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rzajac

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284 reviews in total 
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"Fargo" (2014)
Pastiche. But a forgivable one., 19 October 2014
8/10

When you first start watching, the pastiche is so thick you fear you might not be able to ignore it.

But, in my experience, as it simmered along, I found that the story development swept me up and bore me along. I was able to stave off the sense that they were trying to ride along on the weighty prestige of the original movie--or movies; pretty sure they were tapping "No Country..." as well.

It's pretty much character development, touch-and-go story development, and superb production values.

Speaking of those values, though, the fey approximation of the original soundtrack music had a cloying effect that wouldn't let go, unfortunately.

But it was a great venue for the talent, turned to good theater.

Loved certain of the casting choices, e.g., Key and Peele! Odenkirk! Goldberg! And everyone else does a sterling job.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Ditzy chick flick urban fairy tale, 5 October 2014
1/10

I can't remember the last time I marked a flick based on it's political correctness, but it feels like it's time to do it again. I think I'm ready to do this because of a somewhat recent dawning awareness that the key to the magic of film is its ability to weave a spell of myth. And the things I find repulsive about The Other Woman (TOW) are ultimately acting on the mythic level.

Marketing types in the film biz went into full-bore development on this one; and what de rigueur elements were brought to bear for their target demographic? These are: Women as hot, sassy ditzes, regardless of their professional profiles; alcohol; affluence; the primacy of carnality and a meat-market sexual mentality.

They pitched this salad to the suits, got the funds, and set the wheels in motion. It's interesting to watch the flick while keeping in mind how sad it is that the system can muster these kinds of incredible production values to make something which is, at heart, reprehensibly soul-sucking.

I'm thinking of something Sarah Silverman said to Jerry Seinfeld: That an aging woman's all-consuming struggle to fight the onset of wrinkles is exactly WHY her daughters aren't dreaming of their futures. That's actually what's at the heart of the problem with TOW: A better example of a clearly articulated mythos designed to rob young ladies of hope could hardly be imagined.

The final piece of the puzzle of the existence of flicks like TOW is the self-siphoning nature of that media market: Why do people (as J.R. "Bob" Dobbs said), "Pay to know what they *really* think"?--especially when they're paying to be reminded yet-again to accept a status quo of women as venal, consumption-worshiping, walking man-servicing units.

The writing is moderately artful, for what it is. Some people here are crowing about how gosh-darn *funny* TOW is; I suspect they're a little *too* easily pleased; happy to take their soul-poison with a spoonful of sugar; a modicum of the occasional witty turn of phrase, coupled with childish, over-the-top physical comic bits.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fantastic writing, direction, acting, production. Great story., 4 October 2014
10/10

Note that these comments come after I've "binge" watched most of the first season.

The scripts for Masters of Sex are seamless stories, building up to warm, supremely human moments, all reverently observed and craftily delivered in the product. This is the stuff of great drama. I love exposition that grabs me by the lapels and compels me to understand the destinies of the characters; and this production does exactly that.

Whew! Now that I've gotten the mythos out of the way, what about production? No balls dropped, anywhere. Sets, props, costuming, shooting, sound, editing--the rest of it--are all done with peerless professionalism.

From top to bottom, wonderful, funny, powerful, unfolding human events. Enjoy. Cry. Behold.

2012 (2009/I)
A perfect movie that shows what's screwed up about Hollywood, 23 September 2014
4/10

2012 is almost a textbook case of what's wrong with Hollywood.

Why?

Because it very, very neatly showcases a particular perversion of the Hollywood system: What you have in 2012 is a story with a lovely, grand overarching theme--which I'll explain below. But the important idea here in my review is that you could very likely miss this theme because it's been slathered over with a thick, nearly opaque faux-buttery coating of pop-thematics and staid disaster movie over-production.

If the producers could have found it in their hearts to give the treatment over to a winning director whose sensibility (and aesthetic wiles) they could trust, some balance could have been struck and 2012 could have been a fine film.

So, what *is* that excellent-but-buried theme? I tell people that when you pry off the crap, you have a story about "ways of knowing". And, in keeping with grand storytelling tradition, these ways of knowing are discrete, can be counted, and are THREE in number. Which, actually, is kinda cool.

But all that is moot, given the decisions that the producers _did_ make; sorry to say.

Avoid it.

lo-budget gold, 17 September 2014
9/10

I remember a scene from The Sarah Silverman Program ("Mongolian Beef"): Brian breaks in on Steve while he's producing an ultra lo-budget video for YouTube. They have a little conversation in which it's pointed out that, while Steve's work may not be Oscar-worthy, the vast bulk of stuff posted to YouTube is worse. This makes Steve feel *much* better, and he carries on with his work.

I loved Schrab's work on that show. I sincerely believe he's of the school where he doesn't see storyboarding/pacing/editing as a compensation for lack of funds: He sees them as essential, no matter what the budget may be. And I agree. And Robot Bastard does a pretty good job of delivering the dramatic goods. It's meticulously "content'ed" and paced, so the payload denouement is faithfully brought home.

So, seeing how I've just written an apologetic tome regarding the production values, what about that story? I think it's great! The setup is straightforward, and it doesn't waste time following those gas lines to the TWO! TWO! TWO! truly surprising twists at the end!

Add in the delight of seeing/hearing genuinely talented and creative acting/voice work, well-directed, and you've got a wild and warm sci-fi outer space robot shoot-'em-up!

Godzilla (2014)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Kinda "Plan 9"ish... but still enjoyable., 26 August 2014
7/10

I really would like to know why this flick is earning scads of IMDb ratings below 3! I guess I'll do a survey of the comments and look for a commonality.

One thing for sure: There *is* a sort of "Plan 9" feel to the plot lead-up. It was beginning to look like we'd be left high/dry with respect to a binding mythos that lends credence to the concept. And then we finally get to the scene at Monarch where things sorta start to get explained; but it sounded a bit hollow, to me; like the alien fellow's speech in Plan 9 about why alien intelligence urgently needed to intervene in Earth matters. Yeah, it made a sort of sense, but... not really. They try to palm Cranston's character off as one of those crackpots-who-knew-all-along, but in the end it doesn't gel. You get the distinct feeling that Cranston's character was supposed to be tragic; but sadly, due to thematic mismanagement, he comes off as a bit pathetic.

Now, I've never been a monster aficionado: As a kid, I tended to get scared easily, and wouldn't watch monster flicks, even while my buddies loved 'em. So I'm trying to play catch-up here. But I sense that the key to making a flick like this work is to skip the pretenses to high-toned theatrics and go for the gut: Create a visceral sense of power and primal, atavistic, animal angst. I really don't understand, in the least, all the commenter remonstrations to the effect that there's not enough monster action. There's plenty, plenty, plenty of very tastefully choreographed monster action in this flick; and it's powerful, primal, angry... all that!

So, in the end, I give this guy a 7: It's not timeless art, but the producers, et.al. sought to paint a very big picture, and a big picture is delivered. For that, alone, it deserves more than the weird reprisal ratings it's been receiving.

Hot, for the scenario/writing and direction/acting, 25 August 2014
9/10

It's a snoozer for folks who want action, but quite the nailbiter for folks who follow story, interpersonal conflict/resolution, and (in general) engaging dialog that closely and meticulously (and yet warmly) tracks character motivation and development.

It's interesting that there's a lot of kneejerk ire being raised over the release of this flick, mostly over precipitous assumptions of its being an apologetic for domestic terrorism. This flick is nothing of the sort. At worst, it commits the "sin" of reminding us of political realities that refuse to be flushed down the memory hole. For tending to that Orwellian duty (in the positive sense of that concept), and doing so with aplomb and artistry, the film will be appreciated by the circumspect.

As much as I liked Lions for Lambs, I have to be honest with myself and reflect on how sadly low my sights were set as I watched it. The Company You Keep exceeds LfL on counts both of artistic integrity--with a special shoutout to the writing--and message payload.

Here's a political jab that seems timely: I appreciate this flick for adding yet-another data point to the mix, apropos contemporary interest in "radical" pop libertarianism (read: tea party). This flick helps put things into context: People who fulminate on government abuses these days have been exposed as martyr-complex drama queens: They wring their hands over a looming "police state", then side with the police on extra-judicial killings of actual American citizens. They froth and foam over the threat of international terrorism, but don't seem to notice that they have the power to actually *do something* about it, by working to stop it when it emanates from their own establishment in Washington. They decry modest steps to stem systemic abuses in the health care system as spendthrift behavior, but turn a blind eye to trillions borrowed and spent on needless and cowardly warmongering.

I daresay this flick comes close to being a definitive American statement on the issue of terrorism, with specific focus on our ever-pressing need to reevaluate who our *real* friends and *real* enemies are. And Redford continues to be someone who strives to live up to the ideal he expressed so eloquently when he received his "lifetime achievement" award at the Oscars in 2002.

Divergent (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sci-fi breakthru wannabe, 19 August 2014
6/10

"Divergent" strains to be the next Blade Runner or Matrix. You can see where they tried to throw in all the de rigueur elements: There's a social status quo that people accept and within which they operate. This is a little like the Matrix, except that there's (spoiler) the sense, by the story's end, that the social system in Divergent fails not because it's a systemic horror-show illusion (a la Matrix), but because the checks and balances fail; so Divergent doesn't *really* go for broke in that sense.

There's a VO backstory involving a war and the city of Chicago being surrounded by an odd sort of "wall". This comes off like a quaint throwback to Blade Runner, with it's backdrop social reality of off- planet white flight. The difference is that Blade Runner's social backdrop feels strangely warm and contiguous with our reality, whereas Divergent's feels contrived for the express purpose of explaining how the "new" Chicago's progenitors got pushed to contrive the faction system. Frankly, I prefer a backdrop that looks like a version of "home"; and that shouldn't just be another contrivance to "explain" things.

I think the flick was supposed to be an extended parable on the importance of mutation for survival. But, in the end, I wasn't convinced that it sheds light on this; it veered too far into future dystopia action hero fantasy shoot-'em-up territory. We're supposed to understand that the heroine transcends her faction. In the end, it just sorta looks like she simply lucks into the position of getting the big picture and then using her faction-developed skills to blast through and stop the malefactors.

There's a lot of stuff in the flick that doesn't seem to gel. There's an interpersonal antagonism within the heroine's caste that seems more designed to generate dramatic tension than it does to demonstrate caste- functional social behaviors; in other words, from time to time, writing for character just doesn't compute. In the end (spoiler) there's a deus ex machina moment where we're to believe a drug-programmed person is induced to snap out of it at the point where the heroine just-so-happens to need his aid to extricate her from yet-another brush with death, so she can go on to save the day.

What's good about the flick? The actors were marvelously professional, and took direction exceedingly well. Set work, effects, stunts, shots, editing, and scene-by-scene dramatic flow was managed well, in a general sense. Production work was fully what one would expect from a contemporary sci-fi action flick. Hollywood has honed that stuff down to a razor sharpness which is always a marvel to behold; and might even see you through the viewing with nary a thought to leaving the theater or ejecting the medium from your video box.

But if you're hoping to see the next mindblower sci-fi wunderkind, abandon hope.

Something I've never done, 12 August 2014
1/10

I'm about to do something I've never done. I'm going to "review" this film after having turned if off about 15 minutes in.

You don't have to ignore this review; just read it while keeping in mind the caveat that I turned "Kiss of the Dragon" off, 15 minutes in.

It's simple really: 15 minutes in, I had no idea where the flick was headed. Now, the usual retort is to point out that a lot of flicks do that: They defer spelling out the underlying key plot points quite a ways into the flick. So why do I refuse to cut KotD the kind of slack that is due to a slow-burn sizzler storyline?

Because KotD doesn't sizzle. In fact, one gets the sense that Besson is fully aware of the need to create tension of one kind or another in order to sustain things while the viewer gathers the data which will eventually pay off in a stunner revelation. But the data stream is... well, I was about to say bizarre... but bizarre is good! In fact, it might be a good idea at this point to mention his La Femme Nikita (the film). It sustains for a good, long while until the data is gathered because the leading action is bizarre *enough*. There's an amazing firehose of bizarrerie that keeps you alert and pondering, until the air clears and all the necessary pieces fall into place; well, at least, enough of the pieces to apprise you of the fact that you're watching an actual story.

KotD opens with an unsatisfying, disconnected cubistic salad of cloak/daggerish visual and verbal cues, gangster scenarios, a hookers/john sequence that floats in an utter void, and a weird, utterly inexplicable 180 degree turnabout in the relationship between the crime boss and the new recruit--10 minutes into their relationship--which can't even be explained away as a spurious psychopathic lark on the part of the crime boss, let alone as a natural concomitant of the recruit's actions.

I suppose that, if I'd hung with it, I'd've been able to metabolize that salad in some fashion. But, 15 minutes in, my question to myself was, "Why bother?"

In the stuff I describe above, I don't mention Jet Li's lovely martial arts moves. And I left them out for a reason; because I wanted to preserve them from the disreputable notion that Besson thought they'd suffice to keep the viewer's attention.

I think reviewing the first 15 minutes of this flick was worth doing-- there was so much to say!--so I did it. I hope you understand.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Worth a watch to get a taste of true Silverman, 9 August 2014
9/10

Here's where Sarah shines! Really: If you want to really know about this gifted, intelligent, articulate woman, watch this show. Silverman's always aiming for that biggest of breaks; a key role in a truly great production... and she's had a few breaks and come sorta close.

But, in the end, when she takes the stage for stand-up, she gets to be her own woman--and what a woman that is! And she slices and dices that medium like a Vegematic on steroids. Thank Someone there manages to be an opportunity to watch her shine, and "We Are Miracles" is a great, great showcase.


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