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rzajac

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344 reviews in total 
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Walker (1987)
Part straight-up dramatization, part El Topo; in the end: Fun, 15 September 2016
8/10

At first I was excited: Ed Harris in a Wm. Walker biopic! A deserving more-than-a-footnote of American history, and blessings to the producers who greenlit it!

Well, I read up on it, and had a foreboding: The film would ravage its own intent, no?

Started watching... mixed feelings. Starting to warm up. Would the director pull it off?: A gonzo treatment of the subject?

In the end... I liked it. Glad I saw it. It makes a bold pronouncement on the filibustering mentality: A visionary presiding over a band of glory-seeking psychopaths, bankrolled by a money-glutted sociopath.

And, of course, the film is a fantastic showcase for the power of a gifted actor: When the film seems about to teeter over the brink, Harris's presence casts rays of dramatic power that bind the disparate bits into something like a plausibly coherent whole.

In other words, the director hoped to create art from a wild mess of scenario work by dint of sheer exuberant moxie. And I daresay he succeeds.

Dug the anachronisms: They effectively invite us to connect this filibustering mentality to our times.

Reality knocks my final score down a few notches. It _is_ a mess. While the wild, frenetic battle scenes evade an ordinary action/war- flick treatment, they do sometimes tend to hover in a kind of disconnected narrative void. Ca, c'est la charme, indeed. But it's still sometimes a bit much.

Check it out!

Watching it again, 31 August 2016
9/10

The West Wing (TWW) is an amazing product. It's was assembled meticulously and accomplishes it's various missions. I love some of those missions and hold others out at arms' length.

It's fun and frolicsome. I can't think of another theatrical product about which I can simultaneously say that it was an enormous make-work program for talented artistic people, and that I'd not have it any other way. All the pieces fall into place, and you're swept along with the pageantry.

I can also see that the producers and directors had a prime directive: To maintain just enough aesthetic distancing so as to avoid an accusation of pedestalizing figures who are, after all, functionaries in a democratic republic--that is to say, doing the boring, plodding work of building, tweaking, and managing the systems that make it possible for folks to conduct their lives, and do it so well that folks are unencumbered by the intrusive shadow presences of the architects of those systems.

But, dammit, the story arcs and portrayals occasionally fly under my radar and niggle their ways into the tabernacle of my heart. And when that happens, I resent the producers for falling off that side of the tightrope and letting something like emotional propaganda leak out of the process.

But, in the end, it's my call. I decide how to metabolize the product. And I generally wind up a little smarter about the basic outline of real-world governance, and rather in awe of the vision, and its highly reticulated production, which produced such an amazing theatrical product.

Enjoy it. But watch yourself, in the process! Don't let it convince you for a second that you're watching The Lives of the Secular Saints!

Endearing, 1 July 2016
9/10

There a great deal in Jackie Brown (JB) that has the potential to warm the cockles of a movie-lover's heart.

First, it's simply a well, well constructed flick. If you love solid filmic storytelling, you'll marvel at the conception and execution.

There's a kind of built-in wonderment at the release of JB relative to Tarantino's earlier work. It doesn't pack the same kind of punch as Dogs or Pulp. But the punch it *does* pack is no less significant... and the contrast is appreciated.

The characters are fantastic studies in character. In a nutshell, JB is (among other things) a kaleidoscopic bestiary of sociopathy. I don't think it's a spoiler to advise that, as you take stock of these various nuances and degrees of criminal mind, you should cast your net very widely: Perhaps only the cops come anywhere near to being truly morally clean--remember that as you're watching the concluding action.

Tarantino's penchant for dusting off and deploying yesteryear's faces is very well served in JB. Forster is an absolute delight.

Speaking of cutting edge casting, Tarantino's against-type and subtle direction of heavy-hitters like DeNiro and Tucker (especially the former) is a joy to see. DeNiro takes direction humbly and very well to create a truly DUMB persona. Louis is loyal, dutiful, not-without some moments of rugged sagacity... but slathered over it all is a translucent sauce of unfortunate, dogged dimness. And it's all nicely integrated in a superb character and narrative mix.

And there's more! I could go on! But I won't. Watch it.

I give it a '9' because the profound mythic dimensions of Pulp Fiction sort of set a high bar.

But don't judge JB too harshly on those terms.

It's perfect!, 18 June 2016
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ratatouille is an exceptional product, from production to mythic payload. The voice acting is fantastic, and the animation work is painstaking and engaging to view.

But let's talk about the myth. Ratatouille is a fun depiction of genius. Sure, it's more than a little cartoonish, but that's more than forgivable: True genius doesn't take itself too seriously either.

It's simply a well-wrought story with great character studies. The characters alone are an embarrassment of riches.

One of the astounding things about the story of Ratatouille is that it cleverly avoids one of the all-too-common, cop-out, standard-issue karmic machinations: (Here comes the modest spoiler) Most narrative products of this sort feel they have to find a way to dump on the "heavy" ("bad" guy), and this can even sometimes feel gratuitous.

Ratatouille not only refrains from this easy out, it goes one further and fully redeems the heavy. It shows, in a believable way, that "he wasn't bad, just misunderstood"; and had been so, for a long, long time. His exposure to true genius fulfills a deep and genuine need-- and this sets him right again. This was unexpected and enormously refreshing to see in a "pop" narrative product. This highlights a light-on-his-feet/turn-on-a-dime openness on the part of Brad Bird as narrator/director.

Check it out!

6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Unassuming, genuinely flying under the radar, 11 June 2016
9/10

This is a great example of ultrafine filmmaking that simultaneously courts convention, and then proceeds to transcend it.

It starts up as straight-up storytelling bolstered by a focus on character/scenario development, and winds up being quite close to mythic. Doris starts out as a "character", but ends up as a goddess. That's a laudable achievement for film.

This flick, more than many, gets my inner wheels turning, pondering the production process that brought together so many fine talents to produce such a fine film product. After watching so many hi-tech, meticulous productions that skimp on narrative/mythic depth, it's nice to see a mid-tech product that really does deliver the goods.

Check it out.

"11.22.63" (2016)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Great production, good story management, cop-out ending, 30 May 2016
8/10

I enjoyed the series quite a bit. One thing I like is how they played up flaws in the "hero"'s character: Quite simply, he makes mistakes; plenty of them. I wonder how many folks yelled at the screen, not realizing that this was a purposeful character framing by the writer(s), and recognized as such by the director.

I came here to sort of "pan" the piece, and find myself coming face-to- face with aspects of the story management which avoid the usual pitfalls of market-driven oversimplification. Admirable!

Still, I thought the denouement to be a bit of a slapdash tack-on.

Nonetheless: If you like good production, intelligent narrative work, and good acting, check it out.

Zen Noir (2004)
Actually, a perfect movie, 23 May 2016
10/10

It's weird to say, especially for a (by Hollywood standards) sort of second-string production like Zen Noir (ZN), but it's arguably a perfect movie.

Just watched it again, and it's a sterling depiction of the "lure" of Zen: That a person in the throes of bewilderment goes within.

It's as close as you're going to get to squaring a certain circle: The circle of bending the existential question to a framing suitable to filmic exposition; the exposition of... East Meets West: A Twain Collision?

It's really as simple as that.

Check it out.

Maddening... But... Yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of it!, 21 May 2016
8/10

I wish I could give this flick a 10. It has much of what I want from a movie; colorful writing, great scenario work, and supercharged acting moxie.

But... what does it lack? Hm. It's one of those things where the writing smells of the craft, and it's up to the direction/acting to cover that up. And it valiantly tries and does make some inroads. But, in the end, you can still smell the writing craftiness.

Mamet is known for his knotty, gnarly complexity. Every now and again he gets the balance (of detail and myth) just right e.g., Glengarry. Here, it's a little detail top-heavy. But, yes, the myth is still there in all it's shining glory.

It's still a fun flick to watch for all the positive attributes cited above, and highly recommended. It's also got a truckload of insider film patois and self-important preening.

Loved the glancing ref to Mamet's old buddy, Jonathan Katz: "...and, P.S., pal: I put the word out of the street and Betty Boop can look for work in Squigglevision!" Not to mention Katz's cameo!

Anyway... Yeah, I can recommend it. Not as taut as Glengarry, certainly not as gratuitously/ungratifiably complex as "The Spanish Prisoner". It's a rollicking cavalcade.

Stripped (2014)
Must-viewing for comics lovers, 7 April 2016
9/10

The only reason I slight this flick to the tune of 1 star is because it doesn't make even a passing reference to that other significant outlet for cartooning talent; the ol' comics publishers, their stapled-and-folded comic books, and the neighborhood comic shop. Bill Griffith is interviewed, but that _he_ cut _his_ teeth publishing full-length Zippy(tm) stories (and other fine stuff) goes unaddressed. Bill long, long ago backslid into the (relatively) claustrophobic newspaper comics section format, and so he makes the cut in STRIPPED.

I'm supposing the production/direction decision to cut this comics culture out of the narrative was made in the interests of addressing the plight of the post-newsprint Joe Six-Pak consumer of "the funnies". But it's still a fun fact that a lot of great, great comic talents worked in the stapled-and-folded comic book format and distribution milieu. It even went through palpable "waves" of succeeding generational practitioners.

Had dinner with Scott McCloud in France one time, and watched him face off a paper comics publisher from London. So there was a bit of a squeeze on "comic books" at the time; but obviously not of the same nature as that faced by the syndicated strips, described so colorfully and wonderfully in STRIPPED.

BUT: That glaring omission aside, what this flick otherwise covers, it does incredibly well; the paradigm shift from syndicated strips to a digital future. There's even lovely homage paid to the ancient, seminal strips (e.g., Krazy Kat), so I find it in my heart to let the filmmakers cut the old comic books out of their mix.

With the proviso mentioned above, I highly, highly recommend this flick to anyone who's been pondering the future of comic strips. The production values are superb from bottom to top: The kickstarter backers certainly got their money's worth.

Watch and learn.

Non-Stop (2014)
Honest about what it is, 3 April 2016
8/10

Non-Stop set its sights on being a mid-air heavy action whodunit and sets forth to stealthily achieve that goal. Sometimes its possible to smell "producer cold feet" syndrome, where stock action-flick action gets hyperbolic toward the end--and you can tell that the producers are panicking and pulling rank over the director. Non-Stop doesn't suffer from this: It's designed, from the ground up, to be a steady IV drip of incrementally escalating dramatic tension, built around a simple, operatic concept: Someone, for some reason, wants to endanger everyone on a transatlantic flight.

Like I said, it's operatic and simple, albeit with flurries of complication arising largely from the mystery: What are the motives and means involved?

The usual barrier is encountered: The viewer disbelief over the unlikelihood of the byzantinely complex scenario can be suspended IFF the mythos is compelling enough.

Is it? Mmmmmm...maybe. Oddly, the ultimate revelation of the motive is a key point in the flick, and it'd be spoiling to reveal it, here. Not giving anything away, it's a guy at the frazzled end of his psychological rope, seeking to make a large social point.

Another aspect of the mythos is time-honored (read: OLD): It's what Paddy Chayefsky characterized in Network (1975) as the "crusty-but- benign" public servant character.

I give this flick as high a score as I do because it's honest about its intentions and amazingly fleshes in those intentions with very good production values and pacing. Non-Stop is not normally my cup o' tea, but I found it nonetheless compelling, in a parameterized sort of way.

The tension follows the eldritch narrative trajectory; exponentially rising tension to a vertiginous height, a brief chain of intense crisis moments, release, a coda of calmness and connection.

From time to time, I chime in on IMDb User Comments to tell readers to avoid certain movies, and I try (and don't always succeed) in telling folks why. The usual reason to avoid a flick is artlessness. Strange to say for a made-to-spec action flick, but Non-Stop is amazingly artful. I would definitely recommend it to budding screenwriters.


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