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A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A fine movie; a "detailed" book
Enjoyed reading many other reviewer's comments, especially those who'd experienced schizophrenia themselves or who'd worked as psychiatrists and the like. I've had some acquaintance on a personal level with friends and family who've experienced mental illness -- both bi-polar illness (usually called mania or manic-depressive illness) and schizophrenia. After first seeing the movie and then reading Sylvia Nasar's book, I have very mixed emotions about both. The main "true" thing which comes through in either version -- is that schizophrenics do sometimes recover, or experience long periods of "remission" as the book describes it. Central to this, many times, is the support of family and recognition of professional colleagues. In Nash's case, many many colleagues were exceptionally tolerant and caring -- something more underscored in the book. The movie makes Nash's wife the main hero, plain and simple, in his recovery. The books paints a much more varied and full-bodied story of life with his wife, his mistress, his sons (one by his wife, one by his mistress) -- and of his homosexual liaisons which were also key to his life-long journey towards becoming nicer or more human and humane. The book contains a wealth of detail -- much of it about Nash's contemporaries rather than about his own life; I'd say you get about one-third Nash, two-thirds Nash's acquaintances and company. It's impossible to write a biography, of course, without giving background details. But Nasar had great difficulty making both Nash's personality and his so-called "Beautiful Mind" comprehensible or appealing. A lot of what he did and thought was more ugly than beautiful. A different title would have helped greatly, I think. Anyway, Nasar's way of coping with writing about Nash himself was to take refuge in describing those around him who were less successful but easier to describe, or who were more extreme in personality or who achieved greater acclaim before he did. She wants to show that he, to some extent, ranks with the greatest thinkers of any time -- people like Nicola Tesla, Einstein, Pascal. This may be true, and when she showed how Nash sought to approach the really knotty problems, especially those considered important by many people -- it works. But Nasar is terrible at explaining math in its particulars or in general. She does little better with the relationship between math and applied-math fields which so often involved Nash directly or ended up being important to the application of what he'd originated as so-called pure mathematics. I was ready to forgive the movie for this -- and while it gives only a suggestion of the math involved, at least it does this well, even exceptionally -- but not the book. There are close to one-hundred pages of notes at the end of Nasar's books -- and seeking those sources is the only hope for those intrigued by Nash's accomplishments or areas of research. The best "story" of the book, the only part well-narrated, comes near the end, and involves the Noble Prize and the fight between the Noble committee members over choosing Nash. It's a great story. In the book, after it becomes clear Nash has shown signs of recovering from schizophrenia, a slow and steady progression over ten or twenty years -- Nasar raises the question of whether Nash might have been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. No one recovers from schizophrenia, especially without drugs -- that's what people used to think, many still do -- and both book and movie mention this belief. Manic-depression, however, is known to often be well-controlled with medications. I've had direct contact with manic-depressives and relatives of them, much more so than with schizophrenics -- to me there's no question that Nash was not a manic-depressive. On the other hand, from all indications, Nash was someone who suffered, at times severely, from schizophrenia, with paranoid delusions. The paranoid element of his illness may be to some degree realistically and imaginatively treated in the movie. Where the movie strays very far from the truth, in a sort of Disney way, is in the creation of his imaginary college roommate and then later with the roommate's cute little daughter who never ages. Nash never had any hallucinations or delusions of that sort; he imagined aliens were communicating with him, and felt he'd gained knowledge which would help world leaders, presidents and premiers, and even sought to communicate with the Pope. He did clip headlines from newspapers and magazines, as the movie depicts -- in connection with this paranoid-delusional obsession. The character of the roommate is well-acted, however; I personally felt it was an excellent performance. But, be that as it may, especially with the addition of the roommate's daughter, it makes for the movie's major failing. What results is a cuddly and almost kindergarten-level metaphor or simplification as part of the portrait of both the disease and of Nash's experience of it. When I watched the film, despite never having personally known or witnessed someone with schizophrenia -- I had a feeling schizophrenics and their families would find those sequences of the film offensive or simply ridiculously untrue to life. Reading other reviewers' comments, that hunch seems well justified. Nonetheless, granting that the movie departs in some large ways from the real events of Nash's life, and blunders badly with the phantom roommate element -- it's still a great film. Great movies and great books often do have blunders, sometimes serious ones, or weak sections. In this case, I think the movie especially can be forgiven its faults and distortions because of the challenge of portraying such difficult subjects. By that I mean not only Nash himself, as a personality, but more broadly the topics of advanced mathematics and schizophrenia. Secondly, it does have its heart in the right place -- the patient and loving care of family and friends can play a major role in helping mentally-ill people (not to exclude the role of doctors and medical treatments). Finally, I think it's an extraordinary performance by Russell Crowe. He's better in "The Insider" -- but from the all-too-little of what Nash was really like in speech and in personal mannerisms which does at times come through in Nasar's book -- Crowe's portrayal has elements of genius. Certainly the scriptwriter deserves recognition, here, too -- since the book provides mainly the film's title and little in the way of dialog or coherent narrative thrust. Some reviewers have complained that Crowe is too much of a muscle-man to portray such an intellectual. But Nash was strong; he lifted weights -- he was physically imposing, especially since he was quite tall as well. So, if you want to complain on behalf of tall-people that it was unfair to select Crowe to play Nash -- OK. But give the idea that smarts and brawn never go together a rest. Nash was not only tall and strong, but as photos and text in Nasar's biography demonstrate -- quite handsome. He had movie-star good looks when he was young and before his illness led to a decline in his dress and appearance.
Looks better and better as years pass
This little gem of a low-budget sci-fi, set almost entirely inside the wonderful Frank Lloyd Writer Civic Center in San Rafael, also still looking extremely futuristic and beautiful -- some fifty years or so later -- just gets better and better, as people realize where our current science is going.
An attractive group of stars, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Julian Sands -- plus a thoughtful script -- as opposed to a disaster-driven, non-stop actioner. Check it out. People are now being scanned at major events by computers -- the visual recognition technology remains crude at the moment, but digital sound used to be looked upon as inferior, too. Stores want to scan you too, for lots of reasons, and you can bet employers are thrilled with scanning and monitoring you in lots of new ways.
As to digital sound, what happend was -- a few years passed, the sophistication of the digital equipment became a thousand or a million times greater -- and now we're starting to use this same techno-ability to do other things besides creating super-hi-fi sounds. Now we have the beginnings of high-def TV, increasing use of the same technology for cellular phones and lots of other things which were just pipe-dreams a few years ago.
So it's easy to laugh off, but laugh now, laugh well while you can, because the time's just around the corner where this will be our reality.
Just think what will happen five years from now with increased speeds, memory, and improved software -- we may have a situation much like that shown in Gattaca; a genetic's-obsessed society, enabled and enforced with extreme biotech sensors. It's another way of maintaining the power in the hands of the few, decreasing access to democracy and to judicial appeal, etc.
We've already lost democracy, at least at the national level, so erosion of individual rights and privacy will simply accelerate. Dark visions of our future, such as "Gattaca," help brace us for the fight to regain our rights which lies ahead if we are to re-establish a humanitarian society.
When the Party's Over (1993)
An excellent film, if you can find it at the store...
Yes, this is an ensemble piece, and a "year in the life of" type of film -- but a fine example of what can be accomplished in this area, for those who appreciate these works. Bullock does act well here -- she's not especially likeable, for several reasons -- but she's believable, and it's one of a handful of roles she's done exceptionally well. Fisher Stevens steals this show, however. And how! He's an entirely winning character -- among a bunch of twenty-somethings who haven't quite figured themselves out, let alone what they want or what makes living worth all the fuss. Many of them are interesting or quite appealing, all the same. Without Stevens setting the counterpoint, a person who wins at life whether he gets what he wants or not, someone who doesn't decide ahead of time what's supposed to happen and how people are supposed to respond to him -- without him in this role, it would be just another story of searching and/or alienation. Not that there haven't been some fine films of just that sort, but this is something more. "When the Party's Over" stands up well alongside such films as "Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice" and the Australian film "Bob's Party" (if I'm remembering the latter's title correctly here). Those films are superficially more entertaining, clearly more commercial, even more conventional -- and more about actual parties and sexual games than this one. But all of them share the same group spirit. In the long run, a decade or more later, it is Fisher Stevens' role as Alexander which lives on in my mind and heart more than any of the others. Nor will I forget Bullock or Rae Dawn Chong and their characters in this film. The story builds slowly, doesn't go where you expect it to or hope it will, but rewards those who are patient and observant.
Two If by Sea (1996)
Yaphet Kotto shines, but Bullock stinks
Bullock fans will be greatly disappointed, wonder why she accepted such a stupid part. Generally the presence of Yaphet Kotto in a film is enough to spark my interest; prior to seeing this film, Bullock had also begun to have that sort of status for me. She is excellent two or three films, but hasn't done much since "Speed" which really merits attention. My brother, who is in the film trade in Hollywood, told me Bullock had fired her manager or agent, after drawing lots of attention for a few successful roles. Apparently this agent was the one who selected roles for Bullock which best brought her charm to the screen. Maybe she felt too stereotyped as "America's Sweetheart" or the next "Audrey Hepburn" -- I don't know. But her business sense, her apparent lack of concern about being given poor roles or stupid and disgusting lines in them, especially in this movie -- have completely destroyed my interest in almost all recent films she's been in. Kotto provides the only light here, in my estimation, and a fine light, too -- but his role comes too late and his presence in too limited to save this junk bucket.
On the Edge (1986)
A fine running movie with a real runner in it -- Bruce Dern.
If you love to run, really run, then you appreciate the joy of running. Nothing gets you closer to that true spirit than trail running, especially over beautiful terrain like that shown here. As I understand it, Bruce Dern is truly a devoted runner himself -- and he was chosen because no actor -- no matter how good otherwise -- who didn't really like to run, would be right. This film celebrates the Dipsea Race in Marin County, or the Double Dipsea -- a real event for some 40-50 years. It's not called that directly in the film, but otherwise the other things, the location, the handicapping by age, etc., is based on the Dipsea.. So, yes, it's a bit sappy, story-wise, but the sheer fun and adventure of the sport come through -- as opposed to the mad, adrenaline-driven competitiveness of track running (which has its place, too, God love it). The gloriousness of the scenery after running uphill for three or four miles: It's all here, guys! If you know the area, if you've been to the top of Mt. Tamalpais (you can drive there, for you tourists) -- once you top the ridge, then you can see the Pacific and run on down to it. So this film deserves its niche among the running community as a special film -- better than the many attempts to celebrate the great 3-mile champ from Wash/Oregon who died in a car crash -- Prefontaine, I think, was his name. There have been two films on him, both interesting, but just not enough real running in 'em. Maybe you've got an injury, can't run for a month or two -- you're going nuts because of it -- well, this film may provide some solace, help you feel like you're back out there on the trails. Or remind you what it's all about.
Bright Angel (1990)
Not a bad film at all -- quite the opposite.
I saw this film with two senior citizens; I'd picked it out from the video store -- which I did frequently for these friends. The husband was in his 80s, his wife her late 60s; both love the theater and have been active in local amateur productions. We all thought this film was exceptional -- in just about every way. Delroy Lindo has a typically rather small part (unfortunately) but manages to be breathtakingly captivating for every moment he's onscreen (also typical for him). But the maturity of the young man, the son who has just seen his parents break up in a rather nasty fashion -- that's what's so outstanding. His presence, his sense-of-self, his ability to steer his way through difficult situations into a growing awareness of what matters and what doesn't. Rarely are teenagers or young twenty-somethings given roles where this is shown. Finding one's way to maturity doesn't usually get such an honest treatment; maybe it's unappealing to teenagers to see it told without the usual Hollywood froo-frah of frat house parties, beer guzzling, and bimbos. Too bad. Yes, this does have a bit of that "play made into a movie" feel to it; but what a play, and what a movie, nonetheless. Hats off to Sam Shepard, and all the other actors and crew for this piece. Shepard himself is not onscreen much, but excellent in the opening as the hot-tempered father. We end up, as the film goes on, seeing Shepard through the character of the son, so much so, he seems to be in almost every scene. Just look in the young man's eyes, how he carries himself, how he appraises himself and others clearly and honestly, but without the usual teenage brashness of expression. He's more the strong, silent type. Maybe you have to be over 30 (I'm 47) to like/love this film. It's kind of a modern-day "noir" film -- except it's not a crime movie; more of an existentialist, Sartre "No Exit" type of work. But it's not exactly that bleak, either: the strength, the resolve of the son, as well as the damaged, semi-paranoid character played by Lindo -- both these men cannot be forgotten, and neither can ultimately be seen as tragic figures. The film's story texture allows for much richer evaluations; it may be raw, it may be rough, but you come away uplifted by what you've witnessed.
Foreign Correspondents (1999)
Some corrections to my previous comments.
My sentiments about this film remain much as my earlier comments indicate. However, the director, Mark Kines, was kind enough respect my right to the opinions I offered, while pointing out -- via the IMDb -- that, factually, Melanie Lynskey did NOT have to pay her way to the US from New Zealand. She was treated rather well here, glad to have an opportunity to be near Hollywood to explore possible future roles, make contacts with major studios, etc. She also knew the script in advance of coming. Kines had the smarts to seek her out and ask for her -- and PAY her! He deserves credit for that and more. I am sorry to have misled people. Was it fair to characterize her role as Melody as being "a wallflower"? A few other viewers' comments have been even less kind; still, "wallflower" probably was the wrong word. Melody knows what she's about; she's no push-over. She may be unhappy, yet never desperate or desolate. My problem remains: it's just not very dynamic. I'm not asking for gunfire, or weeping and running about. So-called quiet films often appeal to me for their very quietness. And, as I said before, there's much to enjoy about "Foreign Correspondents." I'm happy to say it again. What Kines attempted with her plot-line was extremely difficult -- and maybe film schools should post signs in big letters: Don't try this! Having Michael J. Fox play a coke-head in "Bright Lights, Big City" comes to mind. Not for a minute was he convincing in that role. (Loved him in "Doc Hollywood.") Kines' error was of a much lesser magnitude. And... my expectations for Lynskey and her part were sky-high, up in the clouds. I would accept no less than another "Heavenly Creatures" turn. And why not add in some startling b&w images from old Orson Welles' films, too -- and those terrific dancing mud-creatures -- what happened to them? All of which made it difficult to see and appreciate "Foreign Correspondents" in its own right; so I apologize.
Frankie Starlight (1995)
A slight correction to my earlier comments.
"Frankie Starlight" will delight most viewers, and those who love the stars, who appreciate their magic and mystery, will especially like this work. I've just begun to read the novel it's based on, "The Dork of Cork" by Chet Raymo. Neither the film nor the novel are based on a true story. They're fiction. So my comments about it being "true" -- are untrue. There's much "of truth" in the story -- but it must be appreciated for what it is. Corban Walker as Frankie gives an outstanding performance. And there's no question as to Walker's reality. I was correct in writing that "My Left Foot" was based on a true story. The error was linking these two films in memory too closely -- plus a little wishful thinking, perhaps. Readers' comments on another site about the novel "Dork of Cork" include some, evidently people from Cork or who have travelled there, who were disappointed more about Ireland or Cork wasn't in the book. I don't wish to similarly mis-direct people who like biographical films -- or "historical re-creations" -- to "Frankie Starlight." See it and enjoy it, as many will, as a grand, lyrical creation of art. Rewatching recently, I also realized the story was richer than I'd remembered, more complex. It moves through many times and places, across seas and continents. Tales of love and tragedy interweave masterfully. The themes of being exiled and of seeking a place to belong to run throughout. Frankie and his mom each make such a search -- for a true home, both in the cosmos and in the heart.
A real stinko! I've liked other S. films, but...
I can see lots of enthusiasm for this film in the comments of other imDb members. I most agree with the person who said if you don't like the first 5-10 minutes, hit the exit. I managed about 20-25 minutes, really hated to give it up since I am a fan of the director, but kept feeling worse and worse about what I was watching. I might have made it through more like 35 minutes, but it felt like torture most of the way. And so I missed the "gratuitous frontal nudity" near the end, as another viewer's comments mentioned. Unbelievable. Is it actually there -- or was that just a disguised marketing ploy? But seriously -- is frontal nudity ever truly only gratuitous? Is there no God? What does it all mean?
Grand Canyon (1991)
The real Grand Canyon, i.e., hole in the ground, is L.A.
Quite a range of raves and hates for "The Grand Canyon." I've with the ravers, mostly. Yes, it is mostly about whites, although Danny Glover has a solid role, most of the best lines, and did the most to make the film pull all its diverse plots and people together.
Kevin Kline probably plays a more central role and appears in more scenes than Glover; his performance is good, but many people will probably find him too much of a New Age type. Steve Martin doesn't provide much humor here, either -- so don't let Kline's and Martin's names make you think this film has a lot of madcap funny moments in it. They're not supposed to be funny here; they're playing against type.
"The Grand Canyon" makes a fine example of what an epic film can be -- which is visionary. We see a vast sweep of characters, of landscape. A sense of history emerges, when these things work well. Most people don't look for that at the theaters, or make a mockery of "visionary" work because being a naysayer carries a certain cachet.
So, yes, the main Grand Canyon you see here is the troubled quality, or just plain misery of many different people in and around Los Angeles. The emptiness of their lives -- empty in feeling, but full of activity, in many cases -- that's kind of the essence. The city skyscrapers and urban squalor, the rapid pace of change, escalating violence and the common sense of alienation -- all these make the characters feel like they're near the bottom of a great canyon of spiritual emptiness.
I've seen the film at least twice, will probably enjoy renting it at least once every four or five years. Works better as a rental, because the film is quite long for a straight sitting. If you want to see the Grand Canyon -- or lots of scenes of it -- the actual National Park: get a video from your local public library on National Parks, or go visit the great park yourself. You'll need to be patient, very patient, to see the actual park scenes in this film.