49 Reviews
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If Only There Were More
30 July 2009
Damn, I wanted to love this movie and I did. Well, parts of it. It's based on a short film called "Fairies" by Tom Gustafson, and starring some of the same actors. I think some positive feedback for that 24 minute movie, encouraged Gustafson & Co. to go back and expand it to a full-length production. Too bad. It WANTS so badly to be a musical, but there aren't nearly enough songs to make it one. The Midsummer Night's Dream mash-up is quite wonderful, but the plot veers off into the ridiculous when it should have stayed in the charming and touching world in which it begins. I love Tanner Cohen's voice; he's the absolute star of this movie, but he's sinfully underutilized. The choreography is so bad I really shouldn't call it that. It's unlikely to happen, but I hope director/writer Tom Gustafson rewrites this one more time for live theatre. This belongs on the musical stage.
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Disturbing Subject=Brilliant Film
28 July 2009
I just watched Mysterious Skin for the second time, the first being shortly after its release five years ago. I'd forgotten just how good this movie is; there's not a false note in it, and the acting, directing and script are superb. In my opinion, this is Gregg Araki's masterpiece, one that he'll be hard pressed to surpass. It's funny, but I almost passed on the film the first time because I only knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt from his role on "Third Rock From the Sun" and dismissed him as another washed-up child actor trying to make a come back. Stupid, stupid me! I've been following his career ever since BECAUSE of this movie and his role in it. Brady Corbet's performance is quietly stunning, a trembling counter-point to Levitt's super-swagger. Difficult to watch? You bet. Worth watching? Absolutely!
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Smells Like A Great Movie
28 July 2007
This movie is both something different and something special. That "something different" is the treatment of the serial killer; from the opening 15 minutes, where the society that produced him is so vividly depicted that I could barely watch, to his "apotheosis" at the end that defies the routine Hollywood treatment. The "something special" is Ben Wishaw's stunning performance. Often non-verbal, his appearance changing from handsome to grotesque and back again in the space of seconds, he dominates the character, the screen and, in the end, the audience. Has a psychopath ever been more ably portrayed by any actor? The movie is as beautiful as the subject is gruesome. The direction is as flawless as the story is horrifying. The visual interpretation of the sense of smell is, at times, as heady as the lavender in the fields.
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You may wish the world ended sooner.
12 July 2007
This is an interesting experiment, but just an experiment,and in no way ready for prime time. What bothered me most(and there were a lot of things that bothered me) was the absolute failure of imagination. Here, Calum Grant, the writer of this "the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it" scenario, can't let go of the world that has just ended; the survivors (as he imagines them) carry on as if they are in some self-actualization collective. It is SO "west coast" that it becomes a laughable re-affirmation (and this crowd "re-affirms" every five seconds) of every San Francisco stereotype I've ever seen. They don't have to show the Golden Gate bridge, one knows after the first ten minutes of dialogue where this is set. I give credit, as I always do, to the people who had the determination (if not the talent)to get this project off the ground and finished. However, if these yappy, later-day hippies are all that's left of civilization I'd be tempted to shoot, wait...I'd shoot them first.
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Far Too Much of a Very Bad Thing
14 January 2007
There can be no "spoilers" for something like this: we know the ending before the opening credits, it's that trite. This movie is so bad in every way, so tediously predictable, so cheaply produced, that it beggars description. There are laughs to be had, few and unintentional, but there aren't enough to raise this to the level of camp. I see from the box office receipts that "Snakes on a Plane" has made millions of dollars and, to my everlasting shame, I've contributed a few of those dollars. To all involved with this movie, please don't take its enormous, undeserved, inexplicable success as encouragement to produce any more of its ilk. Instead, take the loot and run. Run far. Very far. Buy a gas station or a hamburger franchise but DON'T make another movie!
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Miscast, Misguided, Mistaken!
3 March 2006
This is by far one of the worst adaptations of any Jane Austen novel I've ever seen...and I've seen them all. Wait! The 1986 production of Northanger Abbey was worse and maybe the 1999 version of Mansfield Park. OK, so this is the third worst film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel I've ever seen. Miscast, misguided, and mistaken this is a film for people who have never and will never read the book, or have never and will never see the brilliant 1995 version staring Colin Firth. Don't go near it if you've done either, it will leave you gnashing your teeth over Keira Knightley's grinning idiot of a performance and Matthew Macfadyen's befuddled portrayal of Darcy.ARRGH!
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Alexander (2004)
Alexander Conquers Stone
26 August 2005
It's impossible, at this late date, to review Alexander without first "reviewing the reviews". The storm of controversy, arising mostly from the United States with a supporting chorus from Greece itself , swirled around the sexuality of Alexander rather than the Oliver Stone movie. The reviews from the gay press condemned Stone for being too coy with Alexander's love life and the religious-right condemned him for being too explicit. Both are wrong. I declined to view the film in a theatre for the simple reason that I think we've forgotten how to make an historical epic and, in Oliver Stone's case, how to direct one. I don't think he knew what audience he was playing to: the largely a-historical audience to whom the film might as well have been about aliens, or to people familiar with both Alexander the Great AND Alexander the Myth. To the former, he provides mind-numbing detail and names, for which they have no use. To the latter, he reduces Alexander to a swaggering paper-cut out, dehumanizing him with pretentious dialogue that wouldn't have been out of place on a Victorian stage. He blinds both audiences with hopeless, amateurish editing and a musical score that would embarrass the cheesiest toga epic of the 1960's. Poor Colin Farrell, a fine actor, is left holding the reins of this runaway horse. I watched the "Director's Cut" version and it seemed to me that Oliver Stone, like the ancient world he tries to depict, was simply overwhelmed by Alexander the Great.
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Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!
16 April 2005
Watching this movie brings several words to mind: "sophomoric", "ridiculous", "improbable", "self-indulgent" and finally (and fatally), "boring". Badly directed, badly photographed and badly acted, the film is a confusing mess with plot lines (if one can call them that) veering in all directions. Someone may have used a five-year old's finger painting as a template. As punishment for this childish crime of a movie, this cast of "stars" should be spanked soundly and sent to their respective beds without dinner. . All in all, it seems like George needed an excuse to get together with his little buddies for a paid summer vacation and we're the suckers paying for it. Bad George! Bad!
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Vanity Fair (2004)
Clueless Direction
6 February 2005
If you've read the book, DON"T watch the movie! The director (Mira Nair) hasn't a clue on what she's dealing with, hasn't an idea of who Becky Sharp is supposed to be and doesn't understand the novel on which this mess is based. Reese Witherspoon is one of those resolutely modern-looking actors who looks out of place in a period piece but she can always fault her director for not for not giving her a clear idea of what she's supposed to be doing. The supporting cast is wonderful and wasted on this effort. The ending is a chickening-out of historic proportions: why film this in the first place if you didn't like the book? All Nair has done is ruin the chances of it being filmed again and, one hopes, better, for another twenty years.
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Sugar (I) (2004)
A Bitter-Sweet Surprise
29 January 2005
I rented "Sugar" with some trepidation; all I needed was another low budget "seedy-side-of–life-coming -of –age-damn-he's-dead" story. I was surprised, no, I was elated to find otherwise. What makes this different from so many of this genre? Great acting, great writing, great directing. Wow, just like a real movie! This old story (young kid meets up with hustler and begins to sink to the bottom) has been told again and again and will be re-told again and again. There's something about archetypes here, some sort of shared mythology that just begs to be re-visited and re-explored. This movie is worth the visit. Brendan Fehr gives a masterful performance as the hustler and the late Andre Noble as the young explorer is wonderful. Some of the scenes are riveting, some endearing and one is unforgettable. I won't give more away, just rent this film and watch and learn
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The Damned (1969)
Damned If You Do!
6 September 2004
This is one of the clumsiest movies I've ever seen. Put aside, for a moment, the all-too-obvious references to Macbeth, the hammer-over-the-head morality play, the ponderous, pompous self-importance and what one is left with is: bad, BAD acting, a terrible script, editing that looks like it was committed by an angry five year old,a sound track that was probably recorded via two tin cans and piece of string,and dubbing that would make for a good SCTV skit. The theme, the period, the FACTS deserved far better treatment than this and,while some of it may have been shocking in 1969 ( and some of it still is), a stinker of a movie doesn't get better with age, it just gets smellier!
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The 24th Day (2004)
Must be at least 24 Reasons to See This Fine Movie!
2 September 2004
`The 24th Day', a stage play brought to the screen, is jammed with issues and questions: What is truth? How responsible are we for one another? How responsible are we for our own actions? How can one event change the lives of so many people? Watching the two characters(who are on-screen for almost the entire time) trying to justify themselves is a revelation. James Marsden and Scott Speedman give performances of which any actor would be proud: Speedman's as the working-class man of thwarted ambition and Marsden's as the almost-too-cute (can anyone really be too cute?)selfish career man.

I love the "staginess" of this movie ;when Tony Picccirillo(director and writer) tries to bring us outside the apartment with apparent flashbacks, they do nothing but distract. Some of the quick edits are jarring and it seemed to me that he kept trying to remind himself he was shooting a movie and not staging his play before a live audience. He should have trusted the actors (and his own words) a little more.
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The Revolution Has Been Postponed
27 August 2004
Margaret Cho's `Revolution' falls apart right from the beginning; her opening comments seem scattered and unfocused. She relies far too much on mugging and draws out her routines far too long, not to make a point, but to fill in time, as if she hadn't prepared enough material. The by now infamous `Persimmon Diet ` routine starts funny, progresses to disgusting and ends up boring. She is at her best( and her very best was her first effort `I'm the One that I Want') when she makes her mordantly funny, touching, FOCUSED observations on life among the marginalized (insert whatever marginalized group you identify with here). Save for a few bits that feel like preliminary sketches for what one hopes will become fully realized pieces, this is not worthy of her. Is she now a `victim' of her own success? Is she so secure in her following that she will serve up anything and call it dinner? As a once and future fan, I hope not.
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Elephant (2003)
Van Sant, We Have a Problem!
20 August 2004
`Elephant' is like a long skate on a frozen pond; the ice may crack at any time. In this movie, it never does and we're left on the cold surface, aware of, but not touched by, anything. Van Sant doesn't try to explain the inexplicable and I thank him for that;what happened at Columbine has resisted every attempt by the media to be solved in a half-hour time slot. What he has attempted to do is show, from different perspectives, a day in the life of a group of students, a day that for many, is their last. I love directors who take the time to introduce us to their characters and we spend a lot of time following these kids through the empty corridors and rooms that make up the geography of their world. Van Sant used local people in this movie and that's where if falls apart. Using non-actors to act as ordinary people is a very risky business because… they aren't actors! It takes talent to play `ordinary' and most of these people don't have any. Some of the performances are stilted and uncomfortable, others merely adequate. There is a flatness to everything that disappointed me even as I watched with grim fascination how Van Sant refuses to make anything comfortable. The scene with `Benny' comes to mind: when he appears, we're sure in his cocky, calm arrogance he'll follow the familiar American movie formula and save someone. Poor Benny.
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Orlando (1992)
8 August 2004
Repeated viewing is the answer to this puzzle of a film. I saw it when first released (egad, has it been twelve years!)and was intrigued and frustrated by it. Now, no longer a callow youth (crap, I wasn't a youth when I first saw it!),I find it intriguing and very fine. Casting Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth the First was a stroke of genius and Tilda Swinton is perfection as Orlando. Billy Sommerville (Bronski Beat)is, now and forever, an angel in my mind. Has Billy Zane ever looked so good? Visuals are important in this movie; there are so many beautifully photographed scenes. Sally Potter lets humour sneak in to save it from what might have been total and impenetrable pretension.
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Foolproof (2003)
Gives Good Brain
31 July 2004
"Foolproof" is a wonderful surprise. A smart, well-acted movie set in Toronto with no one pretending it's New York, or L.A or...Pittsburgh! Fast-paced and quick-thinking it's what multi-million dollar productions (i.e.:The Bourne Supremacy) aim for but so frequently miss. Above all there is that "thing" that no one can plan: chemistry. The actors have something going on the screen and , whether it's feigned or not, it comes across full throttle. Ryan Reynolds, Kristin Booth and Joris Jarsky just "click";they are charming and engaging. The great David Suchet makes for a menacing villain. The whole thing had some brains behind it and I had a great time watching.
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22 July 2004
"Wonderful" is the only word I can think of to describe this movie. Denys Arcand skewers the Quebec Provincial Government, the Federal Government, Socialized Medicine, Labour Unions, and just about everything else, but gently and wittily. (Rather more funny since there are a lot of Canadian tax dollars financing this effort). The aging and dying student radicals of forty years ago gather to give it all one last heave-ho and the dialogue (so much better than the sub-tiles can convey) is smart and witty and sad. They poke wistful fun at their younger selves while fearing the end as it comes for them and for us all. Love is thick on the ground as is self-loathing and anger and lust. These are rich, educated, privileged people who are still not all that far removed from their student days, at least in their own minds. They are something that many people may have trouble comprehending: wealthy Socialists.

It isn't necessary to have seen Arcand's previous work with these characters,( `The Decline of the American Empire') to appreciate this movie, but then, why would anyone deny themselves that pleasure?
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Cold Mountain (2003)
A Whiter Shade of Pale
7 July 2004
Anyone of colour in this movie is relegated to `walk-on, walk-off' or `drop dead and stay that way' roles. Even `Gone With the Wind' managed to convey less on-screen apartheid. This is a movie about white people and white peoples' preoccupations in a war being fought essentially over the rights of black people. So where are they? We understand in a phrase or two that Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) owns slaves; she uses their unseen presence as an excuse to talk with Inman (Jude Law). Then, much later, in a toss-off sentence, we understand that she freed them. How very liberal. In the beginning, all the men are happy that they got their war. But what are they fighting for? Later, Inman walk away from `a cause he no longer believes in', but what was that cause? I believe that the purpose of this vagueness is to keep audience sympathy with the main characters who are fighting this war to preserve states rights and to OWN SLAVES. A braver film maker would have conveyed these paradoxes, not been afraid of them.

The life of non-slave owning rural whites (and let us remember that they were the majority of the Southern population) is portrayed realistically as one of semi-literacy and hard-labour, punctuated by fervent and musical religious expression. The scenery is beautiful, Nicole is beautiful, Jude is beautiful (even when he's ugly). Their relationship, founded on a few glances and even fewer words, lasts an Odyssey of time and travel. Frankly, I believed it. The privileged upbringing of Ada, alluded to by her dress and deportment and later on by her incompetence at anything practical, would have predisposed her to this very passionate, frustrating attachment. The type of fiction she would have read (we hear her reading `Wuthering Heights' aloud to Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger) is all about intense, thwarted passion. But Ms. Kidman is a superstar and has arrived at that place where all I can see is Nicole Kidman and not the character she wishes to portray. Ms.Zellweger finally convinces me that she can act and steals every scene in which she appears. Jude Law is soon to arrive at that superstar category where he can only be `Jude Law', but thank God, he isn't there yet. He's wonderful.

The opening battle sequence is justifiably famous and will be the new benchmark for period war filming.

Let me mention the music in this movie which is a true highlight. Powerful, evocative and, for anyone who isn't familiar with Sacred Harp (Fasola), a revelation.

The book( and I urge everyone to read it) was a wonderful read BUT the movie is not the book. Judge the movie as a separate, independent work. I have no patience with people who cry `But the book was so different'. Of course the book is different; it's a different medium. If anyone is at all interested in the period, I would suggest they read `The Civil War Diaries of Mary Chestnut', a work of non-fiction written by someone who was there and at the very top of the social heap. Her take on the slavery question is very interesting.
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Bad Santa (2003)
Just F****IN Hilarious!
2 July 2004
As manically demented as the road gets, this marvellously insane, foul–mouthed movie leads to a very American, very heart-warming, affirmation of family, even if it is one constructed out of the bits and pieces of some VERY damaged people. Billy Bob Thornton aces the role as madman Santa( with all the publicity surrounding his hard-living ways, I wonder where he begins and the character ends). John Ritter, in his last film performance, is very good as the bewildered store manager. Tony Cox, Lauren Graham and even Bernie Mac are terrific in this cast of characters one never hopes to meet. Cloris Leachman plays the almost-dead grandma with total conviction (LOL). Special congratulations to Brett Kelly who plays `The Kid'; he delivers his lines in the dead-speak of a true victim who keeps on hoping something good will happen and, finally, it does. I plan to add this one to my list of `Holiday Favourites'.
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Burns Hot Enough
1 July 2004
Michael Moore hates President Bush. So do I. In the weeks before the invasion of Iraq, when it looked like protests the world over might have some effect in preventing this flagrant lie of a war, I took part in a couple of demonstrations in front of the U.S Consulate here in Toronto. That's my disclosure of bias in favour of `Fahrenheit 9/11'.

There is very little in this movie that regular readers of the Atlantic and Harper's haven't read, or regular viewers of the CBC and the BBC haven't seen. What is new is that it has all been put together in a neat visual package. Michael Moore has chosen (wisely) to keep off the screen and let Bush hang himself. The most affecting scenes are of two women: Lila Lipscomb, from Flint, Michigan and an anonymous Iraqi woman, who's grief and rage must stand in for all Iraqi women. What started out as a war to ferret out non-existent weapons of mass destruction and then changed to a war of liberation has now turned into a war of occupation for the financial gain of the few. If the Iraqi people didn't hate America before the war they certainly do now.

I think of the late author, Barbara Tuchman, who, if she were alive today, would be furiously penning a new chapter to her book `The March of Folly'. I don't think she'd mind that Michael Moore has done it for her.
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Why Bother Coming at All?
30 June 2004
It looks like some one gave a bunch of high school students a camera and told them to go for it. The result is 'The Second Coming', written by Jack Walsh and K.M Soehnlein and directed by Jack Walsh. This is about a religious fanatical group that takes power in the United States and begins to rewrite the Constitution based on the bible. Fags and Lesbians are out. So are Jews, apparently, and anyone else not 'Christian'. Usually I can find something good to say about a movie, no matter how dismal an effort it is, but this one leaves me speechless. The acting (what there is of it ) is so bad as to be embarrassing. Mr. Walsh uses the movie to convey his own paranoid political ideology and does it poorly. Documentary film footage is slipped in, jarring scenes of poverty are stitched together and he uses a sledge hammer to get his message across. I realized early on that the movie was basically unwatchable but I persevered just to see how bad it could get.

It got worse. Much worse. You are warned.

However, in the DVD bonus feature there is a short film by Mr. Walsh entitled "A Letter to Rock". It is touching and thought provoking. This too was filmed in 1994 before the AIDS cocktail began to prolong the lives of so many people. It is an interesting and very affecting film about how hopeless it all was back then. How ignored we were by the powers that be when we weren't being vilified by them. I know. I was there. I remember. Thanks, Mr. Walsh for that.
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Down and Out in Zurich
29 June 2004
The road to perdition is well-travelled and well-documented in movie history. This particular `Road Movie' is set mostly in Switzerland in the mid-1970's, a conceit I see as the one lie in a very truthful film. This could be set anywhere at anytime but if a director is going to film a period piece, then he'd better watch for the anachronisms; they can be his undoing! Watching one more character destroy himself on drugs and booze might have been cliche, however, the two young actors, Frédéric Andrau (Fögi) and Vincent Branchet (Beni), save us from this fate. Both are utterly convincing; I believed everything about them and I believed Beni's love for Fögi in all it's misguided, self-destructive force. The ending, inevitable and tragic, is saved from banality by Beni's `lesson learned', which is as original as it is poignant.
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Big Eden (2000)
Big, Beautiful Lie.
27 June 2004
It's refreshing, to see that even ordinary-looking people can be in a gay movie; no buff twenty year olds here. It is beautifully photographed and the scenery is breathtaking. The acting,good enough for most of the film, stops being good enough when there is any contract between the male leads: I don't believe in these relationships and I don't feel they do either. I wish that the acceptance and encouragement of this gay love affair by everyone in this little town were true everywhere. I wish it were so. But, for most gay people in most places, the reverse is true. I know too much to suspend my disbelief even for 118 minutes. In the end, I don't believe these people or this town or this movie.
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Coming Out (I) (1989)
Go Back In!
24 June 2004
There aren't enough gay-themed movies and there aren't enough `coming out' movies. Every one is a welcome addition to the genre. Although the production values are high(the movie `looks' good, Matthias Freihof (Philipp) looks REAL good in a pair of jeans) this is a bad one. It is a period piece: gay life under an oppressive regime(East Berlin, 1989) a life that seems 40 years behind the west. In a way we're seeing our own history; what it might have been like for gays in the 40's and 50's here(it often reminded me of `Last Exit to Brooklyn :the book not the film).But it is unremittingly depressing and SLOW in a contrived way that evoked an old SCTV send up of Ingmar Bergman. It is so sloppily edited I wonder if the director just didn't hack at random. Yes, it is a miracle that this was filmed and released before The Wall came down and yes, life behind the `Curtain' was hard for gay people. A good director could have shown all that without stupefying the audience. A good director would have had me mark this one as one of the great coming-out movies and not one of the misses.
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The Trip (2002)
The Trip Takes a Detour
9 June 2004
I really wanted to like this film and, for the first half, I really did. Larry Sullivan (Alan) and Steve Braun (Tommy) are wonderful actors; convincingly in love, funny and affectionate. The supporting cast members are pretty good when used in small doses, especially Sirena Irwin (Beverley) who is delightful as a walking time capsule (check out the cell phone) . The scenes are set in different years in the mid seventies and early eighties and are surprisingly free of anachronisms. I point my finger at the dinner scene with Alan's mother in attendance as the moment things start to go terribly wrong. It is too long and over the top. The film almost redeems itself on the trip home from Mexico but again goes for the extreme when the quiet and subtle is all that is necessary. By now we know these guys, we care about them and we know pretty well how things are going to turn out. No need for hyper-dramatics. Damn, it makes me mad! It was so close to being a really, really good movie
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