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Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2004 10:21 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Son of the Sheik

Written by...Syd

This, of course, is Valentino's last film, and it was a huge sensation because he died six weeks after its release. Valentino has a double role in this, playing the Sheik and his son. The son, Ahmed, falls for a dancing girl, Yasmin (played by Vilma Banky), who works for a troop of thieves; the thieves capture him and one of them who wants Banky for himself tells Ahmed that Yasmin lured Ahmed to be robbed and tortured. Ahmed believes this and is determined to wreak revenge on the woman who loves him. Meanwhile, his parents are determined to rein in their hot-blooded son and find him a suitable match.

I was disappointed in early on, because for some reason I thought this was a comedy, when in fact, it is a romance (an abduction fantasy, to be exact, which is a style of film that makes me uneasy). However, Valentino and Banky have a good chemistry together.

Then we get an astonishing sequence which is one of the best in silent films, and now I need to put in a big red

Determined to get revenge on the woman who betrayed him, Ahmed kidnaps Yasmin and confronts her. The acting in this scene is amazing; Ahmed hates her, but there is still the memory of love; Yasmin at first loves him, then hates him, but there is still the attraction, and emotions go 180 degrees around and back in a matter of seconds. It climaxes in a fadeout where Ahmed rapes Yasmin. (I think the end of the scene was cut out, so you are free to think something else happened; but it seems clear to me he rapes her.)

Meanwhile, the Sheik and his wife are awaiting the arrival of an Englishwoman who they wish their son to marry. The Sheik goes to visit his wayward son and discovers that Ahmed is holding Yasmin prisoner. He shames Ahmed and Ahmed agrees to release the poor girl. No sooner is she released than she falls into the clutches of her evil admirer. Not Ahmed, the other one.

Ahmed's sidekick, who was escorting Yasmin back to her family, overhears the evil admirer tell Yasmin about the lie he told Ahmed. The sidekick escapes to tell Ahmed, who realizes Yasmin is innocent and really did love him, so he goes to rescue her, charging into the den of thieves all by himself. (Well, he does take time to disguise himself.) When the Sheik hears this, he goes to help his son. When you realize that Ahmed and the Sheik are played by the same actor, the climax of the film is not only exciting, but a tour de force.

This is not the best Valentino film I've seen; that would be The Eagle, and Cobra is also better. (I also like Monsieur Beaucaire better despite it supposedly ruining Valentino's career.) This one suffers from it's being an abduction fantasy, and it's kind of hard to swallow Yasmin's forgiveness after what Ahmed did to her. But this is Valentino's best acting performance (both as Ahmed and as the Sheik), and Banky keeps up with him all the way. It's interesting to watch Valentino's performances during the twenties and see him develop from the horrible eye-popping scene-chewing in The Sheik (which he does a little humerous homage to when he first appears as the Sheik) to his acting in his later films, when he does a fine job.

I do miss Yasmin's wedding-night revenge when she pulls out that nasty knive and cuts off the offending member.
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Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2004 1:53 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Written by...Marilyn

When this last film by Stanley Kubrick hit theatres, it created the kind of negative stir that Kubrick had seen perhaps only one other time in his career--when his 2001: A Space Odyssey was greeted by uncomprehending derision at its first industry screening. Although Eyes Wide Shut is not the groundbreaking film that masterpiece was, it is a film both better than its detractors believe and a fitting close to a distinguished career. It is a mirror on and a summation of an original artist. In many ways, it parallels Dreams, the final film of another screen master, Akira Kurosawa.

Stanley Kubrick was the most cerebral of film makers, able to create worlds of lush imagery filled with cold, despicable “polite” people and hot, despicable renegades. His sympathies generally were with the latter. In Eyes Wide Shut, he creates another one of those worlds, where impossible luxury contains powerful, heartless, stifled people, and human emotion--jealousy--unexpectedly comes along to open clouded eyes.

If we take the film at face value--that a smug, rich doctor becomes unhinged and vengeful over the sexual fantasies of his beautiful wife for another man--we have a fairly stock story. In fact, the adventures Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) undergoes as he tries to push the images created by his own imagination of his wife’s (Nicole Kidman) unconsummated betrayal seem confusing and coincidental. Of course, if all one thinks about is sex, then all one’s experiences will be sexual. Nonetheless, his night of mostly vicarious debauchery seems more the stuff of dreams than reality. This is, I think, the key to understanding this film, Stanley Kubrick’s most personal.

Viewed a second time, as I did last night, the film struck me very strongly as one about the movie industry. The so-called Dream Factory never quite accepted Kubrick; its embrace was cold, its honors shamefully withheld. Bill goes through the night trying to satisfy a craving, a longing, ludicrously pulling out his credentials as a physician, as though his ability to heal should be enough to open doors. Sometimes they do open, but he never quite gets what he bargained for. So goes the life of an outsider director, a man with a reputation that never earned the respect of the monied moguls of Hollywood. Good doctor Bill is appalled by the unconcern of his friend Victor (Sydney Pollack) for the life of a hooker who apparently sacrificed herself to save Bill from the people attending the orgy he crashed. Victor says, “Do you know who was in that room? If I told you their names, well, you wouldn’t sleep very well at night.” Hollywood, the maker of bad dreams (movies), was in that room

Let’s look at the leads of the film. On the basis of the story alone, the casting of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman seems like a stunt. However, if we look at the film as a commentary on film making, they are the best actors for the job. They live the luxurious life depicted in the film. They are asked constantly to parties for the sake of appearances because they are A-listers and good people to know. Of course men desire Nicole; she is beautiful. There is even a comment on Cruise’s appeal to both women and men. He strolls at Sydney Pollack’s party with two models, and Alan Cumming as a hotel clerk minces flirtatiously with him later in the film like a caricature of the gay man who hopes Cruise really isn’t straight. Ultimately, both of them are paid to make love to other actors on screen and the audiences that see them. The infidelity Alice and Bill don’t really commit is the same sort of infidelity Tom and Nicole engage in on a routine basis. They aren’t supposed to feel anything

But is that human? Perhaps Kubrick is finally saying that at the end of the day, his cold films were his grand passion. Despite his snubbing by and of Hollywood, he feels grateful, just as Alice feels grateful, for this great love he’s known. I can’t think of a better way to close a life in the movies.
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Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 6:16 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal

Written by...Nancy

Well, they sure don’t make spectacles like they used to. You know you’re in trouble when the textiles are the most interesting thing in the movie. I saw this today at the dollar theater (which is fifty cents on Tuesday) and I don’t think that I was overcharged. I sure am glad I didn’t pay full price for this turkey, though. I’m told that it plays fast and loose with the original legend, but it’s been so long since I read The Iliad that I didn’t notice. I do seem to recall that the Trojan War took a lot longer than the few weeks it seems to last here. Also, most of the statues were a bit overdressed.

The fight scenes were pretty good, even if they did sometimes look like they belonged in a chopsaki flick; however, the dialogue was cheesy, and most of the acting left something to be desired. As Agamemnon, Brian Cox makes a meal of the scenery. (OK, he’s the villain. We figured that out in the first five minutes.) Brendan Gleeson’s Menelaus is excessively bombastic. As Helen, Diane Kruger was remarkably wooden, making me think of the review that once described Cybill Shepard as “the former and future model.” Characters kept rhapsodizing about Helen’s beauty, but she seemed bland, boring, and whiny. Menelaus should have been glad to get rid of her.

Brad Pitt’s Achilles spends much of the war pouting in his yurt (yurt? Maybe he was pining for the steppes) and acting like a prima donna actor holding out for a better contract. He goes to war to make sure people remember his name, making me speculate that the Trojan War could have been avoided if Achilles had just had a better press agent. In fact, despite the classical setting, the movie felt like it was taking place in present-day Hollywood. Instead of Greece trying to conquer Troy, it could have been Warner Brothers making a hostile takeover of Paramount. (Pick any two studios you like, but Paramount does have the walls for it.)

But back to Brad Pitt. Since his acting isn’t so hot, I’ll concentrate on his physique. He does have some nice muscles, but is nowhere near as ripped as he was in Thelma and Louise. Of course, that was thirteen years ago, but then he still looks like he should be carded for drinks. (Maybe he has a wrinkled portrait of himself in an attic somewhere.) Speaking of people who look like they should be carded, I still don’t understand the appeal of Orlando Bloom. Every time I see him, he just screams “jailbait.” As Paris, he is a whiny wimp. (Maybe he and Helen are the perfect couple.)

OK, now I’ll mention some positive things about the film. It does illustrate the importance of choosing the proper footwear (at least if you are Achilles). The aforementioned textiles really are cool. Rose Byrne gives a very good performance as Briseis, making me want to see more of her films. Sean Bean is good as usual, though there isn’t enough of him. (There can never be enough Sean Bean. He’s one of my favorites.) Eric Bana gives an outstanding performance as Hector, almost stealing the movie. I didn’t see The Hulk, so I hadn’t seen him before, but I’d like to see him again. And Peter O’Toole is always worth seeing, even in a bad movie. Which Troy pretty much is.
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Posted: Mon Aug 02, 2004 11:28 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Director: Jonathan Demme

Written by...Marj

Slight Spoiler Alert:

This is one of those movies one roots for. Tina Sinatra was one of the producers and it's been said she had done this with her father's blessing, or perhaps this was her hope? The cast comprising Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Liev Shreiber and Jon Voight, practically screamed, quality project. And with Jonathan Demme at the helm, the director who brought such suspense to Silence of the Lambs, I eagerly anticipated a movie, which if you believe the hype, would go down in history as a this millennium's suspense classic, setting the bar, by which all others would be judged 

Perhaps the expectations of a movie, that's a remake of a beloved film, has a harder time, than one that doesn't have such a famous predecessor? I so wanted to make exceptions for this alone. And there were nods to the original, especially in a clever red herring of an opening scene. However as the film moved along, it became loaded with impossible plot points, Some which had the audience giggling incredulously.

Nonetheless, determined to buy in, I found myself gripped in anticipation. The movie moved at a dizzying pace, taut and often terrifying. The performances were all excellent. Seeing this, after a week of convention watching, seemed so perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

As a fan of Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate, I was hoping for a thrill ride, a premise that would startle with a newer more relevant plot. The use of big business as the enemy was right on the mark. The tie in, Mrs. Shaw was played with some genuine wit by Meryl Streep. It was as if she was lacing her platitudes with just a hint of a wink. But this movie was so determined to move faster than a speeding bullet, employing sound and visual effects to carry it, that the plot itself was too often lost in the maze of imagery and speed. Can a film ever move too fast? Considering the length of this movie, it somehow managed to do just that.

Where the original made the connections clear, this movie left one with a muddle of unanswered questions. The director perhaps not so wisely, was determined not to explain much, as if he knew the 1962 version was right in the back of our minds. But this resulted in our not getting involved or dare I say, even care about these characters or its big business bad boys. For a film overflowing with allegories of post 9/11 agendas, corporate greed as reason for war and even assassination, the dots are never connected. A political mystery can never leave this much to chance.

To say that The Manchurian Candidate bit off more than it could chew will come as a laugh to those who have seen it. Ultimately, it is a mish mash of old and new, effects and edits, as opposed to a good story. Whatever the twist was supposed to be, it turned out as predictable, and as neatly tied as store bought wrapping with a stick on bow. Implausible, taut, sometimes suspenseful and too often just plain silly, The Manchurian Candidate lost its identity along the way, and became a sad and sorry lesson in the old axiom of not fixing it, if it ain't broke.

Last edited by lshap on Wed Aug 04, 2004 1:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Posted: Mon Aug 02, 2004 11:31 pm Reply with quote
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Pump Up The Volume

Written by...Syd

This is one of the teen-oriented movies of the late eighties and early nineties like The Breakfast Club and Heathers, but it is more mature and thoughtful and has stood the test of time very well. Christian Slater plays Mark Hunter, a shy student, disoriented and displaced when his father takes a job as superintendant of schools in a city in Arizona. It does not help that the new school is run in police-state manner by the principal, one of whose ambitions is to improve the quality of the schools SAT scores by expelling those students who are likely to being the SAT scores down. (There's more to the scheme than that, but to explain it requires spoilers). Mark is painfully shy, unable to speak to his fellow students, including the gothic Nora (a pretty Samantha Mathis) who has the hots for him.

Mark's parents have bought him a radio set to communicate with his friends in the east; but unbeknownst to them, he has used it to set up a pirate radio station. Safe behind the walls of his bedroom and a voice modulator, Mark becomes Happy Harry Hard-On, the outrageous dj who becomes the voice of the oppressed student body. (His parents seem rather clueless not to figure this out; on the other hand, the Sixties were very good to them and I get the feeling that they might even approve a lot of Mark's countercultural activities.)

By the time the movie starts, Mark has been on the air long enough to gather a loyal audience and fan mail. (One of the fans is played by Ellen Greene, who plays the One Hip Teacher.) Unfortunately, one of the fan letters is a suicide note, to which Mark is at a loss how to respond. When the student kills himself, the authorities are look for someone to blame, and Hard Harry is the obvious scapegoat. Obviously the pressures of school and the indifference of his parents can have nothing to do with it. The school authorities are all to glad to shut him down, since Harry is also one of their severest critics and has uncovered part of their scheme. Mark's father and the One Hip Teacher also play major roles in the uncovering. Eventually, the FCC comes in to shut Harry down, and he gives them a merry chase with the assistance of Nora.

Most of this movie is Christian Slater's and, in the last part especially, Samantha Mathis's. There is some good supporting work from Greene and Cheryl Pollak. Pirate radio stations are an uncontrolled exercise in free speech, and an automatic challenge to authority, and presaged the challenge posed more legally by the internet.

The other interesting question is what the hell happened to the careers of these actors? Slater is still very active, mostly in movies you've never heard of, Mathis seems to have been reduced to minor roles, and Pollak has done one movie in the last six years, and Ellen Greene makes rare appearances in supporting roles. The most successful member of the cast these days is probably Seth Green, Really.

If I understand it correctly, the scheme is (1) expel the underperforming students and troublemakers which (2) increases the SAT scores of the survivors (because the worst students don't get to take the students at all), (3) which means more money comes to the school since the high SAT scores mean it must be a really good school , but (4) the students who were expelled are kept on the rolls so (5) the school has more money to spend on the remaining students, making it look like a first-class school and (6) gives the school authorities a chance to pocket money (although they seem more interested in power). Of course, this means a lot of kids don't get the education they're entitled to, but what the hell, they're all stupid or troublemakers anyway.
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Posted: Tue Aug 03, 2004 6:55 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Village

Written by...Marc

THE VILLAGE is hokum of the worst sort, pretentious hokum. Its earnest, boring, silly and totally predictable. As he demonstrated in SIGNS, M. Night Shyamalan is not an intelligent writer or director. He is a self-important one. THE VILLAGE is filled with plot holes and credibility problems. There is no reference to anything remotely real in the film. At no point does the film draw the viewer in. How can it?

Even parables need some element of reality in order to get at the truth. The “message” of the film is not told cinematically, but through dull exposition. THE VILLAGE strains to be important while mostly ending up being preposterous. The “plot twist”, Shyamalan’s raison d’etre, is obvious from the very start of the film. No one will surprised by the direction the film takes. The denouement is cringe inducing. It seems Shyamalan is so blinded by the fluke of his success that he actually thinks he’s an artist. THE VILLAGE lumbers and groans like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT directed by Bergman or an episode of the TWILIGHT ZONE with delusions of grandeur. There is one scene involving a dead “monster” that does cast a magical spell. But, the spell quickly evaporates in an ending that is stretched out beyond the most forgiving viewer’s patience. I’ve always suspected that Shyamalan was a hack that got lucky. THE VILLAGE leaves no doubt. One of the many "messages" of the movie is that money corrupts. THE VILLAGE would have never been greenlighted if Shyamalan hadn't made the studios a shitload of cash. So, the movie itself is a perfect example of the corrupting influence of $$$.

The one bright spot in this ponderous piece of crap is the performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. She’s radiant.

As I watched THE VILLAGE, I could see the incredible artistic and philosophic possibilities the movie suggests. If the director were wiser, as a writer and crafstman, THE VILLAGE had the potential to be a classic twisted fairy tale ala the Brothers Grimm. But, THE VILLAGE lacks true imagination. Shyamalan is so determined to stick to his trademark blueprint of wild plot twists that the movie is nothing but a setup.There is no magic in it. The smoke and mirrors hide and reflect a tubload of bullshit. I believe audiences will grow to resent the Shyamalan con game...if they haven't already.
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Posted: Wed Aug 04, 2004 4:01 pm Reply with quote
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Written by...Syd

I reckon you've heard of the story even if you haven't seen this particular version. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is one of the most often filmed stories of all time--in fact the only story which comes to mind that has been filmed more often is Frankenstein, although Dracula and Hamlet must come close. The role has been taken by John Barrymore, Frederic March (who won an Oscar for his version), and Spencer Tracy, not to mention Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Denholm Elliott, Mark Redfield, Michael Caine, Jimmy Carter, Jim Carrey and whoever played him in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. (I don't want to be reminded.) There are even versions where Jekyll turns into an evil woman (Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde), but I can't think of one where both Jekyll and Hyde are women. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy lists 20 versions, and they're being conservative; some werewolf movies are variations on the old story, and a number of Warner Brothers cartoons. There really ought to be a version called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hekyll, starring a good/evil crow.

This is the first major version, although I suspect people probably tried it in one or two reelers. It's really an irresistible challenge for an actor. John Barrymore plays the too-good-to-be true Dr. Jekyll, who is in love with the virtuous Millicent Carew (Martha Mansfield), the daughter of the hedonistic George Carew (Brandon Hurst). Charles Lanyon (Charles Lane) is Jekyll's conservative friend and colleague ("Damn it, I don't like it! You're tampering with the supernatural."). George Carew, believing it is unhealthy for a man to suppress his evil impulses to the extent that Jekyll is doing, takes Jekyll to a local dance club, where they watch the sensuous Gina (Nita Naldi), and Jekyll feels the first stirrings of low desire.

Jekyll, obsessed with the idea of keeping his mortal soul pristine, hits upon the idea of creating a second self to embody his dark nature, allowing his own soul to remain uncorrupted. ("Think what it would mean! To yield to every evil impulse–yet leave the soul untouched!") In other words, to retain the illusion of being an angel, he is willing to release a devil upon the world. This is really the point of the Jekyll/Hyde myth, that Jekyll willingly creates his own damnation, as opposed to the Wolfman and most movie werewolves, where the damnation is imposed from outside. His own soul cannot remain pristine because he has already corrupted it by creating Hyde.

Barrymore's Hyde is different than most versions. Instead of being an apelike brute, he is a ghoul, with long spidery fingers with misshapen nails, bad teeth, a mottled complexion, evil grin, stringy hair, and a misshapen skull which looks like he had a yarmulka embedded under his scalp and his hair grew over it. It is notable that most of the initial transformation scene was done without makeup, although it looks like he had some prosthetics hidden on his body. This Hyde is a change from Stevenson's, who looked outwardly normal if homely, but when you looked at him you were repelled by something you couldn't quite name, sort of like watching Michael Douglas.

For some reason, this version seems to be a hit with the ladies, perhaps because Hyde is free to use Jekyll's fortune, or perhaps because his lust is unhindered by moral qualms. In any case, he is free to indulge his evil devices, which seem to consist of seduction and abandonment, alcohol, inferior interior decoration, stalking the shadows of the night, and understudying Quasimodo.

Naturally, things get out of control. The temptation of becoming Hyde is addictive and time-intensive, and people begin to wonder what has become of the good Doctor. (We know he is a good Doctor because he runs a free clinic where he caters to the poor and loathsome, which makes him show up late for parties–even those which involved Millicent.) Hyde has trouble keeping his women straight, apparently tries kinky and sadistic sex and at one point tries to create a menage á trois.

Finally, stalking the alleys behind the back door of Jekyll's office (the front door opens in a respectable neighborhood, the back on the slums), Hyde callously knocks down and tramples a child. This is even enough to appal the denizens of the slums, and Hyde makes restoration using some of Jekyll's money and a check with Jekyll's signature. Apparently Hyde is too busy indulging in vice to open his own bank account; in any case, he get the point that Hyde cannot only commit callous acts, he is free to buy his way out of the consequences. It also makes people wonder what could be the connection between the respectable Doctor and his loathsome friend.

George Carew, whose daughter is still unseduced and abandoned, goes to investigate, and discovers Jekyll in his lab. They have a fight, and Jekyll spontaneously changes into Hyde and assaults Carew, chasing him into the alleyway, leaping on top of him like a tarantula, and finally beating him to death with a cane. Hyde flees to his cubbyhole in Soho, where he attempts to burn the incriminating cane, which, nevertheless, is found by investigators and recognized.

For his own protection, Jekyll decides to remain Jekyll, but by this time, any time he relaxes his guard, he can turn into Hyde. Worse, he has used up the essential ingredient in the transforming potion, and there is none to be found in all of London. The only solution is to remain holed up in his land until the harvest comes in. Unfortunately, Millicent, who is fed up because she is still unseduced and abandoned, and her father murdered to boot, visits Jekyll in his lab and confronts him, which is not a good idea because he once again turns into Hyde, which she does not appreciate. He attempts to seduce her (this scene looks remarkably like one between Iago and Othello) but she flees and he kills himself. ("Hyde has killed–Dr. Jekyll!" Millicent is now free to meet someone more suitable, like Dorian Gray.)

This is a celebrated film, considerably influenced by German Expressionism (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had come out a year earlier), but it has not survived as well as you would hope, and could use some restoration. In addition to the grotesque Hyde, a lot of the supporting characters are grotesques as well, including some of Jekyll's patients, a guest at George Carew's dinner party who I swear has cat's eyes (perhaps bad photography, since a lot of the eyes in the film are strange), and the denizens of the slums. The child that Hyde tramples is suspiciously pretty considering that he is playing with a particularly hideous child. It is explicitly moral. The Victorians moralists loved "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," because of its lessons about the folly of compartmentalizing vice, a little leaven corrupting the whole soul. This version stays firmly within that tradition, and gets pretty heavy-handed as a result. As far as acting goes–well, Barrymore chews the scenery pretty effectively, especially when Jekyll is feeling anguish, and he dominates the film. The rest are more restrained, and none of them particularly stood out for me, although Nita Naldi does appear properly sensuous in a scene or two. I liked Charles Lane as Lanyon. I can't say how it compares with the March or Tracy versions because I haven't seen those. I get the impression that the March is the definitive version, although MGM did its best to destroy it in order to promote the Tracy version. All are now available; I got the Barrymore for $7.99 at the local Borders; you can also order it from Alpha Video at, which also has the Redfield version.
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Grey Gardens, 1975
a Maysles Brothers Documentary

Written by...Ehle

Quite frankly, I was ready to start screaming and shut the whole thing off about 5 minutes before it actually ended, but, I can't stop thinking about these eccentrics. The more I think about it, the more fascinated I become. It's a shame they're both dead. What a trip it would be to meet these lovely loons. I would have loved to have had an ocean swim with Little Edie. Afterwards we could lie on our beach towels and create a new head wrap out of one of her several scarves. We could have shared some Lancer's Red and had Purina? hors d'oeuvres by the seashore. After that we would go back to check on Big Edith and spin some 45s, all three of us enjoying the crazy lyrics to "Tea for Two." I couldn't wait to rummage through Little Edie's broach box and find just the right accessory to my mahvelous wrap. I'd also love to get her to teach me how to make that skirt she so proudly displays in the beginning of the movie. After skirt-making lessons, we would have to go to the attic and feed the coons. They seem awfully hungry after our self-indulgence with the record player and the broach box. Once we feel all of our furry friends are full, it's time to go to the freezer and serve up each other 1/2 gallons of Hershey's Chocolate Ice Cream. I had to make Little Edie, MAKE her, show me all the work that cousin Jackie O paid for, I mean, what a dump! After the mandatory Mrs. Onassis tour, Little Edie showed me to my chambers. I protested a bit much saying that I wasn't that sleepy, the Purina and the Hershey's weren't mixing well with the Lancer's and that I should probably drive myself back to little ol' Astoria. Me feared the bedbugs would bite. People, if you haven't seen Grey Gardens, please visit there via the Criterion DVD release.

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Posted: Thu Aug 05, 2004 12:48 pm Reply with quote
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Open Water (2004)

Written by...Marilyn

Most people who want a good scare at the movies turn to the horror genre. Psychopathic killers, ghouls, and demons can throw a decent fright into average moviegoers without putting them off their popcorn and soda or ruining the rest of their evening. Movies like Open Water will not please these people. It throws a deep, primal scare into moviegoers that will make them feel as vulnerable in this big, wild world as our premodern ancestors used to feel on a routine basis. And it does it in an unlikely manner - by showing two people bobbing up to their neck in water for most of its length.

The premise is simple enough. An attractive yuppie couple leave their hectic, everyday life for a vacation in the Caribbean. They go scuba diving the morning of their second day of vacation. A mistake made by a crewman aboard the dive boat causes them to be stranded in the ocean. The remaining hour of this 79-minute movie is spent dealing with their ordeal on the open water.

I am a snorkeler, not a scuba diver, but I did take a scuba diving course and have been on a dive boat in the Caribbean with my ex-husband, who did some diving. I can vouch for the authenticity of every detail of this movie, from the asshole diver who inadvertently causes the counting error that leaves Susan and Daniel stranded, to the comical instructions the dive master gives on deck before the dive, to the logic Daniel uses in determining how they should behave to optimize their chances of being rescued. The script, though minimal, makes perfect use of the obvious knowledge director/writer Chris Kentis has of diving.

Exposure to the elements, hunger, and dehydration all are enemies to Susan and Daniel. But, of course, it‚s the sharks that really steal the show. Susan and Daniel drift on the strong ocean current into the proverbial "shark-infested" waters. Of course, oceans are no more shark-infested than cities are human-infested. Sharks live there, and they school just like other fish do. They just happen to be in the area into which the couple floats. It is an impressive sight to see so many sharks in one place, and an impressive filmic feat to integrate them so effectively into the narrative of the film. They are terrifying just by doing what they normally do - investigating foreign objects with a quick nip or bump and swishing those impressive tails of theirs.

There is a great irony that a film set in the boundless ocean can be so claustrophobic. Part of that has to do with the awesome DV camerawork of Kentis and Laura Lau. They use extreme close-ups of the actors to suggest mood and thought and simultaneously keep us feeling boxed in. The proximity of the sharks to the actors leaves us feeling as hemmed in as they must have felt - any move could be fatal. They cling to each other like scared children in a cave. One scene in which both of them fall asleep, lose their grip on each other, and drift apart is terrifying.

Music is used sparingly, but effectively. It is not the heavy-handed stuff that propelled Jaws. It is rhythmic Caribbean music, barely there and suggesting the beauty of the ocean and its creatures that Susan and Daniel looked to for restoration, as well as the uncontrolled essence of nature.

The film also is masterfully paced. Just when the tension is greatest for the audience, Daniel howls into the air and starts swearing in a perfectly timed and modulated tantrum. Susan, also at the breaking point, decides to show her annoyance by giving him the silent treatment. Imagine the silliness of a marital spat under these circumstances. Yet the blaming and arguing are so real, so what anyone would do, and provide both the characters and the audience with a much-needed relief of tension.

Can actors with only their voices, faces, hands, and arms to use in their performance knock one out of the ball park? Absolutely. Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis are utterly convincing as a normally in-control, intelligent couple who take reasonable risks in their lives and end up in a life-and-death situation through no fault of their own. It‚s very Hitchcockian in that sense, but the nature of the jeopardy they are in is way more realistic than anything Hitchcock ever gave us. This film scared me like no Hitchcock film ever did (including Psycho).

I strongly suggest to anyone who wants to feel the full force of this movie to see it in a theatre. It is essential that you not be able to pause the DVD player and get a beer or a snack. Susan and Daniel couldn‚t escape, and it‚s their helplessness in the face of nature that makes this film the primordial experience it was meant to be.
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Posted: Fri Sep 03, 2004 4:30 pm Reply with quote
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The Bourne Supremacy

Written by...Jeremy

I went to see The Bourne Supremacy last week, on my own. It’s not that I mind going to films alone; I quite enjoy solitude when its not enforced, but, as a forty-something year old man hanging around a multiplex predominantly peopled by younger couples or groups of teenagers, I can make me feel somewhat out of place. Despite being drawn, I try to avoid catching the eye of any attractive girls. I’d rather be marked down as a forlorn divorcee who has found out that all his friends were actually his ex-wife’s, than a sad git on the make or worse.

Leaving aside the advantages for courting couples in having a back row seat, when I was younger, I can remember that it was considered that the best seats tended to be those furthest away from the screen. Apart from being a bit wussy, there were practical difficulties with sitting to close to the front: it was difficult to see the entire screen; the viewer to look up at an angle, which over the ninety minutes or so of a movie; could become uncomfortable; and the he resolution of the film was not good enough to maintain the picture quality at that distance, that is, it was grainy close-up.

So, is it because my eyesight, like the rest of me, is deteriorating or is it that multiplex screens have shrunk to such a small size, that I now prefer to sit within popcorn flicking distance of the front. For me, it is the best place to sit if you want to try to capture something of the wide screen cinema experience. What’s the point of forking out five quid for something that could be replicated by sitting closer to your living room TV? Sitting that close, also confers a number of other advantages: unless the screening is full, this section of the cinema tends to be relatively uncrowded, providing an unobstructed view and being particularly light on wouldn’t-be-seen-dead-at-the-front, paper rustling, popcorn crunching, coke guzzling, talk happy teenagers.

That said, at twenty feet or so the fast cut, obfuscating, close-up, grainy, in your face camera work and editing of The Bourne Supremacy was pretty hard on the eyes. Director Phillip Greengrass was giving full rein to some of the techniques he’d used to convey the confusion of Bloody Sunday in Bloody Sunday. This worked well for the chase sequences, were thrilling. They reminded me Guy Ritchie’s work (remember him) though perhaps had less rhythm; you know, it was all a bit like when you steal a car and drive it flat out in a low gear before crashing it and setting on fire.

So what of the film? It had a negligible premise and a dubious, paper thin plot, but it tore along at such a pace and was generally so well put together, that it would have probably only detracted from the ride if their had been more to think about. The low-key ensemble acting was definitely one of the plusses of the film. Brian Cox played a sleazy, Coxian villain every bit as well as you’d expect and the rest support did their bit too, though I thought Julia Stiles was way too young for her part.

Ah, but what of the eponymous lead? Matt Damon is not particularly charismatic, but then neither is Jason Bourne. Like Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley, Bourne is meant to be anonymous, a repressed nobody. Even so, I’d have hoped that Damon wouldn’t have got it down quite so pat. Was he told not to give even a hint of the man underneath - just imagine the internal anguish Nic Cage would have brought to the part? On second thoughts, I’ll settle for the idea of Bourne as blank hero for the blank generation, though you can take these things too far.
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We Don't Live Here Anymore

Written by...Melody

We Don't Live Here Anymore is the most depressing and unlikeable film I've seen in a long time. Usually depressing doesn't bother me, as long as it's a well-written script and the actors can pull it off. That ain't the case here.

This would appear to be yet another failed literary adaptation, although I haven't read Andre Dubus' short stories from which this screenplay was adapted. Lordy, please don't make me, either.

So why'd I go? Because I really like all the actors and figured they'd be good together. But these folks, with the exception of the uber-talented Mark Ruffalo, are lost in a crappy script that's just too predictable. And by the end -- hell, by the halfway mark -- you don't give a shit. You just want something to happen, ANYthing. And when it does, you rejoice because it signals the end is near.

I tried to relate to these characters, and found myself pulling bits and pieces out of each one to try on. Laura Dern keeps a messy house and goes through fits of manic cleaning -- check. Peter Krause burns his many-times-rejected novel on the BBQ -- check. Naomi Watts gets off on the quickie stand-up hump downstairs while her hubby and kid are sleeping upstairs -- check. Mark Ruffalo constantly searches his wife's face, trying to remember the reason they were drawn together in the first place -- major check.

You may find yourself asking, as I did, what was the spark for Mr. Dubus? He had to be either the married college prof who can't sell a script, flirts with his students and has a boring-as-hell affair with his best friend's wife, because it's easy, OR was the married college prof who has a thang for his best friend's wife and sneaks off to the woods with her because he can't afford a motel.

Best-case scenario: He was so wrapped up in his banal world, he thought it would make a riveting story to reveal how ho-hum and dull life's little surprises are in the end.

And, of course, the midlife crisis story has never ever been written before.

What is it with these authors who write beautifully but insist on creating characters that are difficult to sympathize with and root for? Why does every character I run across lately have to be so lifeless and unenergized and fucking realistic? It's there in Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World (check the Third Eye Book section) and it's here in WDLHA. I think I'm starting to despise forced realism.

Maybe what I need is to get out of my head and into a good old-fashioned Ace Ventura belly laugh. If that's where you're at, too, avoid this movie like the drooling dog it is and go rent Austin Powers or Rushmore.
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Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:52 pm Reply with quote
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Written by...Marantz

This movie start out very impressively. The huge army and the gargantuan set of the castle and its grounds. Magnificent sound and music. It just made me sit back and look forward to this grandeur washing over me.

Jet Lee has vanquished the leader of this great Canton's three greatest threats (assassins). He is at the palace to meet the Emperor (or whatever his title is) and receive his gratitude. He relates the tale of how he accomplished this feat. The story of his triumph follows and it becomes sort of a Rashomon tale of what did happen or what didn't. The battle scenes are for the most part gripping, but many are lacking in a feeling of hot-bloodedness. The way these great warriors can fly and stay stark still in mid-flight and walk on water and move at the speed of light makes you wonder why they fight at all and just don't enjoy themselves goofing around with all their abilities. The most enthralling scenes are when the armies are involved, with the great sound and synchronised choreography of their vast array.

There is a somewhat tangled love story involved here and we get a couple of versions of what happens. It's an interesting story with many moral questions, but it's sloooowww! It flirts with being leaden. The dialogue has a deadening sameness to it. The director seems content to place a lot of gorgeous tableaux up on the screen and doesn't seem to have considered a need for much juiciness to add to their sterility. And for an action picture it doesn't convey a feeling of action at all. A rather frustrating experience and a disappointing one.

Gary Marantz
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All or Nothing
Written by...Syd

All or Nothing begins with a plump young woman mopping the floor in an old folks home. One of the patients, an old woman, comes into the hallway, shuffling excruciating slowly for a couple of minutes until she finally exits down a side corridor. Meanwhile, a sad violin is playing on the soundtrack letting you know that you are supposed to be terminally depressed, setting the tone for the movie. The old lady has very little to do with the rest of the movie, she's there so you'll realize that people will end up like this, old and slow and doing small bits in Mike Leigh movies. Since we know nothing about her except she's old and slow, the lesson is rather pointless.

The floor mopper is Rachel (Alison Garland), the daughter of Penny (Lesley Manville), who is a checkout lady at the local Safeways, and Phil (Timothy Spall), who works as a taxi driver. The nuclear family is completed by Rory (James Corden), who sleeps, watches tv, eats large quantities of food, and is the local bully. Imagine a grown up Dudley Dursley, and you've got it. Phil is quiet, mild mannered, puts up with mild nagging from Penny (she wants him to get up early to run people to and from the airport but that would interfere with Phil's daydreaming). Although there are three people among the four that have full-time jobs, they are having trouble making ends meet. Rory must consume a LOT of food. We get to see some of Phil's passengers, which is sometimes a bit amusing. Thank God, because it brings some light into the picture.

This family lives in an apartment complex in London, and we get glimpses of a couple of other families. Samantha (Sally Hawkins) is a teenage sexpot who I half-expect to become a streetwalker; her parents are the lush Carol (Marion Bailey) another cabbie, Ron (Paul Jesson). Ron has a couple of accidents in the course of the movie, and I suspect he hits the bottle a lot as well. Finally, there is Maureen (Ruth Sheen) and her daughter Donna (Helen Coker), who is going out with a lout. (Spall, Manville, and Sheen are members of Leigh's stable of actors, and Coker and Hawkins are joining them; expect to see Coker, Hawkins and Sheen in Vera Drake.)

The first half of the movie is pretty much plotless, and when the plot kicks in, it isn't much. Crises occur in a couple of the families, and you get a look at how different families deal with them. You get liberal doses of that sad violin music, telling you how depressing and hopeless this all is, especially at Phil and Penny's house. I get the idea that the first step to healing all these families is to strangle that damn violinist.

Because, frankly, for all we are supposed to feel for Phil and Penny's families, their life doesn't seem more terrible than most people's lives. Penny and Phil and Rachel are decent people, and Rory is a human vacuum. Samantha has it worse off, since her mother is hopeless and her father isn't much better. (I find it odd that Phil and Penny seem to have worse financial problems than Samantha's.)

Maureen, on the other hand, is a single mother who conceived Donna is a five-minute relationship. When we first see them, Maureen is ironing, and Donna is on the couch, and Maureen is asking Donna what she wants to do, and Donna is doing the typical teenager "oh, I don't know" thing, and it seems like we are with Penny and Rory for a moment. Then, unseen by Donna, Maureen cracks a smile, and you realize that she enjoys this sort of banter and won't let it turn into a family crisis. It's also not surprising that later she will turn into a lioness in defense of her daughter, and deal sensibly and maturely with two crises. If Phil and Penny took their problems to Maureen instead of wallowing in them, she would have them putting things in perspective in five minutes and we could see a movie that's actually fun to watch.

Ruth Sheen is excellent here, even belting out a song at one point. (She has a good voice.) Manville, Coker, and Garland are also good, and Hawkins is sometimes good. I didn't like Marion Bailey, but her character is unlikeable. Spall is too withdrawn, but does the hangdog look pretty convincingly. Corden is an acting vacuum. There's a nice bit by Gary McDonald as Phil and Ron's boss. (Actually, more of a landlord; they pay rent for the cabs.)

Well, we have two crises. First, Donna discovers she is pregnant despite being on the pill. Although upset with her daughter, Maureen supports her and it's obvious she will stick by her daughter and protect her daughter and grandchild from the thug.

Rory overexerts himself and has a kind of heart attack. (Actually a congenital heart defect exerting itself.) Maureen and Carol both see this. Carol is too soused to do anything sensible except flirt with Rory, but Maureen deals with the crisis without panic, and sends Carol to call the ambulance and Penny. Samantha arrives at home to find her mother hopelessly staring at the phone, clearly incapable of dialing it, so Samantha takes charge. Penny goes into a panic, and hitches a ride with Ron who promptly plows into a van, and Penny makes it the rest of the way on foot.

Maureen is sitting with Rory when Penny arrives, and has remained clear-headed throughout the crisis. However, Phil, bemused after a conversation with a passenger, has shut his radio and phone off, and is cruising into the country, but finally arrives at the hospital to find his wife and daughter sitting with Rory. At first, he wants to wait in the hallway until Penny or Rachel are done (only two visitors are allowed at a time), but Penny and Rachel set him straight and he gets to sit with his son. Phil talks to his son to cheer him up, promising that when Rory is healthy enough, they are all going to go to Disney World. Penny takes him to task for his impracticality, but Phil says he will get up early, work seven days a week, etc. Penny doubts he can do it.

At this point, although Disney World may seem impractical, I think Phil has the right idea. What this family needs more than anything is to break their routine and get out of London for a while.

Anyway, Phil and Penny go home and have it out, and Phil suddenly asks Penny if she loves him anymore, a question which surprises her. All his repressed frustration comes out (see climax of Secrets and Lies for a primer), including his feeling of demeanment from her criticisms. Penny is at first dumbfounded, not expecting this on top of her son's hospitalization, but gradually understands what she has done to hurt him without her noticing.

So, anyway, this acts as a catharsis for their problems, and we have the feeling that family will be happier for a while, at least until they all learn that they are on a broccoli and eggplant diet.
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Posted: Tue Oct 05, 2004 8:03 pm Reply with quote
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Garden State

Written by...Melody

Writer/director/star Zach Braff's first feature, Garden State, is so skillfully written, acted and directed that it effectively moves around and beyond Hollywood cliché (Jewish young people angst, you can't go home again) and into a whole other category of -- well, delightful and surprisingly moving Jewish young people angst type films. Other films in this category: Rushmore and Igby Goes Down. Not a bad category at all.

You begin by noticing the stellar acting by Braff, of course, our laid-back star who generously shares the screen with stoner/slacker/cemetery worker/grave robber/former high school buddy Mark (Peter Sarsgaard, this generation's Andrew McCarthy on the cuteness/adorableness scale); funny/cute/weird chick named Sam (naturally) played by Natalie Portman, whose performance flirts with over-the-top disaster but never goes all the way -- she's saved by a killer smile and incredible writing; and a host of minor characters, which I'm tempted to call cameos, only they're more substantially filled out and memorable than any cameos I've seen.

For instance, there's Mark's stoner/slacker mom Jean Smart, who's sleeping with Tim, one of Mark's friends, who himself has a hilarious one-scene role dolled up in a knight outfit, eating Lucky Charms and spouting the Klingon-ese he'd used the night before to impress Jean.

Mark: "Tim, do you even know what you just said?"
Tim: (uncertainly) "Sure I do."
Mark: "That phrase translates to either 'kill Kirk' or 'hallelujah',
depending on the context."

Then there's character actress Jackie Hoffman crooning Lionel Ritchie's "Three Times A Lady" in an hysterically over-the-top New Joisey Jewish accent at an outdoor funeral, and the always amazing Ian Holm as Andrew's dad.

Somehow I've made this film out to be a comedy, when it's really more introspective and layered, peppered with comic moments. There are so many subtle touches Braff gets just right: like the feeling of emptiness and complete isolation you feel upon entering your childhood home after your mom has died. Or the scene where Sam coaxes out of Andrew the real story of why he was sent away to boarding school, buddies Mark and Dave pretending they're not hearing Andrew's story for the first time, their feigned indifference giving way to genuine horror. Or what appears to be a throwaway scene, Andrew and Sam hanging out in the bathtub, Andrew talking about growing up with his mom, and we suddenly realize this is the exact spot where his mom died, and how creepy this scene should be, but is instead enervating and real.

The best scene -- the one transforming Garden State from cute into wowza -- involves the journey Mark, Andrew and Sam take to find ... something, we don't know what because Mark won't tell us, but the trio end up in the junkyard to end all junkyards, rivaling the one where Encyclopedia Brown and his buddies had their clubhouse (remember those books? O how badly I wished for a secret junkyard clubhouse when I was a kid).

I don't want to reveal too much about the junkyard scene, but suffice to say it involves a breathtaking natural earthscape, lots of rain, an ark of sorts, a wise older figure who offers hope and a new beginning, and a beautifully touching interweaving of visuals and catharsis and music (Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York").

It's precisely this kind of scene that either makes or breaks the film for you. Picture me swooning.

Half of the time we're gone and we don't know where
And we don't know here
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Zelary (2003)

Written by...Censored

A beautiful young cosmopolitan Czech woman named Eliska is working as a nurse at a hospital after the medical school she was attending was closed due to the Nazi occupation of Prague. She and her doctor boyfriend are members of a resistance group. One of the patients at the hospital is a man from a village in the provinces who is badly injured and in need a transfusion. Eliska is the only person available with the blood type needed to save the man. A connection is made that turns into a relationship that neither person ever would have imagined. Meanwhile the resistance group that Eliska and her lover are in is discovered and her man escapes virtually overnight. The group decides to ask Josa, the man who received blood from Eliska to take her to his remote village and hide her in his house in the mountains. The rest of the film shows how Eliska changes her name to Hana and changes her life by moving in and marrying a childish, earthy but truly loving older man.

What is so affecting about this film is the way the two main characters meld their extremely different backgrounds into a new shared life. The old country town Zelary, of the film's title, is a metaphor for Josa and his humble and frankly (at least to Hana) archaic lifestyle. This epic film shows the trials of two people trying by necessity to come together under difficult and extraordinary circumstances. A mutual attraction and admiration for one and other grows into a real love for the couple. The film has a suspenseful side to it as well, as the Nazis enter into the plotline once again bringing fear and suspicion to the small town that time seemed to have left standing still.

Zelary was nominated for Best Foreign Picture. It was directed by Ondrej Trojan and stars newcomer Anna Geislerova as the radiant, resourceful and indomitable Eliska/Hana. Gyorgy Cserhalmi is the simple yet spiritual and emotionally strong Josa.
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