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Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Not a documentary.
One of my top ten war movies; it shares the experience of Stalingrad without being letter-perfect historically. The depiction is horrifying, the reality was much worse. Yes, Krushchev was there, was handing out rifles, and was a commander/party aparatchik in the city. His likeness on Bob Hoskins blew me away. Tanks rolled out of the factory, unpainted and with no sights and entered the battle only blocks away. The carnage was unmatched in the history of warfare, perhaps exceeded only by Verdun which was actually shorter. Only about 5000 Germans survived from the 6th German Army when they were sent back to Germany in 1955. This was a turning point in the Eastern front, the War and the History of the World.
The Garden (2006)
Seen it before
A variation of 'Shadowbuilder' even including the eclipse. No priests though. A small boy battling Satan himself, even though he has faults/weaknesses. Like being considered psychotic because of his bad dreams and cutting. Daddy is failing alcoholic with tenuous parental bonds to the kid, until Satan compels him to beat the crap out of him with a belt. Satan beats the horse simultaneously, which is apparently evil enough to loose the zombies with lips sewed shut. Then the four horsemen show up but it's Sam who finishes the deal. If you come across Satan, it's prudent to somehow lose the body; otherwise they may charge you with something.
The Buddy System (1984)
Deeper than it seems.
Seemed like a harmless little movie, no exploding cars, morphing robots, no murders. Just a little nerdy (Will W brags on being nerdy, he was just in type) kid with issues, having a single Mom for a parent. She also has issues being enmeshed with Tim (sleeping in each other's beds) and excessively guilt-ridden over his shortcomings. Joe does security at Tim's school, is also trying to write a book, invent a portable dog washer, pay the bills, keep his girlfriend happy (she gets pregnant) and maintain the relationship which Tim is trying to cook up with his mom. Naturally the relationship ebbs and flows, everybody moves, links are broken and reestablished, emotions come and go. All three main actors do a workmanlike job, as their careers are just about to skyrocket.
Allein in vier Wänden (2007)
inside four walls indeed
The very best of storytelling, a documentary without an agenda, unless I'm too obtuse to get it. For background, see "Three rooms of Melancholie' and 'The Italian.' Also see the Tennessee lady that mailed her adoptive Russian 7 yr old back to Russia. After seeing this I understand that Culture Shock hit the kid, and the kid panicked which freaked out the adoptive mom. She had alternatives, but decided to jump ship and will probably do time. This is a high profile screwup. No indication she tried backups, psychiatrists, medication, etc. Probably read some book about psychopaths and figured she would be murdered in her sleep. There were 6-8 kids you got familiar with, only one which really bothered me because his affect was inappropriate to the situation, a hallmark of true disturbance. Several cried. Many were thankful for being locked up because 3 hots and a cot and adult supervision was better than what they were used to. Discipline was unobtrusive but obviously effective. There did not seem to be therapy groups, counseling talk. There was simply a working system which the kids entered and accepted because the alternative (a hard place for older, rougher kids) was always an option. Real, realistic, genuine kids who cried when it was called for; mostly just trying to survive. They were running wild on the streets and thought they'd never lose or get caught. Wrong.
Outstanding ensemble piece, a classic.
Almost a prequel to the M. Night Shamalan formula with a twist. The identified patient in the family turns out to be the only one actually well. And what a family. Martin Balsam as rich daddy, Angela Lansbury as spoiled mommy, Ray Thinnes as jock older brother, Tuesday Weld as cheerleader sister and Don Grady as the Identified weirdo. Don Grady was the middle child in the original 'My Three Sons' behind Tim Considine. An ensemble cast unrivaled since 12 Angry Men or the Dirty Dozen. Tight dialogue, impeccable timing, direction, editing and camera work, ironies and surprises galore, this was an Emmy shoe-in, except not too many people watched it. Pity, as it deserved better. Anyone know where a copy can be found email me at email@example.com. Thanks.
First mention of LSD in media.
A fictionalized account of a lab experiment gone wrong, and the very first mention of LSD as a psychodelic (the word hadn't been coined yet) in the media. This was October 1955 and Timothy Leary was still experimenting with mushrooms. This was very avant-gard in 1955 and was still relatively unknown in 1963 when Leary started shooting off his mouth. Remember, Imipramine was just invented, also Thorazine. Retalin wasn't yet but Dexadrine and Benzedrine was. The main psychotropics were Phenobarbitol and Dexadrine. We were primitive. The whole idea of medication to affect neurotransmitters was still two decades off. This show, like so many others, is a decade before its time.
Very good comments
Allen Rickman decided to become Rasputin. He did a lot of research, introspection and study. I fear for his soul. Historically as accurate as it could be, there are flights from and to events which are poetic license. Rasputin was an original, not a Barnum, nor a John the Baptist. The time in Russia from 1907 to 1917 was a catastrophe of Greek proportions. Masses were shot, murdered. The White Russians rebelled against the Communists and they had a war which rivalled the brutality of the Great War. Finally Lenin died and Stalin took over for thirty years of murder, failed five year plans, and total war against the Germans. Was Czarism really that bad?
If you want to watch explosions, car chases or flying bullets look elsewhere. This is a story about a piano prodigy and his strangely gifted family. Their stories intertwine and they all have hangups. The kid is a brat and mom pushed him a bit too far. Vitus' solutions to his various problems involve the stock market, his doting grandfather's trust, daddy's hearing aides, an airplane, losing his gift and then wrapping the whole thing up with a grand concert (Schumann). The making of the movie is almost as unbelievable as the movie itself; and the actual actor, Teo Gheorgieu is actually better than the script called for. Multi-gifted, he is a Swiss of Romanian descent in a London school for gifted children. He does his own music, as does the 6-yr-old who played a younger Vitus. Gifted is an understatement. This movie I had shipped in from Switzerland to play in my Region 2 player and it is more than worth it; even brushed up on my German. See it and be amazed and amused, show it to your friends.
Grand Prix (1966)
Never before, never again.
Auto racing is basically in the here and now. Next week nobody cares. Last week somebody won so what. In the late 50s and early 60s technology was absolutely hideous, Ferrari, Cooper and Lotus approached the problem from different directions. Ferrari: 'My cars are built to GO, not to stop.' Lotus: 'My cars are designed for lightness; we see how heavy a part has to be to not fail, then cut that 50 per cent.' Cooper: 'We see what everybody else does and sort of copy that.' This movie follows that script, because it is the truth. Yet when someone dies it is undesigned, unscripted, and usually a 'son of a botch' which provides the fatal coup de gra. Nowadays the difference between Michael Schumacher and the last guy on the grid IN THE SAME CAR is infinitesimal. Michael is half engineer and half team manager. He should quit while he still breathes, think Senna. Best ever, killed by a stupid tire bounced off a guardrail after a mechanical fault made him do a right turn at full chat. RIP and that fast. BTW, My favorite driver of all time is Graham Hill; would be the Prime Minister of England Now if it weren't for a lousy landing of his plane. Funniest inside joker in history of mankind. In response to an earlier comment, it looked like James Garner was driving the car because he was driving the car. He was an accomplished racing driver in Can Am and some medium level sportscar events, and made a Baja 1000 or two I believe in a Hurst Olds 442. Phil Hill drove the camera vehicle which I think was an Indy Ford Powered formula car, so he had little trouble keeping up. The F1 circuit had some problems keeping up because most of the cars were painted strange colors. Lotuses are usually BRG, Coopers Blue, Hondas white, Ferrari Red and so forth. In the movie this was all switched around so you really have to know your cars to pick them out.
Entertaining unique film from 1962.
Definitely not a high budget blockbuster, but it still has echos of Wizard of Oz as the twins go on a quest to steal the moon, bring it back, sell it and become wealthy. They come from a small village where everybody does everything wrong; their father works as a scarecrow (!) and goes out to the fields every morning. Mama spends her day plowing a sand dune (up and down) by pulling a wooden contraption built for the purpose. The twins are lazy, mischief-makers who steal, play pranks on everybody and eat everything in sight. When they go they get directions from talking trees, a donkey, a couple of pelicans and the residents of a kingdom where everybody is a hunchback. Special effects are primitive, in a high-school drama class sort of way and are charming, with flashes of hilarity like when the sun comes up, the babies start yelling and the sun goes back down to avoid the noise. The kids are bug-cute, but have the last laugh. Lech is the current President of Poland (was mayor of Warsaw) and his brother is the President of his Political Party. They are 57 years old, married and not at all cute.
The Goonies (1985)
Only better with time
Considering what it tries to do and what it succeeds in doing, this could be one of the top ten movies of all time. I could show this movie to my audience (boys age 8-14) once a week forever and they would never tire of it. Say this about any other movie, I dare you. Everything about this film, from production values to special effects to sets to music to camera work to editing is A+ and deserves all the accolades it can get. Apparently I need to add lines about the characters to get over the ridiculous minimum requiring padding even if you've said all that needs to be said in a line or two. Sean Astin is cute, asthmatic and vulnerable and will grow up to be a good character actor, and type cast as a Hobbit because he is short. Josh Brolin, Martha Plimpton and Corey Feldman continued on to OK careers as older characters. In short, the whole is much, much more than the sum of its parts and is altogether a work of genius.
After another 5 years my opinion has not changed one iota. This is a 10+ fivestar film for the ages; it appeals to kids of all ages and adults also because we (I'm 65) can at least identify with at least one of the weirdo goonies. Forever.
Sammy Going South (1963)
Absolute must for a re-release.
I saw this in the 60s and it captivated me. All the characters were realistic, it could have happened. I probably spend two decades trying to locate a copy; bid for one on E-bay for $80 and lost, then finally lucked out and got one for $35 a year later. It was worth the wait and is just as good as it was. According to a poster it was originally almost an hour longer and had different music, which I don't know anything about. Also the use of guns by a kid is probably looked on as politically incorrect, especially since he saves Eddie Robinson by shooting a leopard. Can't have that. Just another reason to re-release it.
The Thief Lord (2006)
Exciting, good story, questionable morality.
This film was so good on so many levels. Attractive actors (almost a redundancy) useful plot, wonderful photography and setting, exciting chase sequences, hissable villains. The one aspect of it which I found troubling I also found in an otherwise fine film 'Catch Me If You Can.' This is the idea that robbery is an acceptable activity if the need is great enough. This aberration creates a slippery slope toward the concept that robbing the rich/giving to the poor 'Robin Hood' behavior is OK, and even further that robbery/burglary is acceptable. Why is that? It seems in 'Catch Me' to be a plot vehicle where daddy needed an operation. In 'Thief Lord' like 'Peter Pan' it was because all the grownups were evil, selfish, wicked, bad, corrupt, unworthy, uncaring or otherwise negative. I suppose as a plot vehicle it works, but there should be a black label on the jacket warning parents that the premise of the movie is anti-social. With that proviso give it 6/10.
The Dust Factory (2004)
This was slow, overlong but carefully crafted film. Saw on the credits where it was financed by Oregon Lottery money. What's with that? Can I have some? Anyway the acting was a high point as each of the principal characters is capable of delivering tears, quivering chins, furrowed brows, etc and have a good range of emotions. They also have physical skills beyond the usual pretty face as demonstrated by the dance numbers, the skating and hockey sequences, the trapeeze and other physical scenes apparently not done by stunt doubles. It did have a foreign touch to it; Oregon isn't that far from Canada and the scenery and flavor matched several obscure Canadian films. 'Reflecting Skin' comes to mind, and a British film 'Paperhouse' matches it in having much of the film take place in a sort of dreamland. The plot was almost a match too.
Undercover Kids (2004)
Suitable for children.
This was a fair attempt at a coherent kids' detective story. Could have used a few more takes. That the kids were geeky is not supported by the evidence. The rap sequence, even the chess sequence prove that the kids were multi-faceted and klutziness was their cover. (I sure hope London Smith isn't that hopeless with a basketball, he might grow up to be normal.) I figure the Smith kids are brother and sister; are they twins? I know brother and sister twins are fraternal, but they sure look alike. Austin posted far too much, please remove it if you can. One advantage of snail mail is that your audience is targeted. Right now every perv in SoCal knows where you live and probably where you go to school, right?
Saint Ralph (2004)
Has a familiar feeling
Another small picture with all the little details of timing, lighting, sound, continuity done beautifully. Only the timing of some training was questionable. I compared the entire film to one done in 1996 or so, 'Wide Awake' by M.Night Shaymalon (sp?) which also captured the spirit and ambiance of Catholic School and a quest. Both were wonderful and produced that rare tear. As long as I'm plugging 'Wide Awake' it had fabulous actors (Loggia, Cross, O'Donnell, Leary, Dan Lauria) a tight script, controlled humor beautifully brought out the relationships of a growing-up 5th grader on a quest. There were little vignettes of his best friend having a seizure, a bully who had to leave the school because the parents couldn't afford the tuition, a field trip going bad, classroom and church scenes which bring back sometimes painful memories. 'Saint Ralph' also reminded me of the painful pitfalls of puberty, one half century ago they are still embarrassingly clear in my memory.
Io non ho paura (2003)
Crux of the movie.
It seems the central point of the picture, the instant when all which goes before is prologue and everything after is preordained, is when Michele is told to swear to his father he will not return to the hole; he then swears and is told by his father that's not good enough, you must swear on the life of your father. Michele swears. Then immediately Michele sneaks out in the middle of the night for Filippo. This act puts Michele irrevocably against his father and his gang and is the first indication that he is acting like a true grownup. The second is the reprise of the drawing straws scene; early in the movie it dealt with retrieving a bottle of wine from the basement; Father was left with the central straw and lost. Later the three straws determined who was going to kill Filippo and the same result occurred. The father redeemed some of his soul when the Brazilian told him Michele was fine, they had to find and kill Filippo but father knew better and continued to hold Michelle until the helicopters came. Michelle survives, but you only get that from the book; the movie leaves you in suspense. Presumably the gang including all the villagers are arrested and sent up the river, which means all the children are put in the system in orphanages or foster care. Maybe that is where an ignorant but moral and intelligent Michele learns to ski ten years later.
Loved it. One reason they combined 3 books is what is happening in the Harry Potter series. The books take a year in the Hogwarts School but take at least two years to write and the movies take two also. That means Daniel Radcliffe age 12 in the first film was supposed to be 11. He was 14 in the second film and supposed to be 12. He was 16 in the third and supposed to be 13. As you can see the discrepancy in ages will eventually doom Daniel Radcliffe in his role. If there are four more films, he will be in only one more if that many. Liam Aiken is 14, and can probably manage one more movie if it also combines three books and takes two years to make; then Klaus will have to be recast.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The Stations of the Cross
After hearing about the film I finally got up enough nerve (OK my wife dragged me to it) to watch it. If this is pre-Vatican 2 at least it depicts the reality and brutality of a Roman-era execution. Humanity and humaneness had no part in it and were truely alien, not to be developed until about the 13th Century as a concept and the late 19th Century as an ideal. I can remember the ceremony of the Stations of the Cross from my boyhood and that is the skeleton of this film. The value of the film derives from the flatness of the original Biblical verses: 'Then they scourged him and crowned him with thorns;' verses the horror and violence of what these words have to represent. Still, Gibson shows restraint. Veronica wiping Jesus' face doesn't display his image on his scarf; that would have been cartoonish. Simon helping Jesus carry the cross wasn't exactly a volunteer, and showed his displeasure at being drafted. Jesus must have been crucified with nails driven through the wrists, as that is how the Romans did it; Gibson depicted it in the traditional way, through the palms. As a film, it gets a 7/10. As a religious experience it approaches a ten. Thanks Mel.
Servants of Twilight (1991)
Needed more money.
Read the book; watched the movie. The changed ending moved the category from psychological drama to horror by changing the character of the boy, but that was probably intentional. Production values were poor, sound and music likewise below par. This could have been another Indiana Jones with some more effort and money. Strongly suggest a remake; the story is good enough. I give it a 5/10 for entertainment value.
The Stupids (1996)
Call me a Philistine or having suddenly lost my mind, but this little movie got me bellylaughing more than the usual conventional comedy, even more than most of the sight gags of the Zuckermans. Although it won't do anything for your IQ it's a good time. 6/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the satire and the rhythm of this movie. I also think those who followed on Ebert's hatchet job need to get a life. This must be the most polarizing of movies; sort of like Hillary Clinton; nobody is tepid. The last of Elijah Wood's kiddie movies, it should be looked at as a Monty Python pull at everybody. Loosen up, people.
Secondhand Lions (2003)
HJO is the centerpiece of the film, and is in nearly every scene. He is supposed to be a 'weenie' without a male role model and finds these two when his worthless mom leaves him with two distant great-uncles with a past. What a past. The whole film involves what the past is and whether or not it is real. The plot involves whether HJO believes it is real, and whether or not it matters whether it is real. The relationships are what matters, and this picture reveals that truth. Beautifully done, no flat spots, entertaining throughout and a good 9/10.
Has it only been a year?
The first movie had the task of introducing all the characters, sets and get through the plot. It worked brilliantly. The second episode finds the kids' voices an octave lower, and their stature 6 inches taller. Since the characters were mostly introduced in the first episode, these two hours had to be filled with plot. Other than a couple of slow spots filled with silence it did pretty well. Rupert Grint in particular had an opportunity to show off every possible expression and emotion; he reminded me of Will Smith in MIB with his depiction of stark terror, disgust (slugs), nausea, stark terror and combinations of the above. Suggest Peter O'Toole for Dumbledore; as the character assumes more importance in Episode 3 and 4. Slower and darker, it still worked. 8/10
Central do Brasil (1998)
A couple of reviews seemed to be negative for the wrong reason. Dora took Joshue to the 'adoption agency' convinced it was the usual thing to do and also get good money. It was only after Irene told Dora what happened to those kids (killed for parts) that she made a moral decision to steal the boy back and then run like hell. The only place to run to was where the boy's mother wrote the address of his father. To say the Dora character was evil for selling the boy for parts is incorrect. She was an amoral hustler eking out a marginal living in the station; but killing the kid was not on her agenda.