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Vargas

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17 reviews in total 
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22 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Waiting for What?, 26 September 1999

An engineer (Behzad Dourani) travels to a remote Iranian village on an inexplicable assignment that involves his unseen assistants digging holes. The men work near a hill that turns out to be one of the main settings, and even characters, in Cannes Palme d'Or winner Abbas Kiarostami's new movie, "The Wind Will Carry Us."

Throughout the picture, the perpetually befuddled engineer drives up to the breezy incline to receive cell phone calls that don't come through clearly in the village below. Do the calls concern an old woman who's dying? A search for buried treasure? The exhumation of dead bodies? We never hear the other end of the conversations, so we never find out.

The modern hero's jeep and cell-phone dominated life seems empty of purpose, other than the impulses and sensory input of the moment. The lives of the traditional villagers don't seem any more meaningful. Kiarostami's picture is no ethnographic celebration of simple-hearted, but wise peasants with a profound culture.

The movie is like Samuel Becket's definitive theatre of the absurd, "Waiting for Godot." But while the depressed Irish playwright's characters wander around in a desolate landscape, Kiarostami's engineer is placed in a spacious, richly colored world that yields tantalizing, paradoxical hints of meaning, despite the random, aimless movements of the human beings who inhabit it.

Perhaps we're seeing this story from the wind's point-of-view.

It Is an American Beauty, 22 September 1999

I just saw "American Beauty" for the second time, and although I was more aware of the picture's mechanics, it moved as much as it did two weeks ago at the Toronto Film Festival.

Backlashers will gripe that the film goes mushy, that Sam Mendes and Alan Ball are not Todd Solondz, that they are smoothies with too many tricks up their sleeves, blah and blah-blah.

But the fact is that "American Beauty" is a richly textured, emotionally generous, continually surprising movie with moments of poetic subtlety. And could the public's strong response be a sign that it is finally smarting up?

Dogma (1999)
It Goes to Hell, 15 September 1999

"Dogma" opens funny, fast and with bravado to spare. Then Jay & Silent Bob show up, and we descend into slacker shtick Kevin Smith has already done to death. On top of that, scenes get clogged up with tedious exposition of the characters' narrative goals and their theological opinions. This was a courageous and original project that could have taken us straight to movie heaven, but ends up dropping us into the pit.

In a Parallel Universe, Far Far Away, 4 July 1999

With "Episode I - The Phantom Menace," George Lucas has created a masterpiece of end-of-the-century, Post-Modernist satire.

"Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is Lucas's brilliantly subversive, daring presentation of the first "Star Wars," as if it had been made in an alternate universe where his career was prematurely destroyed by a movie utterly lacking in wit, charm, excitement, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

"Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is the picture that wary studio executives suspected that Lucas would make: a weirdly bombastic, hopelessly lifeless mess that would die at the box-office.

The fact that "Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is not a b.o catastrophe is George Lucas's exquisitely Kubrickian point. He's chuckling quietly over the irony that a film that would have failed twenty-two years ago will be a huge money maker. "The Phantom Menace" could not fail because it's linked to the "Star Wars" Lucas actually did release in 1977, not to mention the phenomenal success of the sequels, and the ancillary products.

It's obvious that Lucas is commenting on the present-day reality of big budget, mainstream fantasy moviemaking. There's no place anymore for surprises like "2001," "Alien," or the Terminator pictures. Style and content means nothing. The only things that count are the franchise, the logo and the slickness of the C.G.I.s.

Bravo to George Lucas for deliberately making an almost unwatchably mechanical film that cleverly lures his audience into seeing themselves, like Dorothy and her Pals when they reach Oz, for the manipulated suckers that they are.

Ambitious but..., 9 January 1999
7/10

Todd Haynes is a freewheeling and daring filmmaker with a uniquely ambiguous take on his subject matter. Was Juliane Moore in "Safe" better or worse off after she escaped to her desert retreat? Is the glam rock Haynes portrays in "Velvet Goldmine" an empty vocabulary of vacuous poses, or a dazzling aesthetic of operatic proportions? "Goldmine" is thematically and creatively an intricate, ambitious movie. The problem is that no matter how effective Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rice-Meyers are as the Iggy Stooge and David Bowie-like characters, they come across as blurred xeroxes of the originals.

Affliction (1997)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Exposes Egoyan, 2 January 1999
9/10

Paul Schrader's Russell Banks adaptation may be rough-around-the-edges, unevenly paced and somewhat murky. But "Affliction" has a raw power that reveals how smug and sanitized Atom Egoyan's Banks-derived "The Sweet Hereafter" really is. Schrader, as he has always done, looks fearlessly and compassionately at people who cant stop themselves from creating their own hell. In "The Sweet Hereafter," Egoyan's grieving parents are visual components of a postcard from the snowy mountains of majestic British Columbia.

Happiness (1998)
No surprise, 21 October 1998

Happiness is appearing at a moment when most people have no problem understanding Bill Clinton's problems. At the very least, Todd Solondz plugs into this moment with a film that portrays the obsessive quest for fulfillment through sex as desperate and pathetic.

Does Solondz feel anything for his lost, lonely souls, who include an obese murderess and a child molester only vaguely aware of the damage he causes? The movie does project pity and horror for these people, but in a way that's wan and tentative - as if Solondz shares his characters' inability to let go with their emotions. In one post-coitum triste scene, a woman tells her ineffectual lover, "Don't feel guilty." "I don't feel guilty," he answers. "I don't feel anything."

Happiness is a very bleak movie. You'd have to go back to an artist like Nathanel West (who wrote Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust) for a vision of North American life that's as unsparing and uncompromising. Like West, Solondz can make you laugh in the wasteland that he drops you into, but the giggles catch in your throat. For feel good black comedy, go elsewhere


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