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|84 reviews in total|
If you've read the title to this film, you already know everything you
need to about it. It has apples. It may have a miracle. The miracle may
involve the apples. From that, you'll probably be able to extrapolate
that -- like 99% of the other Japanese G-rated dramas, it will be the
story of a hapless dreamer with a heart of gold who must overcome every
adversity to be able to prove his worth to those around him and to save
at least one family member from an illness. There will be tears. There
will be innocent children Who Must Be Helped. There will be a beautiful
and virtuous woman who will stand by her man. There will be townfolk
who don't understand. This sort of film was made by the hundreds in
Hollywood in the 1930s through '50s, which makes "Miracle Apples" all
the odder, given it being made in 2013.
Yes, I realize that it's (loosely) based upon a true story. But does it have to recycle every hackneyed plot device typical to such movies? Does it have to telegraph every turn of the plot? The protagonist is so earnestly, steadfastly stupid that I found myself enjoying his failure after failure, indignity after indignity. This is partly because star Sadao Abe can be effective in eccentric roles, such as "Ichi the Unicorn" in "Shimotsuma Monogatari" (AKA "Kamikaze Girls"), but he is simply not a believable dramatic actor. His modes are binary; either shouting and nearly wetting himself with enthusiasm or morose and self-flagellating; either way, he's always turned up to eleven.
I give the film three stars for the following: a few good supporting cast members -- particularly Tsutomu Yamazaki as the father-in-law, some fantastic scenery of rural Japan, and a good overall message about organic farming -- but not about a man subjecting his family to a decade of needless poverty, given that organic farming practices were already in use in Europe and America from which he could've learned much, had he bothered to research that.
"People Will Talk" hearkens back to those classic Hollywood...oh, who the hell am I kidding: it's utter rubbish. Every second of watching it, you're slapped upside the head with the fact that it's a wooden script written by people who lacked enough wit to write for Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks, but are contractually-obligated to crank it out. Every line is a declamation with the most unnatural dialogue imaginable. This is the first time I've actually hated one of Cary Grant's characters in a film; he's absolutely insufferable, delivering one pompous pronouncement after another, through his nose. Hume Cronyn turns in a two-dimensional performance. The romance is utterly perfunctory, despite the lovely Jeanne Crain. Really, I can think of very little to recommend "People Will Talk" and I regret having wasted nearly two hours of my life on it.
YERT had the potential to be a very engaging personal journey for the
three characters and the audience. Although some of the restrictions
they self-imposed were arbitrary or even nonsensical, it showed that
they were really trying to question the things that most of us do every
day without thinking. I was enthusiastic about their journey until . .
. they casually announced that Julie was pregnant. And it wasn't
something they had intended, but more like "Whoops! We thought that
couldn't happen!" Newsflash: women are likely to get pregnant when
engaging in sexual intercourse, if they are not using birth control.
It's not the fact that she got pregnant that's the issue, but that the road trip was intended to highlight the things one can do to lessen one's impact on the environment. And what is the single most environmentally destructive decision a person can make? To have a baby. Seriously.
A study done in 2009 at Oregon State University shows that the environmental impact of *not* having a child in America is about 20 times greater than the impact of doing a whole host of environmentally-friendly things like recycling, driving a hybrid, using CFLs for lighting, etc., over the course of your entire lifetime. In other words, despite everything else that Julie and Ben may ever do that's pro-environment, by having a child, they've more than counteracted them all just by bringing another little American into existence. Is this ever even mentioned? Nope. It's as if these three environmentalists were totally oblivious to the impact of reproducing.
No, I'm not suggesting that humans should let themselves die off. But I *am* suggesting that anyone who truly wants to lessen their impact on the environment should think very seriously about the effects of their becoming a parent upon the environment. The fact that Ben and Julie were just casually treating it like a whim or something they lucked into, is galling. They had the opportunity to set an example and they blew it, big time.
I caught "Campus Rhythm" on Netflix, on a whim. I'd like my 63 minutes back, please. First, the plot is as old and tired as vaudeville; "trite" doesn't begin to cover it. Second, the actors all appear to be in their 30s or older, despite them supposedly being college students. The men are, almost invariably, creepy leches, and the audience is somehow supposed to find them charming. Everything is shot on sound stages or back-lots, which sucks any energy or life out of the film. Finally, the music, which is leaned-on heavily, is just dismal with some of the most cringe-worthy lyrics I've ever heard. There were a variety of composers involved but none of them were worthy of polishing Cole Porter's shoes. All that's left of the film is some okay visuals and a bad aftertaste.
Documentaries used to be about scientific exploration and
documentation. But increasingly, they're trading in schlock TV
techniques like jump-cuts, digital effects, thumping rock music and
hyping up even the most trivial elements of the story in attempts to
create some tension. These are some of the things that bring "Ben
Franklin's Pirate Fleet" down. Repeatedly, the narrator breathlessly
says things like "...but time is running out!" and "This may be the
last chance the crew will have to find anything at the wreck site!"
NEVER do they explain *why* time is supposedly in short supply! Is the
ocean being closed for repairs at the end of the week? Does the crew
have to return to their real jobs? My sense is that it there weren't
any real time constraints, but the filmmakers wanted to add some
tension to get the audience's pulses racing. But *why*? We want to
learn about history, not get manipulated by dramatizations of what
*might* have happened.
It's also clear that the divers are anything but trained archaeologists; they use an air chisel ("...like a jackhammer", claims the narrator, but actually, just like a pneumatic hand-drill) to chop artifact out of the seabed. There's no evidence that they were documenting the locations or contexts of artifacts; certainly not with grid boxes, photo surveys and the other things one expect of marine archaeological digs. It's all about "dive in and grab stuff!" But what exactly is it they found? Clearly, they've found a few pieces of 18th/19th century boats, but that in no way proves that those boats happened to have been privateers, much less privateers working for the Revolutionary cause, at the behest of Franklin. Much is made of the "fact" that the crew doesn't find any markings on the metal pieces they found -- as if every metal piece on a British boat or ship was stamped with "Made in Britain"! Again and again, viewers are reminded of how far away this show is from being scientific. And instead of showing us something definitive at the end, it peters out with nothing resolved or even learned. What a far cry from National Geographic's former standards!
I was prepared to really enjoy "Shikaotoko Aoniyoshi", given that it's
set in Nara (one of my favorite places) and features deer, animals that
I feel very close to. The series' premise is interesting enough -- that
an ancient ritual to subdue an immense primordial catfish-shaped god
underneath the islands of Japan must be performed regularly, and is the
responsibility of sacred deer, foxes and rats. Not your run-of-the-mill
premise, to be sure! The guardian animals select humans to act as their
facilitators, but the deer could not have made a worse choice: a
hapless, bumbling goof of a high school teacher, recently arrived in
Nara ("Ogawa-sensei", played by former model Hiroshi Tamaki).
Here's the series' first main failing: the character of Ogawa-sensei is repeatedly described as "unlucky", but -- either due to the dialogue, or Tamaki's acting, or the direction (or all three) -- it's more that he's irritatingly stupid. It's one thing to be "unlucky"; it's another thing entirely to be thoughtless and clueless towards the lovely Haruka Ayase, his only real ally, and to go around mooning like a lovesick 14 year-old over "Madonna" (Yuki Shibamoto). Ogawa is a caricature of a slack-jawed, goggle-eyed buffoon who is visibly started by everything around him.
And Ogawa has the world's worst judgment; the plot hinges all too often on him doing the exact *worst* thing. A priceless artifact must be held onto in order to save Japan from imminent destruction? No problem! -he'll just tuck it into his desk drawer, or hold it carelessly in his hand. What? -what could possibly go wrong? At times when I wasn't saying "Oh, come ON!" at the screen, I was shaking my head in disbelief. Shows and movies insult their viewers when they have the protagonist be such an utter fool. We want to identify with him, to cheer him on, to feel empathy for him. Given the poor depiction of Ogawa-sensei, I found myself rooting *against* him after about the 5th episode. At least the show has a few interesting characters: the enigmatic art teacher Fukuhara-sensei (Kuranosuke Sasaki), the brooding kendo champion Hotta-chan (Mikako Tabe) and the luminous "Madonna".
The other main problem is that the pacing is sluggish and it feels like they're trying to stretch the story to fit the required number of episodes. I got bored more often than I could count. Still, I'm glad I watched the series -- mostly for the characters other than Ogawa-sensei, the premise and the locations around Nara.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"FMJ"'s reputation, combined with Kubrick's name, elevate the film far
above its actual merits. Here are my specific criticisms:
1. The plot is simplistic and formulaic. #1: Basic training. #2: Suddenly in Vietnam and lulled into a false sense of security. #3: A heavy firefight for the denouement. And. That's. It. It feels as if Kubrick started with three sheets of paper, labeled the top of each with those three phases, and kept them hermetically separated. There's no sense of flow, of growth, of anything organic. So when separated buddies from basic training are reunited later in the film, their "hail fellow, well met!" shtick feels hollow and forced.
2. Partly because of #1, many of the plot devices are utterly predictable. Private Pyle telegraphs his breakdown to us at least 10 minutes before it occurs. The hubris and languor of the cast, safe in their city quarters in Vietnam, take every opportunity to tell us how nothing bad could happen, because -- after all -- it's Tet, a national holiday. C'mon, Kubrick -- it's 20 years after the Tet Offensive. You can't expect us to NOT know what's coming, when you set it up like that. That day of doom, in which tens of thousands of Viet Cong and NVA troops launched surprise attacks that killed thousands of US soldiers, is rendered utterly devoid of suspense. Prefiguring sucks the air out of a film.
3. Many of the scenes are as clumsy as anything one could ever see from a college Filmmaking 101 class. Case in point: After "Touchdown" and "Handjob's" bodies are brought back and the squad stands in a circle around them, the camera pans from one squad member's face to another for about 5 seconds each, while each says something utterly canned sounding: "You're going home now." "Semper Fi." "We're mean marines, sir." "Go easy, bros." "Better you than me." "Well, at least they died for a good cause." Who provided this dialogue (or more accurately, serial monologue) -- Joe's All-Purpose Elegies?
4. Most of the settings look contrived and "cinematic" rather than natural. In particular, the city scene in Vietnam with the prostitute and the scene where "Joker" and "Rafterman" are hurrying along a road, trying to find the location of the mass grave -- both are stuffed to the gills with "period stuff going on", but one definitely gets the sense that it's all part of an effort to give the effect, rather than being authentic. Other scenes, such as the firefight at the end, look like they were staged for live theater, with strategically-placed fires (what the hell was burning for hours in those concrete buildings?!), atmospheric smoke, fill lighting, etc.
5. Many of the side characters are nothing more than caricatures. A prime example is "doorgunner", who is straight from central casting as "Gun-crazed Child-killer". What? Not convinced by watching him shoot fleeing peasants with his machine gun? Well, then he'll *tell* you that he's a gun-crazed child-killer as well. Just so there's no doubt. Thank you, Captain Obvious.
6. Some of the plot turns and the way they're acted are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. For example, when "Touchdown" is hit by a mortar round, "Doc Jay" immediately starts giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR. It's extremely unlikely that concussion from the mortar simply stopped Touchdown's heart, so neither treatment would do much good (and why doesn't Touchdown's chest move even a fraction of an inch when Doc Jay is pushing on it?) Another example is when "Rafterman" finally shoots the sniper with about a dozen rounds and she lies bleeding on the floor with the squad gathered around her. Not only is she still alive, she's saying something. What, you ask? She's _praying_, in Vietnamese. And not just praying, but mouthing the words and enunciating as clearly as possible, as if she has an audience to perform for. Finally, after the slowest death scene in history, she switches to English, saying "Shoot me!" about fifty times. And all the while, we're forced to put up with seeing "Joker's" tortured expression as he has to wrestle with what to do. Ain't war just HECK?!
7. The heavy-handed use of period songs isn't effective, it's annoying. Playing "Surfing Bird" at top volume doesn't add anything to the viewer's experience. Nor does "Wooly Bully" or "These Boots Were Made for Walking". This kind of gimmick is best left to middlebrow action flicks, not serious war films.
8. Finally, a note to filmmakers: the use of voice-over from a character is very seldom effective and almost never necessary. When in doubt, leave it out.
No American born before 1960 is ignorant of the fact that the war in Vietnam was a huge mistake, a tragicomedy of errors and a national disgrace, and that there were acts of bravery, naiveté and inhumanity in approximately equal amounts. We've all heard of Mai-Lai. We've all seen (the vastly better) "Apocalypse Now", made 8 years before FMJ, as well as "The Deer Hunter" and "Platoon", both of which also predated FMJ. And every American born too late to have witnessed the War firsthand, knows almost as much, since America has publicly excoriated itself for the past 4 decades over its involvement. The result is that FMJ breaks no new trails in terms of information or emotional content. We've been down those well-traveled roads already.
In general, FMJ feels graceless, inauthentic, clumsy, ham-fisted and about as uncreative of a film as can be imagined. It's difficult to believe that it came from the same director as "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Dr. Strangelove". How much of this is specifically Kubrick's fault is open to debate but as the film's auteur, the ultimate blame can only be his.
I was roped into a screening of "Austenland" by my well-meaning, Jane
Austen-admiring wife. Ninety-seven minutes later, we left the theater
shaking our heads. Not because we were offended by the idea of someone
making a satirical movie about a modern young woman who was so obsessed
with Jane Austen's milieu that she wanted to live in it, but because
that ship sailed five years ago, in the form of "Lost in Austen" -- a
movie that was everything this film was not.
Had I known in advance that "Austenland" was directed and co-written by the half-wit half-responsible for "Napoleon Dynamite", I might've stayed home. If ever comparing two structurally similar films threw into high relief the shortcomings of one of them, "Lost in Austen" does it to "Austenland". The latter comes across as a script written in two weeks by a rather stupid college sophomore as a class project. No line was too trite, no joke too juvenile, no humor too obvious to not get the full scenery-chewing treatment here.
Even within the film's internal logic, the protagonist made utterly no sense. Here's a young woman who is supposedly so obsessed with Austen, her writing and her virtues that she spends her life savings on an immersive week in that very environment, yet she caves-in within 24 hours, describes being indoors as "stifling", and is soon making out with a stablehand! The contempt she displays for Austen's mores is one more reason the viewer loses any sympathy for her. And honestly, she's not that special. Take away her obsession with Austen (and the film effectively does that within the first 20 minutes), and she's just another vapid college student who dresses like a slob.
Much has been written elsewhere about Jennifer Cooledge, the *other* American who supposedly paid for a week in "Austenland". I thoroughly enjoyed her as a minor character in "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show", but in those, she greatly benefited from the writing talents of Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Christopher Guest has had boils that could write more clever dialogue than Jerusha Hess is capable of. While I wanted to like Cooledge in this, there was simply no way to get beyond the fact that her character is the broadest broad who ever trod the boards.
One gimmick I've come to loathe in recent films was introduced by Sophia Coppola in "Marie-Antoinette" -- that of interspersing modern pop songs at length throughout the film. "Marie-Antoinette" somewhat worked since Coppola used the juxtaposition of modern songs to make the audience reappraise that late-18th century queen as a modern woman in modern material culture. "Austenland", on the other hand, just uses pop songs to tell the audience what it should be feeling at that moment. Every time this movie is screened, someone in the audience is going to whisper to their significant other "Hey! Remember when we used to make out to that Cure song?" -and move a little closer.
There are exactly three things I could find to like about "Austenland", for which I gave it one star each. The first is for the setting; West Wycombe is always lovely. The second is for Bret McKenzie, the roguish stablehand with a smooth, if improbable line for every occasion (he was far better, tho', in "Flight of the Conchords"). And the third is for J.J. Feild, whose earnest and understated performance is a welcome relief from all of the other in-your-face, turned-up-to-eleven performances. But ultimately, these three aren't nearly enough to save "Austenland" from being a mediocre and tiresome attempt at a romantic comedy. Jane Austen would've shuddered at the thought of such a film exploiting her name and work.
I don't know what Jo Odagiri was thinking when he...er...created this
steaming pile of celluloid crap. Did he earn too much money from his
acting jobs and need to take a loss for tax purposes? Is he mixing his
drugs wrong? Did he lose a bet? Whatever the cause, the result is that
we are given a film that feels like it was "written" under the
influence of psylocybin mushrooms, a large bowl of baked beans, and an
ipecac. And as far as his "directorial style" goes: please refer to the
I do have to thank OdaJo for prompting me to write the shortest movie review I have ever written: "Stink, stank, stunk".
I'm giving "The Crossing" five stars on the merits of it telling an
important story, and the solid performances turned in by Roger Rees,
Sebastian Roche and a few others. But the film is seriously compromised
by three things.
First, it's an absolutely bog-standard Hollywood treatment of a historical event, pulling together every trope in the industry (and underscoring how you're supposed to feel with insistent mood music at every turn).
Second, although the Hessian troops were certainly worthy of concern, a far worse enemy was the weather. From all accounts, the weather that night was horrific -- practically a blizzard -- with snow, sleet, high winds and huge chunks of ice floating down the swiftly-moving Delaware River to contend with. In fact, the snow was falling so heavily and the winds were so strong that the Hessians at Trenton actually canceled guard duty for the night because they would be unable to see or hear anything more than a few feet in front of them! (And in reality, they weren't drunk or hung-over; they were exhausted from not sleeping because they did indeed expect the Continental Army to attack; deserters had tipped them off that Washington was planning to attack, but no one knew when.) Does the film reflect this godawful weather? Nope, it has characters saying that they're cold, there's some rain, and (in one scene) there's a dusting of snow on the grass. That's it. The river is placid, winds are calm, there's no snow or ice floes. Absurd! Could the studio really not afford to give us some fake snow or styrofoam "ice floes"?!
But the worst thing about "The Crossing" is Jeff Daniels' depiction of Washington. To begin with, the script portrays Washington unlike reality. For example, when General Rall asks to surrender his sword directly to Washington, Washington refuses to accept it and wants to send a subordinate in his place. His aide tells him that he must go and accept it, as that's part of the honor code of officers. Newsflash to the filmmakers: George Washington was an officer in the British Army long before he was a revolutionary; he certainly would've known the proper protocol for surrendering. Indeed, there is no historical basis for this part of the film; it seems to have been invented out of whole cloth.
Even worse is Daniels' evocation of Washington's character, which runs contrary to every contemporary account from his friends, which show him as a man impossible to anger -- circumspect, taciturn and reserved; a man who preferred to talk as little as he could get away with, and when he did, he used neutral and carefully-chosen words. Daniels mischaracterizes Washintgon's temperament and manner of speech, and he also brings none of the necessary gravitas to the role. Washington may have been a man of few words, but he also cut a very imposing figure in his bearing. Daniels' Washington appears as a rather small man with a bad temperament, and no amount Daniels' grimacing or attempts to chew the scenery can make up for it. On those grounds, "The Crossing" is, unfortunately, a failure.
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