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Peaceable Kingdom (2004)
vegetarian who didn't like it.
I've been a vegetarian for five years, leaning towards veganism (but just can't make that last jump to eliminate honey and real cheese) ... that said, I thought this film was clumsy and sort of annoying. It struck me as ham-handed (tofu-handed?), unsubtle, and somewhat self-righteous.
The parts I liked most about the film were the parts the filmmakers focused on least: day-to-day details like going around feeding the animals, and the laid-back interview segments allowing people to speak at length without interruption. I thought these parts were interesting and got across the message the filmmakers wanted without being overbearing about it.
Most of the film struck me as choppy, its editing clumsy and its narrative disjointed, to the point that it seemed a bit panicked (perhaps at the thought that some viewer somewhere might not understand how horrible the filmmakers think it is to eat animals).
I think the film underestimates the audience's intelligence and also oversells its message. In spite of itself, the film was interesting at times and genuinely affecting in a few places, though overall it didn't strike me as anything special.
Perversion for Profit (1965)
a bizarre little film, good for some laughs
After watching a few Ed Wood films, I think I can safely say that if you want a bad film that is truly hilarious, you should look for this one instead.
The narrator very sternly intones against the "flood-tide of filth" that he considers against Christian values, and carefully and methodically gives examples of this "filth," showing almost as much as you'd see if you'd bought it yourself. But it's not all pretty pictures: the narrator explains a bit about it as well: that people can get sexual satisfaction from hurting themselves or others, and that various forms of fetishism deserving thorough discussion are "threatening our children": "the extreme spiked heel and the tight boot, the burning cigarette, the laced leather garment, the nakedness," "the worship of the whip, the riding crop, rubber and leather garments."
Aside from the S&M, which didn't disturb me at all, the film does also focus on child pornography; it's hard to dismiss that.
Yet still, by the end of it, the film has given so much detail in decrying all these "perversions" that one wonders whether the protest were a bit more personal than the staunch narrator pretends. It's easy to imagine the writers stacking up more and more magazines, saying to themselves "oh, that /is/ perverted ... yet oddly intriguing... such a nice boot...."
Gary Stu, where are you?
Nearly everything about this film, and the story it's based on, strikes me as humdrum, formulaic, and uninspired. It took me awhile to figure out why, especially in an area where the writer had a chance to cut loose and present some truly fantastic characters, themes, and situations--to do something original and profound. That chance was never taken--the presented conflicts are superficial, the obstacles ankle high, the outcome never in doubt.
That is what is at fault with the story's construction, but the cause of that fault is essentially that this is a Mary Sue story, or in this case a Gary Stu story: one in which the central character is considered wonderful & talented, generally through no fault or cause of his own, and nearly everyone comes to admire him by the story's end. In other words, the story is on a level with most fanfic, in which the author inserts himself as the main character and spends most of the storytime imagining fantasies of universal acclaim and wish-fulfillment best left abandoned by the early teens.
There are of course good fantasy films and novels, but I'm afraid this isn't one of them. And there are also films for children which adults will find entertaining, but I doubt this is one of those either. I imagine, instead, that the film is perhaps a bit boring to most people who aren't blessed enough to be the author.
like a slow-motion train wreck
This film has been praised as shocking, fascinating, and hypnotic; and I can only conclude that I'm not easily shocked, fascinated, or hypnotized. I was lulled to sleep several times, and watched the film over the course of several days. The film is quite sedately paced. An example:
You get a shot of Pharoan looking at his boss's collar. The shot of the collar holds long enough for you to think "Hm, he sweats a lot." The shot holds long enough for you to think "okay, I got that, thanks. He sweats a lot." Then it holds long enough for you to think "All right already! Go wake up the editor."
A sequence like that would not be a problem when the cinematography is particularly good, except the cinematography in this film is not. It is competent, straightforward, unstylized, perhaps even dull; in other words, the cinematography serves the story perfectly.
The sedate pacing might not be a problem with different cinematography, which would affect the story for the better: the film is a psychological exploration, yet the people we're meant to sympathize with are typically shown in long shots or in closeup but with largely unchanging expressions. If something is going on behind the eyes, we can only guess what it is; and from the slack-jawed expression, we guess that what it is might not even be particularly profound. Wounded, yes, sad, yes, but we've seen that before and better, and it's nothing new. We need a reason to care *this time*, and for many people that reason won't be there.
The main character is a cipher, perhaps deliberately so, but the result is a film that doesn't tell you anything, and doesn't even tell you why it doesn't tell you anything--not the nihilism or the weary practicality of some noir films, but merely a bloated anecdote with an obscure or missing point. Unfortunately the anecdote, aside from being quite slow, is also almost completely humorless. The result is a film only for people with extraordinary patience and good will.
Age 13 (1955)
unusual and moving film
While the film grammar may seem a bit stilted in places, and there are some issues with lighting and focus, the framing is excellent and the film overall is both compelling and touching. The film focuses on a troubled young boy whose mother has recently died and whose stepfather is stern and unloving. Parts of the film are surreal, showing for instance a montage including a toy boxer, a burning lightbulb, pool balls spinning about, and a wailing saxophone, unexplained, whereas other parts such as the scenes at school are dealt with realistically. The conclusion is especially affecting, and nearly moves me to tears every time.
interesting enough for fans of Escher's work
Unfortunately, many of the interviews are dry and not exceptionally deep or involved; the cinematography is lackluster, and Escher's prints aren't shown for long enough to let someone unfamiliar with them appreciate them fully. The film is fair enough but seems intended more for people familiar with Escher's work already; I'd have to say that it's not likely to create any fans, though it may pique some curiosity in the mathematical principles behind much of Escher's work.
The Evil Dead (1981)
aggressively bad, filled with buckets of blood, bad dialogue, indeterminate motivation, illogic galore, cheesy claymation, arbitrary camera angles . . . yet nonetheless a fun movie. for more of the same, check out the sequels (army of darkness perhaps the best), or darkman, also by raimi. for a horror movie so refined it isn't even obvious you're watching one, try _a simple plan_--also, inexplicably, by raimi.
fair reporting on a generally misunderstood subject
does a good job of explaining in unsensationalized terms what the Zapatistas are about, and how U.S. corporations, NAFTA, and the WTO are directly responsible for the uprising. The Zapatistas are not depicted here as terrorists, although they may well strike terror into the hearts of the world's richest CEOs, (and for good reason), but as defenders of peasants' rights who chose guerilla tactics after more civil methods were closed to them by an indifferent government.
Fear & Favor in the Newsroom (1996)
a convincing documentary exposing bias in the united states' media coverage of events, and reminding us that "controlling interests" are indeed appropriately named. The movie shows how editors dissuade reporters from covering topics touchy to their stockholders and/or owners, how certain stories have been edited to suit those controlling interests better (even on PBS, which is supposedly independent of corporate influence), and how insubordinate editors and reporters are eventually reassigned or dismissed.
for an equally compelling look at media bias, consider Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992).
Sayat Nova (1969)
sedative, surreal, disjointed. Not for those uninterested in abstract art--this movie is nothing if not abstract. I kept trying to think of it as art for art's sake, not representative, not meant to be narrative; yet still came away feeling that this movie is probably the second-worst movie I've ever seen.
Demonios en el jardín (1982)
This film is, for the most part, melodramatic and uninteresting; the characters didn't interest me; the few scenes that might have been good suffered from (I'm assuming) such a constricted budget that the closeups that would have been necessary to give the scenes weight were not filmed. And usually the number of closeups in a movie is not anything that you think of, except that here there's such a conspicuous lack of them that instead of watching the movie you start wondering exactly _how_ small the budget was.
Long takes from one angle are not always a problem; both Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami use them to great effect. But for my money, this film ended up looking like a documentary of something possibly not worth documenting.
Blood Simple. (1984)
The Coen brothers' first film, often overlooked and with a very clever plot. It seems like a simple premise--a man hires someone to kill his wife--but the Coens do interesting and unexpected things with it; the acting is convincing and the directing is surprisingly skillful, especially for a first film. Well worth watching.