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3941 reviews in total 
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Flubber (1997)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Cinematic Inner Minds, 24 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

17 years on. Not a bad time to evaluate a film for merit. Supposing it doesn't work — this one doesn't — we have a chance to reflect on its place in history. Yes we have the beloved Robin Williams in his least lovable mode: physical slapstick and Asbergers brilliance. We have Elfman at his least attractive self as well, before he assembled the creative team that makes catchy honking jingles in his name.

We have no change from the quantum states of film scientist: evil or goofy or the guy that-saves-the-world. We have John Hughes and his brand of injury slapstick just as it was becoming unfunny. The CGI creature was not technically impressive; it had been half a decade since Cameron's liquid metal.

But we do have one element that is really interesting. If you have not seen this recently, we have a genius scientist/inventor of the Tony Stark variety — someone who can both 'invent' chemically and construct robot gismos. One of these is a humanized floating globe robot, who seems to be primarily a companion. The way this is written, the robot is physically real and combats the bad guys.

But she occupies other interesting spaces as well. She is (has been created as?) a love interest. She (using an ordinary Windows machine) is capable of creating a holographic projection of a perfect female to 'love' our professor. The romance plot turns on her loving him so much that she heals his romance with the real girl, a tepid soul. (The voice is Jodi Benson who will be known in countless households as the Disney Princess Prime.)

Much, much more interesting is the role of the floating orb as the inner voice of our Asbergers Autist. What she actually says is uninteresting; how she says it is fascinating. When something important is to be communicated, she pops up a screen that has a short scene or image from an old movie (from the Disney archive).

As it happens, this is not for the professor to see. He often isn't looking. It is for us to see, a direct connection with the audience, but presented so that we understand it as the image in the shared mind at that moment. It is a pretty remarkable device, having memories of film illustrate what is in someone's mind. It is perhaps the fundamental challenge of film. Books can take you in the mind and soul. Films can show you things that indirectly have to do so.

Robin Williams had nothing to do with writing this or elaborating it as he often did. But now that he is gone, it is tempting to redo these scenes and composite in the film sequences that were likely in his hyperactive mind, as far from Asbergers as one can get without destruction.

Nh10 (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Nation's Road, 17 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I write about folding, rarely do I mention this sort. There are two threads here, designed to reinforce each other.

One thread is a story about a modern Indian woman, someone who might fit into an American movie well enough. In standard noir form, she finds herself in challenging situations. This unrolls expertly. Though the basic story is just the chase of a woman by dangerous men, we get enough new circumstance to engage. The signature scene, the apparent payoff is at the end where she gets some revenge, calmly reflected on.

Another thread is intended for the Indian audience and is a bit hard for this American to enter. India is Hindu in the way Israel and Pakistan base their national identity on a religious one. There are many such nations, all with a burden of medieval practice.

The dynamic of noir is that the unlikely events occur as if the viewer were in the film, manipulating as if they were gods in the displayed world. Some filmmakers work with this to create dissonance between who we think we are and what we like to experience.

In this case, the audience is Hindu. The situation this woman is put in by those Hindus is witness to an honor killing, thereby becoming a victim. A family kills their daughter for falling in love with someone from a different sub caste. The offense is so severe that brutality as extreme as possible is warranted. Local police support this.

For me as an American, the noir dynamic is uncomplicated: do I like to see a woman in distress gain control of the thugs around her? For Indians, the noir dynamic is deeper and far more disturbing: This is who you are in some deep way, these rural dangers in designer clothes, these people obsessed with a religious identity that acts, these zealots who anchor your identity.

I can see it, but because my story sails on different waters, I am not sunk. For native viewers, the tragedy is that this woman survives.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Government Clerks Somewhere, 12 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the second of the big budget films I have seen recently that are funded by the Beijing government, have an overt propaganda message, revisit a key historic event that shaped the current nation, have a framing with modern young people discovering and appreciating the lesson and have a huge production budget.

It is also the second that lacks any life, rather like the Chinese cities I have visited: lots of motion, noise and people but not much soul.

I literally was able to watch this side by side with the new Mad Max, because the guy next to me on the plane was watching that film. I was reminded that the effects in that (and Iron Man 3, which I also recently saw) had personality in roughly the same way that Hitchock's camera can be said to have introduced personality.

Things flow in those films in ways that subtly excite. When we have masses of something, the mass seems heavy, full of urge and power. We don't just see spectacle, we understand it. Here, we have a few grand vistas, many large elaborate environments and many huge armies, often in battle. There is scant choreography of the marvelous kind that Yimou Zhang gives us. It is instead just massive staging with a conventional camera — the sort of thing that Mel Gibson gave with his Scottish movie. It was forgivable then. Not now.

I think Chinese young people are every bit as sophisticated as young people elsewhere. While they are sadly as susceptible to nationalism as the rest of us, they can see when the message is blunted by government clerks.

"Yes, the West is simply bent on subjugating us, and are stronger, but they are far from home. We have heart, determination and guile. We can make friends with them while they are here, but in a couple thousand years they will be hard to recall and our young people will still be here."

That, told noisily.

But it has Jackie Chan! My heavens, Jackie at what 60? Still doing the better-fighter-than-you performances. The battles themselves are choreographed dully, but he seems to bring his own people and gives us the familiar product.

Iron Man 3 (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Refreshing, 5 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm surprised that Downey has held out this long. At some point, you have enough money and want to return to your art. He says this is his last, and I believe him. What we have in this case is him on his way out, dictating terms. And we have a pretty good movie as a result, far better that the earlier ones and leagues better than the usual Marvel.

He booted out the director and got the guy he worked with on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That film found a distance between noir detective movies and self-satire that was novel, delicious. It is carried over to here. No one but kiddies can take these movies seriously, so the game is to find that space in between the world you show and the world of the viewer.

Usually it has to be reflectively comic. Guardians used that effectively. What we have here is more subtle, letting the genre itself be the joke. It isn't just that the villain is an actor; the idea permeates the whole world.

He booted out the writer and got the hot new guy, someone who understands snappy situations and narrative distance. He'll probably burn out, but here he matters.

He changed the formula from girl-in-distress to give Pepper some kickass scenes. And finally, he fired ILM and got WETA. So we now have some sense of spatial imagination and adventure where before we had dull bombast.

This adds up to a great deal of fun for me. Sure, there are a lot of things that don't make sense and are pretty dull, but they are in different places and ways than with the usual Marvel product. You can't eliminate these, but shifting them is novel, competent, self-aware and appreciated.

If he leaves the franchise, he will have done so with some honor, and some demonstration that he knows what he is doing. Bless you Mr. Downey.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Tears, 5 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Film is a remarkable medium. The broad class of storytelling and related emotional invocation is similarly broad. Watching these affirms my commitment to something else: long form cinema.

These are short form, about a minute or so. Some are by well known filmmakers, including some I truly admire. Others involved seem to be popular figures in the art scene. The provenance of the project seems to have been a liquor distributor, the target the Beijing Film Festival, and the theme dreaming.

Some are simple depictions of dreaming. Others try to register some evocative, usually disturbing dream. And yet others treat their project as if it were art as it seems to be defined today.

I will leave it to others whether that latter class is worth your attention. What intrigues me is which of these work because they used the power of cinema and narrative to work for me.

Films that work do so by making a story that entangles with the stories I host internally. They entangle one another in ways (usually more than one) where I cannot escape being changed.

When you have a sixty second film you need to do more than merely capture attention. You cannot slide us into a world, you have to shiv into the one I carry, ideally through an unguarded invagination.

The depressing thing is that not one of these did this for me. Quite possibly seeing them all at once makes this difficult but I think the opposite is the case. After a couple, you open yourself to the rhythm; you prepare yourself to carry the unresolved. You rest into concentrated vision.

Only one of these drew me back time and again and surprised me because it is the least cinematic in the traditional sense. And the most open in the narrative sense.

Do not read further until you see it.

It is by Rinko Kikuchi and features her face. She opens it enough and we have enough time to join it on our own terms. We map our own story onto it because she gives us absolutely none.

And then after we have voyaged with her in our story, she expertly takes control and a tear appears. You simply cannot avoid crying. For me it was a gasp and tears. It isn't her. It is my own revealed grief evoked.

You need to see this. The others might be interesting in some context, but not cinema, not narrative.

Ryan McGinley has an arresting segment.

PK (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Swaggert, 31 August 2015

This should be classified in the "visitor" genre where an outsider shows up and changes lives. Using my definition of noir it is reverse noir.

As is common, this is someone from outer space who gets puzzled by our obsession with religion. It has to be this kind of outsider because no place on the planet seems to have escaped.

This element of the film is unrewarding. The shots are of the cheapest kind, targeting plain fakes. He could have easily gone deeper but then it wouldn't be a funny dancing movie.

The happy surprise here is the appealing actress. She is between Audrey Hepburn in the early days and the character Amelie. I have viewed deeply in Hindi films, and she may work a lot.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Japanese Win?, 31 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

About a 2D viewing.

This is very clearly produced under Party sponsorship to celebrate the soldiers who won the country. The contrast with US WWII films is striking. We require tough heroes, where here there is something more noble.

Two remarkable things...

The film has an odd framing device that one can only imagine was dreamed up by a Party official. A modern Chinese youngster is off to Silicon Valley as a sort of genius. He watches on an iPhone an old movie of this event, apparently staged by the Peking Opera.

In between, we have this film. At the end, we discover that he owes his existence to this and by implication his education and opportunity.

The time is set right after the collapse of the Japanese occupation. Warlords have seized the armaments and sustenance and for the People's Republic to succeed, ragtag groups must prevail. (No mention of the official government.)

The strange thing is that though produced by Chinese, it is thoroughly Japanese. Kurosawan to be precise.

The filmmaker remarks on this in a fun way: the movie is over, having presented the 'real' story. Then our young modern kid imagines an alternative ending, and it is thoroughly Indiana Jones.

Incidentally, the stunts and effects are pretty ordinary except for a sequence with a tiger. This was amazing. Had to be real.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Wholeness in What You Sow, 6 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

All of us want to be genuinely ourselves, and nearly all of us are at the mercy of societal imprints with urges so great we cannot escape them. Few of us can be calm in ourselves.

I suppose this is one reason we seek films that are genuine and/or characters that are whole. Characters that are broken can make for good stories, but that is a different sort of compulsive draw for a film. Here, I think what this filmmaker attempted was the notion of genuine being in a genuine artifact.

The *being* first. The main character here is an aborigine who as a detective can act as the unflinching driver of a procedural, the man of the earth who knows the place and people... plus the typical hero in an American western who comes into town and disrupts the gang who owns it. Other commenters like this actor and the way he moves in a modern western form.

I am a viewer from the US, and I have some trouble with this. I do see the cleanliness of the project; one can appreciate the fact that the writer is also the director, cinematographer and editor. It is genuinely artisanal in that respect. But it lacks any reflection of the filmmaker's personality, as do say Clint Eastwood's films in a similar vein. It cleaves too much to an American western in fact, and for this viewer there was nothing distinctly Australian in it.

Other than accent, the racists were not different than bozos within a few miles of me here. The shootout was too clean an ending for such a (relatively) complex story. So the film did not seem genuine because it gave the impression of being appropriated in nearly all respects, including the blocking.

And the hero did not strike me as genuine either. I assume most Australian viewers would know the popular fictional Black Australian detective Bony who worked in the same area. He would encounter the same racist barriers but be quite a bit more intellectually deductive than our guy here. All the guy here seems to do is persist, where Bony is a sort of Poirot in tune with the land. It would have worked better with one of those amazing, unique faces, color and stride that are distinct in Oz.

Transcendence (2014/I)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Behind the Screens, 1 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of my angels die when I encounter a film like this. It has a mix of things that disturb and disappoint. A minor but essential problem is that the actors do a bad job. All of these men at least has had superb moments in other films, but even Depp is flat here. I can only think this is due to a filmmaker who couldn't arouse them.

Oh, and once again we have this story of AI, as if it were written by newspaper people in the 90's. Better to have not called it AI, but machine hosting of human consciousness. And gosh, do people really think a computer virus and human virus are the same? Movies can engage when they seem real enough for us to enter the world of the film. That world doesn't have to be believable if the filmmaker gives us enough excuses to avoid the problems. But we need one or the other: it either has to not be stupid, or it has to give us easy shortcuts to enter it anyway.

But the big travesty is the cinematic vacuum. We have forgiven science fiction filmmakers many times, as long as they deliver the goods. We know this filmmaker has been in meetings where great, deep and specific cinematic concerns have been discussed, because he has worked with Nolan from the beginning.

A simple diagnosis is that he was a bit overwhelmed with the issues here and simply got some bad advice about how to display intelligence within a system. But I think it goes deeper than that. The very notion of the script was broken, I think.

Possibly the greatest challenge in film is that the most powerful things in life are not well conveyed visually, even though our visual storytelling techniques are the most powerful we have. And we do have some things that are powerful as cinematic images. The trick is show one thing that can be shown in ways that have effect, and have the viewer associate that with another thing that matters in their lives. Love is the common example. Love matters to us, but you can't show love or any other emotion. You can only show effect, or maintain some parallel narrative that is cinematic.

That is why we have great love stories set in great political upheavals. Or within a related story with tension.

This script has a great love story. A man dies and is reborn. He commits his new life to his wife. Others in the world doubt his goodness and she comes to as well. In a convoluted plot device, in order to join together, they have to kill each other. At the very end, we have some hope that they are reborn, together in a private universe.

This is strong stuff, full of urge and engagement. I can imagine this story being told in a way that affects me deeply, and that I use ever after in how I live and love. But you can't tell that story in film, you have to show another one that evokes it. This is non-trivial and risky, because the default connections are boring.

Add this to our preconceptions of AI: It has something to do with human intelligence; the internet is something (as opposed to a collection of somethings); nanotech has something to do computing; a face on a screen matters in this advanced context; computers are or need blinking lights; an advanced intelligence would not be internally conflicted…

… And you get both a boring and an annoying experience. It would have been so much more engaging if we *saw* the conflict among urges in this new being. If we saw how that was reflected in the bodies it partially inhabited. If we saw hunger for sense and sex. If we saw dalliances world wide. If we saw women soldiers who understood this love story.

I find Morgan Freeman appalling in almost everything. But the one thing he can do better than nearly everyone is explain. They decided to show a little here then explain a little. That balance could have been explain monkey sex once, then do nothing but show. Urges. They could have shown urges instead of screens.

Ex Machina (2015)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Soft Bits, 21 July 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a superb film. I recommend it.

My enjoyment of films is divided between the experience when watching and the much longer incubation time afterward. The success in the former in this case fights the appreciation in the latter.

This kind of science fiction is all about abstraction. The world is abstracted away and we are placed in a secluded location where no support people exist; this is familiar from the stage and we readily accept it. Other abstractions are from what great masses believe:

— Some billionaires are scientific geniuses.

— Great technical work can be done by one guy.

— AI is still the notion of a machine that acts like a human, and the Turing test is still relevant.

— Successful AI is somehow dependent on successful robotics.

— Something like Google collects something like intelligence.

When watching this, we willingly allow these things because we want cleanliness, directness and the film rewards by moving. When the end unrolls, it does so with no great surprises of the kind that make us reinterpret what we know. This pleases like an ordinary meal does without challenging.

The settling of this in a near perfect center of what has gone before in sci-fi film is also appreciated. There are too many to note here, but I liked the Alphaville reference and the tussle among three beings for control of the movie from 2001.

Also, the acting seemed ideal.

But afterward, much of the appreciation faded for me. None of the five common assumptions noted above are shared by me. I remember few things fondly that are supposed to be based on science but that don't leverage the reality — instead some trivial fiction that resides beside.

My memory wants to complain about a movie that presents novelty but that has none. The god business just was too much mentioned, and the justice too simple.

That said, we have the Sunshine factor. That movie hit a sweet spot for me and over time has grown in importance in my world. A reason is the coupling of something like chosen importance (but not quite) with something like valiant loneliness (but not quite that either) pulled by some cosmic force we would see as controlling insight. That movie had story and space ship and all, but the thing it conveyed was a suspended urge, one I might relate to a refined, pure sexual compulsion taken away from sex.

Here in this film, we have the same notion from the same writer.

Because the filmmaker is less adroit than Boyle, everything else is simplified as well. Also, we have a real sexual object in this case, and it mutes the spell by speaking it. Still, it evokes that urge and we inherit it.

If you had limitless money, the technical ability and the opportunity would you not fold all your desires? And would you not drink at night with a combination of fear of yourself and desire to escape them? Would you welcome a death that confirmed you?

One plot element captivates. We have evidence of many failed experiments at building attractive women. One of these is used as house mistress. She supposedly does not understand or speak natural language and In the overt story, she is benign. (That story is from Caleb's perspective.)

On reflection, she *has* learned language and *does* understand what is going on. Ava is the focus, but Kyoko is suggested as the agent that moves everything and thus is the real AI success.

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