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The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
This is considered a Welles film?
I watched the whole thing, although I wanted to bail after about 45 minutes. Pretentious and dated, with no real story to speak of. The cast seems to consist of good actors without much to do, mixed in with a lot of non-actors who are all there to do the same thing at the same time. The dialogue, with a few exceptions, is declamatory, with a great crowd of accolytes and hangers-on tossing quips at The Great Man so that he can respond with a better quip, to be greeted with applause and riotous laughter. There are maybe six or seven actual characters that stand out from the crowd, which is a constant presence, and they are played by a core group-Lili Palmer, Susan Strasberg, Edmund O'Brien, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich holds the story, such as it is, together, for John Huston, as the main character, to do what he does best, which is: to be John Huston. I love seeing Huston onscreen again, and there is really no one else who could have played the character as well or better. But, frankly, what's on screen here is a pastiche that doesn't have much at all in common with any Orson Welles film that I've seen. Welles knew how to make a story work with the slimmest of materials-because he had to-and he may not have been rewarded for managing that, but in every case what he put onscreen served the story. What's onscreen in TOSOTW varies from jammed, incomprehensible crowd scenes to visual clichès left over from the sixties.
The Kettering Incident (2016)
beautiful but vapid
I'm surprised that no one else in this forum (I could be wrong) has brought up the similarities between this series and the original Picnic at Hanging Rock. The Kettering Incident Is fun to watch, the acting is good, the main character is well-drawn, and the exterior shots are a pleasant surprise. I had expected Jungle and palm trees; what we get looks like Northern Exposure. So that's all good. It's well-presented. But, like Picnic at Hanging Rock, the whole thing is a big letdown at the end. There is a basic premise, described elsewhere, and then for eight episodes different possibilities are thrown like octopuses into the story, but at the end, nothing is resolved. There's yet one more dream-like encounter with a twisted character, and it ends. Period. What is it about this kind of non-story that people like? There are plenty of hypothetical explanations offered along the way for the bizarre incidents, plenty of tension between characters and between the characters and the audience...and at the end, it just seems to run out of ideas. It just stops. Give me a break.
Good thriller about a complex situation
I read a lot of carping here about "This didn't look like Beirut!" "The Arabic accents were all wrong!" and "It wasn't even shot in Beirut". For all I know the criticisms may be right, but who cares? Give me a break. It's a movie, got that? The film did a good job of setting its story in a city that, by 1980, had been been abraded away by automatic weapon fire and RPGs. The actors were all believable, the dialog, while perhaps too plentiful, served the story well. To set a story in a city and country being battled over by Christians, Hezbollah, the Maronites, Israel, Syria, Palestine and the Druse militia, and probably more, requires some explication! Other reviewers are complaining about the film being "propaganda". Propaganda for what? Urban renewal? Safer housing? Gun rights? Mercedes-Benz taxis?
Maybe the non-romance between Mason Skyles and Sandy Crowder is a typical cinematic device to engage audiences, but, well, it worked for me. And it isn't really typical, since she outranks him and the romance gets no farther than "Boy, am I glad to see you!" Anyway, It is a thriller regardless of the accuracy of the accents.
First Reformed (2017)
Beautifully done but flawed
I'll try to avoid actually spoiling the film. The central characters are all beautifully played, and the film has a brain and uses it. The principal story line is the gradual absorption of the ideals of one character by another, following a life-and-death discussion between two men near the beginning of the film. One is a despairing, committed environmental activist, the other is an equally despairing (for different reasons) clergyman. For reasons I won't go into, the Reverend is forced to accept the depth of the other man's commitment, and that conversion drives the second half of the story. One of the weaknesses in the film is that we don't see much evidence beyond that, of the clergyman's change in attitude toward the environment. He gets into an argument with a powerful local environmental predator, but that single scene doesn't seem (to me) to be enough to justify the violence hinted at in the ending. Another weakness, as I see it, is the fact that the environmental activist is named Joseph, and his pregnant wife is Mary. So what? The obvious reference goes unexplored and unexplained, since the ending leaves the world no better off, no less befouled by the moneychangers and profiteers than it was at the beginning.
In spite of those weaknesses, the story is rivetting. The acting is spot-on, and the production values are top-notch. I recommend it, and I would gladly watch it again.
En pilgrims död (2013)
Talk, talk, talk
I generally like Scandinavian crime series, but this one is a crashing bore. Great acting, attention to detail, high production values-none of that can help when all the characters do is sit around talking. I watched the entire first episode, and that told me all I needed to know. Maybe to a Swede, a rehashing of the unsolved murder of Olaf Palme is fascinating in itself, but there needs to be a story, and if there's one here, it slipped past me. It's written as if the screenwriter and/or director wanted to stick rigidly to the historical record of the investigation, at the expense of motive, story arc, frame, and any sense of movement. One specific problem here is that some of the scenes are flashbacks to the original investigation into the murder, and some are current-time. And it's not clear which is which, or why the history is important. So: appealing characters, good acting, exotic locales, but lousy script and lousy direction. Don't bother.
Not slow, not boring
Speaking for myself, it took me about the first 20 minutes of the film to get some idea where it was going, which was about the amount of time it took the characters to figure out each other and where THEY were going. The 2 main characters are well-played, as noted elsewhere, and the supporting cast, particularly Posey and Culkin, are up to the challenge. Is the relationship between them going anywhere? It develops while we watch the two characters change each others' viewpoints, and at the end each has made a significant decision, is going in a different direction from where they started, and the two have become pretty important to each other. The story is convincing and beautiful to watch.
The characters are what makes this riveting
Some have criticized Spiral-I know not why, but I was hooked in the first few minutes. It came back to mind when I watched the first episode of "Jo", a French-made policier set in Paris, but with English dialogue, some dubbed, some spoken. Bad idea. I couldn't stand it. I'd rather watch French actors speak French in an un-clichéd story as in Spiral. What makes Spiral work is the utterly believable idiosyncratic characters, and how they manage to warp the cases they work on as their lives warp around them. A dedicated woman detective who happily shags every male who joins the murder squad without ever changing her shirt; an undercover detective who manages to succeed at his job while becoming addicted to heroin; a quirky judge who makes common cause with a prosecutor to shoehorn cases through the French judicial system in spite of the laws. There's more, but the point is, it's all Paris, all French, and it acts like it. The stories, the motivations, the legal system-none of it is like a US crime series. I loved Law and Order, which Spiral most resembles, but only superficially. It is about the French judicial system, as L&O was about the American system, but there the similarity ends. The two systems are distinct, and there's not much about Spiral that is familiar. I love it.
Terror? or torture?
What is it about? I'm not claiming that this film doesn't have a point, but which one? The main character, an MI-5 analyst, is introduced at work, nodding off while reviewing and re-reviewing hidden camera footage of a particular suspected terrorist. He chases around London, searching for more detailed intel on his target, a Middle-Eastern man who-he is sure-is up to something. Part of his motivation is preventing a terrorist from succeeding at terrorism; part is to succeed himself, at last, at his career and make a major interception. To be noticed by his superiors. Unfortunately for him, he makes a few tactical errors, and the target turns out to be a British citizen with a thorough knowledge of his own civil rights. Who is succeeding at what becomes more and more ambiguous as the film comes to its end. Terror? or torture? It's a story with the ring of truth, told in a morose, silent, unsmiling fashion, and with one exception the audience is never quite sure who can be believed. The lone exception, an older man in the Egyptian anti-terror agency, to whom the hero goes for advice, is both the most candid, open and and helpful source he can find, and the worst mistake he could make. The film forces the viewer to decide between living with terrorism, picking and choosing who gets the protection of civil rights, and whether or not torture is acceptable. Take your pick.
Well-done, but with too many holes in the story
I wasn't bothered by the things some reviewers have complained about, like Marcella's indeterminate age or the characters that seem drawn from stock figures in other cop shows. It's an engaging story, with well-drawn characters that react to each other the way real people would react. The only disappointment for me was (as others have noted) that, with eight episodes to accomplish their objective, the writers couldn't fill in the numerous blank spots they created in the narrative. More blank spots than I'm used to seeing, like 5 or 6 pop-up characters who seem to have no purpose other than shoving the plot in a new direction, after which they disappear without a trace. Even at the very end, when Marcella has got the job done and can finally stop thinking about it, another character presents her with evidence that points to her, Marcella's, involvement in at least one of the murders. Then it ends. Huh? Possibly I missed some of the details that would have solved the problems I noticed, but there are a lot of them. On the other hand, it is quite watchable, and the dialogue is mostly comprehensible to Americans.
American Crime Story (2016)
I can't stand watching this. I'm sure it's a beautifully -made series and it does have a great cast, but the only sections I can watch without squirming (and puking) are the behind-the-scenes sections involving the police and the LA judicial system. The sequences involving OJ, his lawyers, handlers, family, posse, and hangers-on, and their interactions with each other and the press&public, are so overblown and overdrawn that half of me can't believe it and the other half is revolted. Are celebrities (and their pilot fish, the celebrity lawyers, celebrity agents and celebrity "business associates")really this mawkish, clannish, fawning and maternal toward each other? The Us-v-them situation is clearly established, but is there no one among the celebrities who sees the situation as it is? That OJ might have actually murdered his ex-wife? The closest any character comes to offering a realistic aside to the audience is when the celebrity lawyer reads OJ's "suicide" note, shakes his head in disbelief and says: "who signs a suicide note with a Happy Face?" Maybe I'm missing the point, and the first presentation of the pro-OJ faction is simply to point out their circle-the wagons, above-the-law attitude, but the way it's been done here, this member of the audience wants nothing further to do with them. Yech. 'nuff said.
Buffalo '66 (1998)
Low budget, sleazy-looking, repulsive, and genuine
I saw the original preview for this film in 1998 and never forgot the strange main character. I finally figured out what film I was looking for and watched it on Amazon. Thanks to Gallo, a great cast, and a good script, it really is a good film. A character study of a marginal personality-a guy who is barely able to hold it together, who meets a young woman who sees through his off-putting facade and really wants to get to know him, in spite of his twisted family history and repulsive mannerisms. The fact that Vincent Gallo was able to corral the excellent cast he did to fill out the story must be a tribute to the quality of his script. There are no clichés in it. It is one of a kind. It's ironic that a script of this quality can attract good actors, but not the money to make a more polished film. On the other hand, the basic, workmanlike production suits the story and the locale-down-and-out Buffalo, populated with characters that work perfectly in this story.
Sparrows Dance (2012)
Unheard-of but riveting
This is clearly a low-budget/no-budget film, but it was made by a few people who know exactly what they are doing. The director has acquired a reputation as a difficult man; OK, so was Steve Jobs. The actress who plays the main character perfectly has gone on to become a good, dependable character actor. She is able and willing, in this film, to look dowdy, unattractive, weird, until she decides not to, and becomes genuinely attractive. The story is described in other reviews here; suffice it to say that it is never unbelievable, both central characters are spot-on, the acting is good, and the ending sums it all up. For a low-budget film, it works for me.
No Escape (2015)
Solid suspense film for the whole family
In an unnamed SE Asian country Jack and his wife and 2 kids arrive to take up his job as an engineer for a multinational mega-project company like Brown & Root or Bechtel. Once in their hotel, things don't seem to be working-phones, newspapers, TV, and it gets worse quick. In search of a current newspaper, Jack witnesses a clash between heavily armed police and a large, angry crowd of demonstrators, which turns out to be just the beginning of his and his family's troubles. The tension starts early and builds into white-knuckle fear that lasts the rest of the film. And in an Asian country, Jack's shaggy blonde hair doesn't help him blend in well. There are a few incidents that stretch credibility but work on screen anyway; there's at least one cliché-character, a jaded Brit with a murky background (Pierce Brosnan)who manages to save their bacon a couple times, and one tense scene involving Jack, his two daughters, a gang of rebels and a gun that simply goes on too long for its own good, but those are quibbles. Jack and his wife (Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, both good)find out how far they are willing to go to save their family. The film does a good job of keeping the suspense topped up-for example, absolutely no one in the city (outside the hotel) speaks English, and there is not one street sign or visible shop sign written in a recognizable western alphabet. So the family is completely cut off from anything or anyone that can help them, in a hostile environment-but with just enough exceptions to that hostility to enable them to be together and safe at the end.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Spoiler alert: Boooooring
The acting is excellent. On that score, it's worth at least four stars. I like all the actors and the characters they play, the setting, and the intriguing use of a local weather phenomenon (The Maloja Snake)as-what? a mood-setter? a theme? But very little actually happens in this film. It's all talk, talk, talk. The third or fourth time the two female leads started rehashing the dynamics of the 20-year-old play the actress is considering, I began wondering if there was going to be any real action to spice things up, or even some emphasis? A point? Anything? The parallels between the story we are watching and the written drama become pretty clear in the first half hour, so what is the rest of it about? Call me an uncultured clod, but I prefer films a bit more "gripping" than this. Gripping like maybe Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape or Endgame.
The Beast of War (1988)
Good American-made film without the usual Hollywood BS
I knew nothing about this film when I decided to watch it-I was interested in tank warfare, and movies about that are thin on the ground. The first pleasant surprise was that (in the print that I saw) the Afghans' dialogue is subtitled (rare in a pre- 2000 Hollywood film), and that the Russian characters speak plain American English. No clunky Russian accents, just dialogue between characters who all speak the same language. At first the "plot", such as it is, seemed pretty predictable. That may be true, but the way the film presents the plot is not predictable. All the praise the film gets in these reviews is merited-the acting is good, the story is believable, and what drives the story comes as a surprise. It may be a low-budget film, but if I had known about it when it came out, it would have put my butt in a theater seat somewhere, and I would have loved every minute.
Mary and Martha (2013)
well-done propaganda with an A-list cast
It's propaganda in a good cause, I suppose, but propaganda nonetheless. I was surprised to see, as the ending credits rolled by, no mention of the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation as sponsors. The story is propelled by some poorly-handled plot devices, e.g., bullying, which goes nowhere but seems to be the motive for mother and son decamping for exotic Africa, and by some unforgivable lapses like the couple not getting their "shots" before landing in a country where Malaria is a clear and present danger. For travel anywhere outside the developed world, I think immunizations are still highly recommended. Malaria as a political issue, and the wall-to-wall corruption that enables it to flourish, goes entirely unmentioned in the film. The first thing I saw in it that convinced me that it isn't an entirely straightforward story was the presentation of the older white malaria victim, the son of Brenda Blethyn's character. This young man is simply too wonderful to serve as anything but a straw man for the film's message. He's funny, athletic, gorgeous, generous and unselfish, all qualities dramatized in the first 8 minutes of the film, so obviously he has to die but quick. The story obliges by having him volunteer to teach in Mozambique, where in another 4 minutes he adopts an entire orphanage, gives away all his drugs and dies horribly of malaria, thus supplying us with Martha, his mother, who becomes an assistant to Hillary Swank's Mary in her campaign against the disease. If you can stand being bludgeoned by objects as blunt as these, the acting is good, the male characters (husbands and sons) are dealt with sympathetically, the scenery is fascinating and the film is at least watchable. BTW-for the unenlightened, Didier Drogba is a striker on the Ivory Coast national soccer team.
Words and Pictures (2013)
The last half-hour makes it worth watching
For most of the 1 1/2 hours of this film I couldn't stand it. Then the story starts concentrating on the two main characters and it becomes worthwhile. By now you get the general picture-two teachers in a New England prep school (Located somewhere in British Columbia) find it worthwhile to set up a school-wide competition between spoken word and visual art, and that tension sparks a surge of creativity in the school and a relationship between the two teachers. Unfortunately, even with two good actors in the lead roles, things don't really start to happen until the film is about 2/3 over, when the art teacher. played by Juliette Binoche, reveals a new painting, an abstract, that blows away the competition. But getting to that point requires a slog through overstated, unbelievable interactions between teacher and student and student-student. Example: the best art student, an Asian-American girl, is constantly hassled by a privileged, tone-deaf young man who makes a complete ass of himself essentially stalking her on campus every day, and at the top of his lungs. The young woman is shy and lacks self-confidence, but skilled enough to draw the attention of the art teacher. Her tormentor is obnoxious enough to be spotted from a police helicopter, and yet never seems to come to the attention of the faculty or administration until he does something truly unforgivable. By the same token, the Asian-American artist, supposedly shy and un-self-confident, is quite able to tell him off loudly and in public more than once during the film. The unconvincing subplots kept the whole film at arm's length for me until the two main characters started to click.
33 Postcards (2011)
A Chinese film set in Oz
I was willing to give this film a chance. I like Australian films, Guy Pearce, the accent, etc.,but when it started with a sequence showing the happy, singing orphans in China, grinning and swaying as they sing their way through their day's work at the clean, sunny state orphanage with private rooms, I knew I was in for trouble. It's not exactly propaganda, it's just freakin' unbelievable. But, then, eventually you can ignore the preposterous orphanage and watch the story unfold in the backstreets of Sydney. It turns out that the orphan's Australian sponsor is not in a good position to take her in, in spite of the fact that he somehow managed to funnel money to the orphanage for her upkeep for-what-ten years? Guy Pearce is a good actor, but his roll here is so downbeat that he's hard to watch. How did this guy last this long with so little resilience in his character? I guess it has to be that way so that all the resilience and determination can be larded onto the Chinese orphan. At any rate, she stands by him and is there at the end to nurse him back to health, although she seems to wind up doing it from some picturesque, beautifully-shot part of China. If you can accept that he can pluck her out of an orphanage 2,000 miles away, then she can support him from mainland China? Oh well. I guess the story doesn't have to make sense to be entertaining.
Worth watching, but odd
I enjoyed this film, whether because of or in spite of some of its peculiarities, I know not. Two young adult dutch sisters, with lives in Holland as problematic as anybody's, get word that their absentee American mother has gone into a hospital in New Mexico, dare each other to take on the job, and wind up still together, meeting her for the first time at a rehab center in the States. The story is of how they all get to know each other and how the sisters are able to make some changes of their own, thanks to the journey. Oddly, many sexes are represented here, but decent non-macho, non-dickhead males are thin on the ground. To be fair, that doesn't seem to be a poke at Americans, since the sisters have the same issues to deal with back in Amsterdam-and are forced to deal with them via Skype during the road trip; just odd. Another oddness is that the filmmakers set and shot the story in a New Mexico that could have been the location for "the Road". It's a flat, barren wasteland that looks more like the deserts of West Texas or Oklahoma than like anybody's Land of Enchantment. Their trip takes them through one cruddy jerkwater roadhouse after another. That serves to point out that, yes, some Europeans do like American Country-Western music. But what happened to the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe and Albequerque? New Mexico can be spectacular, but the director seems to have chosen what she found under a rock instead. Odd. If for no other reason, this film is worth watching for the "Dykes on Bikes" sequence. I will say no more.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Lord, what a bloated turkey!
I tried watching this film again after 60 years of adulthood, and it really is a laugh riot. The acting? Spotty. The spectacle? Well,they did the best they could. Long patches of stentorian voice-over explaining the story? A feeble crutch for a lousy script. And they can't blame its age, either. Many films made that same year or earlier did a much better job: GWTW, Casablanca, To The Ends of The Earth, the Third Man. But did those films waste as much money? I concur that Chester Moses(Old joke-sorry, I mean Charlton Heston) was at his usual best, but he was a whole lot better in a better film three years later: Ben-Hur. On second viewing, I had a hard time swallowing the inclusion of every Hollywood actor with a pulse being thrown in to play either an Egyptian or a Jew, regardless of the actor's ethnicity or abilities. Heston and Yul Brynner were winners as Moses and Ramses-heck, Yul Brynner was exotic enough to play any race, any age-but there was an awful lot of "Yondah lies da castle of my fadah"on the soundtrack. Ethnic PC just wasn't the issue in Hollywood that it is now, unfortunately. A lot of reviewers here praise the grandiose spectacle of this film; I think Christian viewers probably love it for presenting a concrete realization of the mysteries of the Bible. I think it would have been a better film if the director had lopped off about 2/3 of the dialog and let the actors put the story across. I mean, could a Hebrew-speaking underclass really be expected to converse at length with Egyptian aristocrats? Very little about this film makes much sense.
Unfinished Sky (2007)
Great film-right up to the end, almost
I agree with most of the comments on this film-it is very Australian, in spite of its Dutch/Polish roots, the acting is spot-on, with one possible exception, the chemistry between the two leads is palpable, and there are no false notes right up to the end. One quibble another reviewer had is about the cop that shows up unbidden every time something unusual goes down at the main character's house which is, to say the least, off the beaten track and not on anybody's nightly rounds. That happens two or three times in the film. The connection seemed pretty clear to me from the first. Another reviewer mentioned the tacit acceptance of human trafficking in the local metropolis (Boonah and/or Beaudesert, near Brisbane). There's your answer. The only problem I had with the film is its ending. It wraps up one major story point, but opens up two or three new ones, then leaves them unresolved: After a life-and-death struggle (I won't say with whom) the two main characters are left alive, reunited and intact at the end, all dressed up-he's wearing a suit for the first time-but in what is clearly a jail or detention center of some kind, although they are not behind bars. Who is "inside" and who is out is not made clear. Where did this come from? True-she's an undocumented alien, and now that her main concern has been resolved, maybe she's just planning to leave Australia for home, but none of that has come up before, and why is he wearing a suit? What is about to happen? Are they getting married, or what? The two main characters have been bonding slowly until this point-and suddenly it's all over? There may be a simple answer, but the scene was so unexpected that it seemed like a damaged print. That startling non-ending is my only reason for giving the film a "7" instead of a 9 or 10.
I can add one point that makes this film worth watching
By now you've read the other reviews, and they are arguably right-It's like High Noon, there are some logical errors, etc., but there are also good performances from Connery and-especially- from Frances Sternhagen, who almost upstages the star. In lieu of a comely ingenue on the spacecraft to take the Marshall's mind off his job, we get Ms. Sternhagen as a wise, prophetic ship's doctor of a certain age,to whom he instantly takes a liking, if only because she isn't handing out the boilerplate crap he's getting from all the higher-ups. I liked it when it came out in 1981, but as the years have passed, what I remember about it is the scenes between Sean Connery and Frances Sternhagen.
The Magic of Belle Isle (2012)
The acting makes it watchable
Shakespeare it ain't, but it's a likable film well-acted. Nobody phones it in. If you can watch the Hallmark Hall of Fame, you can watch and enjoy this. The story is simple and believable (more or less), the script is a bit clichéd, but the characters come to life on screen in spite of that. If you prefer your clichés to be dark Steadicam sequences of mortal combat between dangerous, stylishly-clad characters with switchblades for fingers, or exploding cars, or ancient curses, or primitive monsters wasting their energy roaring into the camera lens rather than scarfing up the hero and heroine, or werewolves turning into zombies, or, for that matter, zombies into werewolves, look elsewhere.
Le hérisson (2009)
Great characters, moving story
Again, I read the book, then watched the film, and while the book was good, the film does a better job of making the point at the end. In this story, a precocious, articulate little girl decides to kill herself because she doesn't want to wind up like her wealthy (and embarrassing) parents. As an antidote to her family life, she makes friends with her apt. house's female concierge, right around the time that a wealthy Japanese man moves in, and as the girl counts down the days until she offs herself, the three become friends, particularly the concierge and the new arrival. This comes to an end when someone is killed and the little girl, in the film, comes face-to-face with random, meaningless death-and finds it necessary to make that make sense. The film hints that the abrupt ending of the life of someone close to her forces her to reconsider her suicide plan. This film does a better job of making that point than the book did. It's good in a way that the French do a much better job with than American filmmakers (usually). It doesn't fall into any preconceived category other than, maybe, "character study". I like character studies.
Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin needs an editor
At 165 minutes, this film is about 45 minutes too long. There's a point at about 2hrs 10 min. when I had seen a good story and expected it to end. But Noooooo. We need to get all wrapped up in a sub-story about Australian cowboys(huh?) that does nothing for the plot and only serves to place extra firepower into the hands of the main character. Will somebody get this guy an editor? I'm willing to put up with QT's usual anachronisms, and even his flagrant nonsensical sequences: at one point his hero, en route from Texas to Tennessee, is shown bathing in a Yellowstone(i.e., Wyoming/Montana) hot pool, with the Grand Tetons in the background. I suppose the hot springs could be in Arkansas-which would make sense-but not the Grand Tetons. I was impressed with the originality of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but this film and Inglorious Basterds, while they have great performances and great moments in them, stray too far from reality for my money.