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10 reviews in total 
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Cropsey (2009)
7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Unexpectedly Interesting and Thoughtful, 19 October 2012

Cropsey is a well-produced and well-written story of some missing children on Staten Island, centered around the story of the man who might have kidnapped and murdered them.

The filmmakers tracked down and interviewed dozens of people connected with the stories of the girls, of "Cropsey," and of the taciturn man at the center of the case. Although there are the usual talking head scenes, the film also includes much atmospheric and thematic footage of the area in Staten Island where the activities took place that they are probing.

There are plenty of oddities in the legal and moral cases presented and discussed. The timeline extends more than 30 years. I found the film disquieting both because the central characters seemed to be less than innocent but at the same time, the film makes clear that the circumstances being explored are themselves foggy. Good film, subtly highlighting the difficulties of justice and the pain of not knowing.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Viking Life, 28 February 2011

Other reviewers have spoken about the cinematography or the pacing. All true, as far as they go. I think the essence of this film is that the viewer experiences the life of a first-millennium North European as it was lived.

If you just watch this movie as though no one had told you anything about it, you would be wondering just what goes on -- just as the characters themselves are wondering. Because there are no setup scenes, no back-filling through dialog or flashback. You start with the characters at an arbitrary point and progress through to the end. I mean really -- how do you know they are Vikings? They clearly live in a cold, rocky land; but they could as well have been Welsh or Irish or Scottish sea coasters, as Danes or Norse. We don't really know! We don't know where they are at the beginning of the film. We can have a good guess where they are, at the end.

What you see are a mere handful of men, in a huge world, empty except for occasional wildlife. When they arrive at a new, strange land, they have no idea where they are. They seem to have no hunting skills and can't feed themselves in this new land. They are superstitious and seemingly without personal loyalty. It's quite amazing to experience this empty world vicariously.

Many of the long shots, circling the men and showing them in their isolation and complete lack of comprehension, remind me of Werner Herzog's films Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. There is that same sense of the "obscene fecundity of Nature" and of its utter indifference to the wants or needs of men.

The film drops off a bit at the end, when one of the Viking leaders goes a bit psycho on the subject of Jerusalem; that struck a false note; but overall, the film is a faithful rendering of the lives of isolated, fearful men whose relations with the world are governed by superstition and visions.

Pandorum (2009)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Better Than You Might Expect, 4 June 2010

Better than you might expect, based on the television trailers. The trailers made the film look like just another clone of the "Species" series. In fact, it's nothing like that.

The film centers around two characters who awaken on what at first seems to be a ghost ship, and quickly discover the extent to which "they are not alone." The remainder of the film parallels the experiences of the two men as they separate and seek to establish control over the ship.

The film has a well-defined plot (not a given in modern sci-fi films) and sticks to it. No wacky subplots that peter out irresolutely; no absurd romancing. Also, mercifully absent were explanations of the current state of affairs that dragged the whole movie sideways.

The finale is corny but satisfying. The movie does such a good job of taking the viewer on the journey with the protagonists, that the denouement is refreshing.

Not great film-making, but good sci-fi.

Primer (2004)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Garage Startup That Leads ... Where?, 15 February 2010

This is a fine little film that is probably going to be most appealing to technically-minded, entrepreneurial viewers. It tells the story of a group of "techies" who are working on an invention; from the outset, the nature of which machine is not clear to the viewer.

Eventually, two of the group, Abe and Aaron, create a machine which does ... what? They don't know, exactly. The course of the film traces their increasingly complex attempts to work out what the machine does and how they can take advantage of it. Like many technical people, they become more involved in the experiment than in the outcome.

The film excels in portraying the complex, excitable and intense interactions of a team of intelligent, well-educated technically-minded individuals trying to get out of the "cube farm" and into their own business by inventing a new technology. It uses a cinema verite style that fits the subject matter and the action.

As a technical person myself, I immediately understood the nature of the drama and the intensity with which the would-be inventors approached their project. The pattern on which the inventive process is based here, is the pattern followed by almost all great technical inventions in electronics of the past 60 years, from the first printers by Hewlett-Packard to the DOS operating system made famous by Microsoft.

The film gets increasingly hard to follow, as the inventors get increasingly confused about what exactly is happening to them and to the people around them. It's no easier on the viewer. In a way, this is a logical progression; but ultimately, I felt it detracted from the film's effectiveness. As a viewer, I would have liked to have had a clearer conception of what it was that the protagonists were not understanding. Still, I can't rule out that the direction was intentional and that we, the viewers, were intended to be as unsure of the reality as the protagonists ultimately were.

But, all in all, for me, a fun film to watch throughout.

Bonhoeffer (2003)
8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Powerful Lesson in Living One's Beliefs, 9 September 2009

This documentary reviews the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with the focus on the relationship between his religious beliefs and his personal actions. Factually, there's little in the movie that you could not get from Google. Bonhoeffer was one of a minority of Christian leaders in Germany who publicly and privately opposed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. What the film does is anecdotally present the growth of Bonhoeffer's theology from the conventional Lutheranism of his upbringing into a kind of social activism in which the actions of one's life are what bring one to Christ. The defining moment is when Bonhoeffer arrives in New York, intending to teach at Union Seminary, only to realize "one who believes does not flee." The film notes the irony that while Bonhoeffer did not like Reinhold Niebuhr, by the end of his life he was living the kind of social activism preached by Niebuhr.

The film itself is well-made and follows a standard documentary format, with period films, stills and interviews with surviving friends and family. Significant passages from Bonhoeffer's writing are mixed into the narrative description.

Bonhoeffer was a pastor, teacher and theologian. His life was not exciting in the conventional sense, although he did some spying against the Nazis that must have been nerve racking. And much of this film is spent relating belief and action. The question asked and answered for him was a simple one: To what extent are our actions the consequence of our beliefs? It's the question we are left to ponder for ourselves.

Flamenco (1995)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Good Introductory But Not Expository Film, 6 January 2007

This film is entirely musical and dancing vignettes, composed and photographed on a sound stage (actually the public space of a train station converted to a stage for this film). It's beautifully, sparely photographed. If your entire conception of flamenco consists of the images of some lithe guy in a toreador outfit and an austere woman in a lacy black dress with castanets or thumb cymbals in her hands, drumming dramatically with their boot heels, this movie will open up a new view of flamenco.

This film shows a world of flamenco -- singing, dancing and guitarplaying melded into an intense, enclosing and dramatic space. The flamenco presented here is jazz-like and interpretive. Song, guitar and dance are blended in surprising and inventive ways. Song and dance are sometimes a cappella, extending the guitarplaying in subtle and intense "solos" accompanied often by hand-clapping or knuckles rapped on a table. This dancing is purely interpretive, as jazzy and individualized as any modern dance. These dancers have learned the technique but they make the flamenco their own. This is not an abstracted art form like a string quartet sitting in the well of a performance hall.

Nor is this flamenco the flared-skirt performance of athletic divas. Here we see children dancing with their parents; and grandparents demonstrating decisively that flamenco imbues the spirit with a graceful power that does not age.

At the end, we see the form of flamenco symbolically passed through a class of aspiring dancers. But the heart of the flamenco, I suspect, cannot be learned.

The only flaw in this film is likely to lie in the beholder. If you are not fluent in Spanish, the lyrics of the songs are meaningless. They are literally translated in the subtitles (the only "dialog" in the film), but I found the translations distracting. Like a lot of such translations, the literalness often made the powerfully sung lyrics seem trite.

Nonetheless, as the credits rolled at the end, I found myself shaking my head in wonder that just spare, rhythmic guitar, singing in an unknown language and dancing that consisted of as much anticipation as movement could leave me feeling that I had just watched something special. Over and over again.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Offbeat, Highly Stylized Animation, 1 April 2005

This is an interesting film done in an "offbeat" style. The animation is highly stylized and brightly colored, a stark contrast to the usually pastel and soft-edged Disney style. Some of the characters, such as "Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe," are -- well, cartoonish. I'm sure the parody of the knight-errant is well over the head of any child.

The story of the "quest" is simply told and unhurried. Plenty of time for children to enjoy the various side trips, such as Smrgal teaching Gorbash how to make dragon fire, or the two dragons getting drunk in the cellar of an inn and singing "Oh Susannah." The many scene breaks look like the movie was designed for commercial interruptions, a la television.

This is a niche film. Small children not too addicted to the Disney style will like it. Some of the conversation is stilted (again, everything about this film is very stylized, so the odd style of conversation is likely not unintentional) and you have to be able to accept it that way. Also, much of the conversation has double entendre or a level of humour that will go right by younger children, as when Gorbash asks Smrgal if he would really eat dwarfs and Smrgal replies, "Oh no, they are all hairy and tough, not worth picking out of your teeth."

My wife decidedly doesn't like this movie but I find it interesting enough in a curious way. And, of course, our five-year-old loves it.

Stigmata (1999)
45 out of 56 people found the following review useful:
Better than you might think, 26 January 2003

The "stigmata" is a Christian religious term that refers to the spontaneous appearance of wounds corresponding to the wounds on the Christ's body when he was crucified. This religious experience is most typically associated with deeply religious people and, I believe, is not one that is widely taken seriously. What makes this movie interesting is that it portrays the appearance of these wounds as a terrifying, extremely painful and ultimately humiliating experience. There's nothing conventionally religious in the experience portrayed here -- in fact, the victim is an athiest.

But, having bypassed the conventional, the movie is only partially successful in bringing the experience of the stigmata to the screen. The movie is a victim itself of a conventional portrayal of the evil bureaucratic Vatican desk jockeys suppressing "true" religion. And I have to admit that, as I was watching it, I found myself thinking, "Hmm, that sounds like the Gospel of Thomas," -- a famous Gnostic Gospel. Surprise.

But, overall, I'd recommend it as a decent movie and a departure from the generic, bland portrayal of Christian religious experience a la the Hallmark channel or "Touched by an Angel." It is a movie that can make you think about the nature of religious experience and its impact on an ordinary life.

8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
violent, powerful and repugnant, 24 May 1999

This is a remarkable movie. "The Bandit Queen" is a powerful and repugnant portrayal of a modern real-life Indian outlaw, Phoolan Devi ("Goddess of Flowers"). The movie opens at the point at which the 11 year-old Phoolan is sold as a bride to a middle-aged man. The marital rape and abuse that follows drives her away and eventually, as an outcast, into a life of brigandage.

What I found most striking in this movie is that it does not portray the heroine merely as a "wronged woman" but as a woman with deep psychological problems -- to me she frequently appeared to be downright psychotic. There are several scenes of unbridled, I might say X-rated, violence in which Phoolan is seen to gradually wind up from anger to viciousness. In one of these scenes she beats her former husband with a rifle butt. It was -- and I think it was meant to be -- sickening.

"The Bandit Queen" was very controversial in India. It was widely thought to be Oscar material, though apparently did not make the list due to political infighting within the Indian movie-making community. It's well worth the viewing. But I only recommend it for people with strong stomachs. It's a true story (the real-life Phoolan Devi went on to marry above her caste and became the first Untouchable to serve in the Indian Parliament) but it's a story without a happy ending.

Death Hunt (1981)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A decent movie but not following through on the facts, 2 April 1999

I just thought I'd add that this movie is roughly based on the true story of "Mad Trapper" Albert Johnson. In 1932, Johnson got into a shootout with an RCMP who was investigating illegal trapping. The mountie returned 10 days later with reinforcements and there was another lengthy gun battle. The weeks-long tracking of Johnson over the Canadian wilderness drew world-wide attention and his eventual death in a final gunbattle led to the famous "the mounties always get their man" legend. The pursuit of Johnson also marked the first time an airplane was used in tracking. No one ever actually knew who the "mad trapper" really was or where he came from. He had over $2000 on him at his death -- a huge sum in those days. Where did he get it?

Only in rough outline does the movie bear resemblance to the true tale. Nonetheless, it's a decent effort for Bronson (whose performances improve as the amount of his dialog decreases). Lee Marvin is solid but not particularly impressive. Great scenery, though.