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The Raspberry Reich (2004)
Sex, Satire, Politics, Comedy, Music, Graphics
I don't believe I've ever seen such a montage of music, pornography, political satire, and humor presented in such fashion as in this bold and astonishing piece of film-making.
I know the average moviegoer would turn away from this movie because of its pounding and raw sexuality, especially homosexual scenes that rival the best of this "art form." But if you have a yearning for experimental film-making, for stunning and shocking action, for a satiric look at terrorism --then you will be rewarded by this astounding work.
Get ready to be annoyed, agitated, repulsed --that's one of the goals of this movie. But I think the film ought to be on the syllabus of every film school because of its utter creativity and audacity. Bravo!
Empire Falls (2005)
A Great Disappointment
Put simply, this mini-series was terrible. Let me count the ways. 1. Absurd plotting. 2. Over-acting. 3. Scattershot approach to characters. 4. Annoying narration. 5. Inability to create viewer interest.
This film can't even pass the "Soap Opera for Dummies" test. I'm sorry I have not read this award-winning novel, so I am judging it only as a film, but it really stinks. Imagine going to a party where they show you dozens of appetizers. You look at the wide variety and want to taste them, but suddenly they are withdrawn, and you wonder where they went. That's like this film, with way too many characters introduced and never drawn out. There are enough stories and characters in this film to create a 20 episode series, yet we are given less than four hours to digest it all.
There are more facial expressions and reaction shots of Ed Harris than you'll find on 10,000 monkeys. The pace is extraordinarily slow.
Dennis Farina and Helen Hunt are so far over-the-top that their characters are not believable. Joanne Woodward's character is one-dimensional.
The persistent river metaphor becomes trite.
And, probably the most absurd part of the film--the cat. This evil and vengeful cat who follows the hero around to scratch him and his seat covers--well, come on now---it's not even good Stephen King!
Probably the most interesting character in the film, and one who is not drawn well, is John Voss, the disturbed boy whose final act of desperation accounts for the only plot device that works in this film.
Just about everyone in this film is unbelievable.
To sum up, there's little here to inspire. The drama is poor melodrama. It's just a terrible effort.
Okay, the set-up is really great, with a really horrifying predicament to the two "heroes." And the previous, devious evils of the Jogsaw Man are frightening, as well. But, really, can anyone understand the ending? The supposed brain-dead character (who appears for a split second in the film) winds up the killer! Please...there is no sense to it. And the actions of Danny Glover's character? No way. Come on. Films can be more intelligently written than this one. There are plot twists that occur out of thin air. This is decidedly not a thinking man's horror film. (Okay, the directing and film-making are decent.) Sorry, this film started with high expectations laid out but falls far short of excellence.
Grande école (2004)
What's going on in this strange, convoluted plot?
Yes, the cast is attractive. Yes, the acting seems quite good. Yes, there are some relevant allusions to history, philosophy, and business. And, oh yes, there's lots of excellent sexual and sensual scenes--enough to highly recommend this film. But the story lines, especially as we reach the third act, do not dovetail well. Also, the climax seems contrived. The need to appear artistic dominates the screenplay, which has lots of good confrontations. But in the end, the resolution among the characters is not very satisfying. However, it still is a superior film in quality and execution. And, did I mention? It's sexy!
What a Happy Surprise!
I saw bits and pieces of the first episode and was frankly turned off by the suicide of the boy; I figured that being gay anymore is no longer a cause for such a drastic measure.
But on a restless evening I sat down and watched the first six episodes in a row, without stopping, and I was floored by the dazzling array of story lines, the powerful acting, the myriad of confrontations among the characters, the unfolding melodramas--and needless to say I was hooked big time! This series is awesome...I just hope people give it a shot and stay with it as I have. I am delighted to learn there are 7 more coming, and another season booked. Can't wait!
Turn on the Lights, Please!
Unless the projector in the movie theater had a defective bulb, I wish this unusual film had a bit more lighting for the interior shots, for they were absurdly under-lit. Yes, we get the message. Dark lighting for dark moods, but come on, this is ridiculous. Okay, that's my only real criticism of the film.
Otherwise, the film was maddenly obscure for most of the running time, which I generally like. And it contained some very brave directorial moves, such as long, steady shots on the actors, with wonderful moody music in the foreground.
As far as the actual story, well, that's another story! The script hangs delicately in balance between absurdity and realism, holding our interest throughout. It eventually offers a psychological reason for being, which works well enough for the actors to work through their angst.
Yes, this review rambles, just like the film. But, overall, I liked it.
Garden State (2004)
All's Not Well That Ends Not Well
Here's a top quality first film that contains a large dose of quirky and memorable characters, plus all the attendant qualities of lighting, sound, camera work, you name it. And the first two acts of the film are very enjoyable, and primed to establish a confrontation between father and son, and a great awakening for the hero, off drugs and learning to live life with feeling.
Where this film greatly stumbles is the final act, with hardly any confrontation between father and son. The father's role is much too brief. The superb acting is wasted. The father and son meet momentarily at the end and leave us wanting so much more.
But the absolute weakness of this film is the treatment of the love between the two main characters. You couldn't get more Hollywood if you tried. Come on now, coming back off the plane? Crying in the phone booth? It is a real stinker of an ending, I'm sorry to say, and it therefore ruins the whole movie.
Better ending, next time, please?
A Very Pleasant Surprise
How did I miss this 2002 film? Never even heard of it before watching it on Sundance the other day. Quite fascinating. Excellent acting by all. A troubling set of themes in this film, including the old stand-by--incest/rape--as well as class & economic cleavage and, to spice things up, some sexual episodes of interest! Surprisingly well filmed and directed. An absolute sleeper this unusual film! Can't wait to read what reviewers thought of it. ***(And now the most ridiculous requirement from Internet Movie Database that one must fill in 10 lines of comments, so here I must add filler, and more filler, and even more filler until--aha!--the minimum number of line has been reached.)
Something the Lord Made (2004)
An Astonishing Achievement
Just about everything HBO Films produces is excellent, but this film rises into the higher levels of the stratosphere. Everything excellent about filmmaking can be found in this superb production. The story is one of the most compelling pieces of drama one could ever ask for. Medical history, black history --you name it --this film has it, and weaves a fact-based plot equal to any docu-drama ever made.
Needless to say Rickman and Def captivate us throughout the film--their regrets, frustrations, bonding, harmony and abrasiveness found between any two historic collaborators. What they achieved is one of the most significant advances in medicine ever! And the poignant life of Vivian Thomas who finally receives his just rewards--ah, the stuff that makes us all marvel at his steadfastness, his honor, his talent and pride!
This film will garner many rewards and will deserve every one of them. Hats off to the geniuses at HBO!
Shattered Glass (2003)
It's rare to watch a film and, when it's over, remark to yourself--wow! "That was a really well made film!" It was a wonderful film, not just for its story, but for the ensemble of actors, each of whom performs brilliantly. And kudos to Hayden Christensen, whose performance in "Life as a House" and now "Shattered Glass" propels him to one of the best young dramatic actors of our times. And while Peter Sarsgaard got all the acting acclaim (and he was amazing in his role), Mr Christensen deserves much credit as well. In fact, the entire cast deserved a Group Oscar.
The story is absolutely intriguing. You wonder how in the world could all these people have been so duped...and you realize that Stephen Glass came off as an adorable puppy dog, who's usually loved by all. So he could get away with murder--well, not murder, but pure fabrication--since his stories provided a ray of sunshine and humor to a staff of New Republic writers, desperate for comic relief.
The DVD has the 60 Minutes interview of Mr Glass, which does provide some explanation, and so it's essential that you watch this after seeing the film.
Congratulations to first time director Billy Ray. A tremendous job!
Yossi & Jagger (2002)
Too Many Plots in Too Short a Film
There is a big problem with this film--its two main subjects are alone together less than five of the 110 minutes. We know nothing of their history, how they met, and we learn very little about them during the movie. The script is over ambitious, covering at least three love stories at one time, introducing too many interesting characters, but way too thin in development. Since the film is called Yossi & Jagger, it might have been appropriate for the story about them to be the main focal point. The opening scene on the snow, while sexy, could have been a lot more developed.
BUT, there are very tender moments, especially after the explosion of the land mine, when Yossi finally admits his love and concern, ironically too late for it to do any good. The excellent theme here--when you have feelings for someone, don't run from them or hide from them as you may never have a chance to express them.
The final scene in Jagger's home is extremely tender and ironic and left this viewer with tears in his eyes.
I just wish the film could have devoted much more time to its main characters.
Thanks to TALK CINEMA, which is an excellent program of advance film showings around the USA, I had the opportunity to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and to marvel at another wacky but enjoyable Charlie Kaufman creation. Also taking credit for the story is the young French filmmaker, Michel Gondry, who also directs.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet put together excellent performances, as well as a solid support crew of zany actors: Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood (a surprising role), and Tom Wilkinson.
What we have is a combination of romance, comedy, and science fiction blended most of time in a smooth mix. There are a few slow, dull moments in the film, but these are bearable. On the whole, it's a great film with terrific effects as we move in and out of the hero's past.
I am not sure what the film means...a spotless (pure?) mind yields a joyful existence?
After both characters have some of their romantic memories removed, Jim Carrey's character fights to hide from a complete removal of his memories--which provides the core of the story--and finally succeeds in bridging all the problems of the past by starting over in his romantic relationship with Kate Winslet.
But, whatever the film means, it's mostly a lot of fun and very entertaining.
Terribly Weak Screenplay
And pretty bad acting also. The only thing that saves this amateurish production is the music, which obviously has created the favorable reviews of the film on IMDB. But, please, couldn't someone have written a better script and employed actors who can act? Sorry to be so tough, but this film comes off like a junior high school production. IMDB now requires a minimum number of ten lines for each comment? When did that happen? It seems kind of ridiculous to ask a reviewer to write 10 lines of comment when there is only a need for five or six. But I guess I have to follow the rules, as enforced by a computer. Kicked back again for not enough lines of comment. What's going on here?
Iron Jawed Angels (2004)
Excellent Story, Terrible Music
This docu-drama provides a wonderful story of the right-to-vote movement early last century, but whoever selected the anachronistic music soundtrack has to be taken out and shot. The idea is to show what it was like in 1900-1920 period, and the production shots and camera work do a fine job; but why in the world do we need rock'n'roll music to offer a major distraction to the film? This really made watching the movie at times repugnant. And the director and editor decided to do some fancy, techno editing effects, which further removed the film from the proper time setting. But the fine acting by all major players, and the great story itself, save this film.
Not Really That Bad
Yeah, everyone jumped on the bandwagon--hate the two lovers and hate the film, and it snowballed into a nationwide hate fest. Ridiculous how bad the reviews are for this film. It's been criticized for the plot...hell, it's a goofy comedy, so why is everyone tearing the silly plot to pieces, when most other comedies have stupid plots. It's been faulted for the screenplay, but it's not that terrible...there are some clever lines here, certainly enough to warrant the movie's existence. And, of course, everyone hates the way Ben and Lo act, yet their acting comes off fine--they goof off one another and have fun with the confrontations.
For some reason this film has been put under the microscope and shot to hell. But crazy me, I actually enjoyed the film. Oh well.
A Film with Good Intentions Needing a Pick-Me-Up
Hey, Lynch meet Bergman! What a strange assortment of delicious characters and scenes beautifully framed and filmed! There is much to marvel about in this haunting film by the Polish brothers, but I suspect most viewers (myself included) will cry out for some "color"--since the entire film is a monochromatic straight line, extremely well done, but sagging, as it forgets about joy, color, and humor. The four angels are wonderful but could have been cast with much greater humor and passion. Actual shots of bright color would have been welcomed. The transition between life and death in this film is just too dreary and solemn.
Big Fish (2003)
Highly Entertaining But Drawn Out
A delightful film, full of flight and fantasy, with a collection of memorable screen characters and tall tales. My only criticism is that there were scenes that went on too long, which distracted from the flow of events. But nonetheless a film well worth watching. And the ending of the film ties all the loose ends together quite well.
21 Grams (2003)
Wow indeed. I've seen very few films in my life that contain such amazing character and story development, with astounding acting skills, led by Watts, Penn and Del Toro. The nonlinear approach to story-telling works well here, as slowly but surely are we sucked into a powerful and gripping plot that mesmerizes and holds our attention from beginning to end. The raw and grisly cinematography complements the story lines. I have a feeling that film students will be writing about this production for years to come. It's a gem.
A Pleasant Surprise from Our Neighbors
Thanks, Canada, for this well done TV movie, filled with intelligence and visionary material, with excellent acting and images. The story itself provides a close look at the mind of evil --acting without any regard for consequences. Did Darren engineer the murders just for the money? Or was he also angry enough because he was scorned by his mother for his sexual proclivities? In any event, this is a fine TV film.
Angels in America (2003)
Supercharged & Powerful Drama/Fantasy
Not knowing anything about the play, I was overwhelmed by this nearly six-hour presentation. It is certainly not a perfect piece of filmmaking (sometimes too much over the top), but scores a perfect mark in shocking and unrelenting confrontation and dialogue --as well as some of the most wild and imaginative mix of drama and fantasy. Dark, depressing? You bet. With sharp and clever dialogue...probably one of the top HBO production ever created. Kudos to all.
The Reagans (2003)
Good Docudrama, with Excellent Acting
Despite all the bad mouthing of this television movie, I was surprised by the quality of the film, the actors, the editing, and production. I think it ranks with many other good docudramas, telling the story of Ron and Nancy Reagan's life together, from mainly the perspective of Nancy and her quirky, ambitious, controlling personality. Was it a fair and balanced portrayal? Well, only those close to the Reagans can tell us, but it seemed fair to me, pointing out the strong and weak points of both characters. James Brolin did a superb job of acting --I thought it was Emmy material. And all the supporting family members and White House staff (etc.) come across fairly well drawn. Al Haig's character comes off right on! I hear criticism that the characters were one-dimensional, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. I thought it was worth an 8 out of 10.
The Core (2003)
A Very Well Made and Enjoyable Sci-Fi Adventure
Opening to mixed reviews, this film is much better than I was lead to believe. It is extremely well made, well directed, edited, and acted. And the special effects are superb. If you like sci-fi, this movie will greatly satisfy, and the plot --with events fortunately not likely to occur--is filled with valid scientific bases. You can learn a bit about geo-physics and enjoy a ride to the center of the earth. The characters are drawn fairly well, with a lot of realism. I was very impressed with the entire production.
29 Palms (2002)
My cable station rented this film for $3.95, and considering that the cast was a bunch of well known and good actors, I thought I'd give it chance.
I'm now writing the cable company and asking for a refund, and I might actually sue them for cruel and unusual punishment.
This is without a doubt the worst film ever made with such a decent cast. The direction is horrible. The screenplay should have been destroyed before it was ever read by anyone. The editing blows. The production sets are embarrassing to watch.
If you want to laugh at total ineptness and don't have to pay to watch this, you might want to get a few friends together, have a few drinks, and get ready to be astonished at how bad this film really is.
Matchstick Men (2003)
The first ending is the best
Here's a film that features too many endings, and it would have been fine if the movie had ended just about the time we are so very surprised...but no, it had to go on and on, and become sentimental and contrived. Actually, the movie, which does have an incredible and strange beginning, begins to travel in too many directions of genre. We don't know if we're watching a comedy, satire, drama, or whatever. And until we learn the excellent plot twist, the film asks us to really stretch our acceptance of the plot and the characters, especially the teaching of one's daughter the skills of the con game. But everything makes sense when the twist is revealed, and that makes everything before it sensible and enjoyable.
A Very Dull, Dull, Dull Film
Nothing happens in this movie over and over again. One cannot ever feel anything for any of the characters, and even the excellent acting of Moore cannot help rescue us from this film's dullness. The story, when it actually unfolds, is certainly relevant to today's world of toxins and pollutants, but this drama has no punch whatsoever. You just don't feel drawn into the story. And the third act goes on and on with much dialogue and very little substance. I couldn't wait for this movie to end.