104 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Peter Pan (2003)
An outstanding presentation.
10 May 2004
Compared to the Disney cartoon, or any other previous attempt to represent this story theatrically, this version stands as a hallmark of perfection. Some of the special effects are a bit excessive, perhaps, but it remains an outstanding production. The "Peter Pan" motif is archetypal, in Jungian terms, because it speaks to that paradox of human development concerned with change. Clinging to childhood fantasies is a natural part of life. We see it in adults who try to preserve their youth by snapping their fingers to the music, or by continuing to play the same games they favored as children. Peter Pan, however, is a rather tragic character, who by never growing up, ends up alone, and with nothing to look forward to but a world of pretend.

Contrary to what some may think, Peter Pan is not about everyone's secret dreams. As an archetype, Peter Pan represents the symbol of remaining the same. In contrast, the lessons of childhood are about creativity and growth. The objection to adulthood is that adulthood doesn't change. Therefore, and ironically, Peter Pan represents the opposite of youth: not changing, not growing, not doing anything new. He has an old person's mind in the body of a boy. He is stuck in a rut and unwilling to change. Wendy, on the other hand, represents the true child. She wants the feeling and love that an old man's brain in a young boy's body cannot give. It isn't that he doesn't want to grow up, therefore, but that his unwillingness to grow has already made him too old.
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Should have talked louder.
10 May 2004
Independent films have a reputation for being different than the mainstream fare, but different is not always better. This is a story about a profoundly ordinary girl who finds herself faced with a non-ordinary situation. Otherwise, the banality of her thinking can be found at the checkout line of any K-Mart. The story merely demonstrates that unusual circumstances do not necessarily cause ordinary persons to rise above their commonplace values.

In terms of its being a low budget presentation, the most obvious deficit is in the sound mixing. It is almost impossible to hear what the characters are saying, most of the time. This is not a slur on their fine British accents, but on the technicians who did the mixing. The background noise is typically louder than the voice track. The story itself is hardly worth watching, but having to strain to hear what they're saying makes it all the more tedious to endure.
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7 May 2004
While we know how this story will end up right from the start, it tells us what we already suspected. Movie stars live lives that cinema viewers can hardly imagine. We see them on the screen and think that they "are" the characters they play, even though they are just following scripts written by others. The typical movie star is just a puppet, holding to no original views worth knowing about. If someone writes a script for them in which they deliver lines more profound than they could have imagined on their own, we give the credit to them, and not to the writer of the script.

On one level we know that, but on another level we keep hoping that they are more than just hired pretenders. In this film, a home town girl wins a contest to date a movie star. She wants so much to believe that he is more than a talking dummy that she believes his lines, even when he swipes them from the boy next door. She gets so caught up in her fantasies about the movie star, and what her life would be like in that glittering world of make-believe, that she almost loses sight of what is going on in her real world. There are no surprises to this story, but it is well done, and fun to watch at least once.
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A docudrama.
7 May 2004
What went wrong with the New Republic, a journal believed to represent mature and sober thought and the best of investigative reporting? Was it just Steven Glass, presented as a self-seeking sociopath and an inveterate liar, who manipulated and victimized an otherwise unblemished tradition? Or had that tradition already been lost in the rush to be more trendy and hip, such that maturity got lost in the bargain? Who do we take our lessons on maturity from, the young? We learn from this story that the "mean" age of the reporters at the New Republic was twenty-five at the time. The "mean" is a measure of central tendency, as opposed to the average, which is the sum of all ages divided by the number of participants. In other words, the "mean" is a measure of the most typical, where the average could include a much wider spread.

So we are presented with a situation, at a highly respected journal, in which the most typical reporter is about twenty five, and when one of them acts without any sense of maturity, the finger is pointed at the actor and not the production. This is like hiring children to design a roller-coaster, and then being surprised when someone gets hurt. What was "wrong" with the situation at the New Republic was not Steven Glass, but its central tendency of cultivating youth in positions requiring more experience and maturity. It therefore provided an environment in which the immaturity of someone like Glass would have surfaced anyway: he was just ready for the role. Hence, to put all the blame on him ignores what was lacking in the maturity department at the New Republic, even before he arrived. If it hadn't been him, it would have been somebody else.
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The Big Empty (2003)
Unnecessarily abbreviated.
7 May 2004
This could be an excellent little suspense yarn with a touch of sci-fi in the brew, and in many respects it is. But (the DVD version of) the film is only 92 minutes long, and there were at least three scenes chopped down that needed to contribute important information to the continuity. Leaving them in completely would have added no more than a few minutes to an already short story, but as stripped, there are three situations left unexplained, along with a comment from Cowboy that clarifies what he is up to and defines his role.

What does a cowboy do? He rides the range in search of cattle, and when he has a herd, he delivers them to the slaughter house where they end up as hamburgers. A similar story was given many years ago in a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits show, about space aliens inviting humans to go away with them to a paradise in the sky. The humans were given a book to decipher, which the aliens claimed would reveal their ultimate intent, but the humans couldn't figure it out. Hundreds of them had already left, and more were waiting in line, before someone finally translated the title. It was a "cook book"! In other words, as in this story, the promise of a glittering future among the aliens turned out to have a darker side.

As anyone can see from the DVD version, the important three shortened scenes establish key points in the plot. They are called "Going for a ride," "Get in the room," and "Git along little doggie," the latter of which concerns a rather chilling remark by Cowboy. These three scenes should not have been truncated, because they are central to the story. The edited out parts only amount to an extra few minutes, but they add clarity to three situations that otherwise leave one wondering what was missing. Otherwise a good story.
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7 May 2004
A person may kill out of hatred, meanness, apathy, anger, or desperation. Whatever the reason, murder can never be tolerated except as an act of self defense. But what can we say about someone who repeatedly puts herself in dangerous situations, and then not once but seven takes a life, each time claiming that she had acted in self defense? As even she complains, it's all in the numbers. That she had a miserable life, with a long history of neglect and abuse, is doubted by no one. That those whom she killed were mean and loathsome toads who cared nothing for her, and would have taken her life had she not murdered them first, is also arguably true. But she kept putting herself in such situations repeatedly, anyway, and that's where her claim for self defense seems absurd.

The documentary portrays her as angry at the world, yet relentlessly addicted to bad advice from others who seek to exploit her for their own selfish reasons. First she listens to a nincompoop "Christian" lady, who convinces her that Jesus will forgive her sins if only she admits to all her crimes in court. So she does, only later to realize the stupidity of such advice. Similarly with legal representation. Going from bad to worse she listens to a worthless narcissist more interested in his own career than saving her life. For all involved, she is worth more dead than alive. Her life would end in the electric chair, while the audience would be eating popcorn and watching the Hollywood version of her story.

The deeper question, however, is how did this woman become a killer in the first place? What is it about our culture that we turn a blind eye to poverty, neglect and abuse, yet we blame those who act out their frustrations through anti-social behaviors? Given her background, why should we be surprised that she turned out as she did? Her life meant nothing to anyone until she went over the edge, and then it only meant a story to be exploited for profit by others. There are flaws in this documentary, to be sure, but a very sad story it yet remains.
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A powerful and brilliant story.
21 April 2004
A clashing of cultural values story centered around the ownership of a house. To begin with, it belongs to a youngish American woman who inherited it from her father, but she is a rather self- absorbed narcissist whose fantasy world does not include attending to trivial details. As a result, she ignores a tax lean against the property until it is confiscated by the county, and she is forcibly evicted. The property is then sold at auction. In the meantime, a disenfranchised Iranian family, forced to emigrate to America after the fall of the Shah, and struggling to make ends meet, bids and wins the property. They are decent people just trying to survive. They know nothing about the American or her problems. The father had been a high ranking officer under the Shah, but in America he was reduced to road work and clerking at a convenience store nights.

The ultimate tragedy results from the clash of cultural values. To the American, the Iranian is just a greedy opportunist that stole her property, even though she would have had no problem if she had just attended to the tax problem responsibly. To them, she brought the loss of her property on herself. They acquired it legally, and as a needed investment. In their world, survival and preparing a future for their son meant everything, where in her world, trying to get her house back was her only goal. The Iranian plays no games with his life or the welfare of his family. In contrast, the American is weak and superficial, employing dramatic and impulsive actions to get attention. Her life doesn't matter without the house. To the Iranian, his life doesn't matter without his son. In the bargain, a local law-enforcement officer gets involved, and by the time the fog clears, who owns the house no longer matters.
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Bian Lian (1996)
Life's changing face.
21 April 2004
The theme of this film is tradition, which can be a good thing when it preserves continuity across generational lines, but harsh and restrictive when it allows no room for growth. Ironically, the skill of the "grandpa" is in surprising his audience with masks that are ever changing, yet change is the one thing he finds hardest to do. Tradition requires that his skills can only be passed down to a male heir, and hence he would sooner allow his skills to be lost than to break with that tradition. The message he ultimately has to learn is that tradition can sometimes be wrong, and that even he can be surprised by the unexpected mask.

This is a Chinese film, in which we are given the Chinese perspective, but the message is universal. On another level, consider the Christian perspective. Metaphorically speaking, what if Jesus came back wearing the mask of a little girl? Would that representation be rejected on the grounds that it wasn't what they were expecting? Would they reject the mask, and thus miss the message? Or consider the Aztecs of Mexico, who fell victim to the Conquistadors, because Cortez resembled what they thought was the return of their god Quetzalcoatl? Beliefs about traditions can not only be wrong, but potentially enslaving. When we become so blinded by tradition that we can see no room for change, change may have no room for us!

This is a marvelous film, which begs to be compared with "Whale Rider" (2002), having a similar theme but presented from the perspective of a New Zealand Maori tribe. They, too, had a tradition in which the mask of the leader could only be worn by a male, and when a male could not be found, would sooner the tradition die than change. The point of these stories, of course, is not the girl, but the change. There is more to value than gender. When tradition can only accept the one, it might be surprised by the other.
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Folly by the furlong.
14 April 2004
Mom's parenting skills consist of having all the kids get into the bed with her like puppies. Indeed, when she goes away on tour and has to stay in a hotel, she rings up room service for a dozen pillows in order to get to sleep! Similarly, Dad's parenting skills amount to letting the kids do whatever they please, so the story is not about two parents with twelve children, but rather fourteen children, of which two are somewhat older. There is no structure to this family, and hence when Mom and Dad become distracted by new career choices, it starts breaking down rapidly into anarchy and chaos. The problem isn't the number of children or the new career choices, but that the parents have not provided a family structure sufficient to support any changes in direction or growth.

In short, the story misrepresents a poor example of parenting as though it was a good example, manipulating the audience with feel-good sentimentality at every turn, so that we will not notice how messed up and dysfunctional this family actually is. We are supposed to laugh at all their craziness and antics, the chandelier crashing from the ceiling, the kids slipping on vomit, the frog splattering breakfast on everyone, and so forth, and then feel good in the end, when love conquers all, and they return to the simpler life where they started. In other words, this is just mindless nonsense promoting stupidity and childish values. It has nothing in common with the 1950 film from which it takes its title.
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Try Seventeen (2002)
Respect and purpose.
14 April 2004
This is a very sensitive and original `coming of age' film, centered around a seventeen-year-old boy seeking to find meaning in his life. His mom had been, in her youth, a self-absorbed, dope-smoking and thrill-seeking Bohemian, who fell for an equally superficial and pretentious pseudo-intellectual of the writer variety, and by the time he went out for a pack of cigarettes never to return, she had found herself pregnant. That would have been the end of her story had mom been a pauper, but her family had money, so by the time the story opens the son had been shuttled around through every prep-school in the country. He never knew his father, and what he knew about his mother was that she never grew up.

What little his mother would say about his father were myths, which he clings to desperately in this story. Had his father `really' been a writer? All he has for proof is an old typewriter, on which he tries to write letters to his father that are never mailed. The whereabouts of the father are not known. Estranged and alienated from his parents, he ends up in an apartment where he can begin to find himself through associations with others who have complicated stories of their own to share. Not surprisingly, he falls in love with an older woman who is much like his mother: self-absorbed and addicted to dysfunctional relationships. Almost as though to redeem his mother through the woman, he tries to prove himself the better man to her, in contrast to the slick and quick former boyfriend, with his leather clothes and hot guitar. He is a nice guy that wants to finish better, not last. It is a very mature and well-crafted story.
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