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559 reviews in total 
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Not the Godfather, 12 November 2007

Yikes--a boring film about a still very relevant political revolution? Seems like it would be difficult to achieve, but despite everything that producer / director / actor / composer / caterer / shoe-shiner / kitchen-sink-plumber Andy Garcia gets right in this tale of Havana, Cuba during Fidel Castro's rise to power, this tends to be a boring, cold, distant-feeling affair.

I think I have the main problems pegged. One, Garcia was shooting for a Godfather-like epic. That doesn't sound bad, maybe, but the problem there is that the Godfather films have a wide sprawl, a monumental seriousness, and a lot of character development segments for a huge stable of personalities. Those are difficult characteristics that can easily become a mess. Francis Ford Coppola was able to transcend the speedbumps and produce a masterpiece. Here, the results are more disjointed, sometimes pretentious, and too much just feels like padding.

Next, Garcia obviously loves music and must believe that music is an inextricable aspect of life for Cubans, so Garcia's character owns a club and there are many musical scenes. But these tend to halt any momentum otherwise achieved. The music is good, but these scenes are more obtrusive than anything Bollywood does.

Finally, maybe for box office appeal, Garcia signed on actors like Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman, but they're wasted here. Murray especially is indicative of a more common problem with the less-famous actors--he basically functions as a prop that also tends to halt momentum.

It's a shame, because in other respects, The Lost City is a decent film. All of the technical elements are admirable. The action and more tense scenes tend to be good--they kept giving me hope. For that matter, if you watch any arbitrary five minutes in isolation, you might think you've stumbled upon a great film that you should have started watching from the beginning. But it just doesn't hang together well.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Flawed but very enjoyable, 11 November 2007

Stealing Candy certainly isn't a "perfect" film, but for what it is, it's not at all bad--it kept me more than entertained, it was both sexy and thrilling, filled with tension, and the twists were done well.

The most obvious flaws are technical, but this is clearly a low budget film. Either the original film or the DVD transfer is "low definition" rather than high, and too many times it's obvious that the cinematography goes a bit out of focus. It has almost a home video texture--for a moment, I was afraid that this was going to be a no-budget stinker.

But the script is good, the performances are fun (if a bit campy, but I like that), and Mark Lester is a capable director. It helps that Jenya Lano is incredibly sexy in this, but the thrust of Stealing Candy is a crime-thriller film with a twist--in ways reminiscent of the superior Suicide Kings (1997), but without the black comedy.

That might seem to suggest that Stealing Candy is derivative, and that wouldn't be wrong--aside from Suicide Kings, it has similarities to many other films, including another excellent heist-gone-wrong flick, Killing Zoe (1994). Most oddly on this end is that scorer Dana Kaproff must have been commanded by Lester to, "Write something that sounds like Bernard Herrmann here", and you could swear that the result doesn't just sound Herrmannian, but that it was actually lifted from a Hitchcock film. That's one of many things that telegraphs some twists to come, but Lester pretty skillfully "misdirects" us from expecting particular twists, too.

At any rate, if you're someone who subtracts major points for derivativeness and lack of technical polish, approach Stealing Candy with caution, but if you're like me--you do not demand that films belong to the cult of originality and you enjoy a bit of cheese in your thrillers (we even get the cheesiest Baldwin brother here, Daniel--I'm a big fan of the Baldwin brothers' work), then this is worth a watch.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Too bad, 11 November 2007

This is an unfortunate one. Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (CotC6) probably has the best cinematography, best editing, some of the best effects, and some of the creepiest scenes of any CotC film to this point, but the script is a complete mess and helmer Kari Skogland does not seem to be very skilled at directing actors.

For at least the first 10-15 minutes of CotC6, I was prepared to give it at least a 9. Hannah (Natalie Ramsey) is driving to the town of Gatlin, Nebraska--the setting of the first film--and gives a ride to what turns out to be a disturbing ghost. She soon after wipes out in a cornfield, and a creepy policewoman-- nicely cast against type, takes her to a hospital to be checked out, only it's a hospital that's apparently been taken over by mental patients. This is all great stuff, well filmed, with refreshing differences from the rest of the series.

But then as the dialogue and exposition increase, the film begins to fall apart. The plot brings back Isaac (John Franklin) from the first film, with Hannah playing a major role in a "He Who Walks Behind the Rows"-religion prophecy. That maybe wasn't a bad idea, but the script feels like a first or second draft. It's choppy and just doesn't make much sense. The characters are bizarre, as if scripter Tim Sulka and co-writer Franklin kept changing their minds about dispositions every two pages. Hannah will seem gung-ho about experiencing Gatlin's weirdness one minute, oddly indifferent the next, then desperate to escape, and then gung-ho . . . Isaac vacillates between innocuous and evil. Rachel's (Nancy Allen) pendulum swings between psychopathic and protective. Maybe there were two or three completely different approaches tried, but they ran out of money, so the final film was a mash-up?

And Skogland doesn't help. She tends to encourage her cast to overact, she exaggerates the multiple personality feeling, and she makes sure that everything seems pretentiously stagy.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
I guess this genre is growing on me, 10 November 2007

Well, I just got done saying that "slice of life" realist drama-comedies are hardly my favorite genre (in my review of Standing Still (2005)), and here I am giving a second one a 10 out of 10. So much for self-knowledge.

I think what most attracted me here is attitude, which was achieved through a combination of the script and the great performances (although everything else--from the locations to the music, matched nicely). I've long been a "fan" of Zen and Taoism, although a fairly casual fan (which I think is appropriate). This tale of an understated softcore "erotica" scriptwriter from Hollywood who makes a sojourn to Michigan to live with his elderly, hypochondriacal grandmother and becomes wrapped up in the lives of the females in the family across the street is a good exemplar of a realistic Zen/Taoist approach to life. It's not that every character exemplifies this, or that any of them do at all times, but that's what's realistic about it--not everything will be even-keel. Living mindfully in the moment involves doing so when we get upset or worried, too; it's part of the Zen "return to the market".

All of the main characters and most of the auxiliary characters are likable. Director Jon Kasdan infuses the film with a fair amount of very funny humor--this could have been hilarious if the aim were to just make a comedy. Everyone is going through major life trials and occasionally traumatic events. But everyone remains relatively cool, and Kasdan makes the smart move of not overplaying anything, not following melodramatic openings, and leaving threads that aren't unresolved but that resolve in very subtle and unexpected ways--and that's just like life is most of the time.

Standing Still (2005/II)
7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Crafty, 10 November 2007

These "slice of life", realist drama-comedies are far from my favorite genre, but as a serious movie buff, I've seen tens of them over the years, and Standing Still is right up there with the best of them.

The only flaw I can find, really, is the title, which is a bit enigmatic (not that I mind enigmas, but it's a bit out of context here). A better title would have been "Secrets", or even "Shuffle" if something less obvious was desired, as the plot is focused on an event--a wedding--that brings a wide range of people together, some unexpected, almost all with some kind of secret, and reshuffles them in various ways--often through revelations of their secrets.

Realist movies can easily become unfocused or boring--after all, that's true of most folks' lives if we were to follow them around with a video camera and expect people who don't know them to be entertained watching the results. But Standing Still manages to create suspense, tension and a healthy dose of humor while expertly weaving together a large number of threads, all while keeping things fairly firmly in realist territory and providing satisfactory resolutions. It's also emotionally satisfying and relatively "deep", often in subtle ways, all aided by the fantastic performances. Everyone says just as much with subtle body language as they do via their dialogue, and this just as often occurs in what could tend to be read as the lighter or shallower scenes.

I wanted to see far more about every one of these characters--and we could hardly call that a flaw.

3 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Good despite my confusion, 10 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is yet another film where I had some problem figuring out many plot elements and character relationships, where some of the blame might rest on having to rely on subtitles. I also do not know much of the complicated history of Bosnia, so that didn't help me to understand the context, either.

It took me at least half the film to figure out all of the character relationships, and this is really a "slice of life" story--albeit set, in the 1950s, in what's apparently a confusing, changing, communist political landscape. But it's important to know each character's relation to other characters as well as a bit of their personal backgrounds and histories with each other--character development is of primary importance, but I'm not sure it was always fleshed-out as it needed to be.

It also didn't help (as it never does in any film) that a few characters looked very similar, and at least one has a major change of appearance, and a major change back. For example, I never was completely clear on whether the woman on the train with the father at the beginning, with whom he was having an affair (he was quite the philanderer), was also the female pilot in the airshow, and also the gym teacher, who was also his brother-in-law's wife. And the reason that the father went away to some kind of prison work camp was never very clear to me either. Ostensibly it was because he made a remark about a cartoon in a newspaper, but that seems ridiculous (although maybe that's more realistic than I can imagine and is part of the point), and I kept thinking that the real reason was for the brother-in-law to get back at him for the affair with the brother-in-law's wife.

In any event, despite my confusion, this is a fairly good film, with great performances. The family's youngest son is at times a narrator and is featured in a poignant subplot, but Otac na sluzbenom putu would have benefited by making him even more of the focus and point of view.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Don't blame me, I didn't try to kill The Metal \m/, 9 November 2007

Now this is my kind of movie. Of course, I have a lot of kinds of movies--just look at a wide span of my ratings, and you'd think that I get a dollar for every high score I give out, but what I mean is this is the kind of movie that resonates with me on a creative level--it's in the vein of my fiction writing, it's what just comes naturally from me (not in the vein of my non-fiction writing, which is boring and crappy). The weird thing is that this movie has been well received, whereas I can't get agents to not ignore me even when I kidnap their female offspring and make them my love slaves, but on the other hand, I don't have one of those cool birthmarks on my ass.

Which is all to point out why this film so easily won me over. I would have liked The Big Bounce (2004) too if only Sara Foster would have had a cool birthmark on her ass.

Writers/stars/rock-out-with-cock-out masters Jack Black and Kyle Gass and director Liam Lynch waste no time getting as ridiculous as possible, and they sustain it for most of the film. I had to start hitting pause so I could laugh from the first scene. The idea of narrating the film through absurd song lyrics is funny and is executed in a way that's even funnier than the idea, even though that was funny in the first place, and you couldn't really film an idea, so maybe it's funny to try to talk about it as if I observed it, and I really shouldn't have tried to make the distinction. Let me just mention the hilarious cameos from Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, John C. Reilly, Dave Grohl, etc. in a completely arbitrary way instead, and also put in my vote to Hollywood for more wacky low-budget surreal fantasy scenes spawned by mushrooms.

You can also tell that Black and Gass really do love the kind of music they're spoofing, which gives the film an earnestness that's a pleasantly odd fit with the absurdities. They really do love fat schlubs with bad wigs playing rushed and emotionless versions of Bourée on Venice Beach.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this masterpiece, 8 November 2007

I had been putting off watching Curious George for a while, but I'm not quite sure why. I love animation, I still love kids' entertainment in general, and I'm a huge Will Ferrell fan, but I think I had some fuzzy, distant memory that I didn't really care for the Curious George books (and maybe I had seen a couple of the early films when I was in high school) and I was vaguely aware of a negative buzz about this film. Well, putting it off was a mistake, because this is now easily one of my favorite films from 2006--everything about it is perfect, and I have to doubt my memory about previous Curious George works (I've already ordered one of the old books and films to check out).

The first thing you notice is how gorgeous and unusual the animation is. It's highly stylized to create a complete fantasy world, and seamlessly combines high-tech and low-tech, cartoonish caricature and realistic computer-aided design.

The plot, which is about Ted (Ferrell) venturing from a fantasy New York City to Africa to try to find a huge statue that would save the natural history museum he works for, may seem to be the weakest link, but that would come from misunderstanding the focus, which is instead on a number of abstract ideas and themes.

The primary idea is relatively unusual but very welcome--a message about the extreme importance of curiosity, creativity and play. This is merged with a very positive Zen-like "go with the flow"/"live mindfully in the moment" theme, which is partially achieved via a stream-of-consciousness flow of various subplots that frequently, very enjoyably dip into silliness and absurdities.

The main plot turns out to fit perfectly with this tone, as do the choices and performances of the voice actors, including Ferrell, Frank Welker, Eugene Levy, Dick Van Dyke, Drew Barrymore and David Cross. The Jack Johnson songs also set an unexpected but perfect mood for the film.

1408 (2007)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Thoroughly engrossing, 7 November 2007

You probably can't get a much better endorsement for a horror film than this--I found 1408 fairly scary. Now that might not sound very remarkable, but I'm someone who almost _never_ finds films scary. For me to get into that state over a film, it has to resonate with me in a way that few films can.

Of course, I'm a sucker for horror in general, especially haunted house flicks--probably my favorite horror subgenre. I'm a big fan of Stephen King (down to liking the majority of King-related films), a big Samuel L. Jackson fan, and I like John Cusack. It was an excellent idea to have Cusack's character, Mike Enslin, be a jaded skeptic. I could empathize with him, because I'm also a writer and a skeptic with an interest in horror-related topics and the supernatural. I thought the unusual move of setting this in a major, working New York hotel was well thought-out. I also love the atmosphere of the hotel--the interior decoration, the design of the sets, etc.

All of the above primed me for the film, combined with some fine scriptwriting and performances--for example, the extended scene featuring Jackson's character, Gerald Olin, pleading with and trying every way to bribe Enslin into rethinking his decision to stay in Room 1408 was one of the better I've seen in some time.

The scariest moments arrive fairly early--shortly after Enslin begins his stay in 1408, but the whole film is incredibly engrossing, even if it begins to turn into more of a "rubber reality" trip by the end--ala Jacob's Ladder (1990), Memento (2000), The I Inside (2003), and maybe not just coincidentally, the too-little-known Nightmare on the 13th Floor (1990) (different than the Thirteenth Floor from 1999, even though that's another rubber reality film) . . . and that's another favorite genre for me. The ambiguities in 1408 are a lot of fun to speculate about afterwards, but they're also not aggravating, as some rubber reality films can be.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Fails to deliver, 7 November 2007

With the exception of a segment focusing on Fredrick Pokorney (a young Nevadan who died early in the Iraq War), Bush's Brain is relatively passionless. This is the epitome of a "talking head" documentary. A majority consists of interviews with men in chairs. Everyone is calm, collected and tending toward the monotone. For variety, some are interviewed standing up and/or in locations other than an office, and there are occasional clips of politics in action. But the raw material, plus the lifeless narration, plus a lack of pizazz in the editing room equals a passionless film.

Many will think that's a relatively unimportant criticism. "What matters", they'll say, "Is the importance of the information, the outrageousness of the reality the film addresses". Well, that's another big problem. Bush's Brain is intended to show two main theses: (1) that former George W. Bush Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was effectively "Co-President" with Bush, and (2) that Rove is a shady character with a lengthy history of ethically questionable actions. I think the film fails on both accounts. (And no, I'm not a Republican. I'm also not a Democrat. I'm a Libertarian. I'm no big fan of George W.)

For the first thesis, this is far too much just a historical biography of Rove (although it's informative enough as that--I definitely learned things). Now, Rove has been involved with the Bush family for 30 years in many capacities, but all politicians have speechwriters, idea persons, etc. Absolutely nothing is done to show that Rove was unusual in his political support functions in a way that would amount to him being "Co-President" with Bush. For the second thesis, about half of the things discussed do not seem unethical to me (rather it's sometimes sour grapes), and for the ethically questionable, not enough is done to present more than one side of the story, breaking the argument that the documentary is passionless in the name of a journalistic "lack of bias".

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