151 posts categorized "THREE STARS"

March 03, 2019

THE NINTH GATE

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ColeSmithey.comThe Ninth Gate is a well-crafted and entertaining horror film. While director Roman Polanski chooses to lilt over the horrific trajectory that tugs mercenary book dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) toward the gates of Hell, rather than embrace his protagonist's terror as he did with such shockers as Rosemary's Baby (1968) or The Tenant (1976), Polanski stakes out his own ground rules and adheres to them flawlessly.

The sense of suspense is formal as it is purposeful. 

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From the film’s textbook opening scene in which Polanski's subjective camera discerningly divulges aspects of a millionaire's library in which imminent death approaches, to the thorough European pacing over which the devilish story unfolds, The Ninth Gate takes the audience on a joyfully evil descent into perplexing other-worldly shadows.

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Based on Arturo Perez-Reverte's best-selling novel El Club Dumas, this is a modern gothic horror story woven from the proposed power of satanic literature to conjure up the Devil himself. Dean Corso is an unscrupulous book broker hired by Satan scholar Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to travel from New York to Toledo, Portugal, and Paris to compare Balkin's recently acquired 1666 edition of a rare, hand-bound manual of satanic invocation, supposedly written by Satan himself, against the only two other copies in existence to verify the tome's authenticity.

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Balkan tells the amoral Corso: "There's nothing more reliable than a man who can be bought." Corso's cynical character trait of temptation is written in the sanguine fluid of money from the film's beginning. Corso wears death on his sleeve like a war zone journalist hot for action. Johnny Depp uses a vocal texture that rumbles from the screen in a dark pitch that catches you off guard. His economic but heavy timbre establishes a hollowness in his character, dying to be filled with some unknown organic passion. At times, Depp seems to recede into the film's creaking metal and dry tinder-in-a-box settings. He suggests a precise mortal puppet being manipulated by collaborating evil forces to trace steps he cannot help but follow.

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Polanski and his two collaborating screenwriters, John Brownjohn ("Tess") and Enrique Urbizu, orchestrate their Faustian script in a cinematic shorthand that magnifies tiny details like subtle differences in the nine diabolical engravings which comprise the murderous puzzle that Corso attempts to unravel amidst the three volumes. Polanski drops in sudden repulsive images that give terse nods to such horror films as Hitchcock's Frenzy, and Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. He allows scenes to play without the ersatz aid of musical accompaniment, resulting in a delightfully intimate game of call and response for the audience to conceive while the action unfolds. There are so many highly polished cinematic elements to enjoy in every frame of the movie that repeated viewing beckons.

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Pauline Kael said that "great movies are rarely perfect movies," and this truism certainly applies to The Ninth Gate. Actress Emmanuelle Seigner's (Frantic) sub-plot as Dean Corso's mysterious, dark guardian angel slips through the film as a sexy and enigmatic mascot that Corso accepts too easily. There are plenty of silly bumps and loopy twists that don't sufficiently fulfill a dynamic dramatic arc for the film's slightly long running time, but no jolting scares. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in director of photography, Darius Khondji's ("Seven") hand-in-glove association with the masterful vision of a director who believes that content is more important than form.

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In the end, Dean Corso could readily be an alter-ego fugitive that Polanski recognizes in the mirror of the camera lens. It's an image you can almost imagine.

Rated R. 133 mins. Three Stars SF SHOCKTOBER!Cozy Cole

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February 23, 2019

GHOST SHIP

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ColeSmithey.comWhile Ghost Ship may not provide much more than a series of cursory scary moments over its 88-minute length, the movie's over-the-top opening sequence is worth the price of admission alone.

Bright pink lettering introduces the film as if it were a campy romantic comedy. Gentle lounge music plays from a '50s-style nightclub aboard a glamorous Italian ocean liner. Well-dressed travelers dance to the ship's band and elegant chanteuse, oblivious to the impending danger about to snap at their twitching bodies.

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The following moment of gruesome surprise is drawn out with such gleeful prolonging that the scene goes from shock to horror to comedy and back to shock and horror without missing a beat. Audiences wanting that old-fashioned "Boo!" surprise of a Halloween spook-house experience can get a few good thrills in the safety of a darkened movie house with Ghost Ship, at least in this opening scene.

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A tugboat salvage crew gets an unexpected opportunity when Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington of Boiler Room), a Canadian air force pilot, shows them black-and-white aerial photos of an abandoned ship floating off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea. Led by Captain Sean Murphy (well played by the ever reliable Gabriel Byrne), the crew of the Arctic Warrior tugboat agrees to allow the pilot to join them in their salvage effort to claim whatever riches the ship still holds and give the messenger a 10 percent finder's fee for his trouble.

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Once on board the giant floating rust-bucket cruise liner known as the Antonia Graza, the crew encounters a few ghosts, some truly scary food supplies, and a huge shipment of solid gold bars valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The crew team leader Maureen Epps (Julianna Margulies) communicates exclusively with the ghost of an attractive young girl named Katie (Emily Browning), who survived a little longer than the rest of unfortunate people on the dance floor when death paid a visit to the ship in 1962.

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Blood oozes from bullet holes inside the ship's old swimming pool as the crew struggle to repair a gaping hole in the ship's hull. But the cold claustrophobic fear that should creep off the screen like a dense San Francisco fog never catches on because director Steven Beck (Thirteen Ghosts) can't match the timbre of the movie to the tone of the ship's foreboding atmosphere. Beck never instills the proper mood of dislocation into his actors, nor does he use the camera as a conspirator in building the audience's sense of anxiety.

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Tugboat crew members meet with sudden deaths that occur off-screen half of the time, leaving the audience to wonder why we weren't included. The ship's ghosts turn out to be not as vengeful as your typical ghosts. Still, a  gruesome flesh-ripping sequence make sure that our attention is held while the true face of evil presents itself.

Ghost Ship won't rock anyone's world, but it's still an improvement on another recent horror flick, The Ring, from which audiences walk out scratching their heads as to what they saw and why they spent their hard-earned money to see such a morass of cinematic boredom.

Rated R. 91 mins. 

3 Stars SF SHOCKTOBER!
This review was originally published in the Colorado Springs Independent in 2002.

Cozy Cole

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December 04, 2018

THE AMERICAN MEME

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American_memeBert Marcus’s third documentary gives a brief window into the potentially self-destructive effects of social media celebrity culture as indivertibly birthed by poor little rich girl Paris Hilton. Marcus reminds audiences that Kim Kardashian started out as Hilton’s personal assistant before kicking off her own cult of celebrity with a leaked sex tape that arrived four years after Hilton’s sex tape.  

Social media is “like a drug; we don’t know what the side effects are going to be 20 years from now.” What we do know is that privacy is dead, along with every other great social institution Americans once took for granted. Millennials couldn’t care less.

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What’s missing from this documentary is any historical context about how people such as Napster founders (Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker), and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, contributed to creating a bottom-of-the-barrel economy built on people willing to sell their souls for pennies on social media platforms such as Vine and YouTube.

Slavery to the corporate machine of social media platforms comes in many forms. America no longer has any legitimate media outlets because these companies all now cater to a clickbait formula that ignores editorial responsibility for their meager existence. Groupthink and popularity are all that matter. A dissection of the economics behind social media’s stranglehold on corporate media, and on the lives of thousands of YouTubers, would have been an appropriate addition to this film.  

The American Meme

Josh Ostrovsky (a.k.a. the fatjewish), Brittany Furlan, DJ Khaled, and Kirill (“Was Here”) Bichutsky are the other social media personalities that Marcus interviews and examines as examples of people who spend every waking minute seeking fame and fortune from the lowest common denominators of clickbait mentality. Creating endless scenes of topless girls receiving champagne facials at nightclubs is where it’s at for Kirill. The film’s “celebrities” share one thing in common, these are lonely people seeking approval and validation from a mob of fans who care only about themselves.

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The Hilton Hotel granddaughter is arguably the least compelling of the bunch. We watch as Paris goes through her childhood doll collection with her mother Kathy, a woman whose arrested development roughly matches that of her daughter. If ever there was an example of vapid beauty, Paris Hilton is the poster-girl for it. We listen as Hilton prattles on about how her top was pulled down for “one-second” during a photo shoot for Vanity Fair that launched her famous-for-being-famous career that has led to her becoming a DJ, and launching an endless product line of merchandise. Paris Hilton overload sets in. Cute is, after all, a dime a dozen. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame be damned.

Brittany Furlan

Brittany Furlan’s tale of Vine success exemplifies a small town comic actress who rose to fame for making humorous six-second video clips before Twitter inexplicably shut the service down. The filmmakers shed no light on the fractious relationship between content creators and the concealed corporate machinations that hold these people’s fate in their hands. As many people have discovered the hard way, you can pour your entire life into creating a brand for a platform such as Vine only to have the rug pulled out from under you without notice.

Ironically, Furlan wins her escape from the clutches of the social media rabbit hole via rock drummer Tommy Lee whose own career received a significant boost from a notorious sex tape involving Pamela Anderson. There is something tragically fitting about Furlan taking up a romantic relationship with a wealthy musician 30 years her senior.  

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In a bumbling manner “The American Meme” exposes the hollowness of social media platforms that chew up people’s lives in the interest of likes and follows. We get a glimpse of the collapse of social media that will take many lives with it in one way or another. The film poses a significant if silent question, what is left after you put your entire persona on display for the internet to comment on, critique, and masturbate over?

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All the money in the world won’t help you; you have sold your soul to capitalism’s demons. There is no way you will ever get it back.  

Not Rated. 90 mins. 

Three Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

 

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