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14 reviews in total 
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Lovely story with poor production values, 28 June 2012

An inspirational tale of culture shock. Paul takes everything as it comes to him and assimilates it into his inner world while the outer world batters him this way and that. Music and the love of his friends and the Tuvan people carry Paul (mostly)safely through a great adventure. Love the story, the music is intriguing, the scenery is beautiful. The political back story is fascinating, understanding how the Tuvan people managed to hang on to their culture through the Soviet rule. The Feynman angle is strange and funny enough to believe. I remember my mother having some Tuvan postage stamps. My only quibble is with the production values-they do not live up to the beauty of the tale.

Bombastic to the extreme, but Liz still shines., 10 November 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie has not aged well. The score is distracting and overly bombastic, telegraphing with a heavy hand until the Morse code of the director's intent is tattooed on the viewer's forehead. Lovely mid-century fashion and buildings, terrific color and framing, but it all gets lost in the heavy-handed melodrama of a bygone time.

Fortunately, Elizabeth Taylor is there to watch, and she makes the most of a horrid script, story, and denouement.

Pass this one by unless you're a huge Taylor fan or feel like seeing something unintentionally hilarious. The five stars are for Liz and the sets.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A very strong film, finely acted and composed, 27 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Night Catches Us is a love poem to a turbulent age.

As a child in the 60s and 70s, watching the Black Panther movement from the comfort of my suburban middle class home, I had no idea what it all really meant to the people living the conflict. This film helps you to understand how the racial struggle impacted individual people. Death, love, revenge, resignation, acceptance, and compromise all play out in a very understated fashion.

The production and continuity is meticulous. The cars, clothing, hairstyles, household items, even down to the soda cans are all carefully chosen to represent 1976. The music used is not period, but it sounds very much so, and credit must be given to The Roots for capturing the times with their own sound.

The resolution, or lack thereof, is the only ending that could have been possible for this film. Patricia must continue her fight and her penance. Marcus must move on. It hurts, but it's the only right thing. Difficult to convey such hard reality to movie-going audiences who want overblown drama and unrealistic love stories. In this case, reality is pitch perfect.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
As cool as cool can be, 3 February 2011

Not quite a concert film, not quite a travelogue, this "day and night in the life" of the Newport Jazz Festival is a delight. Some standout performances, including an unforgettable rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown by Anita O'Day and a gorgeous set by a beatific Mahalia Jackson would make this film worth watching all on their own. But, there's more. A very young Chuck Berry makes an appearance, and the earliest Rock and Roll seems boring by comparison to the many styles of jazz displayed in this film. Despite the repetitive groove, the folks in the audience can't help moving their feet to it and the future is foretold. Bert Stern deliberately moves the focus away from Berry's stage pyrotechnics and keeps it on the audience and the amused if bored jazz musicians. Did he know this was what the future held? Maybe. Bits and pieces of the lives of affluent Newport residents, a yacht race (America's Cup qualifying), jazz musicians practicing, a break into Bach by a cellist, dancing on the rooftops, all the small parts that make this film greater than their sum, this is one worth watching, and perhaps, like me, you'll find it one worth adding to your permanent library of musical film.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Perfect performance from Laughton, masterful cinema overall., 16 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Why can't movies like this still be made and be blockbuster hits? Why must all major-studio movies be big-budget, dumbed down, lowest-common-denominator cotton candy for the brain? The story here is compelling and interesting. Hugo drew an intersection of history between the middle ages and the Enlightenment, with the printing press as green light. The people inhabiting his world move through this busy intersection not without incident. An evil clergyman, here in careful division as an evil magistrate and his brother, the other half of his ego, the good Archbishop. The ugly Quasimodo, with the heart aching for love and understanding. The beautiful Esmerelda, just trying to survive and help her people do the same. A kindly, logical king who embraces progress but still understands that a superstitious populace will want trial by ordeal. With a good story like this, it's no wonder this movie has been made so many times, yet this version is the definitive.

Charles Laughton is flawless as Quasimodo. Your heart breaks for him, for how lonely he is, for how he longs for love. When he covers his face to speak to Esmerelda, it's so poignant. His spirit and kindness and determination to save her. His song while showing her his "Friends", the bells. His daring dash to rescue her from the noose, and his defiant "SANCTUARY!" The performance of a lifetime, and one of the best ever on film.

Maureen O'Hara is not superficial. Her heart is of course as beautiful as her face, but she is not portrayed as a pure innocent; rather, as a woman with desires and passion. She longs to gain justice for her people. This has yet to be achieved, but in the celluloid fantasy, they are admitted to Paris at last.

The story is complex and multi-layered, something we seldom see in mainstream films today. The cinematography is very good and the music is amazing. This is an essential for those who love the art of cinema, and those who just love a great story alike.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Many mysteries, none of them profound., 29 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I loved the novel Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It took place in familiar surroundings, places I hung out, in a town I loved. It questioned mysteries that I'd questioned myself.

It's not certain if the passage of time or the changes wrought in adaptation brought about my dislike for this movie. After all, I first read the book some 25 years ago. But the film lacks so much in comparison with the book. It has none of the humor, none of the introspection, none of the sense of resolution or at least readiness at the end.

The acting does not help the situation, especially Sienna Miller, who as Jane, is basically a flat line. Art is nearly a flat line, strangely enough; as the lead he is not supposed to be. Sarsgaard's Cleveland attempts to compensate for the affectless performance of his screen-mates by wildly over-emoting. It's a valiant effort that almost works. And Mena Suvari is just pitiful as a sad stereotype that no woman with a shred of self-respect should ever have to play on screen or stage.

I'm sure it doesn't help my assessment that Chabon is one of my favorite writers and Pittsburgh is my beloved home city. But if I were you, I'd give this one a miss. The four stars are for cinematography Nick Nolte, and music, which were decent.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Evil personified, 17 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's a great shame that Charles Laughton did not direct any more films, as Night of the Hunter is a film of great beauty and style, with forceful direction and clever use of light, shadow, and movement. Given his temperament, though, perhaps it was better for his health that he didn't.

Robert Mitchum shows his potential as a great actor here. He is so blood-curdlingly evil from the first time we see him on film. His menace is as pervasive as the depression-era despair that flavors the entirety of the film, a predator without conscience and without remorse and there is no ambiguity or saving virtue to him. Shelley Winters is fantastic, her hapless widow is pitch-perfect. The children are capable and well-directed despite Laughton's rumored contempt for them. Lillian Gish is strong and loving and capable, a fierce protector and a compassionate nurturer. Every player is at their full potential in this film; even the bit players are nuanced and directed to perfection.

The real star here, as in Fritz Lang's films, is the film itself, though. There are scenes of such beauty that you will be haunted for weeks after, recalling details you didn't know you'd seen at the time. The room where Willa meets her demise. The children spying the preacher on the horizon. The body at the bottom of the lake, hair streaming beautiful in the water, serenity on her face that she had lost in life.

Thank you, Charles Laughton, wherever you are, for this extraordinary film.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Pretentious twaddle disguised as art film, 15 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I did not like this film, despite liking "Being John Malkovich" very much. It's an intriguing concept, no doubt. The execution was sorely lacking. A confusing mess of a movie, Caden (the protagonist) goes through his completely self-absorbed life and never realizes until the end that the people in his drama are real people and not just supporting actors to his own life.

Most people already know this.

So we have another masturbatory narrative of an egotistical "artiste" who takes a long, (very, very long, seemingly endless) journey into self-discovery, destroying lives all around him, destroying his own life with his endless examination and analysis, his endless picking at scabs, his endless neurosis, until he comes to no great realization at death's door.

Truly, I expected better. I did enjoy the burning house, though. That was well done and an apt metaphor for the way so many women strive to become the subject of their own lives live from day to day.

Julia (2008)
9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Well done, Tilda. Well done, Julia., 30 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An outstanding film, Julia is full of improbable plot twists, failures, missteps, and desperation.

Tilda Swinton stars as a woman at the end of her rope and probably, at the end of her life. Her despair and desperation in the throes of alcoholism are so real and so painful to watch. Julia is in pain from which she'll never recover, pain she's stopped trying to recover from because it's just too hard. Then Julia gets an offer she can't refuse. A sane, rational person would recognize the insanity and illogic from the beginning, but Julia is not sane or rational. And so the journey begins.

Fantastic acting by the entire cast, and Tilda Swinton shines above them all. Gritty and realistic sets that reflect the characters in them to perfection. Relentless plot twists and turns that leave you wondering when Julia will take that final step of desperation. A slow blossoming of tenderness in a swamp of despair, an unexpected scene of real love where you thought love could never be, and then, you're thrown off the train at last.

Highly recommended.

Moon (2009)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
In space, no one can hear your grief., 19 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A beautiful, thoughtful film that draws us deep into meditation on the nature of humanity.

Duncan Jones' spare sets and realistic effects set the perfect tone for this remarkable movie.

Sam Rockwell delivers an impeccable performance. His Sam Bell is heartbreaking, and it is so easy to imagine ourselves in his place, which is one of the reasons it's so remarkable, because Sam is by nature a disposable commodity in the hands of a heartless corporation devoid of ethics. What would you do if you found out you weren't you? Kevin Spacey gives voice to the all too human computer who will surprise you with his compassion for Sam.

I really cannot recommend this movie highly enough, and I can't wait to see what Duncan Jones comes up with next. He may be the perfect "Anti-Cameron"!

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