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wjfickling

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128 reviews in total 
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Eden (2012/I)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A powerful film that deserves a wider audience, 1 March 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a searing expose of sexual slavery that had an impact on me like a punch in the stomach, and I mean that to be a positive comment. It rang true from beginning to end, with flawless performances from nearly all the cast. Why it hasn't reached a wider audience and received the acclaim it deserves can probably be explained by its grim subject matter, which I imagine most people would prefer to avoid even thinking about. And I really don't care if the story of the real life person that the main character of this film is based on has holes in it; the film itself rings true.

That having been said, I must add that the film is puzzling in many ways. The place where the sex slaves are kept appears to be in the Nevada desert, not too far from Las Vegas. In fact, they sometimes go into Las Vegas. But prostitution is legal in Nevada, and there is an abundance of legal brothels throughout the state. So why would the sex traffickers need to run an illegal operation and face kidnapping and murder charges? The film would have made more sense if it had been set in another state. Moreover, I wish the film had gone into more detail about the financing and control of the operation, because it is apparently part of an international operation--near the end of the film, just before the protagonist escapes, it is revealed that they are planning to move the entire operation to Dubai.

In spite of these reservations, it remains a powerful and gripping film. Highly recommended.

A compelling film, but confusing at times, 10 February 2015
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a compelling and at times riveting film. As other reviewers have pointed out, it is very much like an earlier film, "Sin Nombre," in depicting the violence and ruthlessness of the Mexican gangs. It also contains a brilliant performance by Greisy Mena as the title character. The film presents a very sympathetic portrait of a very young woman trying to survive in a brutal society, resorting to prostitution while desperately wanting to get out of that life at the same time.

Having said that, the film is marred by a screenplay that is confusing and at times incoherent. For example, it becomes very obvious early on that she lives in one Latin American country and wants to get to another, permanently. We soon learn that the country she wants to get to is Mexico, but it takes a while to learn that the country she is coming from is Guatemala. Why? Because to get from her country to Mexico requires a boat ride across a river, and the only Spanish-speaking country that borders Mexico is Guatemala. This is later confirmed when we see "Guatemala" on a soldier's uniform. However, one of the immigration officials says she is from Honduras, and she herself says she is from Panama, although this is clearly a lie. Also, it is never exactly clear which country she is in at different times.

Further complicating the plot is a subplot involving the Mexican police, working under a corrupt general, who are involved in what appears to be an operation smuggling drugs into Mexico. It is unclear whether the police are in cahoots with the gang with respect to the smuggling. At first it appears that they are, but then the gang members turn on the police and kill one of the policemen. It also appears that there are a couple of Americans, one of whom rapes Sabina, working with the corrupt Mexican police. But why? Why do the Mexicans need them? This never becomes clear.

Finally, even the title of the film becomes confusing. Why "la vida precoz y breve?" Sabina is still alive at the end of the film, so how do we know that her life will be short? Maybe she'll live to be 90. And I didn't see anything especially precocious about her life either.

In short, the film is worth seeing, noting the above reservations.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The problem is the script, 19 August 2012
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film contains great acting, beautiful photography, and a finale that, as a set piece, may stand as one of the greatest in the history of film. Yet the film is marred by a silly and incoherent script that makes the plot alternately laughable and unintelligible. Consider the following plot flaws:

1) Grisby approaches Michael O'Hara and offers him $5000 to sign a written confession to having killed Grisby, whereupon Grisby will disappear. Grisby explains that his motive is to collect on the partnership insurance that he and Bannister have on each other. Grisby explains to O'Hara that he needn't worry about being convicted of murder because no one can be convicted without a body being found.

There are several flaws in this. First of all, if Grisby were to be considered dead, the beneficiary of the partnership insurance would be Bannister, not Grisby. How could Grisby collect on his own death? What insurance company would write a check to a dead man? Moreover, why would O'Hara sign a confession to a murder when Grisby is definitely wrong when he says that someone can't be convicted of murder without a body? In fact there have been many murder convictions where a body was never found. Moreover, a written confession is tantamount to a guilty plea and could easily result in a conviction.

2) Eventually Grisby is actually murdered and O'Hara is charged with the crime. It becomes apparent that he is being framed. We are obviously meant to suspect Bannister of the murder, his motive being to collect on the partnership insurance. But it turns out that his wife, who had had an infatuation with O'Hara, was the actual killer. But why? Surely not to enable her husband to collect on the partner insurance. If she wanted to get rich from a murder, wouldn't it have been far more profitable for her to kill her husband so that she could inherit his entire estate?

3) It is unclear whether Mr. and Mrs. Bannister had been plotting to kill Grisby and to frame O'Hara for the murder right from the beginning. Was this why they were so eager to bring O'Hara into their employ so early in the film? If so, this would imply that Bannister was actually complicit in Grisby's killing and that it wasn't just the act of his wife.

This plot has more holes that a hunk of Swiss cheese. I could cite many more, but I'll stop here. There are many positive aspects to this film, but overall it's a mess.

9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Just misses being a masterpiece, 16 October 2011
9/10

The principal flaw of this film is the performance of Doris Dowling, mistakenly cast in the role of Francesca. Dowling seems capable of only one facial expression, something between a scowl and a sneer. Why such a wooden American actress was cast in this role when there were so many budding actresses in Italy at the time must remain a mystery.

This film ranks just below such classics of the Italian neo-realist movement as The Bicycle Thief, Shoeshine, Open City, and La Strada. Turner Classic Movies is to be applauded for making this rarely seen gem available on their channel. There is a nearly show-stopping performance by Silvana Mangano, a performance that must have been electrifying at the time. Earthy, sensual, voluptuous, Mangano performs with unshaven armpits which she puts on full display when she puts her hands behind her head. This was a gutsy move for an unknown actress who was a former beauty queen presumably aiming for stardom, but this little touch adds immeasurably to the brooding sense of poverty and desperation that pervade the film. It has been said that if Mangano had had more drive and been less controlled by her husband, Dino de Laurentiis, she might have achieved the stature of Loren and Lollobrigida. But alas, it was not to be. The only other notable performance of her career was in Visconti's Death in Venice.

If this film seems excessively proletarian, even Marxist, in its outlook, it is important to remember that Italy was impoverished after WWII and that the Communist Party very nearly came to power in 1948 and probably would have done so had it not been for CIA intervention. The crane shots and other camera work, as well as the superb acting of the women in the smaller roles, are masterful in depicting the drudgery of the toil of the women working in the rice fields. Other aspects of the camera work are masterful. Probably the most famous, or notorious, scene in the film is the one where Mangano takes a reed and playfully pokes Vittorio Gassman with it. Gassman's character is not amused; he takes the reed from her and proceeds to whip her with it repeatedly. Notice the way the camera moves with Gassman as he approaches her, then moves with Mangano as she tries to move away from him in terror. This is masterful camera work. The finale of the film, which I won't reveal here, is shattering as well. The acting of Gassman and Raf Vallone is superb as well.

Until recently this film was unavailable on DVD with English subtitles, but it has recently become available and can be ordered on Amazon. It would be a great addition to anyone's film library. And one final note: another reviewer cautioned parents that there is nudity in this film. This is incorrect. I think he is probably referring to the crane shot that shows the women bathing in the river. They do indeed appear nude, but if you look more closely you will see that they are wearing body stockings and are fully clothed.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Great performance, so-so movie, 29 September 2009
6/10

There is no question that Marion Cotillard deserved the best actress Oscar for her performance in this film. That having been said, it must also be said that there is no other reason to watch this film. It seesaws between repeated biopic clichés and incoherence. Crucial elements of Piaf's life are left out or, when they are included, they are underexplained and left dangling.

For example, we learn that the boxer Marcel Cerdan was probably the love of her life, but he was married with three kids and refused to leave his wife, before he was killed in a plane crash. According to this film, Piaf had at least two husbands, but we learn absolutely nothing about them, the circumstances of their marriages, and how at least one marriage ended. How many times was Piaf married, anyway? Better look elsewhere, because this film won't tell you. Another example: when the Gerard Depardieu character is murdered, we never learn why he was murdered (there is a hint that mob activity was involved) or why Piaf was a suspect. And was Piaf ever a prostitute? There are indications that she was under the thumb of a pimp who had her sing on the street for his profit and who threatens to make her "spread her legs," but whether she ever does is unclear.

To sum up: see this film only for Cotillard's performance. Otherwise, it is a mess.

Kadosh (1999)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A howl of rage, 23 November 2007
10/10

This is the best film I have seen in recent memory, perhaps the best ever, to lay bare the stupidity and cruelty of fundamentalist religions, especially in their attitudes toward and treatment of women. That the milieu in which the story unfolds is that of Hasidic Judaism is secondary; this story could have easily been told using a community of talibanic Muslims or ultra-fundamentalist Christians as its milieu. The essential point the film is illustrating is the inhumanity of rigid adherence to dogma and religious texts no matter how severe the human cost or the toll it takes on its members.

The film centers around a couple who love each other but who have been unable to conceive a child after ten years of marriage. Most well-informed people know that when a couple has difficulty conceiving it is usually the male who has the problem, usually a low sperm count. But this ignorant community blames the woman, labeling her "barren, and insisting that the husband must find a new wife. The wife, unknown to her husband, consults a female gynecologist outside her community who assures her that there is nothing wrong with her reproductive system and that she is fully able to conceive. The gynecologist suggests that they submit a sample of her husband's sperm for analysis. The wife says her husband would never do this because he is not allowed to "spill his seed." For similar religious reasons, artificial insemination is out of the question. (I am reminded of fundamentalist Christians who, in spite of overwhelming evidence for evolution, still insist that the biblical account of creation is correct.) The wife and husband are forced to separate, with tragic consequences. There is also a secondary story regarding the wife's sister and her forced arranged marriage. This is a very powerful film that is a howl of rage at fundamentalist stupidity.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
I prefer the 1938 version, 9 November 2007
7/10

The praise lavished on this film by some critics mystifies me. There is no reason (other than enriching a studio's coffers) to do a new version of a well-known historic episode unless the new version adds something new and previously unknown. This film decidedly does not. It obviously attempts to attract a younger audience with its annoying use of rock music on the soundtrack and its inclusion of a pair of modern sneakers amid a pile of period shoes. Things like this worked for Baz Luhrmann in "Moulin Rouge," but they don't work here. The 1938 film of the same name is much better, if only because the great Robert Morley is perfectly cast as Louis XVI, capturing perfectly his dunciness and overall arrested development. Here that part is woodenly played by a clueless Jason Schwartzman, looking like a young Stanley Tucci. Altogether, this film is a bore and a wasted effort. Oh well, at least I enjoyed looking at brief glimpses of Kirsten's bare butt (if it was really hers and not that of a body double).

Infamous (2006)
4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Flawed, but entertaining, 27 August 2007
8/10

This film will inevitably invite comparison with "Capote." Unfortunately, that comparison is unfavorable, although I probably would regard this film more highly if "Capote" had never been made. Whereas "Capote" raised serious ethical issues about a writer who needed his subjects to die in order to complete his book, this film never rises above the level of entertainment. That having been said, the film is still quite entertaining.

Toby Jones' portrayal of Capote will also invite comparison with Philp Seymour Hoffman's. Jones looks more like Capote than Hoffman and appears to be about Capote's size, but Hoffman's acting is better. With both portrayals, I found myself at times thinking that I was looking at the real Capote. Hoffman's portrayal is more three dimensional and brings out Capote's dark, ruthless, and manipulative side. Jones' portrayal is more of a caricature, overdoing the gay stereotypes to the point of swishiness. His Capote seems more desperate in getting Perry Smith to continue talking to him. In "Capote," Capote was clearly in control of Smith. In "Infamous," Smith is in control of Capote.

Probably the film's most egregious blunder is casting the tall and muscular Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. Smith appears to be about a foot taller than Capote, when in reality Smith was about 5'2" tall, about the same height as Capote. This was what in fact led to their bonding with each other, two little guys against the world.

You won't go wrong watching this film, and you won't be bored. But you won't be much beyond entertained. By the way, exactly what does the title refer to? Who is infamous, Capote, the killers, or the murder itself?

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Visually beautiful--if you can stay awake, 26 June 2007
6/10

This film tells the familiar story of Pocahontas, Powhatan, John Smith, and John Rolfe in a manner appears to be intended to be more historically accurate than most of the fantasized versions of the story that have been depicted over the years. For the most part, it succeeds, with some glaring exceptions. Malick's most daring venture was to cast a 14 year old actress in the role of Pocahantas, which puts her not far from the age--traditionally 12--that the real Pocahontas was at the time she intervened to save Smith's life. The young actress is half Indian and half Caucasian; I guess they couldn't find a full-blooded Indian for the part. The first disconcerting note, at least for this viewer, occurs fairly early in the film when Pocahontas raises her arms and we see that her armpits are shaved. An Indian girl, in 1607? Not likely! This inattention to detail threw me out of the film's frame of reference, reminding me that I was watching a film and that this is an actress who, even at this tender age, can't allow her image to be besmirched by being filmed with hairy underarms.

The film is visually beautiful, as Malick's films usually are. The camera glides over some of the pastoral scenes, and we get a sense--as we are clearly meant to--of how pristine and unspoiled the North America was before the white man came. The actors in the three principal parts all perform competently and are successful at conveying their thoughts and feelings nonverbally. They don't have much choice, because there is very little dialogue. And, thankfully, the Indians are not portrayed as saintly or noble, but quite accurately as people going about their business who are alternately fascinated by and fearful of these intruders. They rightfully foresee that the settlers might not want much now, but they might want much more later.

So, the film has much to recommend it. But it has a fatal flaw: it is excruciatingly slooooooooooooooooooow and boooooooooooooooooooring. It could easily have been pared by a third and edited to an hour and a half length. Instead it plods on for two and a quarter hours, long long after I had come to appreciate the visual poetry and had gotten its obvious points (in case you don't know what they are, this film will be a delight for tree huggers and cultural relativists).

In the final analysis, I suppose the film is worth seeing, but have a few strong cups of coffee before you do.

19 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Interesting film, but not true to Graham Greene, 5 May 2007
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I just saw this film on Turner Classic Movies. When it was over I was reminded of Hemingway's comment when he was asked his opinion of the film version of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro": "it was okay except for one difference; in my story the protagonist dies, and in the film he lives." This film is as much a distortion of Greene as the other film was of Hemingway; in Greene's novel the title character was intended to be a villain, but in this film he is a hero.

It is not a spoiler to tell you that the title character dies, because the film begins with his death and tells what leads up to it in flashback. In Greene's novel, the seemingly naive, idealistic American who is in (then) French Indochina for vaguely idealistic operative is in fact a sinister undercover CIA operative in cahoots with an unscrupulous general. Together with the general, he plans and executes bombings in public places that result in the deaths of dozens of innocent people, then leaves evidence making it appear that the Communists carried out the bombing. His purpose is to turn the Vietnamese people against both the French and the Communists, leaving them open to intervention by the US, who will of course put the renegade general in charge. The American is seen as so evil by Fowler, the pathetic English journalist who is his rival in love, that Fowler goes along with a plot to have him killed. The novel is intensely anti-American, as was Greene.

By contrast, this film, released in 1958 at the height of the cold war and just after the McCarthy era, could not afford to appear anti-American. The title character is therefore made to appear like a good guy who was indeed hoping for a US-backed "third force" to intervene in Vietnam. He is never identified as a CIA operative, and his complicity in the bombings is revealed as a Communist fabrication intended to dupe the naive Fowler and others. Fowler collaborates in the American's murder because he is a rival in love and not because he is evil. Greene was reportedly outraged at this change and denounced the film. There was some poetic justice: the film was both a commercial and critical failure.

There are some merits to the film. It was filmed on location in Saigon, very unusual for the time when most films like this were filmed in the studio. Consequently, we get to see what Saigon was like in a more innocent time, before large scale US intervention. There are several Asian actors and actresses in minor roles, but not in the key role of Phuong, the Vietnamese prostitute with whom both Fowler and the American fall in love. Phuong is played by a Caucasian actress with poor makeup, a continuation of a lamentable Hollywood practice that lasted until the 1960s. There is a superb performance by Michael Redgrave as Fowler. Audie Murphy sleepwalks through his portrayal of the American.

This film is an interesting period curiosity that is worth watching, but the 2002 film with Michael Caine and Brendan Frasier is much better and much truer to Greene's novel. That version is highly recommended.


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