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Not for everyone - but a gem for those it's for, 13 May 2016

Fascinating in-depth exploration of the mind-set that enabled Lanzmann to create the groundbreaking documentary Shoah and some of the choices he had to make in order to achieve what he did. I saw Shoah on video in the 1970s but had forgotten that one of its most interesting aspects other than its length was that it was made entirely without archival footage. This making-of featurette opened my eyes about its other qualities -- mostly qualities in Lanzmann -- that make Shoah the great work of art it is.

Two unforgettable passages: In one Lanzmann describes how it took him months to track down in impossible circumstances a former death camp barber, whom he finally found still working as a barber in a small village. The story of how he found him is fascinating in itself and shows why it took Lanzmann twelve years to make the original documentary. Then he describes how he decided to interview this barber while he was in the act of cutting someone's hair, in order to help elicit sense memories of his time in the camps. The camera slowly moves in on the barber's face as not only his hands but his memory are working and he is asked one question after another, and the gradual metamorphosis of his features from flatness to anguish is very moving. There is a sense here, and throughout the movie, that there is much more unsaid.

Later Lanzmann is interviewing a former Sonderkommando who dispassionately and off-handedly, with no emotion whatsoever, as though he is talking about spilt milk, describes piles and piles of naked corpses that were burning in the trenches. Only one thing causes him to break his poker face and speak with any emotion or force, and that's when he recalls how bitter cold the weather was.

I didn't realize how short the movie was - only 40 minutes. I would have liked more. Lanzmann is a unique artist, uncompromising and incredibly committed to the truth in all its aspects. This aspect of his personality and artistic process is worth a full-length movie. "Spectres" requires a certain level of interest and inquisitiveness from the viewer. It caters to those who tend to think and ponder and evaluate. If you're looking for thrills and the height of drama in their most obvious manifestations, you will be disappointed. To me, there is tremendous drama in what Lanzmann achieved, in the choices he made, and in his artistic process and commitment. Observing these was more dramatic and affecting to me than the most riveting thriller. Comcast idiotically gave this one star in its rating - but if you're not that committed to this topic, or to inquiries about the nature of art and people, and you just want to be entertained, you may not love it either.

14 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Faithful treatment of a horrendous injustice, 15 January 2003

If you're a justice freak like me, you'll find the film difficult to watch because the subject matter is inherently upsetting, but you'll also be glad that it's being told at all. There have been various theories about the real killer of the Lindbergh baby, the most compelling of which is the theory that Lindbergh himself did it accidentally and was able to engineer the high-level cover-up that ended in Hauptmann's execution. This movie doesn't go there, but I recognized many of the passages in this movie, especially the court scenes, as being taken directly from facts and court transcripts. As usual with HBO movies, the production level and performances are excellent. Stephen Rea (Hauptmann) is very moving as he somewhat naively maintains to the bitter end his faith that our legal system, which is so blatantly railroading him to a death sentence, will eventually come to its senses. Isabella Rossellini captured the devotion and dignity of Anna Hauptmann, whom I met in the 1970s when she was being interviewed for a magazine. Scenes of the powers-that-be finagling their conviction were effectively banal, and nauseating, and the final execution scene conveys the unreal horror Hauptmann himself must have experienced -- his speechlessness when they ask him for a statement as he's being strapped into the electric chair says it all, and it's devastating. To tell the truth, I would have given this film high marks simply for telling this story, but it was so well done that it deserves the high marks anyway. I was slightly disappointed that the ending didn't show more about Anna Hauptmann's incredible 60-year effort to clear her husband's name, an untold story. However, Rea and Rossellini were so good that I kept watching. A very ugly story that, as Hauptmann himself said in one of his final letters, will never go away

Shaft (2000)
OK, here's a middle-aged white woman's opinion . . ., 15 June 2000

of the new Shaft. This movie is definitely fresh and fun, with fabulous acting. Jeffrey Wright was a revelation. I've been a big fan of Sam Jackson since Jungle Fever and I'll see anything he's in. He's definitely the man for this character. However, his John Shaft is somewhat too reactive and jumpy, and because of this, some of his successes and escapes seem unrealistic. On the other hand, he's very human. And this could make for some interesting sequels, especially if his Shaft is allowed to develop more of the smoothness of Richard Roundtree's. Jackson is still an amazing presence on the screen whatever he does. The music sounds as wonderful as ever. The plot is gripping if you're a justice freak like me, because you really want to see the genuinely evil villain played by Christian Bale get what's coming to him. I don't want to spoil it by saying whether he does or doesn't, but I will say that what happened wasn't what I expected, and I'm not sure I preferred it this way. This, plus a few plot holes and unrealistic escapes prevented me from totally loving the movie, but I did enjoy it a lot, and I'll see it again on video to catch what I missed. There is a lot of intelligence in it, and I attribute much of that to Richard Price's script (he also wrote the excellent Clockers). Still, I find myself hoping there will be a sequel I can give a whole-hearted 10 to.

6 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Abysmal, 20 March 2000

I was amazed when I learned that William Goldman had written the screenplay for The Ghost and the Darkness, because it was a pointless movie where nearly every scene lacked even a minimum of intelligence. Val Kilmer goes to Africa to supervise building a bridge. His work camp is tormented by man-eating and apparently supernatural lions, which seem to be invulnerable to bullets and manage to eat hundreds of men. The rest of the movie tries to be a thriller like Jaws, with a supermonster terrorizing the locals, and this idea seems promising, but in the end they're apparently just two lions after all. Oh. There are three great supporting actors, and while they're each wonderful, they're all wasted. The great Indian actor Om Puri manages to imbue some really dumb lines with enough spirit so that they make sense. Brian McCardi is delightful as a missionary, but unfortunately he's killed off after only a few lines. And the tribal chief, who is the most noble character in the whole show, is given some truly awful lines and seems to be the only one aware of what a travesty the film is. I hate to trash a movie because I can usually find something of value in anything. But at the end of this one I was just annoyed at the waste of talent and resources. No theme, nothing to make you think, not even anything to admire in the filmmaking. Just infuriatingly bad dialogue and plot events that make you shake your head in disbelief at their stupidity. Oh well.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
No surprises, 16 June 1999

Having seen and loved the original movie on which this is based, the amazing "Shop Around the Corner," and being a fan of movies that spoof modern culture, I was prepared to like "You've Got Mail." I wasn't prepared for it to be such a disappointment. There were some enjoyable things about it, which I'm sure you'll read about in other reviews, but far fewer that I would expect for all the star power put into this. In fact, it felt like the author and filmmakers decided that as long as they had the star power, they could cheat a little on the other stuff, and they did - especially if you kept waiting for the wonderful, revelatory scenes from the original that you thought were coming. A funny subplot about both of the stars' respective mates, played by Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey, who are good but wasted, is started and then inexplicably dropped. All the surprises have been taken out of this version -- in fact, when the climactic scene occurs where Meg Ryan discovers her secret pen pal, it's flat, and the way the plot's conflict is resolved feels like one big sellout.

There was one thing I respected this movie for, and it was the theme that it never works to be cruel to anyone, even your enemies. The theme is not just stated, it's dramatized well in a couple of touching scenes with Ryan and Hanks. But with that kind of a message, I would expect a much better movie.

Citizen X (1995) (TV)
Sensitive and gripping, with masterful performances and a wise script, 29 July 1998

This film is based on the true story of the Russian serial killer Andre Chikatilo, who is depicted not only as a brutal monster but also as a heartbreaking example of the kind of automaton produced by a repressive society. Because the bureaucrats in charge of the investigation refuse to recognize the existence of "serial killers," which they consider a capitalistic phenomenon, they are hampered by ignorance and lack of international support, and the investigation drags on for years. However, the film never drags, and there are scenes of tremendous emotional and dramatic impact. The interplay among Donald Sutherland, Steven Rea, John Wood, and Max Von Sydow is absorbing and often very funny, and the movie's heart revolves around Rea as a detective who, in trying to crawl out of the mudhole he finds himself in, forms a surprising alliance with one of his superiors. While all the performances, even the minor ones, are great, Jeffrey DeMunn's performance as "Citizen X" is astonishing for the amount of compassion he brings to the role, which accomplishes a virtually impossible task: he allows you to feel forgiveness for a man who committed unforgivable crimes.