with political commentary on the Gulf War and its aftermath. However, it is seriously flawed in its execution. While quickly executing the search and seizure of the treasury with great humor and energetic action, the film slows down considerably in the middle and becomes mired in cinematic senimentality in dealing with the oppressed Iraqies. Additionally, the director choose to shoot the movie on Kodachrome film rather than the regular stock used by the major studioes. The result is a washed-out, grainy effect that I guess attempts to portray the desert harshness as overwhelming the senses. What it produces is a failure to portray the natural beauty of the desert and detracts from the overall experience of the film rather than enhancing it. On the good side, there is a well written scipt and an exploration of arabs as ordinary people rather than bomb wielding fanatics. In fact, one of the Iraqi prisoners claims to "have a B degree from Bowling Green" and claims that the US Air Force bombed all his cafes. This is an idiotic statement as the Air Force would not risk a $50 million aircraft and a pilot that cost $5 million to train on militarily worthless targets like cafes.

Mark Walhberg delivers a suprisingly good performance for an underwear model while Clooney apparently has only one performance and delivers it in every movie he makes. Ice Cube most mumbles. Overall the film is not nearly as great as the critics proclaim but is better than the majority of crap produced by Hollywood.

The Last BroadcastB+See if this sounds familiar. Four people go into the deep woods (the "Pine Barrens") in New Jersey to shoot a cable access show about a mysterious phenomenon called the "Jersy Devil" said to lurk there. Three are mysteriously killed and hacked apart and the fourth is blamed for their murder based on the video tape shot by the crew before and during the murders. Shades of The Blair Witch Project.

However, this film was made a year before Blair Witch came out. It follows that the makers of this film are now sueing the hell out of the Blair Witch people. Unlike Blair Witch, this film was never sent into general release and due to the popularity of Blair,/i> it is now out on vhs. There are so many simularities between the two films, coupled with the fact that they were made in realtively near each other, (Maryland and New Jersey) it is possible that there was plagerism involved. Certainly the independent film community of the area passed around copies of their work to show off and receive comment. But compared to Blair Witch, this film is far more crudely shot. The acting is sometimes atrocious and the story is not quite as complex. However, this is still an interesting film to watch. It is well thought out and has a very, very suprising ending that I simply did not see coming. Considering that suprise endings are virtually unheard of in Hollywood, that's enough to earn this independent flick a B+ from me.

American BeautyAAs a general rule I really can't stand movies that revolve around family relationships and situations, and I had to endure 15 minutes of previews of just these sappy types of films at the theater. But the wait was worth it. Kevin Spacey portrays a husband and father trapped in dead marriage with a shrew wife and a daughter that despises him. After the lead in, Spacey's character has a midlife crises, naturally deciding he hates his life. He developes a obsessional sexual fantasy revolving around his daughter's cheerleader girlfriend and determines to devote himself to doing what he wants to do rather than what is expected of him. This includes deliberately lossing his job and then blackmailing his boss into giving him a year's salary. Deciding that the happiest time of his life was his senior year in high school, he devolves mentally into an 18 year-old. He buys a 1971 red sports car (because he always wanted one), and even goes so far as to get a job flipping burgers at minimum wage just like he did in the good old days.

This movie has a plot far more complex than your average drama and unlike most Hollywood movies, does not have a happy ending. That enough to make me like it right there. Add in the hilarious episodes with the complex supporting characters and this is one of the best movies of the year. Clearly the best drama. Spacey will probably get the academy award for this performance and expect to see this film nominated for best picture.

The GeneralB+Irish. John Boorman (Hope and Glory, Excaliber, Deliverance) tells the true story of the life and death of the famous Irish professional criminal Martin Cahill. Developing as a complicated character born in the slums of Dublin, Cahill survives and prospers as an armed robber by being smarter than others of the same ilk. Boorman explores his political, moral and ethical bends while also showing what a viciously violent and selfish thug Cahill truely is. John Voight hands in a suprising good performance and Irish accent as the police inspector assigned to put him in jail. Boorman shows his filmmaking skills by artfully blending Cahills intelligent and hilarious criminal trickery with his brutal nature.
Children of HeavenBIranian. Persian with english subtitles. Ali losses his sister's shoes on the way home from the cobbler. Because the family is too poor to afford to buy a new pair, Ali and sister are forced to share Ali's sneakers, running back and forth from school to exchange them. This of course leads to the inevitable ending where Ali wins the big footrace. Critics have fallen over themselves in praise of this film. One of the first to make it to the US from Iran. The most interesting aspect of the film is the depiction of how modern Iranians live (apparently sitting on the floor without furniture similarly to the Japanese and with gutters running down the middle of the street) and showing Tehran as a modern city with glass office buildings and an urban highway system. However, to get past the censors the film is totally devoid of any of the controversial aspects of Iran. The only hint of this is where the sister chants while exercising with her class at school proclaiming "We are the flowers of our nation. We will follow our Leader." The praise of the critics is unwarranted. The main characters are so sickeningly sweet that you could get diabetes from watching them. This is an old fashioned children's movie and really shouldn't be taken seriously by adults.
Marie Baie des Anges C-French with english subtitles. Marie is a 14 year old who likes to hang around with American sailors and who eventually meets up with Orso, a small-time criminal of the same age. The beginning of the film is actually the end with a constant series of flashbacks all of which eventually leaves you confused as to what is happening. The film is boring, pointless and never actually seems to end up with a coherent plot. Do not waste your time on it.
The MatchmakerB-VHS. Janeane Garofalo stars in a romantic comedy as a campaign consultant to a U.S. Senator caught in a tough reelection. She is eventually sent to Ireland to find the Senator's old country relatives to show he is one of the "common people." However, the old home town is currently having a matchmaking festival were everyone from nearby goes to get hitched. This film owes quite a lot to Local Heroes in its formula as small town Irish stereotypes with a love interest thrown on top. It is of average entertainment value for its budget. I was quite suprised that Garofalo would make a romantic comedy as it is completely unlike any of her other works. I just couldn't buy her in the role.
Stir of EchoesA-Psychological horror film with Kevin Bacon as an average working Joe who gets his mind accidently opened to the supernatural through a botched hypnotism by his airhead new age sister-in-law. The house is haughted by the spirit of a teenage girl that was murdered in the house just before Bacon's family moved in. Their little boy can see her from the start, however, after Bacon gets his mind opened, he starts to see her as well. This begins to drive him insane as he searches obcessively for the answers to his visions.

This film actually made me jump at several points, but that was probably due to the screams of the two idiot teenage girls sitting behind me. This is actually an entertaining and intreging film and usually keeps you guessing as to what's going to happen next. However, when Bacon is told to dig in one of his visions, he digs and digs and digs until you want to want to shout at him to knock it off and find the body already. Based on the classic novel by Richard Matheson. Best Hollywood horror film I have seen this year.

Blair Witch ProjectA-When I saw this film after waiting an hour in the hot and humid Houston summer, I was disappointed. This was not the scariest movie in years. In fact I left with very mixed fealings about this film. Its best point is that it keeps you wondering just what the hell is going to happen next. You just can't guess. The performances of the cast were convincing as showing the characters as "real" filmmakers lost in the woods. However, there was far too much bickering by the characters and I really hated the anticlimatic ending. Later however, I had a more favorable feeling about the film after a few days of reflection than when I left the theater. For an independent film made with virtually no money, you couldn't get a better result. It certainly is superior to the majority of the horror movie drek produced by Hollywood. It also added a brand new direction to the horror film genre, something that hasn't been done since 1968's Night of the Living Dead and 1978's Halloween. I was going to give this film a B+ but knuckled under and upped it to an A-, mainly for the effort.
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt)AGerman with english subtitles. This film tells the story of a young woman (Lola) who has just twenty minutes to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks (about $50,000)to save her boyfriend from getting killed by gangsters after he loses their money. The film then shows three alternative versions of her attempts to save him, each starting at the same point in time. This is certainly a great foreign film with an innovative storyline and film technique. Its only shortcoming is that it is only 80 minutes long.
The MummyB+The upteenth remake of the 1930's classic. The great thing about this movie is that it doesn't take itself very seriously. Hollywood cliches are exploited for their comic value producing a humorous satire of the old films, while combining them with great action and modern visual effects. Needless to say, this is by far the most realistic looking walking-undead-mummy I have ever seen. Very entertaining.
200 CigarettesDA cast of characters try to reach a New York City New Years Eve party in 1981. Quite frankly, this movie sucks. The characters are uninteresting and boring. The movie has no logical plot. Although full of well know actors including Courtney Love (Oscar nominee for The People Vs. Larry Flint) , Christian Ricci (The Opposite of Sex), Jay Mohr(Go) and Janeane Garfalo (virtually every movie made in the last five years), they had nothing to work with. Avoid this film at all costs. One of the worst films of 1999.
BowfingerB+A comedy with a slightly new twist written by and starring Steve Martin (Bowfinger) as a low rent movie producer who wants to have Hollywood's biggest action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) in his film. The problem is that Kit Ramsey doesn't know he's in the movie as Bowfinger has his actors walk up to Kit and say their lines while secretly filming them. Murphy also plays a second and better role as a nerd (Jiff)who is cast as Kit's film double. But by far the funniest preformance is put in by the dog, who gets the two biggest laughs of the film. Very enjoyable.
Central Station (Central do Brazil)B+Brazilian. Portugese with English subtitles. A woman who writes letters for illiterates in Brazil's Central Station (Fernanda Montenegro). After seeing one of the woman for whom she wrote a letter get run over by a bus, she takes in the woman's son to help him. However, she is greedy and sells the kid to a couple that arrainges overseas adoptions for $2,000. Her friend tells her that there are no adoptions and that they will sell the kid's organs to foreigners for transplants. Regretting her action she takes the kid back from the couple and blows town with the couple angrily looking for them and the money. With nowhere else to go she decides to help the boy reach his father thousands of miles down the road.

This is a good, but not nearly as great as everyone raves about. Neither did I see Montengro's performance as anything special. Certainly not enough to warrant an Oscar nomination. This is another example of critics raving about a something that certainly may be called a good film, but not a great one.

DICKB+Comedy revolving around two scatterbrained teenage girls who unwittling stumble across the Watergate break-in leading to the arrest of the burglars. On a school trip to the White House, they are recognized and are hired by Nixon (Dan Hedaya) to be official Whitehouse dogwalkers to keep an eye on them. They eventually uncover Nixon's secret tapes, become "Deep Throat" and eventually bring Nixon down. Although imaginative and clever (the 18 minute gap in the tapes are the result of one of the girls dictating a love letter to Nixon), you need a working knowledge of Watergate in order to get all the in-jokes. This was certainly clear in the audience were I watched this movie as there was little laughter from those under the age of 30. Great performances by Hedaya as Nixon, and Will Ferrel and Bruce McCulloch as the juvenile bickering Woodward and Bernstein.
SweetheartsB+A man sets out on a blind date with a woman (Janeane Garofalo)he mets through the personal adds only to discover she's not what she says she is (a bi polar manic depressive planning to commit suicide). When he tries to leave, she pulls a gun on him to make him stay. The rest of the film is an interplay between the two as he tries to convince her to let him go and not to commit suicide. Excellent character study.
Still CrazyBA "This is Spinal Tap" type British movie about an imaginary 1970s glam band 'Strange Fruit' attempting to reunite after 20 years and make some money off the 70s revival craze. An Ok but not great movie. Spinal Tap is by far the superior.

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