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Should be Mandatory Viewing for All
The American film, "The Day After," fails shamefully in comparison to "Threads." The sentimentality that concludes "The Day After" is typical of American commercial television. This magnificent British film has no sops for the sentimental.
It achieves its effect largely by the use of realistic, horrifying, unsparing detail. We see the protagonist's parents in their basement. The wife has died. The husband has, as advised by a radio broadcast, wrapped her corpse in plastic bags; he holds her shrouded body, weeping. Later, when their daughter comes home, she opens the door to the cellar and is powerfully repulsed by the stench and the buzzing of flies, massing in the cellar.
It would be well for everyone all over the world to see this film now, since we again have leaders whose ignorance has tempted them to consider the idea that making nuclear weapons somehow suitable for use is wise, or even possible. It is neither. We cannot allow it to happen.
One wishes that something as sternly cautionary as this frankly realistic film could be made about the future we face under climate change. Indeed, climate change could very well lead to nuclear war, as an act of desperation by some nation or group of nations in the face of economic ruin or as a response to an invasion of climate refugees. It would be entirely insane, of course -- but, look at the madmen running so many nations in the world, including the US, right at this moment: Bush, above all; and Amahdinijad; and the presidents, prime ministers, or dictators of Isreal, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan, or Venezuala -- every one of them either wretched ignoramuses, loose cannons, madmen, or all of the above.
Catch and Release (2006)
Impossible to Spoil This -- Thing
I give it two stars because it was not so horrible that I turned it off before the end. There are times when you see a movie and you are aware, throughout, that everyone is acting. This was one of those movies. Professionals do it so that you believe their characters. None of these characters were believable. An unlikely bunch of rich kids in a painfully trendy, self-applauding town (and I know -- I've lived there); a relationship based on nothing in particular and ending up being based on the good life in a Malibou beach house, as if the romantic conclusion were pretty much an afterthought. A suicide attempt by someone who (before and after) seemed no more depressed than Andy of Mayberry.
This was aimless fluff that tramped woefully from one failed scene to the next until it ran out of any possibilities -- as if it ever had any. It was mercifully capped with a heart-warming reunion of the heroine, a reunion with no warmth and no heart, with a guy who was no more interesting than his perpetual, and very irritating, grin.
I hate it when a film turns out to be a waste of time.
Le violon rouge (1998)
Not a Romance at All
I agree with the general enthusiasm that reviewers here have expressed for this film -- indeed, I share with you what seems to be a real affection for it.
The idea is strangely similar to a film from decades ago, "The Yellow Rolls-Royce." In that film, the yellow Rolls passes through the hands of four owners, and with each owner comes a story of the life of the owner and his friends during his association with the automobile. It was not as good a film as "The Red Violin," by any means, but the parallel is curious.
"The Red Violin" is, indeed, a wonderful film, by any criterion one might apply to a film. My remarks, however, speak to what has been said here about the film -- and to what has not been said.
I viewed the film on DVD just a day or two ago. When I sat back to think about it, I realized, above all, that this is a very slyly droll film. The romance and fine sentiments that everyone speaks of are all well and good, but they hardly speak to the artistic heart of this film -- which is humor, irony, satire, and -- well -- fun.
Didn't anyone notice the extraordinary lack of sentimentality in this film? The lack of romance? Oh, romance is present -- in the form of a sort of parody of romance, especially in the segment depicting Pope's possession of the instrument. Then there was the wonderful -- and perfectly comic -- performance of Jean-Luc Bideau, culminating with the death of his young prodigy, a death which, if you noticed, was less tragic than it was gently comical and ironic. No one seemed terribly sad when the poor tyke toppled over -- they seemed chiefly bemused.
The "life" of the instrument is then continued by dint of an act of grave-robbery, as it passes into the hands of rogues and gypsies, on its way toward even more extraordinary, and more lunatic, ownership.
All the while, we are watching Moritz (Samuel L. Jackson), vetting the instrument for Duval's, chasing down the intimate secret of its varnish, and generally playing the perfectionist, business-like expert. Ah, however -- we discover that what his heart truly is set on is simple larceny (and, incidentally) putting one over on a pompous would-be owner of the violin -- a bumptious bidder who is correct in his charge that Moritz had warned him off the instrument for self-serving reasons. The irony sizzles when the butt of Moritz's trickery buys the fake red violin. Moritz then escapes with the real article to give to his own child -- another irony, because, as much as he knows about the violin, he does not realize that he may be passing on to his offspring, along with the instrument, a virulent curse.
A lovely film, an ironic film, a very tongue-in-cheek film, and a very funny film, this is (albeit with some drama and pathos); but it is neither sentimental nor romantic. Quite the contrary. From the beginning -- and others have noted this -- Bussotti is a singularly unsentimental man. We see this in his treatment of Anna and in his treatment of his apprentices. He was clearly distraught at his wife's death; but it immediately became for him another problem to overcome before getting on with his work.
I loved this film for its beauty, its wit (a quality that today's movie viewing public should be better schooled in), for its technical acumen (cinematography, sets, and so on), for its clever structure, and for its masterful quality of spoof and satire, blended with a curious innocence in everyone who possesses the instrument, from the unfortunate orphan to the conniving Moritz.
Murder by Death (1976)
We we watching the same film?
First, let's deal with the logic of the thing. A "great" cast is not the same thing as a star-studded cast. Acting is an interactive art, and what makes a cast good, whether it is star-studded or not, is how well the ensemble works together. Logically speaking, simply populating a film with terrific actors does not inevitably result in a good film. Likewise, while Neil Simon may have been a terrific play and screen writer, it was not impossible for him to have written a bad script. And, in the case of this script, he most assuredly had.
The utter randomness in this pastiche of many terrific (and a couple less than terrific) actors tells us that the perpetrators of this film, loaded with a Neil Simon script and a ton or two of money, dialed their way through the directory of top agents, picking up any and every top actor they could with however much dough it took to attract them. Given this cast, and considering the silliness of this script, it must have been one awful lot of dough.
It has been a long time since I saw this film, but the memory of disappointment and of feeling cheated out of a couple hours of my life, I recall to this day.
Even the title of this film, "Murder by Death," is a stupidity in and of itself, and it should serve as a warning that one will be in for a distasteful experience, much in the way that gaudy colors on some insects and frogs announces to their predators that they are foul-tasting and possibly poisonous. "Murder by Death," indeed. Simon should have blushed with embarrassment even to have penned such a title on a draft, let alone to have allowed it somehow to have slithered out of his study into the light of day.
Then there is the matter of Peter Falk. He is among such exalted acting companions for no other reason than his then-popular role as Columbo, because, let's face it, he is not an especially good actor. He may even be an especially poor one. He was at his level of ability with Columbo. In every other thing I've seen him in, his limited range and abilities are only too evident.
Not to put to fine a point on it, this film is not funny, it is not interesting, and it is not memorable for anything other than how truly pointless and bad it is. Literally choked with too much fine talent, it fails, anyway. Someone among the perpetrators of this fiasco must have actually believed that stuffing all of these fine, but utterly disparate, actors together in the cramped quarters of Simon's worst-ever script was going to save the thing from itself. Or perhaps the producers simply felt that by paying all of those stars to co-conspire in the thing would trick enough people into seeing it as to allow them to recoup the fortune they'd squandered.
But the real shame of it is that it took time out of the careers of greats like Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, and Alec Guinness, when they could have been doing something more useful -- like getting some rest, or playing bridge, or even reading more scripts, so as to find one that was actually worthy of their talents.
The House of Mirth (2000)
I'm Sure They Had Good Intentions
I remember walking out of the theater in confused disgust after viewing "Apocalypse Now," disconcertingly aware that a pretentious, aimless, even dopey, film had been parasitically grafted to Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Coppola's film featured stereotypical press corps fellatio, including a camera laden idiot played by Dennis Hopper, a besotted Brando, whose intellect was exclusively represented by a still shot of a pile of mostly harmless, liberal books -- in lieu, I suppose, of any exertion at acting on his behalf, but with a hefty purse, nevertheless.
At least, I told myself, I will not -- ever -- have to come across anything like it, again. In my life.
And then, I viewed this peculiar hybrid of plagiarism and idiocy, and another slice of innocence was burned away.
First, let me admit that I have not read "House of Mirth," nor have I any intention whatsoever of doing so. What I say here, therefore, has solely to do with this film and nothing to do with Edith Wharton's work, in any sense.
I was appalled, if not surprised, by the numbers of the uninformed and unaware who have strenuously worked their keyboards on behalf of this innocuous, but truly execrable, film.
Never mind that the acting is -- monotonously and without exception -- wretched, or that Gilliam worshipers, escaped somehow from the fog of the X-Files, have turned out in their unthinkable thousands to publicly smooch this deformed bauble; never mind that Eric Stoltz -- deservedly called brilliant in "Mask" -- was absolutely clueless in every category of acting skill, in this film.
Never mind all of that, which is obvious and not worth discussing, but add this: "House of Mirth" is a condensed, abridged, pamphlet-scale version of Flaubert's masterpiece, "Madame Bovary." Emma's best, and most boring, hope for marriage, whom she spurned; her male benefactors demanding the price of her flesh for her debts, her scrambling from one mistreated lover or friend or shop-keeper to another, and finally, to her suicide by poison.
This observation cannot possibly be original to me -- but I have not read it anywhere. If no one in the crowd of mainly X-Files viewers bothered to see this film at all, I have no doubt that thousands of literary critics have -- surely -- noted the literary plagiarism, in the instance of this novel. I don't care, personally. I don't enjoy, or even "get," Wharton's stuff. Never did.
But my indifference to Wharton is not the cause of my outright hostility to "The House of Mirth," the film. This film plainly sucks, and it sucks under any possible criterion of acting or film-making that may be applied.
Now, my continuing hope for cinematic excellence in the U.S carries two wounds -- one, as I've said, "Apocalypse Now;" and, two, this sad act of cinematic desperation.
The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
Boredom followed by Nonsense
with a brief interlude of unaccountable horror. And that's all. A pastiche of false subtleties. Forget about it. Fleshing out this review is much like what fleshing out the screenplay must have been -- it implies an underlying motivating principle in its characters, but there is no such principle in the ideas. Bo one can tell, from the beginning or the end, that there was any coherent idea in this film.
I'm surprised, as well, that the pretense of the film went unnoticed. Since I must go on with my comment, and as I had to endure the slowly passing puzzlement of the film, I say simply that it didn't justify itself, which is, after all, what a good film aims for. This one is not a contender.
Witty, Moving, Satisfying
I happened to tape this film from TV, and it has become one of my favorites. Whatever failings it may have, and I think it has fewer failings than some might think, it is in its way a tour de force of originality. The combination of gritty downfall with under-the-Christmas-tree fantasy works very well -- and that in itself is an achievement.
Its charms, by and large, are the small things, the incidental scenes that are accomplished in a unique manner, such as a conversation in American sign language between two women who are wearing large, yellow rubber gloves (in the scene they are cleaning a carpet). While I concede that the title seems fairly arbitrary, it certainly does the film no harm, no more than "Magnolia" did any harm to that film, even though "Magnolia" is surely just as arbitrary a title for "Magnolia" as "Reckless" is for "Reckless." In my view, a film that is unique (as well as uniquely quirky), visually witty, and that can arouse and explore entirely new and unexpected emotional territory in the viewer is a film of value. Mia Farrow's and Scott Glenn's performances are excellent.
I would encourage anyone who wants to see something that is entirely different from anything else and that will make an indelible impression, would do well to see this film. And don't worry, the script is just fine; although it is a morality tale, it is not a morality tale with a smug or pat conclusion, as it ends, as it begins, with a weirdly satisfying sort of open-ended grace.
Without a Flaw
So often one leaves the theater or presses re-wind with a thought taking the form of, "That was a really good film, but..." At the end of "Wit," I could not find a qualifier to complete that thought, and I still cannot. This film is a piece of perfection, tightly fitted but not contrived; dramatic without overstatement; and deeply moving without sentimentality.
It also comprises a tour-de-force performance by Emma Thompson, an actor whose performances are almost always extraordinary -- so the fact that this one stands out says a lot.
The dialogue (and monologue) is amusing, minimalistic but never too little, and is always sufficient to the scene. There is plenty of irony, wry humor, and understated insight; and yet the film, stark as it is, is abundantly human and, in places, even sweet.
At the height of the grinding sorrow that Thompson so skillfully brings us into, a startling scene between her old academic mentor is a loving act of redemption, shared by them both.
As an additional note, the surprising appearance of Christopher Lloyd in this film, as the research oncologist, provides a perfect foil for Vivian's role as a patient and as an academician. Lloyd's performance is convincing, and yet it contains just enough of eccentricity and kindness to make his character's disinterested role entirely sympathetic.
A wonderful film. Not -- be warned -- an easy film to watch, but decidedly worth it.
Fight Club (1999)
I finally saw this one on DVD. The first quarter of this film is promising with its humor, irony, and wit. However, once the major premise is exploited, the entire film falls apart in the worst way. The fact is that the premise was too thin to support a feature film; I mean, where do you really go with fist-fighting yuppoids? What does it ultimately accomplish, aside from various injuries, brain damage? Where do you go with it? The director apparently didn't know, either, and the film leaves all sense behind and indulges in extravant fantasy adventure that doesn't speak to the original premise. Fact is, the Hollywood remedy was applied: if the film is lost, "save it" with a lot of hyperbolic action and tricky twists that let the film go out in a blaze of cheap director tricks (you'll see what I mean).
Under the Volcano (1984)
Consider the Source
I've read the book and I've seen the film, and I can say that the reason the film is so bad is because it is based on the truly execrable novel by Malcolm Lowry. "Under the Volcano" is a novel about a drunk, written by a drunk, apparently while he was drunk. The unreadable, self-indulgent and presumptuous ineptitude of Lowry's novel was, unhappily, accurately reproduced by the film.
Albert Finney can always be counted on for a terrific performance, great professional that he is; but any film based on Lowrey's pathetic, rambling narrative would have to be, as this effort was, sadly hampered by its source material.