U-571 (2000) (***, action, war) (1-1-01)
Unbreakable (2000) (**1/2, suspense) (12-25-00)
Undercover Blues (1993) (**, comedy, romance, action)
Unforgiven (9-27-92) (1992) (****, western, Drama)
Uninvited, The (1944) (***1/2, horror, classic)
Unknown, The (1927) (***, drama, horror) (10-29-01)
Unstoppable (2010) (action, ***1/2 overall, ****+ for action) (11-30-10)
Usual Suspects, The (1995) (****, crime, thriller, suspense, drama, noir)
Untouchables, The (1987) (***1/2, action drama)
U.S. Marshals (1998) (***, action, thriller) (8-28-00)
Utraviolet (1998) (****, vampire, horror) (10-30-00)
U-Turn (1997) (**, noir, crime) (3-26-01)
UVA Film Collection Is Big Time
U-571 (2000) (***, action, war) (1-1-01) (D., W.- Jonathan Mostow; Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, David Keith, Thomas Kretschmann, Jake Weber, Jack Noseworthy, Tom Guiry, Will Estes, Terrence 'T.C.' Carson, Erik Palladino, Dave Power, Derk Cheetwood, Matthew Settle) Review based on the excellent letterboxed DVD available at Sneak Reviews or Beyond Video. Unjustly, in our opinion, maligned by many critics, U-571 is intended as a white knuckle actioner, and it delivers beautifully. U-571 is based in idea only on the recovery of a German Enigma machine from a crippled German submarine. The scene opens with the U-571 being badly damaged and radioing for help. The US intercepts the information and sends out a sub disguised as a U boat to capture their critical Enigma code machine. The US ship is captained by Lieutenant Commander Mike Dahlgren (Paxton) and second Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (McConaughey). Dahlgren thinks his second does not yet have that moral steel to coldly send men to their death. Dahlgren is about to be tempered in a crucible of fire as he learns the real horrors of war and command. For those who havent seen the previews or heard about it, I will say little more about plot.
The film is presented from both the German and American sides. Both sides are young and terrified by their experience, yet professional and courageous enough to do what has to be done. You can empathize with both. In the assault on the submarine, both sides look genuinely petrified by fear and adrenaline.
The acting is good. McConaugheys transformation from good buddy to commanding officer is believable. Kapitanlieutenant Wassner (Kretschmann) is completely believable as a man revered by his crew and a ruthless and cunning warrior. The other parts are well done, but as in many ensemble casts we never get a chance to become intimate with most of the actors.
The action sequences are very well done. The suspense is palpable. The film has been maligned since it uses so many of the WWII conventions, such as depth charge attacks. There are only so many travails a submarine can undergo and a depth charge attack is one of themone of the most terrifying ones. The only question is "Are these done well?" White knuckle in my opinion.
The film makes stellar use of full size models and sets, models (if a 45 sub can be called a model), computer graphics, and computer enhancement of real objects. It is so skillfully done that you are rarely aware of which is which.
So in my opinion if you want a well done actioner, check out U-571.
The DVD has an outstanding directors supplementary audio voice-over on the film. We learn technical details, historical facts, and anecdotes. They actually constructed a 212, 600 ton, 18000 horse power sea-going model of the sub. The sets were completely realistic, although the interiors were 15% larger than real to allow easier camera work, but everything shown is as technically accurate as the director could manage. They had a real submariner as a consultant. While watching the explosions of the depth charges, I wondered how they did it. Real explosives! The German gun boat was actually Italian and then computer enhanced to look 50% bigger and more ominous. The engine sounds you hear on the U-boat are from a real U-boat engine (U-505 in Chicago). That is a real Enigma machine that they purchased for the film. The German code books were in water soluble ink to simplify destruction. A critical question is could an American crew actually use a German submarine? According to the experts, yes. Submarines were sufficiently similar that the American crew would quickly adaptbut probably not as quickly as required for the plot. The depth charge shot where the tail of the submarine is shown to flex is realistic. However, I suspect that a sub that flexed as much as shown would be torn apart.
From the DVD we learn that there were actually three submarines captured during the war. Two by the British and one in 1944 by the UStoo late to be of any technical assistance. The DVD also contains a newsreel style documentary on the actually seizure of the U-110 by the British in 1941. They have an interview with Lt. Commander David Balme who led the boarding party on the U-110. They have comments by David Kahn, a cryptologist. The critical portion of the Enigma was the three interlinked rotors. In the event of abandonment, the crew was supposed to pull the rotors and toss them overboard. The sailor who pulled the rotors forgot to deep six them in the excitement of the sinking, and after the capture when he went to his coat to destroy them he found that the British had already found and confiscated them. In short, the supplementary material on U-571 shows exactly what a fine DVD should be. Beginning
Unbreakable (2000) (**1/2, suspense) (12-25-00) (D.- M. Night Shyamalan; Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat) An attempt by Shyamalan to recreate the lighting bolt of The Sixth Sense. It doesnt work. My wife found it soporific, and one of the worst movies that she had seen in some time. I felt it had some intriguing elements that never gelled. David Dunn escapes a train wreck without a scratch while everyone else dies horrifically. He appears to be unbreakable. His marriage to Megan (Penn) is crumbling. He is a successful security guard, but is totally dissatisfied with his life. Up-scale comic book art collector Elijah Price (Jackson) may have the answer. Price, who is the opposite of unbreakable, has a genetic condition that makes his bones so brittle that they break with the slightest impact or shock. On the scale of human evolution, Elijah thinks that Dunn and he may just represent opposite ends of the evolutionary ladder. The film evolves around the relationship of the two men, the attempt to discover what, if anything, is special about Dunn, and the relationship of David with his wife and son Jeremy (Treat). Beginning
Undercover Blues (1993) (**, comedy, romance, action) (D.-Herbert Ross; Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, Stanley Tucci, Larry Miller, Obba Babatunde, Tom Arnold) I'm a keen fan of both Turner and Quaid, and eagerly looked forward to Blues. Unfortunately, this is not their media. They are Jeff and Jane Blue complete with toddler on vacation. They are also lethally competent spies. The FBI recruits them back into service to bring down power-mad Shaw who has stolen a super powerful military explosive. Along the way Jeff crosses local hoodlum El Muerte (Tucci) and easily dispatches him while holding the baby in one arm. This sets up one of the running battles throughout the film as Muerte tries to best the Blues. Weak scripting and chemistry between Quaid and Turner pretty much sink Blues. There are a few good comedic moments, principally involving the worthless Muerte, and some nice New Orleans shots; but this will never replace the nasty banter of Nick and Nora Charles of the Thin Man fame. A disappointment. Beginning
Unforgiven (9-27-92) (1992) (****, western, Drama) (D-Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris) Eastwood's quintessential Western is an extremely well acted, gorgeously photographed, but brooding, very disturbing look at the dark side of men's souls. There are no winners here, only survivors. There are no good, only bad either by design, omission, or misjudgment. A slashing disfigurement of a prostitute in Big Whiskey Wyoming in 1878 sets the stage for a far greater tragedy. The iron fisted sociopathic (or is it sadistic?) sheriff, Little Bill (Hackman), errs in punishing the cowpokes by only making them pay restitution to the male house owner. For vengeance, the prostitutes take up a collection and advertise for an assassin. Eastwood, who had been a savage drinker and outlaw before rehabilitation by his now -dead wife, is a Nebraska dirt farmer with two children. He and his ex-gang member (Freeman) are drawn into the revenge by a young tough out to make a fast name and a fast buck. Make no mistake, there is no morality in this hunt; it is purely for the money. Make no mistake, it is not law and order that drives Hackman to brutalize anyone who disturbs his carefully structured fiefdom; it is power and control. Eastwood's mantra, "I am not like that any more" is as prophetic as any Greek chorus.
The horror of the town is exemplified by the masterful confrontation between English Bob (Harris) and Little Bill in the streets. When Bob, a brave and resourceful man, suddenly discovers into whose town he has walked, his behavior shifts from braggadocio to that of a man who just realized that he had mistakenly stepped amongst the coils of a large angry diamond back rattle snake. Bob knows that any wrong word or nuance in behavior spells certain doom; he moves and talks like a man trying to walk across a field of eggs. While the voices never rise, the menace and tension are so thick you can barely breathe. Later, Hackman's treatment of, and coolly detached discourse with, the dime novelist on killing and dying is so bleak a view of the old West that it will make your blood run cold. Again, highly prophetic. The killing is stark, brutal, realistic. The same for motivation and actions. This deeply disturbing movie is not for the squeamish. Remember the proverb: "Be careful what you ask for, you may get it". Far too many ask. The opening and closing scene will long stick with you, but must be seen on a big screen to be fully appreciated. Beginning
Uninvited, The (1944) (***1/2, horror, classic) (D.-Lewis Allen; Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Dorothy Stickney, Barbara Everest, Alan Napier) For those who don't like the modern slasher horror, film Uninvited is a black and white chiller that accomplishes horror and creeping dread with innuendo, nuance, and top rated cinematography. If you liked to be scared, but not grossed out, give it a look. From Dorothy Macardle's novel Uneasy Freehold. (6-1-98) Beginning
Unknown, The (1927) (***, drama, horror) (10-29-01) (D.- Tod Browning; Norman Kerry, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, Jr., Frank Lanning) The Festival gave one of the rare screenings of Chaneys silent The Unknown. A story of a ruthless thief with a unique physical deformity, two thumbs on one hand. To hide from the police he assumes the role of an armless knife thrower in a gypsy carnival. He falls in love with the carnival owners daughter Estrellita played by Crawford (18 at the time). Surrealistic. Brutal. With a twist near the end that is genuinely bizarre. Chaney, as usual, manages a creepy presence. The manipulations with the feet are stunning and apparently not actually done by Chaney, but by very clever camera work and by someone with extraordinarily dextrous feet. A must see for lovers of Chaneys work. Beginning
Unlawful Entry (1992) (***, suspense) (D.-Jonathan Kaplan, Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta, Madeleine Stowe) Taut, crisp formula thriller about policeman (Liotta) who becomes homicidally infatuated with the wife of a couple he meets while investigating a burglary. Liotta is frighteningly good as a charming, manipulative sociopath who ingratiates himself with the couple. He is so cooly detached from reality that he eagerly and skillfully prostitutes his position of authority to destroy the husband and anyone else who gets in his way while believing that he is doing it because the wife loves him. The couple is good and Stowe's behavior almost believable given the radically different views she gets of Liotta from her husband and by direct interaction. For paranoids this movie believably and frighteningly leaves little doubt as to why it is a bad idea to irritate anyone in law enforcement. The ending is standard, but white knuckle well done. (2-1-94) Beginning
Usual Suspects, The (1995) (****, crime, thriller, suspense, drama) (D.-Bryan Singer; Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Bryne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite, Dan Hedaya) The only thing usual about The Usual Suspects is the title. If you like film noir, run, do not walk, to the Seminole and see Suspects. Convoluted. Beautifully acted. Disturbing. Unbalancing. My family and I are still arguing over exactly what we saw and what happened. The film opens at the termination of a bloody confrontation and conflagration on the waterfront. Maybe you can count the survivors on your thumbs. Perhaps there was $91 million in drugs on the freighter. Possibly there exists a Keyser Söze, a mythical Hungarian gangster of such ferocity that Vlad the Impaler would cringe. The story unfolds in flashbacks during a police interview in which Palminteri very slowly extracts the story from survivor "Verbal" Kint (Spacey). It all starts easily enough. Five low lifes meet in a line up. These include Keaton (Byrne) as a corrupt ex-cop who may be going straight; McManus (Baldwin) as a nasty hair trigger guy; Hockney (Pollak) as a gadget expert; Fenster (Del Toro) as someone who sounds like Mumbles in Dick Tracy but gets things done; and Kint, a cripple with brains. In classic noir fashion, what happens has the frightening inevitability of a freight train bearing down on a car that is stalled at night on a crossing. Only the approaching track has more turns and switch points than a rail yard, the rails are covered with debris, bridges are out, and it isn't clear who is the train and who is the car.
Crisp plot and dialogue by Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie. Brooding sound track and editing by John Ottman. Seductively fluid noir filming by Newton Thomas Sigel with some absolutely mesmerizing images. And a whole that exceeds the sum of the parts.
One of my pet peeves is suspense films that don't play fair with audiences. You should be able to figure it out if only you're smart enough. I think Suspects plays fair, but I can't wait to get back and confirm it. If the logic holds together as well as I think it will, then definitely a solid four stars. (9-4-95)
Added Note: YES. It plays as well the second time as it did the first. Also, the line-up scene was supposed to be played dead straight. However, the actors were in a giggly mood that day, and the whole thing turned into a disreputable shambles. And that's the way it shows. (9-18-95) Beginning
Unstoppable (2010) (action, ***1/2 overall, ****+ for action) (11-30-10) (D-Tony Scott; W.-Mark Bomback; Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee) Need an adrenaline fix? Then run do not walk to Unstoppable while it is still in the theater. The movie screams for the big screen and a blow you out of the seat sound system. But do look for a seat that still has armrests that haven't been ripped off by previous white-knuckled viewers. This is the most relentless intense adrenaline rush I can remember. My adrenal gland will take weeks to recover. Scott outdoes himself. The story is simple. Due to gross human error, an unmanned powerful locomotive, The Beast 777 and half a mile of cars leaves the rail yard under full power. And it is loaded with cars of toxic flammable chemicals. Finally, at the end of a 50 mile or so run, lies Stanton with a curve that must be taken at no more than 15 mph. You see the incident develop and the attempts to stop the train from the perspective of the rail controller Connie (Dawson ) at one end, a veteran engineer Frank (Washington) and his novice conductor Will (Pine) at the other, and the news media coverage and the public voyeurs in the middle.
The acting is good and the character development minimal but we get enough to show the solid normal people confronted with an unfolding disaster. However, Scott's goal is not characters, it is relentlessly throat grabbing action and in this the film is ****+. No matter how good your ideas, remember the title.
The trains should be billed in the cast. The massive surging Beast, bereft
of any humanity, is a relentless implacable instrument of destruction. The editing
and the music clinch the deal.
The story is based on a true incident with the initiation and many of the attempts to stop the train being the same, as is the final success. However, the risks were much lower. Pine did many of his stunts and Washington, who doesn't like heights, is indeed on top of the train at 50 mph.
Not to be missed for lovers of action. I can hardly wait for the DVD so I can see how they filmed it. There appear to be few CGI effects in the film.
A full account of the real incident is available at http://kohlin.com/CSX8888/z-final-report.htm
Untouchables, The (1987) (***1/2, action drama) (D.-Brian De Palma, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Billy Drago) Elliot Ness (Costner) and his elite group of Treasury agents bring down Al Capone (De Niro) in 1930 Chicago, although not without violence and heavy casualties on both sides. A stylish war of nerves and violence. The plot is fascinating, the acting excellent (even Costner's wooden acting is perfect for the brooding Ness). Connery's Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor is justly deserved. His testing of whether Garcia is good enough to work with them is brutal, terse, and perfect. De Niro is flawless as the sleek, well fed, immaculately dressed and absolutely ruthless Capone.The bat scene is a masterful mixture of rationality and psychopathy. His suits, incidentally, look authentic 1930's, but are not. The original just didn't look classy enough for modern audiences and were spruced up. Many scenes are elegantly orchestrated from De Palma's unique suspense style. One is the killer's view search of Connery's apartment. The train station scene is one of the most finely choreographed pieces of modern suspense; it alone is worth the price of admission. See Potemkin for the origin of critical elements of this scene. As with much of the underrated De Palma's work, this is a crisp, well crafted thriller. (4-5-93) Beginning
A classic 30 Buick used in the film. On display at Kings Dominion, VA.
U.S. Marshals (1998) (***, action, thriller) (8-28-00) (D.- Stuart Baird; Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr., Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, LaTanya Richardson, Irčne Jacob, Tom Wood) From the savaging the critics gave this, I waited and finally got around to watching it on DVD. I wouldnt have been disappointed in the theater. First, lets define the parameters. Marshals is intended as a mindless piece of action entertainment with interesting, entertaining characters, neat F/X, and great action sequences. Anyone expecting Othello, should run not walk to the nearest exit. However, within the parameters, Marshals delivers a fun and satisfying evening. US Marshal Samuel Gerard (Jones) from The Fugitive and his crack team of Marshals are out to track down murderer and robber Sheridan (Snipes). Jones is in top form reprising his type A, utterly driven "round up the guilty" persona. As long as one law breaker on his watch is still free, no one, least of all himself, will sleep. Jones has the build, the charisma, and the acting ability to pull this off and make you believe it. He is not a man on whose wrong side you would ever want to be. Snipes, as the hunted, is clever and as you quickly begin to realize more than a simple murderer and thief.
As with Fugitive, the film begins with an incredible set piece escape that sets the chase in place. The characterizations are rich. The humor droll. The plot development interesting and uncertain enough to keep your attention. Snipes and, especially Jones, are always a pleasure to watch.
The DVD has an outstanding section on the F/X and an entertaining and informative short on the history of the U.S. Marshals. Well worth the time to watch them. Beginning
Utraviolet (1998) (****, vampire, horror) (10-30-00) (Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker, Susannah Harker, Idris Elba, Philip Quast, Colette Brown, Thomas Lockyer, partial listing only) The best thing to happen to vampires in years. A stunning 6 hour British miniseries that thrusts the vampire legend into the 21st century. A young police detective is dragged unwillingly into the middle of a clandestine brutal take-no-prisoners war between humans and vampires. There are a few respectable special effects, but Ultraviolet rests primarily on character development, good acting and plotting, truly disturbing visual and aural elements, and possibly the most Mephistopholean vampires ever seen on film. They are intelligent, articulate and absolutely rational. Are they the hunted or the hunters? As the evidence sways us, and the detective, back and forth, the film holds back the ultimate answer until the last minutes. Indeed, depending on how you want to interpret the end for two very Darwinian species you might be able to argue the case for either side. I will say that the last 20 minutes is about as tense as anything Ive seen. You just cannot see how they can possibly resolve everything.
Ultraviolet is very European in style. Much less spoon feeding of the American style with lots of loose ends. Also, it is not slam bang action, but much more cerebral. So much so that when violence actually does occur it is a shock. I will say that if you dont like the film in about the first 45 minutes, you should quit since it does not resonate with you as it does with me. The remainder of the film is similar in format.
I am being deliberately sparse on details. I dont want to give anything away and spoil your pleasure of discovery. However, I will say that even the "good guys" are complex and not necessarily likable. The film was shown in 6 one-hour segments (with ads) and each segment represented a self-contained story. But you will definitely want to watch them in order. Review based on the showing on the Sci Fi Channel this past summer. Beginning
U-Turn (1997) (**, noir, crime) (3-26-01) (D.-Oliver Stone; Sean Penn, Billy Bob Thornton, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Voight, Powers Boothe) The name says it all. If you see this rental, make a U-Turn and select something else. Bobby (Penn) breaks down in the middle of the Arizona desert and ends up in Superior, which is anything but. He encounters a half-wit mechanic Darrell (Thornton), a lecherous housewife Grace (Lopez), and her enraged husband Jake (Nolte). He has very important reasons for wanting to get out of there fast (three fingers), but everything conspires to keep him there. As coincidence piles on coincidence, he finds himself more deeply trapped in Superior than a mammoth in the La Brea tar pits and with murder as the only way out. Oh yes, throw in a blind Indian (Voight), who cannot keep his story or his philosophy straight to round out the weird characters.
The characters, the situations, and the development are so extreme and bizarre that I can only envision the film being a parody of noir or just self-indulgent. It doesnt work as parody. I really have no idea what the gifted Stone had in mind, but it doesnt work. Indeed, my ** rating is only begrudgingly given because I was intrigued enough to watch the whole film to see how it would play out. And, of course, Stone did manage some imaginative images.
A real disappointment given the cast and director. However, Penn does turn in an entertaining performance as a man pushed to his limits.
The film has a lot of plot overlap with the satisfactory Red Rock West and drew heavily in places on the excellent Body Heat. My recommendation is to check out either of these far superior films. Review based on the DVD that has no supplementary material except the trailer. Beginning
UVA Film Collection Is Big Time During his recent visit to Charlottesville, Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert commented that the University of Virginia's film collection is the best he has seen at any university!! So if you haven't checked it out, trundle on over to Clemons. The Clemons' terminals even have hot key combinations for different types of films. (5-20-96) Beginning