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jwarthen-3

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17 reviews in total 
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Wendigo (2001)
Scrappy upstate Gothic, 16 September 2002
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Skip the dismissals below and read Dave Kehr's TIMES review-- he's right about the director's body of work. [POSSIBLE SPOILERS] Fessenden's direction has improved over his '97 vampire film-- didn't miss that film's druggy atmospherics at all. This film has sequences of resourceful low-budget eeriness. WENDIGO shares one major weakness with the earlier film: Fessenden has no skill at all in depicting everyday domestic behavior. That the estimable Patricia Clarkson (whose work in HIGH ART marked her as a female-equiv of C. Walken at comic grotesquerie) hasn't a single chewy scene to work with here indicates misused talent. The child-actor is fine, though, suggesting a lot more than the script about why his parents are so intent on forging a weekend together. And a late scene of loved ones babbling as one begins succumbing to blood-loss is a powerhouse. Incidentally, my wanting to see this film was in part due to a late-'50s TV series of literate horror-stories-- SREDNI VASHTAR was in there, and, I believe, THE OPEN WINDOW. Anyone who saw its WENDIGO episode at age 9 is liable to remember, at inconvenient times, its wood-creature moaning "My feet! My burning feet of fire!!"

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Morose Scandinavian lyric farce-- regional specialty, 7 September 2002
8/10

A movie that induces jaw-drops and yawning within the same extended, unmoving shot, SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR leaves you plenty of time to think about what you're watching. You'll think about Swedish carpenters building one nearly identical set after another; you'll think about Edward Hopper's green-tinted interiors (a lot), and maybe about the late hilarious films of Luis Bunuel. I know nothing about director Andersson, but this film had some aspects of personal exorcism-- witness an extraordinarily exact recreation of Nazis executing two young Russian resistance fighters. This is not a film I want to watch again, but anyone seeing it projected adequately will carry a few of its images in memory for the rest of his life: my inadvertant selection includes a late shot of a gaping airport concourse that looks like some new kind of bourgeous Hell for corrupt executives.

18 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Try to see it where you can SEE it., 17 August 2002
7/10

Cacoyannis began his career filming Greek tragedies five decades ago. Anyone seeing his production of Chekhov's wonderful play knows he adores this work: the discerning casting, the use of Tchaikovsky's little-known piano pieces. Best of all is the look of the production-- its costuming and lighting have the quality of delicate homage. Watch for scenes like the arrival of auction-bidders in a muddy street midway through the film-- a bit of period recreation on a par with Coppola and Scorsese. Chekhov's brilliant bits of stage-business are treasured here: Varya's clobbering her wished-for fiance with a door-slam, Epikhodov's goofs, Yasha's mother-problem, and especially the family's sitting gravely down together before their dispersal. These are lovingly done, and if citing them here is meaningless to those who haven't read the play, I'm afraid the film will mean as little to them, especially on videotape, where the exquisite visuals won't count for much. The acting can't sustain novices-- the cast, especially the males, show the effects of limited rehearsal time, sliding in and out of cohesion. The exceptions to that are Katrin Cartlidge (in a role that often stands-out in stage productions), Ian McNeice, and Michael Gough, delivering the finest performance I have seen from his 50+ years of movie-acting-- acting-teachers should march students to see CHERRY ORCHARD to hear how Gough reads a choice line like, "Now I can die." Cacoyannis nodded in spots: the weird accents affected by the lower-class characters add nothing, and the hammy Act II beggar-- one wants to thrash him. This is not a great film. But the play it serves may be the past century's greatest. At a time when American theaters cannot afford large-cast period plays, a Chekhov-fan feels special gratitude for this production.

Intimacy (2001)
A worrying near-great un-romance, 8 August 2002
8/10

Can't figure out the disparities in this brutal piece of miserabilist art. Two distinguished actors giving brave performances every interview they give hereafter will ask them to account for-- a remarkable score of well-used rock art-songs-- a script that shifts from mumbled throwaways to eloquence without stumble. Still, even if the numbing grey-greenness of the images is intended, the dinginess goes past aesthetic overstatement-- cannot imagine Chereau intended to induce headaches, though that is the effect. Timothy Spall playing a cuckold is akin to Dennis Hopper as a psycho-- a good actor in a role he should not have taken. But the children are wonders of natural charm-- what is it about French film-makers that equips them to make juveniles seem casually superhuman? In a film that mixes-up visual ugliness and spiritual torment, the three radiant boys are especially cherishable.

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A unique one-year series that someone should be thanked for., 16 April 2001

Beautiful series-- a one-season long experiment that tried to reflect a tumultuous time-period (its single season encompassed JFK's death, the Civil Rights Bill, killings of Civil Rights workers in Alabama, escalation of fighting in Vietnam). George C. Scott played a social worker in Manhattan, Cicely Tyson his secretary, and before they softened the series toward the end toward whimsey, they produced at least three episodes that have stuck in my head for nearly 40 years: 1. social services take-away the child of a prostitute, who was portrayed as a devoted mother-- her grief was seismic; 2. a young black father who loses a baby to a rat's attack gets a weapon and wanders through Harlem looking for someone to kill; 3. a middle-class black couple moving to the suburbs sets off a calculated real-estate stampede, and even the liberal whites who sponsored them finally rebukes them. The second of these episodes was blocked-out in Georgia-- am surprised we got to see the other two; criticism at the time inevitably used the killing word "grim". Actors were drawn from the NY casting-pool, and shooting was done in the streets of the city.

Yi Yi (2000)
Bliss, 13 April 2001

This is a movie stuffed with cherishable scenes an elements-- film-making as life-embracing as the Marquez letter the ill novelist sent friends, which is going-round on Internet just now. It is current enough that a troubled teenage cellist moves around her apartment humming the Shostakovitch waltz from EYES WIDE SHUT-- music to drive one mad. A series of meetings between the film's disenchanted Taipei businessman and the Japanese visionary the Chinese company is ripping-off is conducted in these men's beautifully modulated English-- the Japanese artist impresses as emissary from some high life-form than ours. The delightful child in all this is similarly endowed with an "old soul", if old-souls can be romantic-obsessives at 8.

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
An uncommonly fine TV adaptation, 25 January 2001
10/10

Sometimes watching an older film leaves you hoping that the people who made it knew how good their work was. This adaptation of Twain improves upon the original in several respects, while honoring Twain's cold-blooded satire of the slave-owning culture in which he grew up. The care and detailed thinking behind this production is evident on every hand, right down to some beautifully-cast minor roles (Scotty Bloch's aunt, for one). At its center is a gutsy, singular actress, Lise Hilboldt. How could those making films in the early '80's not have noticed they had a major talent here, and created work to use it?

8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A film deserving re-discovery-- a gritty allegory of bilingualism, 10 September 2000
10/10

Robert Young is an American director whose fitful opportunities to direct nearly always has turned up singular results. This treatment of the legend of a master horseman who evaded capture during weeks of vigilante pursuit shows Young's usual care with milieu, historical detail, and shadings of character. Olmos is a splendid icon in the lead, but the revelation is James Gammon, who never had a better film role, and the supporting cast is studded with fine character actors (including two who come over w/Olmos from the BLADE RUNNER set to appear here). A climactic scene, involving a female translator working between law and prisoner in a tiny cell, has stayed in my mind for 18 years for its depiction of a heartbreaking communion between adversaries. But Young knows what Westerns do best-- trains and horses, the two most cinematic subjects in the world-- and they're both here in aces.

6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Pungent, anti-romantic period tragicomedies, 1 August 2000
10/10

In 1974 or so,I saw three of these hour-adaptations from Hardy's short fictions, broadcast on a Georgia PBS station. I have never heard of them being shown again in this country. What stuck in the mind was the ferocity of their ironies-- the several dooms the series' characters brought upon themselves. I discover now that Dennis Potter supervised the series, wrote some of the scripts-- and the link between these stories and the perversities of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, written soon after, is a revelation (read "Barbara of the House of Grebe"-- a brutal ghost story like nothing else I've read in Hardy). I would love to have copies of these shows.

18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Swedish picaresque, in brilliant wide-screen format, 30 July 2000
10/10

A beautiful bildungsroman-- a young man goes wandering through the world, making his way as he goes and meeting vivid people. The material isn't romantic-- poverty is general, and the young man discovers his own cruelty as well as the strengths that sustain him. This film had a huge cast, and Troell's use of widescreen fills the image with detail of 19th century provincial life that authenticates the performances-- I have remembered the dirty leer of its blacksmith for thirty years. I remember watching it, wishing there were an hour more of it.


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