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Posted: Thu Oct 07, 2004 2:40 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Solaris (1972 - Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky)

Written by...Censored

This film is not Sci-Fi for everyone, but everyone should try it once. It, like 2001:A Space Odyssey is a slow and laborious look at the psychological effects of space travel on humans in spiritually precarious locations and situations.

The cerebrally hynotic story is basically about an emotionally empty cosmonaut/psychiatrist named Kelvin who travels to a space station above the planet Solaris to investigate some sort of serious trouble there, only to find a complex series of abstract situations that, somehow in time, bring him back to his base humanity.

Once on the space station Kelvin finds two cosmonaut/scientists who have locked themselves up to avoid what they are calling vistors. The antagonist is also "visited" on board, by the "living" double of his late wife, in what turns into a reacquiantance with the mate who had commited suicide.

The planet Solaris seems to have supernatural powers that actually manifest human characteristics. Is it hallucinatory or is it an external stimulus caused by the planet? This is causing the people on the space station to encounter visions in the form of pseudo-humans as in the bodily duplicated, but emotionally different wife. Is Kelvin using his memory to control his "wife's" emotions and personality as the planet Solaris is seemingly doing to the station's inhabitants, or is this "new" version of his wife growing emotionally on her own merits? Either way we also see a growth in Kelvin's humanity and acceptance of spirituallity, albeit under very strange and unusual circumstances!

This is a weird, surreal and beautifully crafted film, it is more about the ambiguousness of the metaphysics of being human than it is about space travel or science.

Have plenty of coffee available while you watch this almost 3 hour study in human patience..yours! I've not seen the Soderburg version with George Clooney, I understand it is shorter and did poorly at the box-office. That's not hard to understand in this day and age of quick-fix movies, Tarkovsky's version would probably be even more boring to most. I liked it.
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Posted: Mon Oct 18, 2004 10:24 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Team America: World Police

Written by...Melody

Of course Sean Penn is going to hate Team America: World Police and its caustic creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Penn, along with fellow lefty liberal Hollywoodites Janeane Garofalo, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, George Clooney and especially Alec Baldwin, are lampooned mercilessly for their candy-ass celebrity soft-on-terror, hard-on-peace attitudes. And for being dicks.

Penn, like so many others have and will, missed a golden opportunity to point out the celebrity portions of TA:WP are by far the weakest. Lame, even. After all, it’s easy to take potshots at whiny celebrities and their pet causes of the week … and let’s face it, it’s been done before, and better, by folks like Michael Moore and Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh. Is it really funny to repeatedly show Matt Damon in a silly sweater popping up periodically and squeaking “Matt Damon” while he’s getting shot at? The first couple of times, maybe. Maybe.

But I digress. The movie for the most part is hysterically funny, and by that I mean not just random giggles, but uncountable LOL moments, the kind where you miss the next joke if you’re still guffawing at the previous one. As any "South Park" fan is aware, Parker/Stone’s comedy is brutal, judgmental, childish, disgusting and insane. Arguing whether this is “funny” or not is pointless; you know before you even buy your ticket whether your comedy bone will be flying high or limping out.

The first musical number is basically the audience litmus test. Here we have Gary, the Broadway actor who eventually transforms into our hero, but who for now is in a play called “Lease” and is bouncily singing the show-stopping finale: “Everyone has AIDS, white folks and even spades!” (chorus line: “AIDS!!”) Hateful send-up of Broadway’s recent popular musical, or tongue-in-cheek distillation of queer chic and the straight people who embrace it? Yes.

In fact, the musical interludes are some of the funniest bits, everything from Team America’s heavy metal theme song “America – FUCK YEAH!!” to Gary’s introspective post-break-up/Ben Affleck musings as he Mo-peds through the canyons above L.A. – “All I know is Pearl Harbor sucked … and I miss you.”

Politically incorrect? Sure. Is Kim Jung Il a threat to national security? No doubt. Is he indeed “ronery, so ronery”? Probably. Would a hotshot U.S. Top Gun pilot destroy the Louvre to kill a possible terrorist? I don’t see why not. Would Samuel L. Jackson be caught dead in a duel with a white chiseled Bono/Snake Plisken hybrid? Depends if we’re talking Jedi money.

Is this movie worth your time? Um, Fuck Yeah!!, says this Parker/Stone demographically challenged 40-something exurban SUV-driving white mom from Texas. And who also says, don’t take the kids to this one, even though the disgustingly juvenile puking scene alone is worth the price of admission.
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Posted: Mon Oct 18, 2004 10:37 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Quiz Show (1994)

Dir. Robert Redford
Richard N. Goodwin (book)
Paul Attanasio (screenplay)

Review written by...Marj

If there appears to be any moral ambiguity attached to the lens of Robert Redford’s camera, perhaps that’s due to the time period he’s examining, rather than the ethical issues raised? In what is perhaps, Mr. Redford’s masterpiece, Quiz Show, we are taken back to the innocence of 1950’s America. (Considering we had just come out of the McCarthy Era, referring to the 1950’s as innocent, tends to make me shudder.) Nonetheless, at a time when the worst thing that could happen to the country was a quiz show scandal, Mr. Redford and company have turned out a true morality play. Yet, one wonders what exactly is the moral? While the film follows the theatrical arc of a cautionary tale, with heroes and villains galore, the outcome for all involved is questionable at best. And that’s exactly why this film succeeds!

The game show “21” was a television hit, in which contestants won large sums of money for displays of knowledge. Unlike wresting matches, which made no pretense at honesty, these shows valued intelligence, integrity, mixed with a soap opera kind of suspense above all else. Finally, they were perhaps, the last bastions of innocent entertainment for TV consumers, who preferred real people over performers, and apparently so popular, that ratings and dollars rose and fell, depending on which contestants appeared each week. But as we learn, while “American Idol“, votes contestants off, “21” paid them off!

Such was the case with Herbert Stemple, a Queen’s blue collar Jew, played masterfully by John Turtorro. His nemesis is urbane intellectual Charles Van Doren; Ralph Fiennes in his best role to date, as well as the sponsors of the show and the entire NBC network. That Stemple is so cloyingly contemptible we’d prefer to see him fail, rather than embrace him as the hero who brings down the big bad boys, is perhaps evidence of our own preconceived notions of good and evil, if not proof of the criteria we often use in judging our winners and losers? Indeed the investigator, Dick Goodwin, (Rob Morrow) likes Van Doren, so much, that he is willing to give him a pass, if only he will just admit to him, that he cheated, then keep his mouth shut! In the end it is Goodwin’s wife, a moral core of the film, who sees it like it is, calling her husband, “The Uncle Tom of the Jews!” But for Goodwin, it is the sponsors and the networks who are really at fault. He is in fact, going after television itself! Is this a harbinger of what’s to come? For us, as audience, once we learn that the producers, and network survive the scandal unscathed; the producers actually return to TV with a new and profitable game show, one wonders, who indeed were the losers in a scandal which must have taken quite a chunk out of a tax payer’s purse? Watch the final credits, and you’ll have your answer.

Quiz show, while classically handsome, and often the butt of numerous “in jokes” works as entertainment, a landscape of the time, and for those interested enough to investigate further, an historical lesson in pop culture. Viewing it, within the political discourse of today, makes it appear intentionally timely. Was it, or is that just mere coincidence?

Quiz Show is a film of multileveled themes. The fact it presents them with such good humor, is purposeful and warranted. At a time when a President can lie cavalierly and so often, and corporate media while suspect, reap such monumental benefits, it’s kind of comforting to know there was a time, when Don Quixote was a real hero, and cheating on a quiz show, could be likened by some, to no more than “plagiarizing from a comic book!”

Cautionary tale, indeed!
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Posted: Tue Oct 19, 2004 9:04 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Team America: World Police

Written by Chilly

Could a guy named Gary Johnston save the world with a speech about dicks, pussys and assholes? How well does a song with the main chorus of “America, Fuck Yeah!” stick in your head? Does an endless string of cheesy one-liners spewing from a marionette’s mouth make Team America: World Police a movie to avoid?

From my perspective of viewing this 98-min showcase of puppetry, they were all questions you’ll find yourself asking as the end credits roll. From the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made an extremely unique film that uses tongue-in-cheek metaphors as the major plot line and the most bizarre, but entertaining use of marionettes since, well… since never, unless you count Mr. Rogers Neighborhood as bizarre and entertaining.

The movie opens in Paris, France where terrorists are planning to use WMD’s on this city. Team America is called to duty and swarms in via planes and helicopters to get rid of the terrorists. In the end, the terrorists are destroyed, but so is half of Paris. As the first scene ends, you begin to get the idea of the movie and it’s dig against how the US, the war and anything associated with it, find mishap.

As the plot goes on, we find various factions that are targets of Team America. This movie leaves no stone unturned in attacking the various groups (the Film Actors Guild, abbreviated throughout the film as F.A.G.), world leaders (Kim Jong Il), left-wing activists (Michael Moore) and a slew of actors like Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Helen Hunt and Samuel L. Jackson – all played by wood-on-string likenesses.

In their efforts to fight terrorism, Team America recruit a stage actor named Gary. They find him performing in the Broadway-like play LEASE, singing the lyrics “Everybody’s got AIDS” As they reveal their plan of attack to Gary, the members of Team America find that using an actor may not have been the best solution. Although in the end, the results have positive merit, without losing the humorous metaphor of how the US fights terrorism.

It wouldn’t be a Trey and Matt movie without musical numbers and Team America is no exception. Of the numbers, the most rousing was from Kim Jong Il singing about his being “ronrey” as he walks solo about his palatial compound.

There is also no shortage of offensive language, including slurs, numerous drops of the f-bomb and various name-calling during character interaction. If you are easily offended, avoiding this film may be wise. Otherwise, the numerous fowl-laced rants will have you in stitches.

Team America isn’t an epic movie that will ever see big numbers at the box office. But it will change the way you think of marionettes and their presence in satire-based movies.
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Posted: Sun Oct 24, 2004 4:16 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Big Red One: The Reconstruction (1980/2004)
Director: Sam Fuller
Reconstruction: Richard Schickel

Written by...Marilyn

The ultimate movie is the war movie. It can legitimately include every major and minor event a human being can undergo and give imaginative audiences who have never had to serve in the military or endure the trauma of war on their own soil a raw-boned, multidimensional experience. Some film makers focus on the tragedy of war; others, on its comic misadventures; still others, on pure action. Then there is Sam Fuller, who does all this and more. Even his most straightforward scenes capture all the drama and absurdity of war with a somewhat distanced, even bemused tone.

In The Big Red One, Sam Fuller’s magnus opus and the film he most wanted to make, there is very little room for sentimentality. Our everyman soldiers are too busy moving from mission to mission with little more thought to what they are doing than to stay alive and kill Germans. Each of our main characters—The Sergeant (Lee Marvin) and the Four Horsemen of the 1st Squad (“The Big Red One”), Pvt. Griff (Mark Hamill), Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine), Pvt. Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco), and Pvt. Johnson (Kelly Ward)—is an archetype who barely emerges as an individual from the screen. That’s the point, of course. They’re cannon fodder to the men pulling the strings, and they know it. So are their enemies. Griff, the most individual of the “dogfaces” (as Fuller liked to call the regular grunts of war) because he hasn’t lost his conscience, hesitates to shoot a German on the squad’s first combat engagement. He thinks it is murder. The Sergeant corrects him: “We don’t murder. We kill.” Simple. Hunters and hunted, exchanging places on the battlefield. Nothing personal.

The story of this film is relevant to a reading of the director and the reconstructed version. The original film was more than 3 hours long and was hacked to 113 minutes by Lorimar. Rather than denounce and disown the film, Fuller did full publicity for it and said nothing about what some people would call the emasculation of the film. Interesting enough, one of the scenes cut from the film was of an emasculation. The unfortunate soldier who got in the way of the trip-wire explosive yells joyously when he realizes that he only lost one of his balls and still has his penis. Fuller seems to have presciently wrote and shot what would happen to his greatest accomplishment. He had his battle scars, both from war and from an industry that saw him as a director of B films, and knew what The Sergeant knew. Nothing personal.

Some of the scathing reviews of the film I read on IMDb seem to fault Fuller for his nearly dispassionate view of war. He saw it, in part, as his stand-in character, Pvt. Vinci, saw it—material for a book. But there’s more going on than that. A very subtle morality tale is taking place, one that holds ideology in contempt. The Sergeant has only a couple of rules that guide his command: 1) it is ok to kill anyone during a war if they pose a physical threat (“cowards”) or are “the enemy” but not before or after, and 2) children should be treated honestly. His counterpart on the German side, Schroeder (Siegfried Rauch), makes the error of believing in his cause. The truncated version of the film, I understand, reduces Schroeder’s role considerably. The reconstruction puts him back in the center of things, where he is needed to make the point that if you believe in anything during a war, you’ll fail. This is Fuller’s indictment of war, and it’s a scathing one of particular relevance in this new age of holy war-making.

Other complaints leveled at the film were “low” production values, a criticism that leaves me scratching my head. If they weren’t filming in North Africa and Sicily, I surely never would have known. Another reinstated scene shows a thrilling battle on horseback in an ancient coliseum in North Africa, a visually splendid and inventive set piece. It is also an ironic setting, showing a battle raging in a place designed for sports and entertainment. We can’t help but notice that we are entertained by this death match as well, and that puts us in touch with our complicity in the bloodsport that is war.

A third complaint was that the use of a knife was a WWI method unsuited to a movie about WWII. This ignores completely that the film starts with Marvin playing a dogface in France during WWI. He’s the only one in the WWII sequences who uses a knife regularly, and uses it tactically to prevent the enemy from hearing shots being fired. By the Second World War, death was already being delivered in a more mechanistic, impersonal way. Marvin reminds us of what we’re really doing when we set out to destroy an enemy, and he does it without sentiment or, it seems, fear.

The liberation of a concentration camp is the only part of the film where emotion really takes the foreground. Remember Pvt. Griff, the one with the conscience? He is allowed to express his feelings in full in this sequence, and The Sergeant has a poignant scene with a small boy without the strength to speak. This film saves its sympathy for innocent civilians caught in the middle of a mess, and brings an antiwar message home in the end.

I consider this film nothing less than a masterpiece and as Jonathan Rosenbaum said at the screening I attended, we all owe Richard Schickel an enormous debt of gratitude for restoring 49 crucial minutes, including 15 new scenes, to this, one of the finest of all war films.
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Posted: Tue Oct 26, 2004 4:03 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Elephant (2003)

Written by...Lshap

Unlike Gus Van Sant's more user-friendly fare like Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, Elephant is anything but "Feel good", nor does the story offer simple beginnings, middles and ends. It's a snapshot of an event, a horrific day in the life of a few high-school kids whose fates thread around, over and under each other, leading up to a pivotal moment that changes some of their lives, and ends others.

Unfortunately, that last paragraph makes the film sound alot more cohesive and interesting than it really is. Watching Elephant put me into the scene alright, but the scene was from Waiting For Godot. I sat waiting for answers that never came.

The story's about a normal, dull day in a high school turning sickeningly violent. It's about how the shift from neutral to overdrive can happen so easily, so quickly, and completely shred the gears of our day to day life before we realize it. In real life there's no orchestral buildup before disaster strikes, and Elephant does its best to mirror real life. The problem is film is not real life, and never, ever, should try to be. But Van Sant tries, refusing to offer us a fair stipend of foreboding to keep the story moving. Real life has no discernable story arc and so -- tough luck -- we get none. In fact, Van Sant takes his sweet time giving us anything to chew on, like a control freak more interested in manipulating his audience than engaging them. Camera shots and scenes linger, sometimes to unbelievable lengths, just to feed Van Sant's reality fetish, and the sad reality is that it accomplishes nothing but boredom. It's not a question of absentee editing -- the pacing was deliberately annoying as to be done for some effect -- but I'll be damned if I can figure out what Van Sant was thinking. Long, unedited takes are technically impressive, but whatever tone he's trying to set gets lost during the interminable tracking shots. Van Sant makes a fundamental mistake in mixing up 'real time' with 'real', leaving the audience fidgeting and staring at their watches.

The film eventually builds to a climax and, once there, we're rewarded with a tightly wound scene that's both monumentally disturbing and effective. The question is: did we really have to be bored for so long to properly appreciate it? I can see the film's defenders rationalizing the preceding 90 minutes with the claim that the flat calmness of the buildup only heightens the sledgehammer impact of the payoff. But that would be bullshit. Mundane doesn't have to feel mundane to make its point. Van Sant sets a tone and introduces his characters, but then he doesn't know when to stop setting and introducing, or when viewer fatigue compromises all that. Once that happens we stop listening and only see the cracks in the film's foundation, making Elephant appear over-directed and under-edited.
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Posted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 9:13 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Blind Swordsman; Zatoichi

Written by...Marantz

Our hero is sleeping roadside when a few not-so-nice guys decide to make a victim of him. We know that he will prevail. This is the start of the movie and the scene stirs the delicious anticipation of how he will vanquish them. And vanquish them he does. In a no uncertain terms. This will become even a more no nonsense manner as the film progresses. The Director, Takeshi Kitano plays Zatoichi.

From this first encounter our hero continues his sojourn. Along the way he passes a field of workers working the land with hoes and spades etc. There is a wonderful musical background for this scene and the farm implements become part of the orchestration. A unique and rather surprising innovation, for me, in this Japanese swordsman epic.

Zatoichi comes across a very nice woman who offers him lodging (but no funny business). She is a strong and appealing person. The living arrangement is comfortable and honestly heart-warming. She has a nephew who is a gambling addict who always loses. She can't seem to do anything with him. We meet him when Zatoichi goes to the gambling den to do some gambling of his own in his own unique way. The scenes in the gambling den are riveting as are many of the scenes. Zatoichi becomes somewhat of a mentor to the feckless nephew. There is also a bar that the characters hang out at that gives a good picture of the slightly demi-monde side of the town's inhabitants.

There are two warring Mafia type organisations that are vying for absolute control of the protection racket and all the other rackets that they line their pockets from. There is a struggling, rather decent young married man, a highly talented swordsman, who takes a job as a bodyguard for one of the criminal bosses so that he can provide for his wife. The film is full of ambiguities in its characters. Something I remember seeing all too infrequently in action pictures. There are many 'bad guys come to the rescue of good people stuff', but here there are some good people who do some awful things.

There are two Geishas who we get a glimpse of near the beginning of the movie in a scene of cold blooded murder, who re-enter later in the film and we get their story fleshed out. Wonderfully strange and intriguing Geishas, who through lives of tragedy have persevered with the burning desire for revenge that drives them to become efficient killing machines in their own right.

Zatoichi is a linchpin for these disparate and desperate characters. When he fights there is no pussyfooting around, like you see in Hero. These are not ballet dances, these are brutal, bloody mayhem. No, pulled punches here.

Part way into the film we get another musical gem with the workers stomping in the sodden fields with the stomps being part of the rhythm. I'm beginning to see that that first musical invention will maybe became some sort of thread to the movie. Later there is a house raising with the sound of the hammers, and saws and whatever other tools become part of the score. The first of these musical interludes with the hoes etc. is inspired and each subsequent incarnation of this exciting use of music seems even better than the last.

There is a showdown coming. We hear mention of an annual festival that is coming. We get the feel of the townsfolk uniting. The have all come together to rebuild that house that has been burned down by the bad guys. They are anticipating this festival. This could be rural Saskatchewan or Oklahoma. I'm sure that Kitano has seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The showdown comes. The mystery man behind the criminal empire is revealed. Blood and justice come swiftly. And we are at the festival.

If by this time you have been elated by the wondrous musical segments; You ain't seen nothin' yet. The music and dance extravaganza at the festival is out of this world. Tap dancing Japanese style (by The Stripes according to the credits) and most all of the cast, in what is like a curtain call to end all curtain calls. It was all I could do to stay in my seat and not jump up and start dancing.

The acting, directing, composition, character development and storyline is of the first order.
This is a wonderful movie that in a packed theatre of movie lovers should have the audience standing up and cheering at the end and all through the credits.

I haven't really gone into much of the storyline here because it is something that should be enjoyed on first viewing. It ends with a short line and freeze frame of Zatoichi's face filling the screen.
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Posted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 3:54 pm Reply with quote
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i heart huckabees

Written by...Melody

Near the beginning of I Heart Huckabees, existential detective Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) uses a snow-white blanket as a visual aid to start new client Albert (Jason Schwartzman) down his path of discovery. “Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy in the universe, okay? This is me, this is you, and over here, this is the Eiffel Tower, right? It's Paris!”

At this point, I sense two reactions in the audience: intrigued tell me more versus utter bullshit.

Here’s the thing with David O. Russell. For the intrigued-tell-me-more bunch, his screenplays are a delightful stroll through a maze that you know eventually you’ll find your way out of, but in the meantime, you can’t wait to see what totally unpredictable sight awaits you around the next bend.

The utter-bullshit crowd sees I Heart Huckabees as an unfunny mess with no discernible plot – who cares about the tall African dude, and why does Albert keep crawling in that body bag if it’s so unpleasant? To them, none of this is worth their attention and they’re outta … oh wait, there’s Naomi Watts doing a commercial in a thong. Okay, they’ll stick around for a little while longer.

Russell presents us with an oversimplification – but not dumbing down – of two philosophies competing for (eventually) just about everyone’s souls. I won’t go into them here as they are best discovered organically, but I will say how absolutely refreshing it is to have a movie speak to our role in the universe and what it all means, and there be no turning to god or any other higher power for The Big Answer.

Which brings me to goddess Lily Tomlin still Search(ing) for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. “My space chums are concerned about our evolvement because they say we’re all connected … Seems like there’s some kind of cosmic Krazy Glue connecting everything to everything … We all time-share the same atoms ...” Testify, Ms. Lily!

Okay, that quote wasn’t from the movie; it was from Jane Wagner and Tomlin’s stage play. Interesting coincidence, though, don’t you think?

I’ll give you another one.

Yesterday I said to my honey on the phone, if you were here, we’d be rolling around outside in the dirt right now cuz I’ve got full moon fever baby, and then WOW next thing you know, I’m watching this movie and there’s Albert and Caterine rubbing swamp slime on each other and mucking like crazy.

Now, did I pull this image from my boyfriend’s brain, or did I pluck it from the collective unconscious, or was it merely coincidence this totally hot image of us dirty and nekkid in my front yard merged with the not-so-hot (IMO) Albert and Caterine, in full daylight? So many questions, so many direct hits to the face with a red bouncy ball before I get it.

Russell refuses to ply us with what I’d call stock images in your typical existential mystery caper – notice there are no night scenes in the whole movie, so there's no opportunity for Albert and Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) to lie on the grass and gaze up at the stars or down at the lights of L.A., wondering where we all came from.

In the scene where Bernard and Vivian are showing Albert a partially rolled-up poster of the universe, we don’t see a close-up of the poster. No, instead we’re treated to several shots of magnificent chalkboard artwork. For my money, that should have been the movie poster image. It’s all about connections, the atoms & Eves.

And Shania Twain.

“How am I not myself?” asks Brad (ubiquitous but mighty fine Jude Law). That’s a head scratcher fer sure. As for me and my blanket – one good turn and I'll get it all!
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Posted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:03 am Reply with quote
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Written by...Lshap

Here's Ray Charles in the office of Atlantic records, bubbling over with the confidence that comes when you know you've got what the record execs want: "I'll make it do what it do baby...yeah!" It's the line you've been hearing on every trailer and commercial for Ray, and it neatly sums up how Jamie Foxx puts the juice into this standard rags-to-riches story and makes it become a riveting, uplifting drama. Foxx makes it do what it does, baby. Yeah.

Now, bio-dramas are a tough sell. On top of the usual yardsticks I use to measure films -- script, acting, editing, photography, etc. -- doing a story about a real person carries an obligation to do justice to a face, voice and mannersims that the audience often knows as well as the filmmakers. When the subject of your story is contemporary and as well-known as Ray Charles, meshing real-life with imitation is even a couple of notches higher on the difficulty meter.

But Ray never falters. Jamie Foxx does more than simply 'play' Ray Charles - for two and a half hours he becomes him. The voice, look and mannerisms are spooky, and, like other great biographical performances, the separation between subject and actor virtually disappears. You're just there, gettin' down and dirty in mid-20th century America alongside a poor, blind, black man as he endures personal tragedy, racism, physical handicap and covetous competition, as you watch him climb from lonely obscurity to become one of the signature musical sounds of the past century. Foxx, along with the rest of cast, melt into the montage of a man's life and the era in which he lived. Ray is an uplifting success, and a sure multiple Oscar nomination.

One of the reasons for the film's authenticity is its almost complete avoidance of recognizable actors. Nobody's face pulled me out of the scene and away from the story. Foxx is the biggest name but even he's hardly a box-office magnet. Richard Schiff, who plays Toby on the West Wing, is barely recognizable, and the rest of the cast names disappear beneath their characters.

The film is driven by its relationships with strong women, just as the man himself was. Sharon Warren plays Ray's tough and smart Mom in an outstanding supporting role shown entirely in flashbacks. Ray's apparently boundless romantic interests are narrowed down to the three pivotal ones: Bea (Kerry Washington), his wife through many years and many more affairs; Marge (Regina King), his longstanding lover and de facto wife while he was on the road; and Mary Anne (Aunjanue Ellis), another lover hoping the magic of Ray Charles will rub off before she gets the brush off. From bandmates to bedmates, the casting is spectacularly authentic.

Objectively, the film is nothing new. The story follows the same path and has the same resolutions as so many other success-story films. It also takes its sweet time moving through the years. But Ray is propelled to another altitude by its dynamite soundtrack and the amazing ability of Jamie Foxx to channel Ray Charles' life and charisma onto the screen. The photography makes the 50's and 60's come alive in saturated living color, making the film as spectacular a period piece as it is a biography. Ray does what it does, baby, and it does it very, very well.

Look for a whack of Oscar nominations.
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Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2004 7:42 pm Reply with quote
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Finding Neverland

Written by...Lshap

100 years ago, long before pop psychology discovered our annoying "Inner child", a man named James Barrie wrote the archetypal version of that theme, all about a boy who never grew up and a land where we stay young forever. Finding Neverland is his story, although the film is less his biography than a tribute to that spirit of eternal youthfulness, and how that gift is given to a family Barrie befriends.

The eternally young Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, a successful dramatist already in his 40's by the time he meets Sylvia Llewellyn Davies -- the eternally ethereal Kate Winslet -- who is a widowed mother to four young boys. Like missing pieces to a puzzle, Barrie and the Davies family fit each other's needs perfectly -- he bringing some magic along with a degree of fatherly protection to their lives, they becoming an audience and the ultimate inspiration for his.

The film is both a story of love and an intimate peek at a pivotal moment in literature. The love story part is touching and sweet, if unspectacular. The literary part, the birth of Peter Pan, is more interesting as we see how Barrie's world of neverending playtime helps four boys get past the death of their father, and also how his creativity brings a strikingly fresh voice to stuffy old England's theatrical society. By themselves, Barrie's eccentricities -- his childlike playfulness, his own sterile marriage, his odd emotional detachment from all around him -- would be frustrating character flaws were they not used as clues foreshadowing the famous play that immortalized him. In that sense, Finding Neverland uses Peter Pan in the same way Titanic used an iceberg. It's the film's big payoff. Anticipating the character's creation is the hook that overlays the rest of the story. We hear Winslet call one of her boys "Peter" and immediately think, "Ah-hah!"; we see Barrie imagining the four boys flying off their beds and think, "Hey, I recognize that!".

As the bond between Barrie and the boys becomes more clearly paternal, the relationship between him and Sylvia becomes even more purposefully vague, deeper on some levels and yet less adult on others. Their connection zigs but then refuses to zag. They both have unrealized needs, but it isn't great sex or true love that's coming to the rescue; it's more like a variation of "Don't Worry Be Happy". It's Peter Pan and Wendy all over again, just as soul-stirring a relationship but just as developmentally stunted. Nevertheless, James and Sylvia's connection counts as a love story, running as deep as any other romantic couple's, only in a different direction.

The fairy dust is layed on a little thick at times, but Finding Neverland gets by on the charm of its two leads. Kate Winslet's Sylvia combines the best of British women -- beauty, elegance, but with a casual charm that melts through the icy English pretension. Johnny Depp's James Barrie is a charming enigma, sliding between being the nurturing father figure and being another one of Neverland's Lost Boys. (Come to think of it, Johnny Depp has made a career out of playing lost boys.) Here he straddles the pubescent fence, being warm and cool at the same time, never distant but never overtly affectionate. He plays Barrie as an emotionally muted man who spins magic around him from the safe distance of a consumate storyteller, which is by all accounts an accurate reflection of the real J.M. Barrie's personality.

But the best reason to watch the film is Freddy Highmore, the young actor who has the only role that really flies from here to there. Appropriately, his character's name is Peter. His relationship with Barrie is easily the film's most interesting, and it's his sincerity that carries the film's sentimental weight, as well as giving us a couple of good weepy moments. As for the characters that have managed to grow up, Julie Christie's face has remained beautiful, but she plays Sylvia's Mom with a demeanor that hints at Cinderella's wicked step-mother, and Dustin Hoffman's role as the nervous producer of Barrie's plays is, perhaps, the smallest and least significant of his career.

2004 seems to be the year of biographies, and if Ray, The Aviator, Alexander and Kinsey are hard-hitting classics written on the roughest sandpaper, Finding Neverland is the bedtime story you hear while wearing the softest flannel pyjamas.
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Posted: Mon Nov 22, 2004 7:17 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal

Written by...Gary Marantz

A couple of mismatched former college roommates go on a trip to California wine country. The purpose of the trip is so Jack (Thomas Haden Church) can have a last fling at freedom before he weds. Miles (Paul Giamatti) his reluctant, depressed, unfulfilled writer friend is along for the ride.

Jack is a none-too-bright hedonist with thoughts of sexual couplings and not much else. Charming in his simplicity, he is the opposite of the morose, intellectual, wine loving, anti-fun Miles. Poor Miles is still crushed over his divorce which happened two years previous. This is a very annoying affliction. When you are dumped by someone you love and were married to, get over it. Sure there is a mourning period, but I have done a very scientific study of this and if it's longer than four months, you are in a state of self-immolation and shouldn't be in the company of anyone.

Jack, with his hedonistic character intact, keeps telling Miles not to fuck up his (Jack's) good time by being such a fuckin' downer. As exclusive, actually non-existent, as Miles' preference for bed partners is, Jack's is open to the entire female population, regardless of age, weight, looks or marital status. Jack definitely has flaws in his character.

Off they go on their journey. Miles' disdain for Merlot made me beam. I was a little disappointed that he only disliked what the California wineries did to Chardonnay, rather than condemn them outright, but I guess I'll have to try some non-California Chards. I'm not optimistic though.

The boys check into their Inn and have dinner at a restaurant that Miles has spent many a dinner at. He's a wine connoisseur and knows this country well. A waitress, Maya (Virginia Madsen) who knows Miles from previous visits, is very friendly. Jack immediately notices and tells Miles that she has a thing for Miles. Miles is unmoved. She runs into them later at the bar. Jack, eager to get something going buys her a drink and gets her to sit with them. Miles is unmoved. Miles is in mourning. Miles is not what you would call a looker. Miles is not what you would call a scintillating personality. Miles is short and pretty bald and a little dumpy. With Miles' attitude toward the lovely, vivacious, mature and forthcoming Maya, you really get the impression that down deep, he's either homosexual or an idiot. Well his depression about his ex-wife rules out homosexuality.

A girlfriend of Maya's, Stephanie (Sandra Oh), hooks up with Jack and Miles is coupled with Maya for what is to be a double date. Now the characters of the women is revealed. Stephanie loves FUN as much as the maturity challenged Jack. It's a match made in heaven, though it has situational drawbacks that make a decent into hell a distinct possibility.

Maya turns out to be not only a lovely person, but a radiant person who like Miles is a wine loving/connoisseur. She speaks of it more poetically and knowledgeably than even our wine expert depressive. They have one of the best realised scenes of romance blooming that these eyes have seen in a long long time.

Is Miles swept away? Not really. At best, he's nudged a little bit.

This movie is written with a sharpness and humour and pathos and insight that put it far above the usual American output. The acting of all concerned is spot on. I was particularly impressed with Church. I had only seen him in the comic role in that TV series, Wings. The two women, I don't remember seeing before, but I sure hope to see them many times again. Giamatti, I've seen in American Splendor and now that I've checked, Man On the Moon among others. What a fine actor he is.

A wonderful roadtrip. A wonderful romance. A wonderful look at two very different boyfriends and two very different girlfriends.

As we go through the film and see many of the wines that they drink, with Miles giving his erudite and often over the top comments, his bad review of some of the wines are inevitably countered by Jack's sort of apologetic comment, "I think it's nice." What a great, succinct character study that is.

And funny as hell.
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Posted: Mon Dec 13, 2004 11:36 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
The Exiles (1961) Director: Kent Mackenzie

Written by...Marilyn

In case you’re ever wondering if you’re wasting your life watching way too many movies, I would like to remind you that film buffs may have done more for our cultural heritage and history (not just film history) in general through our enthusiasm than most people ever attempt. Henri Langlois, the ultimate film buff, literally saved thousands of films from destruction just by becoming a collector. Similarly, a sometime documentary film maker named Thom Andersen, who made a film in 1974 about Edward Muybridge, the Father of Motion Pictures, and made only two more since then, has managed to resurrect a film destined to be forgotten and possibly lost. In his tribute to Los Angeles, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), this lover of film found a 1961 film called The Exiles and excerpted from it liberally to show the destruction of the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles. Of the many films he sampled, The Exiles was the one I most wanted to see. In its wisdom, the Gene Siskel Film Center dug up a pristine copy of this classic film and scheduled two showings this week, one of which I attended with only about 25 other people in attendance.

Classic? I didn’t know that could apply to The Exiles until I read that the film got a decent commercial release and was well received at a number of film festivals. I had thought this film was just an oddity that Andersen dug up in his research on Los Angeles. And yet, the film has so much going for it that the use of the word is entirely appropriate. Director/producer/writer Kent Mackenzie made his film debut with this film; tragically, he would only complete one more film before dying an untimely death. His talent is more than evident in his shot compositions, his heartbreaking close-ups, his thorough integration of settings and players, and his incredible use of lighting. This film is reminiscent of and every bit as good as Cassavetes’ Shadows, and possibly better for showing us people we almost never see on screen, even today.

The film starts by showing archival stills of Indians both famous and forgotten and their lives before the complete domination of the White Man took place. The film mentions the Indians’ fate and how a new generation of Indians were leaving the reservations to find a new way of life in the cities of the United States. The scene switches to Los Angeles and a particular group of Indians living in the Bunker Hill neighborhood. A collage of buildings sets the scene of this now-razed area of Los Angeles, ending at the Angels Flight funicular, which was used for transportation before it was resurrected a few years ago as a sort of Disneyland ride for Angelenos and tourists alike. We see a female Indian climbing halfway up the hill the funicular scales and stepping into a hillside maze of buildings where her apartment lies. What follows is a combination of interior monologues by this squaw, her husband, and a bon vivant friend of theirs, and scenes of life in the neighborhood as they and their friends wander the neighborhood carousing, card playing, drinking, fighting, and in quiet camaraderie before more of the same begins again the following day.

There is a lively mixed salad of people in Bunker Hill, precariously balanced within society or sliding to the bottom of the heap. Liquor—primarily Lucky Lager and Gallo Thunderbird—liberally lubricate the search of these people for an escape from their dead-end, rootless lives. The squaws are merely around to provide the braves with money and sex. The men are largely lost to alcoholism. These Indians are exiles, and we feel it looking into their expressive, sad faces and hearing some of their musings on their lives. The penultimate scene is very powerful. After the bars close at 2 a.m., the Indians drive up to what they call Hill X and have a bit of a pow pow. In the bars, they played the juke boxes with popular rock ‘n roll tunes of the day. Here, the men beat on drums and dance with bells on their legs. The sun comes up, the cars of Indians seeking their own company away from the prying eyes of the White Man are gone, and crushed cigarette butts and empties litter the hill. Los Angeles stands in the background.
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Posted: Thu Dec 23, 2004 9:26 am Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal

Written by...Rod

This boutique film has the distinction of having captured every - yes, every single one - award at this year's AFI awards, thusly outdoing even The Return Of The King's Oscar haul. And man is it ever a different film. However, this is not necessarily indicative of the preference of the AFIs for small rewarding art films; it is actually a sign of the deep desperation of the Australian film industry to generate good, worthy, money-making pictures. Although it was boosted by a lack of competition - except for Tom White, directed by the talented Ana Kokkinos but being about a homeless man was a bigger cinematic turn-off than Somersault which is at least Being The Adventures of A Homeless But Pretty And Sexually Wanton Girl - it is nonetheless a very good film. Yes, but some qualification. It is a very slow, small, intimate, not always deeply rewarding film. It is not entirely to my taste, a reaction that reminds me of the old literary question - Shakespeare or Racine? Or, do you prefer your Tragic works bold, romantic, wordly, funny,
sensually exciting, or stringent, courtly, cool, minimal, classical? For me, the answer is definitely Shakespeare, but I still bow to masters of the opposite school.

Somersault is mostly a modern coming-of-age story, although perhaps not really so different from Regency rogue stories like Barry Lyndon and Tom Jones, except with emotional emphasis reversed; female instead of male; alienation instead of freedom in hitting the road; judgment instead of liberation in sexual abandon; exploitation instead of accidental comradeship. The film masterfully places the viewer in the painfual process of being someone with scarcely any idea how to operate in the world and for whom each person is silent, unknowable thing that may bring pleasure, redemption, or pain and violence. Keith likened writer/director Cate Shortland's intentions to Robert Bresson in visual style, but it is not really shot in Bresson's very clear, withheld manner, though silence and care is the hallmark of its progression. Instead camera angles tend to be rather skewed, intense, and geographically disorientating, to match the confusion and directionlessness of Heidi.

The story is very simple: Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is 16, lives with her mother in Canberra who much like Kim Basinger's mother in 8 Mile is sufficiently young and egotistical enough to like to be mistaken for her daughter's sister - The Gilmore Girls from the Dark Side. Two can play at this game, however, and Heidi, drifting is dissociated jealousy and teenaged longing for adulthood, tries a brief seduction of Mum's relatively hunky boyfriend. Of course, Mommy Dearest walks in on this and a whole ruckus starts. Heidi, stung by her mother's outraged disavowal of responsiblity for her, immedately flees, and recalling an offer once from an acquaintance to stay with him at his home in Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains, a kind of down-market Aspen. Heidi travels south on the bus but finds her acquaintance now cannot remember her and requests her not to phone him again. Thredbo is freezing, lonely, and full of drunken and drug-pumped rich kids on skiing holidays, downmarket bohemians, and rednecks, not at all a welcoming place for the terminally short-of-cash. Thusly, knowing only her body as a survival tool, Heidi tries to seduce several men about town simply for a place to sleep. One she meets, Joe (Sam Worthington), a young farmer and son of local squatocracy, rather fed up with his loverboy existence and covering up bisexual yearnings, proves to be a decent man, though, in well-observed fashion, in good stolid Aussie male fashion he tries to gruffly hold off his attachment to Heidi. Heidi finds herself a tenuous place in the world, living with Irene (Lynette Curran), a motel owner whose son is absent, and working in a service station, making slow friends there with co-worker Bianca (Holly Andrew), an intially haughty, middle-class girl.

Embarrassed to be seen with her and at the chance he might have to feel something for her, Joe keeps Heidi at arms length, and simultaneously finds himself painfully attracted to a new male neighbour on a nearby property who has spent some time living as a bourgeois aesthete in Paris. Fears of sexual assignation plague both Heidi and Sam. Sam's one stab at homosexual seduction is rightly rebuffed by the recipient who comments, "You don't know what you want.", a problem stemming from Sam's fears of committing emotionally to anyone. We see him later in angry-seducer mode with one of the rich girls his foolish mate, Alfred Prufock-style, keeps entertained without being able to bed. Meanwhile, Heidi's attempts to prove self-worth by junior femme fatale-ing her way around town rebound in slightly too time-honoured fashion. Bianca's soon-to-be-stepfather Roy (Paul Gleeson), once a target of Heidi's despearate attmepts to gain shelter, drives Heidi to the edge of Lake Jindabyne and warns her to stay away from his pure-as-snow Bianca. It's an acutely menacing scene and one carefully calculated to make you want to push the guy's teeth down his throat. The subsequent bitter scene between Heidi and a semi-misinformed Bianca gives a marvellous visual metaphor in the childish act of Heidi aiming a hose at Bianca's heartbroken face behind a pane of glass. Thereafter, vengefully determined to live up to her bad-lot status, Heidi takes too too many pills and heads for a drug-dazed rape from two obnoxious city lads. Will Joe save the day? Stay tuned!

In the end all ends fairly happily however, which is something of a problem. Shortland was inspired in Dostoevskyian manner by a true-life murder case, the conclusion of which has bitten the dust here and we are left instead with several narrative threads that scarcely pay off, either in narrative or, really, character terms. The quiet air of menace and mounting disquiet turns out to be just an air; as Heidi finds, the whole sojourn is to a certain extent unnecessary. My script editor friend Keith Thompson saw an early version of the screenplay and was much excited by it, but felt that was a distinct mid-act wobble where the focus was moved away from the heroine. This problem is still present in the work for the film's discursive investigations of the other characters who revolve around Cornish's exiled waif are both admirable in that each person is given some small turn, some passage for our enlightenment of their general humanity, be it positive or negative, but such haiku-like character exposition, is better in a larger, more florid type of story than this. Here, what is required is rigorous personal examination, or the work falls into stagnation, and Somersault does so at more than a few points. When it sticks to the wayfarer Heidi, a curious, embryonic person, it is however largely a success. We are both invited into the feelings and development of Heidi but to a certain extent we are kept at some distance, we are never quite sure how she thinks so like Joe we watch her in moments such as when she dances in a moment of erotic-comic self-abandon, wondering what strange kind of creature she is and will be. This is partly deliberate. Heidi is a mystery to herself, an unfinished and unsolved thing, she is capable both of being a very good persona and a rather mean one, and the film shows a life process where she on the knife-edge of development, where she can become either a remarkable adult or a screwed-up young lass indeed. If I find it just a little too measured, too controlled, too humorless, too astringent a film, I have to say it is exceptionally well-acted, especially by Cornish and Worthington, and remarkably concerted, with a solidity and rigour of purpose I found entirely lacking, for instance, in the glossy, picture-perfect but deeply empty Lantana.
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Posted: Thu Dec 30, 2004 7:34 pm Reply with quote
Site Admin Joined: 12 May 2004 Posts: 4246 Location: Montreal
Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events

Written by...Syd

Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events is a reasonably good but not great dark comedy with some good scares and laughs. The story is cobbled together from parts of the first three novels in the series (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window). The structure is somewhat disjointed because of this, with repetitive themes as the kids are assigned to a new relative and their distant relative (supposedly), Count Olaf, pursues and threatens them.

The Baudelaire childen, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, are orphaned when a mysterious fire, apparently caused by a lens, sets fire to their family's mansion. The kids are outside at the time, fortunately, and Count Olaf is named their guardian, unfortunately, apparently because he lives a few blocks away. Olaf, however is much more interested in getting his hands on the kids' money so he can support his one great ambition, acting. Olaf has a really unsavory acting troupe from the dark side of Dickens, and apparently is in debt. Olaf is played by Jim Carrey in his classic scene-chewing mode; Olaf is The Mask's evil twin. Billy Connally plays a herpetologist uncle who is actually very nice, and Meryl Streep is an aunt who is afraid of everything, especially realtors, not to mention the carnivorous leeches that inhabit Lake Lachrymose and attack in packs. Connelly and Streep have a lot of fun in their roles. Timothy Spall is also in fine form as the family lawyer, and there are inconsequential Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Coolidge and Catherine O'Hara sightings, and a more consequential one by Cedric the Entertainer. Jude Law does the voice of Lemony Snicket and is seen in silhouette. The kids are appropriately Dickenesque, although a bit too well-groomed, and each has his/her talents. Violet is the best 14-year-old inventor in the world, and her ability to save the day through materials at hand provides some of the best moments in the film. Klaus seems to have inhaled the family's entire huge library, so he too can be counted on in a crisis. Sunny's talent is biting with her four teeth, so she can be counted on as an emergency can-opener. The child actors are appropriate for their parts, but lack a certain spark.

The real triumph is the look of the film, which I was expecting to be Harry Potterish, but was more Edward Goreyesque. I loved the decrepit mansion inhabited by Olaf (with portraits of Olaf all over the place), which would make a comfy home for Dracula, the snake-filled property of the uncle, and the lakeside cabin of Aunt Josephine, which looks like a strong breeze would send it collapsing into the lake.

I've not read any of the books, although I've examined the covers, which give the readers warnings like, "Before you throw this book forcefully across the room, you should know why," and I leaf through the books sometimes when I need a good laugh.
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Posted: Tue Jan 18, 2005 11:19 pm Reply with quote
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Once More Without Feeling

Written by...Joe Vitus

At the end of Bad Education, there are a series of title cards giving us the future of the characters years after the events we have just been watching. That of the director, Fele Martínez, says, "He continues to make movies with the same passion." That right there tells you the movie isn't autobiographical, because Pedro Almodóvar's latest movie is singularly lacking in that quality.

Bad Education is a beautiful looking movie. It's probably the best looking movie all this year (or last year, if you want to be specific; the movie, which opened in some U.S. theaters as early as last November, is just now opening in Houston). And it's amazingly technically accomplished, what with multiple role playing, flash backs within dream sequences, and several sharp twists in plot, all of which are extremely lucid and easy to follow. The two male leads, Gael García Banal and Martínez, are attractive, and there are several reasonably erotic scenes involving either one or both of them (though these aren't as explicit as early Almodóvar). Like most Almodóvar movies, this one is soaked in old movie references, among the most easily detected here being Double Indemnity, Vertigo and maybe Jules and Jim and probably Persona. But the movie is curiously lacking energy, and, though there are some laughs in it, the jokes aren't as funny as the laughter they receive. It seemed to me we in the audience were forcing it a little, wanting a wild Almodovórian romp, and trying to make each joke prove that that's what we were getting.

Sadly, despite the comic come-on of the title, this movie is meant to be serious, or at least dramatic, but Almodóvar can't pull it off. He confuses drama with a dampening of his effects. Everything here is emotionally muted, and though the soundtrack is composed of outdated Bernard Herrmann-style music, the effect aimed at doesn't appear to be parody. When Almodóvar plays with old-movie techniques and wildly ridiculous soap opera plotting for his comedies, the implication is that he knows he's above his material, but he can't help his obsessions. And I'm sure most of us in the audience share his viewpoint. We're laughing with him, not at him, and not really at the conventions he mines. But here he seems to want to step outside of that parodistic world and tell a serious story. The trouble being that he's still perceiving things in that outdated, soap opera fashion, but he takes it seriously, as genuine vehicle for conveying emotional truths. I know there are people here who admire Douglas Sirk, and who liked the recent Far From Heaven. They may find this movie fascinating, but I don't need a reproduction of old movie conventions, certainly not done straight. I'm fine with checking out TMC or my local video store for that.

The real problem, I think, is that Almodóvar's done all this before. He's been reprising some of the themes and plot elements since the start of his career. The confrontation with a priest by a former pupil is an old one, not only from his early movies, but even from the plot-outlines he wrote before he first got movie financing (and reproduced in the book Desire Unlimited, a study of the director's work by Paul Julian Smith) and we get several reworkings of that situation here. The gender-bending, in-and-out-of-sexes is, of course, a staple. As is the madmen with intense but universal feelings. Critics have noted that Gael García Banal plays the sort of role here that would once have gone to Antonio Banderas. Specifically, he's playing the sort of role Banderas played three times, in Labyrinth of Passion, Law of Desire, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The second, which I consider Almodóvar's best, perfectly meshes his delirious comic style with a serious, and I find moving, examination of human passions. Of course, all artists have motifs that they return to, and on-going themes. But Almodóvar isn't developing here. He isn't mining them for anything new or presenting them in a more vivid, interesting fashion.

The flashbacks take place during the rein of Franco, but the majority of the movie takes place in the early 80s. To be specific, this was the time Almodóvar first burst on the scene, and it was also the time of the movida, a Spanish youth culture movement, somewhat like punk, but much more optimistic, a hedonistic period of drugs and sex, and very much about gay identity. It was a time of intense excitement. As Smith says paraphrasing Francisco Umbral's chronicle of the movement, "Everything here is 'pre-': all is so new, so impatient, and so mobile that modernity is the sole value to be recognized; everything is treated directly and openly." There is no such corresponding atmosphere in this low-energy, ennui-soaked movie of hidden passions. Maybe this is how Almodóvar feels about the period now, and maybe he considers it as ancient and out-dated (maybe even more so) than the movies he watched as a child, and of his own experiences as a child. But this doesn't come through in the picture itself. It just feels like an oddly inappropriate pairing. And, on the contrary, Almodóvar is best known for his oddly appropriate convolutions.

I don't know if the problem is that he's running out of gas, or that when he refuses to incorporate humor and farce as the central force of a work he doesn't know how to build up his energy. It's hard for me to believe the latter, because Talk To Her was essentially serious but it worked. Bad Education, on the other hand, is a pretty-looking, utterly moribund movie. There are reversals and identity switches, but none of it is very surprising or interesting. I watched the developments with a "yes, of course" comment clicking off in my head at each revelation. It isn't that I predicted what would happen, it's just that Almodóvar doesn't reach for anything new or particularly different. We've seen this movie so many times throughout our moviegoing lives. I wonder if we need to see it again.

The casting is reasonably successful. Banal is really perfectly cast, as his sullen babyish face suggests an evil and innocent quality all at once. It's easy to see how his character seduces several people, even when they are on to the fact that they are being made use of. But there‚s no energy to his performance. I thought of Banderas throughout the movie, and the intensity he brought to his psycho narcissists in the early Almodóvar films. Banal is right for the role, but he‚s bland. You don't care for him and you don't identify with him, which makes his performance (entirely appropriate for this movie) a museum piece. He‚s behind the velvet rope of the production, and we watch him at a remove. He's complimented nicely by Ignacio Perez as his younger self, a child who's come-on smile and mock innocent gaze already suggest the man his is to become.

Martínez is good as the director, though he seems a bit young to appear so weary of the director's life. Again, one flashes back on the wan performance (the one sour note) by Eusebio Poncela in Law of Desire. Raúl García Forniero, as the future director's child self looks somewhat like a young Almodóvar, and oddly, he too is withdrawn (though both the child actors have more energy than their adult counterparts). One wonders if Almodóvar is uncomfortable with directly autobiographical characters, as both adult stand-ins seem washed out and somehow disassociated from the wild movies they are supposed to make. Of course, Almodóvar did provide one great movie director, the horny wheel-chair bound schlock horror director Francisco Rabel in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! But then, that wasn't an Almodóvar stand in. Or is it the only one?

This movie seems to be receiving nothing but excellent reviews. I don't understand why. Comments abound about the wild, tangled plot, the great jokes and fascinating developments. But what I saw a polished, somnambulant picture. Maybe critics are so eager for a new Almodóvar movie, they are reviewing the movie they want to see. I'll wait for it to come along. I hope it does.

Last edited by lshap on Mon Feb 07, 2005 7:13 am; edited 1 time in total
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