Reviews written by registered user
Varlaam

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217 reviews in total 
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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Room clearance, 3 November 2002
1/10

There once was a tradition in Toronto record stores of playing something execrable at closing time in order to drive people out of the store, Debbie Boone, Michael Jackson, whatever. Swill.

I had the fun yesterday of seeing the same experimental principle applied cinematically to a roomful of adults who were looking forward to watching a DVD just rented from Blockbuster, Cinematic Experiment A, a.k.a. "The Royal Tenenbaums".

The fidgeting began roughly ten minutes into the film. A further five minutes in, and the first experimental subject had her arms crossed. This was followed shortly thereafter by the significant crossing of the legs.

At the half-hour mark, a subject left the room entirely because he "had work to do". I was the next to leave after an hour because I "had to check on something".

Returning for the closing credits, I was informed that I had missed one (1) funny incident.

So much for a film billed as wacky and eccentric. Oh, and funny. The other intrepid aesthetes stuck it out to the end, but the verdict was unanimous. The reaction was something akin to narcolepsy. Fortunately the condition wasn't terminal.

Snow Job (1974)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The feeling was unanimous, 12 October 2002

If I remember correctly, our class was escorted to see this film at the Ontario Place Cinesphere on the big IMAX screen when it was brand new. If the 1974 date is on the money, then that would have been our Grade 8 class.

Virtually every kid in that class caught the schoolbus every morning at 8 a.m., so a comedy about a bus full of Canadian schoolkids stuck in the snow was hitting pretty close to home.

I guess that's why we all had the same feeling about this film: We agreed it was hilarious.

A lot of snow has come and gone since then, and my memories of it now are glimpsed through a frosted windowpane, but all the recollections are fond ones.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
How not to run a village, 17 April 2001

This eye-opening Canadian NFB documentary looks at daily life in a tiny village in Guinea-Bissau, the former Portuguese Guinea. It is truly mind-boggling to see how the daily activities of the village are all done in the most inefficient and labour-intensive manner possible. These people never seem to have invented either the table or the chair. Why do your food preparation on a tabletop when you can do it in the dirt instead? Why make yourself a broom with a long stick and a little piece of string when it's so easy to do your sweeping bent over double holding a teensy hand whisk? A man sits around all day lamenting that he would be working but he has no tools. But we'd seen his neighbours with tools earlier in the documentary. Don't they have the word "borrow" in the local language?

"Are these people for real?" is one's immediate and natural reaction. Watch this documentary if you've ever wondered how it was possible for a handful of Europeans to colonize all of Africa in a couple of decades.

8 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
World War II's answer to "The Green Berets", 16 March 2001
3/10

Apparently, Pearl Harbor was some sort of victory for the USA. John Wayne was there, so how could it have been otherwise?

There have been other bogus Second World War films before, the infamous "Battle of the Bulge" (1965) for example, but this one really excels. The US Navy characters don't seem to be aware that there's a war on; it's rather like "South Pacific" without the tunes. Or an episode of "The USS Love Boat". Nothing is allowed to interfere with this soap opera's cloying plot.

Wayne gives another of his standard pigeon-toed performances. He acts as though he's appearing in some horse opera, where a ranch or maybe a few acres of sagebrush hang in the balance. Democracy vs. Totalitarianism? You'd never know it from Wayne's jolly old sea captain. Get a message out to Pearl, pilgrim.

The film was directed by Otto Preminger, which explains the wild, swingin' '60's party which provides the film's embarrassing and anachronistic opening. Preminger always prided himself on breaking cinematic taboos, which is why he must have felt compelled to produce the first and only skinny-dipping Peyton Harbor movie. All of that silly "risqué" "adult" nonsense throughout is Otto's doing.

Eventually the film does provide a brief battlewagon engagement, but you'll have enough time to break the Japanese naval code from scratch before you get there.

To paraphrase Burgess Meredith's character, you oughta get a Medal of Honor for sitting through this.

14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Rub noses with me, "Eskimo" maiden, 24 February 2001

In this Alaskan film, Joan Chen plays what is quite probably the last word in Sino-Eskimo snow bunnies.

Eskimo Joan represents the same sort of Hollywood confusion about racial boundary lines which saw Larry Fishburne play the Moor of Venice, and Jackie Chan cast to play the King of Pop in an upcoming TV movie. (I'm kidding about one of these.) Not to mention generations of Italian and Jewish Indians, and more white actors in blackface than there are seeds in a watermelon.

Joan is teamed here with Steven Seagal, quite probably the last word in inarticulate and extremely violent tree-hugging Buddhists. Sort of the Billy Jack of the Barents Sea. His jacket has more fringe on it than you'd see at a reunion concert by the Buffalo Springfield.

Together, they try to build a world where an interracial couple can be happy in an oomiak built for two.

A number of years ago, I spent nearly 8 seconds at a book-signing in the presence of Michael Caine. For each of those seconds, he was extremely personable. So it's a bit of a revelation for me seeing him playing his two-faced vicious Hun of a smooth oil company CEO. Old favourite John C. McGinley also appears against type as one of Caine's nastier henchthugs.

Finally, there's Seagal's direction which takes his film on this ecological walk through the woods which makes it all seem a little like Oliver Stone after too many days trapped in a sweatlodge.

It's so ridiculous I actually found myself enjoying the whole thing quite a bit.

The Preppie Murder (1989) (TV)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
She's awkward! She's gauche! She's Lara Flynn Boyle!, 11 February 2001
6/10

She (Boyle) is a nice, pretty girl but needs a little polish; he (Billy Baldwin) wears shirts by Ralph Lauren. You can see there's trouble a-brewing.

This movie is probably, unfortunately, of greatest interest for The World of Hibernia magazine cover girl Boyle before she developed her familiar sexy vamp persona. In fact, she seems like an older version of some of those early hair-twisting Winona Ryder characters. Her part is really only of newcomer size. That's sad to say since Boyle's Before and After are so different from one another.

As for Baldwin, he plays a plausible prep perp. Sandra Bullock has rather a small part, as the girl with the ankh earring. Not much of a characterization there.

This crime story plays much like a lesser, and fairly routine, episode of "Law & Order", with Danny Aiello standing in for Jerry Orbach and Joanna Kerns doing a blonder version of Michael Moriarty.

Aiello's experienced flatfoot is the central character. The script tries to humanize him, not entirely successfully, by showing his "pedagogic" side I'll call it. That gives him a certain degree of warmth, but it's really up to Aiello to lend the role his usual identifiability.

I think it all comes down to how much you like Danny Aiello. It happens I do, but don't consider that a recommendation.

2 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
An American JD In Paris, 7 February 2001
2/10

..... or, Down and Out in Paris and London and Brussels and Abyssinia

The Parisian social worker Paul Verlaine invites a disturbed country bumpkin with behavioural problems, Arthur Rimbaud, to the city for treatment. Verlaine's unorthodox therapy involves consuming a lot of mood-altering drink. Soon the doctor acquires all the symptoms of the patient.

There are plenty of interesting films about mental disturbance: "The Snake Pit" (1948), "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" (1977), "Warrendale" (1967), even "Girl, Interrupted" (1999). Those are the good ones; this is the one with the somdomites. Verlaine slides down the same slippery slope that got Oscar Wilde.

Oh, yeah, if you're interested in poetry, try "Shakespeare In Love".

4 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Strictly routine, 3 February 2001
3/10

This is the most elementary sort of traditional ghost story, not even enlivened to any great extent by the use of Irish locations. If the great M.R. James had ever come up with a tale this thin -- doesn't James in fact have a story called "A Thin Ghost"? -- he wouldn't have bothered to have it published.

Orson Welles appears in the limp endpieces as a favour to a brace of old friends, this film's producers. His presence and the one movie industry in-joke would have earned this will-o'-the-wisp its Oscar nomination. This is yet more proof, if any more were needed, that the Academy Awards have never been any guarantee of merit.

10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
All This and a Headache Too, 28 November 2000
3/10

I saw this oddity once upon a time at one of Toronto's oddest little theatres, The Screening Room, which no longer exists. The room is still there, over the Kingsway Cinema, but it doesn't operate as a theatre anymore.

This would have been in 1979 or 1980, and they were showing a double bill of blasphemous Beatles films, this one and the Bee Gees' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978). We knew the Bee Gees would be an embarrassment, but we had greater hopes for this film. (And the Bee Gees were free if you bought a ticket for the other one, as I recall.)

It was certainly a relief to learn that the Allies won World War II but otherwise... The combination of sacrosanct Beatles tunes and wartime stock footage didn't sound like such a good idea, and when you actually saw it, it turned out to be even more ridiculous than you would have guessed. The only image I still recall 20 years on is one of the "famous" ones, "Get Back" being sung over German tank footage run in reverse. As the philosopher said, "It's a fine line between clever and stupid."

But it was better than the Bee Gees!

7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
The Triumph of the Human Spirit, 18 November 2000
4/10

That seems to be a favourite cliché applied to this fantasy film. The entire movie apparently is a child's dream about a concentration camp. Only in fairy stories would a death camp be so sparkling clean and spacious. The detainees in this (holiday) camp are free to move about as they please. They can even play with the Aryan Gretchens and Hansis if they want to.

In the Czech Republic, there's an exhibit of drawings made by cute and precocious children vacationing at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Their amusingly childish artwork shows typical scenes of camp life, large black monsters crushing tiny people wearing little yellow stars, for example.

I happen to have seen another concentration camp film this week, Escape from Sobibor (1987). In that film, Jews also banter and jest with the Nazis, only they do it by applying axes to their heads and homemade knives to their stomachs. History would seem to have demonstrated that axes and knives are more effective tools for dealing with Nazis than making jokes at their expense.

"Uplifting" is another label assigned to Life Is Beautiful. It might better be applied to Escape from Sobibor, a true story about real people -- not "princes" and "princesses" -- overcoming real odds at huge cost to escape from an actual murder camp.

Nice Offenbach music can be found in this film though, one of my personal favourites in fact, Tales of Hoffmann. SS men in actual death camps didn't keep a lot of Jewish opera records on hand for the musical edification of the inmates.


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