Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Bittersweet but loving portrait of Jewish ladies' swim team
I had the pleasure of seeing this film at the Nashville Film Fesitval. This documentary tells the story of a special reunion of six members of the Hakoah Vienna, a girl's swim team that broke athletic records in the 1930s as Hitler came to power.
These ladies all have distinct personalities that come shining through as the story unfolds. There is laughter shared amid sadder memories. One of the swimmers was invited to represent Austria in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games but refused as a statement of her stance against Nazism. As a result, she was never allowed to compete again and had her awards taken away. The director lets the story tell itself as the friends go back in time to their youth, when their faith made them visible targets. While much has changed, some things have not. It is an inspiring, thoughtful story worth telling.
Paper Clips (2004)
How a Holocaust history project changed a community
This entrancing documentary details the story of how the students of Whitwell Middle School, a little town in Central Tennessee, started with a school assignment that snowballed into a one-of-a-kind Holocaust memorial gaining world-wide attention.
Whitwell is a former coal mining town with only a handful of minorities. The small town is almost totally Christian. Faculty at the school wanted to teach their children about the Holocaust as a means of showing them how intolerance of others can be fatal.
To give them a visual idea of what six million looks like (the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust), students began collecting paper clips. As news of the project began to spread, paper clips began pouring into the little school. Students did research and projects. They began to understand the not everybody was just like them. Jewish Holocaust survivors came to the school to share their stories and were embraced by the community.
Today a rail car formerly used to transport Jews to concentrations camps houses the paper clip collection on the grounds of Whitwell Middle School. Students give tours for other schools and answer questions.
This story is told with grace, humor and sensitivity. It will give you renewed hope in today's youth and an understanding of how the Holocaust must never be forgotten, lest it be repeated.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Love it or hate it, Napoleon's unique
As many have stated here, Napoleon Dynamite tends to be a movie you either truly enjoy or you simply can't bear watching. It's hard to find a middle ground with this one.
First, this movie is not formulaic in any way. No intense cinematography. No car chases. No swimsuit models. No dramatic dialog. Instead, you get a quirky slice of life in a small Idaho town inhabited by some pretty ordinary folks. For some, this would be considered incredibly dull. For me, it was a sweet celebration of the ordinary and awkward.
The title character, Napoleon, is a high school student who lives with his crusty grandmother, his Internet loving brother Kip and his grandmother's llama, Tina. Uncle Rico, the entrepreneurial ladies' man, is also a big part of the movie. Napoleon's best pal is Rico, a new student from Mexico. Also key to the story is Deb, a shy but sweet classmate who likes Napoleon.
Anyone who went to high school recognizes a Napoleon from their experience. Many will perhaps recognize themselves. Napoleon goes beyond his geeky nature in that he doesn't CARE that he's a geek. He had one good friend, Pedro, and that's all he needs. He doesn't court anyone's good opinion or want popularity. He's just himself.
I think what I liked most about this movie is that it wasn't out to impress anybody. It also showed that if you have one person who cares about you (Napoleon and Rico's friendship, Kip and LaFawndah, Grandma and Tina), you can make it through just about anything.
If you have enjoy the quirky and bittersweet, you'll enjoy Napoleon Dynamite.
Lost Boys of Sudan (2003)
These Lost Boys Know Where They're Going
This 2003 documentary focuses on the lives of two young men, Peter Duk and Santino Chuor, who were among the estimated 4,000 African refugees brought to the U.S. after civil war made them refugees. Having lost their families to gunfire, the "Lost Boys of Sudan" walked for hundreds of miles, avoiding lions and nearly starving. They found safety in refugee camps but lingered there for years. The answer for Peter and Santino, and many others, was to head for the United States.
The beauty of this documentary is the lack of intrusive voice-overs or fancy editing. No heavy-handed preaching. It simply follows the journey of these young men as they go from a life of huts and eating corn mush to having an apartment of their own and eating at Sonic. Life in the U.S. is not the "heaven" they hoped for, but they do see it as a path to the future and hopefully, a way to bring some kind of help to their native country.
While Peter stays behind in Houston, Santino ends up going to high school in Kansas City. It is fascinating to watch the reaction of others to Santino, especially that of his guidance counselor and a fellow student who interviews him for the school paper. The teen seems totally untouched by Santino's story, perhaps because she can't grasp what he's gone through.
"The Lost Boys of Sudan" certainly gave me a jolt in realizing that I take a lot for granted. Despite all they've gone through, these young men clearly know where they're going, even if it is a hard row to how. I highly recommend it, especially for teens who may not comprehend how other culture differ from the American way of life.
The Test of Love (1999)
Once you suspend reality, this isn't so bad
Roma Downey (of Touched by an Angel fame) stars in this Lifetime Network tear jerker about a wife who finds out about her husband Mark's best-kept secret when he's injured in a plane crash. Turns out he was accompanied by Cheryl, a mysterious woman who he had a daughter with eight years ago when he and Cassie were separated. And Cheryl's now dead.
Roma does a darned good job not having a mental melt down. She doesn't seem to bat an eyelid when the little girl, Erika, is dumped on her doorstep by Cheryl's neighbor. The child who plays Erika is actually about the only good thing in this movie in that she seems genuinely confused, as are the viewers. We are left to wonder how many years of therapy the poor kid will need to survive all this angst.
Cassie and Mark also have a son who is graduating from high school. Turns out he actually saw dear old Dad with Cheryl a few years ago but didn't tell Mom. He accepts Erika with ease but wants little to do with Dad, showing the only natural response by any character in the film.
Cassie bravely faces these jolts to her life but doesn't let it get in the way of her job as a tennis instructor. Her best friend keeps her spirits up. And she bonds nicely with Erika. But then Erika's aunt shows up and we smell the whiff of a nasty custody fight in the air.
I won't bore you further with the details but the total suspension of reality in this flick was almost too much for me. Within 48 hours of the crash, airline employees have sent Cassie her husband's suitcase. Yeah, right! And it has nary a mark on it. Cassie lets Mark actually come home to recover, something most women discovering such a secret wouldn't do.
As usual, the ending ties everything up in a pretty pink bow, which would not happen in real life. But hey, this is a Lifetime movie, where things never end badly or undone.
Pure cheese but it goes down smooth
Confessions time. I first saw this film in the theater in 1980 when my best friend turned 13. It was the highlight of our celebration, as was singing along to the soundtrack when we got home. Believe me, we really got into it!
Let's be honest. Xanadu is no Academy Award winner and it doesn't pretend to be. It's an attempt at a musical that's somewhat successful thanks to Olivia Newton-John and Jeff Lynn's ELO. Listen to most of the songs today and you can definitely still enjoy them. How Gene Kelly got hooked into this is beyond me but he looks like he's having a good time.
The concept is pretty simple. Painter Sonny (Michael Beck) teams up with Gene Kelly to open up Xanadu, a "radical" new club with the best of the old and new. Add into the mix Kyra (OJN), a Greek muse who comes along to make the dream come true. She's gorgeous, can dance, sing and probably make julienne fries. Naturally, Sonny's in love with her and soon, the trouble arises. Kyra, as a muse, can't hang out on earth with mortals forever. She has to go on to her next mission (dreamer).
Okay, so Beck is a somewhat lame hero. But when we were 13, we bought into it. And the angst, love and music were all a teen could want. The one scene we all loved was when the Glenn Miller-era musicians/dancers met up with the oh-so-rad rockers.
Of course, seeing it as a 35-year-old woman, I groan to look at the fashions we were ga-ga for then (esp. the velour tops on the men). The roller boogie aspect is particularly shaming but at the time, it was indeed all the rage. But you know, it brings back some good memories and the songs stand up today pretty well.
Xanadu is a guilty pleasure I indulge in now and then like Ben and Jerry's. And my best friend is still my best friend! We both love Xanadu.
Calendar Girls (2003)
Low key British comedy with plenty of heart
Nigel Cole, who directed "Saving Grace" in 2000, serves up another gem of British comedy focused on small town characters causing a stir. This one is based on a true story about a chapter of the Women's Institute (kind of the English version of the Junior league but much lower key) who did a tasteful nude calendar to raise money.
The ladies of this particular WI chapter have their quirks from the headstrong Annie (Helen Mirren) to the eager to please Chris (Julie Waters). But when Chris' husband John becomes ill with leukemia, things get serious. Instead of the usual tasteful (equals boring) WI calendar, Annie suggests something that will raise more than a few pounds..a nude calendar! The idea doesn't exactly sit well with the WI chapter president, either.
What ensues is what you might expect. A lot of tricky moments and stunned looks. But the ladies carry it off in style. Figuring out how to get the job done without being "out in the cold" for too long is hilarious. The friendship of Chris and Annie, too, is a focal point. Annie finds it difficult to juggle her new found popularity and still be a mother to a rather moody teenage boy who isn't thrilled with his middle-aged mother going topless for a calendar.
Things kind of take off from there and I must admit, when the ladies go to Hollywood, the film loses some of its charm. Much of the sweet intimacy that makes this movie a winner is the idyllic life of the village they live in and the quirkiness of the residents. This is captured somewhat better in "Saving Grace", Cole's earlier film.
However, you'll definitely enjoy this film. There's little nudity, despite the nature of the film, and it's a refreshing turn of pace from the youth-targeted fare getting cranked out every week in which nobody is over the age of 30 except for Jack Nicholson. Take your mother or an aunt and enjoy a good, clean laugh!
A great subject but made rather boring
The story of Dietrich Bonhoffer has been waiting to be told for some time. His life had many elements that easily make for a compelling movie. His refusal to fall in line with the Nazi party, his secret machinations to help overthrow Hitler and his eventual hanging as a spy are just a few of them.
Unfortunately, this documentary does little to build any excitement and mostly relies on a number of talking heads. Most of them are theological experts and historians. Some of them are prone to wander off on verbal tangents, losing the audience and losing focus.
The more interesting speakers are the people that actually knew the man, such as his brother-in-law and the sister of his fiance. Their recollections are the most insightful and interesting.
In the few times Bonhoffer is quoted, actor Klaus-Maria Brandauer speaks the words and does an excellent job. As someone else has noted, he would have done even better to have been the narrator. The person narrating the film seems rather wooden and distant from the material.
What truly seemed to be missing from this film was a sense of what drove Bonhoffer to do what he did --- which was to essentially break stride with the rest of the German Church and draw attention to himself in a time when such actions could cost him his life (which they eventually did). He spoke out against the mistreatment of Jews and even formed his own seminary. He went against his own pacifist views to take part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. What compelled him to do these things? The movie doesn't truly attempt to get at this.
While Bonhoffer is a good attempt at telling the story of a man who gave his life for what he believed in, it's honestly a rather boring documentary that will sadly be overlooked by most who aren't already familiar with Bonhoffer's life.
Getting Hurt (1998)
Lots of steamy sex, not a lot of substance
Being a big fan of Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, I got my hands on a copy of this BBC film. And was rather disappointed. What is supposed to be dark and mysterious turns out depressing, predictable and rather trashy.
Hinds plays the role of London solicitor Charlie Cross. He's used to being dragged out of his comfortable bed at all hours to bail out clients. He has a wife and teenage daughter. They live a comfortable life. No surprises. Everything, as he says, a man could want.
Everything changes when he's called upon to defend Edward Bosco, a rather diffident peculiar man accused of murdering prostitutes under the guise of being a photographer. He answers questions like, "Are you guilty?" with an enigmatic "Aren't we all?"
Cross is sent by Bosco to tell his girlfriend Viola, a waitress, what's happened. The usually unflappable cross is blown away by the mysterious Viola (played by Amanda Ooms) and gets lost in her dark eyes and pouty lips. Before long, the two are involved in a torrid affair despite that fact Charlie is representing Bosco and living a lie at home.
Well, mystery flies out the window when the crap hits the fan. Reality eventually intrudes and Charlie's not-so-carefully kept secrets start spilling out. The result is infinitely boring and you can see it coming about a mile away. The film seems more an excuse to see Hinds and Ooms cavorting in the sack than to build any suspense or tension.
I never pass up a chance to see Hinds act but this one is not worth seeing unless you're truly a fan.
The Pianist (2002)
Not just another Holocaust film...
Based on an autobiography of Polish musician Wladislaw Szpilman, "The Pianist" is not simply a Holocaust movie. True, it is set in the days of World War II and Hitler's Third Reich. More to the point, it is a movie about one ordinary man who managed to survive great hardship and trials because of luck and hope.
This movie is Szpilman's (played with class by Adrian Brody, who won an Oscar for it) story told in a very no-frills way that is riveting by the mere fact it does not give way to going over the top. Instead, the utter depravity of the environment is so part of the film that it is almost a character itself that Szpilman fights to defeat.
Born into a prosperous family of fellow music lovers, Szpilman refuses to believe the whispers that Hitler's forces will soon take over his hometown of Warsaw, Poland. As the film progresses and circumstance grow increasingly grim, Szpilman is transformed from a lighthearted, talented somewhat arrogant young man to a frightened, distrustful fugitive who darts from place to place seeking refuge.
"The Pianist" is not notable for its dramatic action scenes or emotional outbursts. That is its charm. Instead, it is a collection of moments in the survival of one man as he continually lucks out and manages to stay alive. All the while, his music keeps his spirits from completely failing. This is what makes this film so different than the average Holocaust film. It is more than the horror and death, it is about hope.
Eventually, Szpilman's luck seems to run out when he is discovered by a high-ranking SS official, who demands that he play something on the piano. It is a moment of great tension as you wonder if, after all this time not practicing and being in hiding, if Szpilman will be able to play with the precision and skill that he once did. This scene is one of the most powerful in the entire film.
Many Holocaust survivors will tell you that the only thing that kept them alive amid so many trials and terrors was hope. Hope that they would somehow make it. Those without hope, they say, almost surely perished. It would be too simple to say that music kept Szpilman alive through what he endured but it certainly played a large part.
Kudos to Polanski and Brody for bringing such a gem to the world.
An inspiring look at music as a catalyst for change
"Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony" is a documentary that is riveting and educational, uplifting and heartbreaking. The contrasts are all laid bare in this project, making it a worthwhile film to watch.
The focal point of the documentary is the role music played in the lives of South Africans as they endured and overcame the Apartheid movement. Director Leon Hirsch interviews a number of singers, composers, DJs and freedom fighters, young and old. He follows the history of Apartheid by tracing the music that came out of the struggle and what happened to those who created it.
I think what grabbed me was how much of a role music plays in great periods of change. It was also a driving force of African-Americans in the U.S. who were fighting segregation during the 60s. The spirituals that buoyed them share a similar history to those songs sung in South Africa.
The music chosen was a wonderful collection I want to hear again. I also enjoyed seeing the laughter of many of the singers as they looked at old photographs, remembering younger days.
I also liked that Hirsch interviewed a white freedom fighter who was sent to Pretoria prison for several years. His interviews with the white Afrikkaners who formerly worked as riot police and jailers are chilling but necessary.
My hope is that more Americans will see this film so they fully realize the scope of Apartheid in South Africa and what a triumph it was to see it overturned. Was it really 1994 when black South Africans were finally allowed to vote? It breaks my heart.
As a teenager in the 80s, I knew hardly anything about Apartheid. This film did a good job in changing that.
Musíme si pomáhat (2000)
A gripping tale of emotional struggle
"Divided We Fall" (as it is called here in the U.S.) is an awesome look at a Czech village during the time of World War II. It's not your typical Holocaust film, despite the fact that it is realistic about the fears and horrors. There is humor and irony aplenty.
Josef and Maria are a typical Czech couple longing for a child. Through early clips, we see that Josef worked for the a well-to-do Jewish family who falls on hard times. Although Josef and Maria help their friends as best they can, the family is sent to Thereisenstadt, not knowing it is certain death.
Josef is rather lazy, world-weary man with a cryptic sense of humor. Maria, blonde and beautiful, prays she will become pregnant. Their world is turned upside down when David, a young man from the previously mentioned family, escapes from prison and makes his way back. The couple decides to hide him in their home.
While I must confess that this film was a tad lengthy, the story was worthwhile in many ways. It never totally pegs one character completely. They're all quite multi-dimensional. Horst, a friend with Nazi ties, acts like a jerk on the make for Maria most of the time. But in the end, he's not quite the villain he seems.
Josef, meanwhile, must juggle hiding a Jew while appearing loyal to the Reich. His neighbors don't understand. He's afraid of what will happen if David leaves and what will happen if he stays.
All in all, this story heaves an emotional hammer on views. You can feel the fear, the uncertainty, the anger and frustration in the characters. You know that at any moment, David could be discovered. That the facade could be destroyed in a heartbeat. Nobody is a total saint and nobody is a total martyr. They are human beings with human feelings and fears during a terrible time.
I think that's what makes this movie so incredibly moving for me. I'll never forget it.
The Funeral (1996)
More effective than Sominex
As others have stated, this film had the potential to knock an audience off its feet. Consider the stable of talented actors on the cast list. That's what got me to rent it in the first place. With Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Benicio Del Torro and Isabella Rosellini at the helm, what could go wrong?
The youngest of a trio of mob brothers is dead, thus the title of the film. Walken and Penn play the older brothers Ray and Chez, who are seeking little brother Johnny's killer. But the process is slower than watching paint dry. The long-suffering wives (Sciorra and Rosellini) are pretty much a waste of space. They scream, cry and smoke a lot. Little tenderness exists between them and their spouses. Whilst looking for the killer, the brothers drink, carouse and swear a lot.
The movie explores how Johnny got killed in the first place, with an strange plot twist involving communism. Johnny is basically a womanizing jerk that his brothers don't seem to care about much until he's dead. I guess it's the a la famiglia thing.
Walken's about the only worthwhile part of this film, when you're not suppressing a yawn. He tries to breathe life into a fairly lifeless film.
Do yourself a favor. If you're longing for sleep and are out of Sominex, watch this film. It'll have you in dreamland in a matter of minutes.
Except for Gere, just plain awful
My first beef with this movie is to the marketing/ad department for making this film seem like some "suspense/thriller" that involves some element of mystery. Let me dispell that myth. There is none. The ads are basically lies.
This movie is about adultery, plain and simple. If you get a thrill from watching lots of movie sex (apparently many people here do), then this film is for you. Lane and her movie lover have plenty of it in various places all over Chicago.
Connie (Lane) and Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) seem to have it all. He's a successful engineer and she's a homemaker/Junior Leaguer. They live in the typical movie house in the movie suburbs with the typical cute movie child. That part of the comparison to Fatal Attraction is true. Only in this movie, the child is a boy and his rabbit isn't boiled. He does wear a rabbit costume in his school play, which I found hilariously ironic.
As in Fatal Attraction, a spouse has a fling for reasons that can't truly be fathomed. Edward is no slouch and is an attentive husband. The kid is too cute for words. But for some reason, she falls into instant lust with Paul, a smoldering-eyed French bookseller. And that's all it is. Lust. Oh, and he quotes from his various books, too.
At least in Fatal Attraction, Michael Douglas' character realizes he's been an idiot. Connie Sumner (Lane) never truly does. I guess that's because she's "living freely" or "soul searching". Never mind that she destroys her family and probably gave her husband herpes. This is the MOVIES where STDs or unplanned pregnancies never happen!
With little regard for her marriage or family, Connie dives into a series of "nooners" with Paul. They don't talk much but they don't need to since sex is what brings them together. She takes horrific risks and doesn't seem too concerned about it. If there had been some kind of exploration of their relationship, what made her take such risks with him, I might have enjoyed this movie. But you don't get anything like that here. Sex is the answer to Connie's woes.
Edward, bewildered at his wife's lack of focus at home and (her new sexy shoes), starts sniffing around. He doesn't confront Connie. No, he confronts Paul. And kills him with a snowglobe. His attempts to hide it and dump the body are comical. He never really gets mad at Connie. No, he's trying to protect his family. Nothing much ever gets said about Connie's infidelity. Poor thing.
*END OF SPOILERS*
Diane Lane has gotten plenty of kudos for this movie. I'm not sure why. She looks like she's having a great time having sex, especially against a bathroom wall. Does that take much talent? To some, I suppose. She gets a charge out of wearing new sexy outfits for her lover. She doesn't mind lying to her family or forgetting to pick up her son at school. I guess that's what people call "good acting" these days. Not in my book.
Gere, despite the awful script, tries to do what he can. He and the cute movie kid are about all that I liked about this film.
If you're looking for a suspense/thriller, please avoid this film. If you enjoy movies with lots of meaningless sex, you'll love this one. Then again, there's plenty of that around.
Sexy Beast (2000)
I managed to last about 20 minutes into this film before I turned it off. I found nothing about it to keep me interested at all. I kept waiting for this "amazing" performance from Ben Kingsley but all I heard was a string of profanity. Although it was nice to see Ian McShaneon screen again, that was about it. I had to turn it off before I fell asleep.
Train de vie (1998)
Unexpected plot but plenty of laughter
There's quite a bit going on in "Train of Life" but it's worth following. The premise is that a shtetl (Jewish community) fears it will be deported to a World War II concentration camp. The village fool, Shlomo, comes up with the idea to purchase a locomotive, train some of the villagers to talk/act/dress like Nazis and head for Palestine in hopes they can fool the real Nazis.
Okay, the premise is far fetched. That's a given. But for this film, it works. The close-knit village buys into the plan and sets to work creating the ruse. Shlomo rises about his "village idiot" persona and finds new worth. The fake Nazi commander, Mordechai, begins to take his role a little too literally. There's a subplot about some of the young men converting to Communism. And a small band of resistance workers who try to blow up the train.
But the star of this film is not one person, it is the village. They've banded together to survive, which isn't lost amid the humor. There's true fear and hope. Some may feel the villagers are made fun of and lampooned, but there's a healthy respect for the Jewish customs and family closeness in this film. Watch the scene where the villagers prepare for the Sabbath during their journey and you'll see what I mean.
Too many films to count have focused on the reality of the Holocaust. There's no deny that it was a horrific event that should never be forgotten. This film does not desecrate or abandon that truth. It simply adds a new dimension worth exploring.
Nice young actress but awful script
Another paint-by-numbers movie from Lifetime that has you shaking your head that such things still get produced. Ariana Richards plays high school student Mickey Carlyle, a promising track star. Kurt Ansom (William Bumill) is Mickey's track coach from hell who pushes "his girls" to be the best they can be. Susan Blakely has a fairly empty role as Mickey's widowed mother.
Richards has that fresh scrubbed look typical of high school teenagers and she does a good job with what she's given, which is pretty bad. Her reactions to her coach's increasingly inappropriate actions are fairly authentic. And her tenative interactions with her beau are believable.
However, it's after Mickey is sexually assaulted by her coach that the movie goes off the deep end. Mickey stops going to track practice and starts skipping classes. When she sees him in the hall, she doesn't act frightened or freak out. He acts like nothing's happened. She acts like nothing's really happened. This is totally unrealistic. She even returns to practice, although she has little heart for it now. It's only when he attempts to assualt her again that she's jolted into telling her mother.
There's one scene that features Mickey's classmates individually telling her how awful they think she is for turning in the Coach. It is so hideously "time to gang up on the victim" time that you want to cringe. Then again, subtlety was never Lifetime's strong point.
Of course, there are the usual twists and turns. Will Mickey recover from her trauma? Will the awful coach be convicted? Will her friends believe her? It's all so hollow and predictible that you know what's coming.
Kudos to Richards ability to show her acting chops. But please get this kid a good agent who can find her some decent acting roles. This movie tanked.
Hollywood Wives (1985)
Like watching a train wreck...you can't stop yourself!
I can only imagine that in the mid-80s actors like Anthony Hopkins, Angie Dickinson, Candace Bergen and Robert Stack must have all needed sudden cash infusions. For what other reason would they agree to star in a miniseries so ridden with bad dialogue that it makes "Saved by the Bell" look like Masterpiece Theater.
This little "gem" pops up on WE (Women's Entertainment channel) quite often and should be savored for the guilty pleasure it is. How often do you get to see (now Sir) Anthony Hopkins trade cheezy cliches with former "Three's Company" gal Suzanne Sommers? Or watch Angie Dickinson spit out venomous double entendres? For these reasons alone, this Jackie Collins novel turned movie must be watched.
Oh, and get a load of the late Rod Steiger's ATROCIOUS toupee! Where is Sy Spurling when you need him???
Red Dragon (2002)
Fiennes, Hopkins shine but Norton not jaded enough
Waiting for Red Dragon to come out was almost painful. I consider it the best of Harris' trilogy because he creates a killer who you actually feel some sympathy toward.
On the whole, Red Dragon is a good movie. For those who've followed the progression, they'll be relieved to see some return of the original things we love. They're skillfully crafted and the evil/violence is less gore than fear/horror. Ralph Fiennes puts in a stellar performance as Francis Dolarhyde, nailing the character on the mark. And who can complain about Hopkins as Dr. Lecter? He's back to being the perverse/intelligent/horrifying/freaky delight that we love so well without the "Hannibal" cuteness he took on.
Harvey Keitel puts in a decent showing as well. Mary Louise Parker, as Agent Graham's wife, is good but doesn't get much time to do anything but look scared and stand by her man. Dolarhyde's girlfriend Reba (Emily Watson) portrays her cautious warmth with class.
My two main problems with Red Dragon were these:
First, you've got three distinct characters to deal with: Graham, Lecter and Dolarhyde. To do the book justice, encapsulating it into a less than two-hour movie doesn't truly cut it. To give equal time to all three, you shortchange them. For me, the character development of Dolarhyde was too small. The things that made him into a monster are briefly touched on. You don't really understand how he and the Dragon became entertwined. Dolarhyde's evolving relationship with Reba also doesn't get much time. The very fact that Dolarhyde lets Reba touch his mouth is so shattering, you don't realize it unless you've read the book.
My second problem was with Ed Norton. A great actor, no doubt. And he does a good job with what he's given. He's no slouch. But for a man whose been nearly destroyed by Lecter, it doesn't seem to have touched him much. He still has that fresh-faced youthfulness that reminds you of Foster's Starling.
The trouble is that Norton's character Graham is no longer a fresh-faced youth. He's a jaded, wiser man who was deeply affected by Lecter's attack. I would have preferred to see Keitel take on the Graham role instead. Norton simply didn't have the look of a seasoned veteran and it diminished the impact of Graham's character.
I'll confess that I liked the book better than the movie, but that's bound to happen with any adaptation. The movie is worth seeing. But if you want to truly get at what makes Graham and Dolarhyde tick, read the book.
Notting Hill (1999)
Enjoyable supporting cast, unlikable heroine
I've seen Notting Hill a few times now and tried to like it more. But despite the fact I admire Roger Mitchell's work and the supporting cast, I keep tripping over the fact the heroine is, for the most part, unlikable. This ruins the movie for me.
The film's premise is a good one. Likable, shy Hugh Grant plays William Thacker, owner of a Notting Hill travel bookstore. Like many people, he lives a quiet life that includes good friends and family. Not to mention a nutty flatmate (hilariously done by Rhys Ifins). But when Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into his store, his world turns upside down.
I truly wanted to like this couple. And I liked Hugh Grant's character. But I could not understand WHY a man would keep going back to a woman who treats him so poorly. Despite the fact she has a boyfriend (which she neglects to tell William), she doesn't seem to mind kissing him minutes after they've met.
We're supposed to feel sorry for this character who "has been on a diet for 10 years" and gets talked about by strangers in restaurants. We're supposed to feel sorry for her when nude photos of her end up in the news ("I was poor."). We're supposed to feel badly for her when hordes of photographers show up at William's flat when they find out she's there. We're supposed to forgive her when she gives him a verbal tongue lashing for "not understanding what it's like to be famous." Gimme a break, lady. You chose to be a star, take the good with the bad.
Then to overhear her tell a co-star on a movie set, "oh that was nobody" when Grant is invited to watch filming. I'm sorry, that's just too much. Roberts tries to pull at your heart strings with her "I'm just a girl" garbage but after almost two hours of hearing her whine about how "I'm special and nobody understands me", it simply doesn't wash. I give Robert credit for trying but the character is just too self-centered for me to like.
The bright spot of this film is the supporting cast. William's nutty sister who gushes over Anna at her birthday party is hilarious. Not to mention the stockbroker who is lousy at his job. I enjoyed watching this group interact with William much more than Anna. They were more real and more fun. Mitchell always seems to pick actors with great sparkle and humanity and he's done it again here. I just wish he could have chucked Anna and spent the movie on them instead.
Italiensk for begyndere (2000)
A slice of fun and bittersweet joy
For those who prefer the formulaic Hollywood blockbuster, the Danish film "Italian for Beginners" won't be for you. Why? When you see that most of the actors are not perfect physical specimens with salon-like hairdos, you'll be running for the doors.
Fortunately, for those of us who like a little reality in our films, Italian for Beginners is a little slice of fun and bittersweet joy.
Set in a small Copenhagen town, its clear from the start that this film is about the ensemble, not their surroundings. A widowed pastor, ditzy shopgirl, shy desk clerk, boorish waiter and isolated waitress are a few of the characters. They somehow end up together learning Italian, but learning a lot more about life and death together.
Each character has his/her unique flavor but the one who seems to draw them together most is the pastor Andreas, new to town. His simple demeanor seems to move each one to confess their secret fears and woes to him. Amid his own loneliness, Andreas starts to come out of his own shell and step into the sun.
This movie won't bowl you over with big moral messages or deep emotional pathos. But I was very drawn to the simplicity of it and the humanity of each character. Each one seems to learn something about themselves that ripples through the others.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Only Lynch fans and psych. students will like this
I hadn't planned on seeing Mulholland Drive but my date and I stumbled into it this weekend when the movie we wanted to see was sold out.
I like to think of myself as a movie-goer with an above-average ability to appreciate the unusual. I guess I just don't appreciate the utter weirdness that is David Lynch. Some people love it. I don't.
Mulholland Drive makes you think of a TV series from the start. The cheezy music at the beginning gives you a clue. That's because Lynch wrote it for that purpose. Only nobody at the networks would touch it. So he strung it out into a movie.
The first half did have its moments of intrigue and humor. Betty is a Hollywood newcomer staying in her aunt's apartment. Landlady Coco (Ann Miller) is "gosh-darned nice" to her. Betty discovers amnesiac Rita (not her real name) in the apartment, dazed and confused from a car crash. While Betty sets her sights on finding fame, the pair try to find out Rita's true identity. When Rita opens the mysterious blue box, what little there was resembling a plot vanishes. The movie descends into Lynch "weirdisms" that I guess only the other IMDB reviewers can figure out. I couldn't.
I won't even try to describe it because I couldn't follow it at all. Maybe that makes me a mental midget but that's the truth. Since Lynch used a dwarf in "Twin Peaks", he'd probably love the comparison.
My date, fortunately, has since forgiven me. To quote him, only someone on heroin or some other halucinogenic drug could have truly appreciated Mulholland Drive. I cannot fathom why it received four Golden Globe nominations.
If you like movies with little resembling a plot, want to see Billy Ray Cyrus and Chad Everett in cameos, watch weird stuff happen and see a few lesbian love scenes, go see this movie. If you like being utterly confused, go see this movie. If you are a psychology major, take your classmates and as a group, try to figure some of it out.
If you value two hours of your life, don't go see this movie.
Rather lame movie with some interesting moments
The story: San Francisco mother Claire (Sciorra) accuses her OB/GYN Dr. Mott of raping her and he ends up killing himself. Doc's widow seeks revenge by applying to be Claire's nanny. Suddenly, bad stuff starts happening!
The utter suspensions of reality: The audience is expected to believe that first, Claire's name would be released to the public as the accuser. Then we're supposed to believe that Claire and her husband have never seen a photo of Mrs. Mott, even at the funeral. And believe that none of her FRIENDS saw a photo of her either. The final blow to our common sense is that Claire never does a background check on Nanny Peyton either. HELLO???
Glimmers amid the dross: De Mornay, despite the lame plot, really makes you believe she's pure evil disguised in demure nanny clothes. You almost enjoy disliking her. I especially enjoyed when she's eating sliced apples off a knife after one brutal episode she orchestrates. Sciorra also does a pretty decent job with what lousy material she's given. Julianne Moore get some of the best lines and delivers 'em with punch.
The utterly awful acting award: Hands down, the award goes to Matt McCoy as the father. True, he has a pretty lame script to work with. But geez, he even makes Keanau Reeves' wooden acting look slightly life-like in comparison. My favorite worst line of his is when he tells De Mornay, "Claire's right, Peyton. You should leave!" When Nanny Claire turns her evil sights on Dad, I almost clapped.
This movie isn't an utter disaster. For some reason, I find myself drawn in by it when it comes on TBS. But it's nothing to get excited about.
A thorough, heart-ripping piece of work
I've seen my fair share of documentaries about World War II and Nazism. Some were good and some downright awful. But this one gets at some issues that are often addressed poorly by other investigations.
One question this six-part series attempts to answer is how did Germany fall under Hitler's spell? How was it possible? Perhaps one of the best moments is in laying the ground work for answering this complex question by detailing the circumstances and climate of the time. It certainly solved some mysteries for me concerning the hatred of Germans toward communism and Bolshevism.
The interviews themselves are hard hitting. I am amazed that some of these former Nazis agreed to be interviewed and unblinkingly told why they acted as they did. Some give excuses but many simply state it...as if daring anyone to deny them their right to feel that way. It is simply amazing and stunning to watch. And to realize that even in the light of how horrific their actions were, they still would have acted in such a manner. It defies description.
The series' creators seem to understand that in no way can they tackle all the issues of Nazism so they pick their issues with care. I especially appreciated hearing how the ethnic Germans returned to their newly expanded homeland, causing the SS to have to throw out the Poles living there. It was an aspect of the annexation I knew nothing about until now.
My only complaint was that there was so much I am sure they had to leave out. But what is included is first-rate, well done and definitely skillfully pieced together. The graphics are also top notch. I must also applaud the creators for choosing original music or period music and not the usual synthesizer overdubs one hears in most documentaries.
Kudos, too, to narrator Sam West, who does a top-notch job.
Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001)
Kids will love it but parents may groan
I must confess I didn't see Dr. Doolittle I for the mere fact the commercials looked so lame. And for the PG-13 rating. But my nieces dragged me to this one.
Seeing Eddie Murphy in a family-friendly role is a bit of a switch. But he seems fairly comfortable in the role. Occasionally, you see a little hint on devilment in his eyes as if to say "I could be doing my 'Delirious' routine in a heartbeat' but he never does. I have to wonder if this is the direction Murphy had in mind for his career.
Murphy plays Dr. Doolittle, animal psychologist extraordinaire, who can supposedly translate animal talk. His task this time is to save a forest area slated for demolition by getting two endangered bears to make beautiful music together so the forest will be spared. In the process, he runs into various animals with various accents. They run the gamut from a Mafioso-like beaver to a wisecracking French monkey to an accent-laden chameleon who can't blend.
Steve Zahn probably does the best job as Archie the circus bear trying to win over Ava, the born in the woods bear (voiced by Lisa Kudrow) over from her bohunk Kodiak bear boyfriend.
Kids, frankly, will love the simple-minded humor and sight gags. My nieces were howling and they are 9 and 12. And some of it IS funny. But it does get old after a while and some of the plot holes are wide enough to drive a truck through. Murphy's family gets a very lame side plot. As Murphy's teenage daughter, Raven Symone shows promise but she needs some better material to work with. I'd love to see her with a good script because her timing was good.