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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Scientific Thriller At Its Best, 28 June 2009

SYNOPSIS: The US Military goes looking for germ warfare in outer space and gets more than they bargained for.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER: Scientists can really screw up the world, and in the end, are often the only ones that can save it.

PROS AND CONS: I stumbled across this Widescreen LaserDisc copy on ebay and snatched it up as soon as I could. I had been looking for it a for a long time, having only seen the film once when I was in my teens. It had made a lasting impression on me back then and I wanted to see if it still held up 30 years later.

I wasn't disappointed. This is a really excellent film. I have always been a big, big fan of Robert Wise, and this film is an excellent example of why he is such a good director. This film was born out of the paranoia of the late 1960s and early 70s when the idea of scientifically induced genocide was becoming as much a fear as nuclear annihilation. I previously reviewed another film in this genre that came out about the same time called "The Satan Bug". This film is by far the better of the two, with much better scientific detective work and pacing.

The viewer has to pay close attention to the script and the acting to really understand what is going on in the film. The plot keeps you guessing on several levels until the end of the film, which is pretty climatic. As an added bonus, if you click the graphic of the title to the film, you can view the Trailer for the film that I have uploaded to YouTube. In the trailer, Robert Wise indicates that the real star of the film is the set of the Wildfire scientific laboratory where most of the films takes place. He isn't kidding either. Even though this film is over 35 years old, it does not look dated by scientific standards. I found it amusing that at the end of the trailer, it indicates that 'No one will be seated during the last 10 minutes of the film' if that would give something away or be distracting. It wouldn't, but it is an interesting piece of hype that surrounded the film when it was first released.

I really can't think of too many cons in this film. The acting, cinematography, script, set design, sound, are all impressive. The only quirk in the film that I found a bit annoying was Jackson's seeming incomprehension of what the "Nuclear Key" that he was assigned to wear was to be used for. For some reason he keeps thinking that it is his responsibility to blow up the Wildfire station if something goes wrong. He is constantly reminded by his peers, that he is the only one that can shut off the self destruct.

I am surprised that Hollywood has not tried to make a remake of this film, but I doubt they could do it justice or really improve on this 1971 version. There was a made for television remake of the film in 2008, but I didn't see it, nor would I really care to. Some films are just meant to stand on their own and be classics. This is one of them.

Badlands (1973)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Surreal Midwest of the 1950s, 6 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SYNOPSIS A teenage delinquent and his girlfriend go on a killing spree / road trip in the American Midwest.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER Youthful angst, ego and love set against the bleak landscape and rigid fabric of conservative middle America during the 1950s.

PROS AND CONS Even though there is a disclaimer that the characters in the film are fictional, it is evident that this is a stylized depiction of the Charles_Starkweather killing spree that gripped America in 1958. While this film gives a human and somewhat likable persona to Starkweather's image it is still a disturbing film on several levels.

The cast is dominated by a young Charlie Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek as the doomed lovers on their cross country killing spree. Sheen's character, Kit, is an unmotivated loser with no real ambition or drive. Spacek's Holly comes off as a shy and introverted young girls who is mostly heard in voice over as she waxes poetic about her doomed relationship with Kit.

It dosen't seem that Holly is actually in love with Kit and she often times appears to just be along for the ride in an attempt to escape her repressive past. She finds Kit endearing at first, but grows tired of him throughout the course of the film, eventually abandoning him in the end. Sheen's character is a bit more interesting to watch. Taking a stand and questioning authority for the first time in his life, he comes to realize that he has power and prestige based on his random acts of violence. Much like a wolf coming of age in a land full of sheep.

Having grown up in the Midwest, I was struck by how this film captured the tone and feel of the vast American heartland in the 1950s. It is seen here in almost surrealistic terms, with townscapes and landscapes that are mostly devoid of people, as if the world were empty except for the main characters and odd people that they happen to come across.

Near the end of the film, Kit knows he is doomed as the society he has run amok in starts to constrict around him. Instead of making an earnest effort to escape, he becomes wrapped up in his own notoriety and is transformed into one of the first media stars. In his final scenes he is seen charming his captors and giving away trivial person possessions, knowing they will be worth something simply because 'he' owned them.

The scenes of violence in this film are almost happenstance and their deaths seem random and without meaning. No reason is given for them and until the end, the killer goes unpunished. This film is a prelude to the pulp fiction dramas of the late 90s where violence is a central theme of the story (think Pulp Fiction or SinCity). The viewer can't help but be captivated by this film and its' dream-like journey through a time and place that seems asleep or in some sort of malaise. In essence, a film that documents the end of innocence in the societal sense and is a prelude to the turbulent times that were to follow.

Tikhiy Don (1957)
10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Russian Pragmatism, 6 February 2009

SYNOPSIS The lives and loves of Russian Cossacks living on the eastern steps of Russia during the Russian Revolution.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER How events beyond our control and the judgment of others shape our lives in the long term. No matter how hard we try, sometimes fate controls our destiny.

PROS AND CONS This is a great film, not because of it's acting or screenplay, but because it shows the western world that there were important events in the past that we have little knowledge of. It opens a doorway to us that we never knew existed and lets us glimpse some of the reasons that others think differently than we do.

During the late 1950 the Soviet Union was keen to copy everything that the west did regarding popular culture to show that they could do it just as well as the Americans and the Europeans. They sort of had a chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove that they were good enough to run with the big boys. In response to films such as "Ben Hur" and "Gone With The Wind", they geared up their own state sponsored film industry to produce 'epics'. This is one of them. Five and a half hours of the Russian experience in grand scope and scale.

Some have said that this is the Russian version of "Gone With The Wind", but it is more closely tied to "Dr. Zhivago" in theme and tone. The film deals with a portion of history rarely seen in the west. The internal struggles of a nation in the midst of Civil War in what could best be described as the Wild West of Russia.

This film is long with slow pacing. Russian cinema does not move a story along at a fast pace. Characters are built slowly and relationships between them are complex and wide ranging. The scenery is beautiful but sparse, as befits the Russian hinterlands. This is mostly a rural 'people' film, without much else to distract the audience, such as machinery or large scenes in cities. It is intimacy played out on a very broad canvas.

One of the more peculiar things about this version of the film is the narration. The film is shown in it's original language with no subtitles. The characters are narrated, not voiced over. So when someone speaks, it is in their native tongue, and then an English voice speaks what they are saying, sort of like you are reading their mind in delayed time. It preserves more of the feel of the film, but takes a little getting used to.

The other thing that was noticeable about the film was the Foley work. Sounds such as breaking glass or gun shots were VERY loud and distracted from the film at times. In a fist fight early in the film, the sounds of fists hitting the actors faces sounded like a sack of rice dropped from two stories up and hitting a wooden floor.

Unless you watch this film very closely, without distraction, it is easy to get lost in the complexity of the story. I was often left wondering who were the Reds (Communists) were and who were the Whites (Loyalists) and who was fighting whom. This film assumes that the audience has a good understanding of this time in Russian history, much like most American audiences have a good understanding of who Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere were.

What this film left me with was a better understanding of the mind set of the Russian people and how they perceive their world and their place in it. They are pragmatic for a reason and see the journey of life as a hard and difficult thing. There is no "pursuit of happiness" in their character. There is only finding happiness where it lays and enjoying it while you can.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
If Greece Were Still Like This, I Would Move There, 4 August 2008

SYNOPSIS: A well educated American tourists attempts to 'enlighten' a Greek prostitute in a small seaside village.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER Newer is not always better, and sometimes over analyzing a problem can only make it worse. Leave well enough alone. It is more important to be happy than to understand everything.

PROS AND CONS Every recent prostitute film from 'Irma la Duce' to 'Pretty Woman' owes a lot to this work. It was one of the first films that shed light on the idea that prostitution was a respectable and acceptable way to make a living.

If nothing else this film is a homage by Jules Dassin to his wife, Melina Mercouri. She is the focus of the film and she captivates any scene she is in with her zest for life and smoldering sexuality. The other thing you tend to fall in love with is the romantic ideal of living in Greece in 1960. It appears care free, relaxed and almost infectious with its love of the simple life.

The plot of the film is not overly complex and deals with an outsider, Homer (Dassin) arriving in town to study Greek culture. He is almost immediately captivated by Ilya (Mercouri) as one of the local prostitutes that 'freelances' and does not work for the town pimp. She negotiates a price with whomever she chooses, and sleeps with all the towns vendors in exchange for her daily goods (food, wine, drinks, etc), but she never 'works' on Sunday. Hence the title to the film.

Homer is smitten by Ilya and decides that he must 'save' her from what he perceives as a wretched life that is going no where and decides to educate her so that she can see the error of her ways. In the end, this does nothing but frustrate everyone in town. The education of Ilya does have a silver lining, which if anything, leaves the town more corrupted than when Homer found it.

The underlying theme of the film is that one should strive to be happy in what you do and more importantly, who you know. There is an interconnection between people in a small town, and disrupting those connections may lift some people up, but is not good for the whole of society. Regardless of his meddling, the towns people never turn on Homer, or blame him for anything. At their core, they know that life is to be enjoyed and blaming people for your troubles is just not part of the mix.

Vixen! (1968)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Meyer's First Real Film, 28 July 2008

SYNOPSIS: The escapades of an insatiable wife living in the backwoods of Canada.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER The sexual revolution and the concept of hedonism. Pushing the limits of what is acceptable to show.

PROS AND CONS I have always been a big fan of Russ Meyer. Along with Federico Fellini, I consider him a true innovator in film. Many write him off as a sexploatation film maker of the "B" movie genre. I beg to differ, he was a true pioneer and a maverick and his films have stood the test of time.

What always captivated me about Meyer's work was how he got so much out of a film by doing the basics and doing them well. His films are low budget and look it, but they captivate you regardless. The dialog is crisp and quick, the editing is sharp and the story moves along quickly. This film is only an hour long but you wouldn't know it when it is all over.

Meyer financed most of his own movies, used the same troop of actors, did his own cinematography and writing along with most of the editing. He ran the whole show and answered to no one. What you see on the screen is his vision and no one elses. You have to admire an artist that can create such a large body of work under those terms.

This was Meyer's first 'big' film that got wide release. It was also the first mass distributed film to be given an "X" rating, which is laughable by today's standards. There is no explicit sex scenes or graphic nudity in this film. But there is a lot of implied sexuality and topless women. What made the film controversial in its day was its portrayal of wanton sexuality and taboo subjects such as incest and lesbian relationships.

The plot is rather simple. Vixen likes to fool around and does so with wild abandon. Thrown into this mix are subjects of infidelity, racism, patriotism, honesty and morals. You don't really like Vixen in this film. She is beautiful to look at, but she is a bitch to almost everyone and only appears to seek self gratification and cares for no one but herself.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
In Scope....nothing is bigger, 28 July 2008

SYNOPSIS: The story of 4 generations of a single family and their journey through the west from 1800 to 1900.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER: Our roots. Where we have come from and what makes us who we are. The concept of manifest destiny and our drive to conquer the unknown and find a better tomorrow.

PROS AND CONS: I have watched this film several times and I am always captivated by its scope and sense of grandeur. This is a BIG film, lasting almost 3 hours and encompassing every major star in Hollywood at the time. It was one of the last blockbuster films created by pulling out all the stops and allowing the motion picture industry to really flex its muscle before the advent of digital effects.

This is a special film due to its format. It is one of the few full length feature films that was shot in Cinerama. A technique that used three cameras to create a panoramic image that literally wrapped around the audience. It was so costly, both to shoot and to display, that it never caught on. The version that I watched is on Laserdisc which preserves the three screen effect, but even this version is slightly cropped. It may be impossible in this day and age to see this film in its true aspect ratio with a surround screen, which is a pity. For its visual merits alone, this film is worth seeing.

When shown on a flat screen, the picture appears somewhat compressed and looks almost as though the image is seen through a fish-eye lens. Because three large cameras were used to shot these films, there is minimal free camera movement and zooms, although there is a lot of tracking and dolly shots

More than anything else, this film deals with the soul of America and the concept that the world was ours to conquer. This is a theme that is somewhat politically incorrect these days. In this film, the world was vast, beautiful and rugged, with sweeping vistas, broad rivers and beautiful sunsets. Many of the scenes are down-right spectacular, and the ending shootout on the train still ranks as one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen.

The story line and acting take a back seat to the overpowering concept of the land and the struggle to overcome its hardship. The film is a tour-de-force for Debbie Reynolds, who is the only star who is seen throughout the entire film. She is also featured in several musical numbers to showcase her singing talents. The score by Alfred Neauman is grandiose and almost religious in places, tinged with old west folk tunes. This is a three hour one sided history lesson for all the young folks that don't have time to sit and read about all the details of the great westward expansion.

The Piano (1993)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
I Want To Visit New Zealand, 28 July 2008

SYNOPSIS: A mute woman and her daughter become the mail order bride for a white settler in turn of the century New Zealand. The woman can only speak through her daughter or by playing her piano.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER Communication. How we express ourselves to others, the true nature of love, and perils that we must go through to find true happiness.

PROS AND CONS I would consider this a "women's" film. It deals with a woman's search for love and understanding in a harsh land. The central focus is on Holly Hunter who portrays Ada McGarth. She gives a very good performance considering that she does not speak a word in the entire film. She also plays all the musical pieces on the piano. Good enough in fact to win her the Academy Award for best actress.

The film is written and directed by Jane Campion who is somewhat of an icon in Australian and New Zealand film making. She specializes in these types of films, which have stunning scenery and intimate character studies. During this viewing of the film I was surprised at what a rather simple and straight forward story it is. The film is more visual than anything else, which is not surprising, since the main character never speaks. But Campion pushes this even furhter, giving turn of the century New Zealand a beautiful, almost surreal quality.

Anna Paquin portrays Flora McGrath in the film and won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress as Ada's daughter. This is somewhat puzzling, since she isn't really all that prominent on screen and her acting scenes are nothing more than what the average little girl of 12 would do anywhere else. There are also large gaps in the development of Sam Neil's character, Alisdair Stewart, ( who portrays the mail order husband). He appears frustrated and impotent in the film, but his mindset and issues are never really flushed. out. He is spurned by Ada only because he appears to not see the value in her piano. But he does try and never gives Ada a reason to dislike him.

This film is graphic at times and there are scenes that come very close to bordering on the explicit. There is also violence but this is more for effect as opposed to simply showing gore and blood.

More than anything else, this film makes me admire the acting abilities of Holly Hunter and also makes me want to visit New Zealand. It also makes me realize that any woman that has to have a piano hauled everywhere she goes is not the sort of woman that would make a good long term relationship.

6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Manifest Destiny and Elbow Room In Brazil, 2 July 2008

SYNOPSIS: A small band of circus performers drift through the hinterlands of 1970s Brazil looking for opportunity and freedom.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER: Escaping your everyday life and throwing caution to the wind to chase your dreams. Only to find out that your dreams aren't what you thought and that there is a big difference between lust and love.

PROS AND CONS: This is an interesting film on several levels. It shows a part of the world that is quickly disappearing. The idea that you can run off into undeveloped country and live off your wits and the kindness / stupidity of others is quickly fading in modern society. That wasn't the case in 1970s Brazil where the vast interior was full or opportunity and little else.

In this film a young man and his pregnant wife flee the poverty of rural Brazil to join the CARNIVAL ROLIDEI, a rag-tag group consisting of a charismatic con man, his dancer / prostitute girlfriend and a mute strong-man. They travel the dirt roads of Brazil, seeking peasants that are easily entertained by their simple tricks and lusty burlesque shows. Along the way, the young man and his wife come to question their fidelity and their expectations about life and one another.

The film is shot on location and the performances are very good. There is a surreal quality to the imagery that owes a tip of the hat to Federico Fellini. There is also something about the Porteguese language that is very lyrical, especially the title song that is heard throughout the film and over the end credits.

The underlying message is that freedom is not an easy thing to find. Escaping from the trappings of modern society, escaping from the trappings of your own lifestyle and the escape from the ones you love is almost impossible. None of these characters wants to be tied down, but they are tied to the desires that are at their core. They all learn from each other in the end.

This film reminds me why I have the desire to take off and see new lands where I have never been and be amazed at the unknown that I have never seen, and why in the end, I always return to my home, where I feel safe.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Threads That Bind Us Together, 21 June 2008

SYNOPSIS: The story of two brothers is told in narrative flashback. The film is set in Montana at the turn of the century. It explores the bonds that tie their family together and the differences that drive them apart against the backdrop of a beautiful landscape.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER Understanding what binds us to one another and understanding how seemingly simple things are the glue that cement our relationships to one another even as we chart different courses in our lives.

PROS AND CONS This is a film that I had seen before and I wanted to watch it again to see if it was still as good as I remembered it. It is a good film, although it is very subtle and introspective. This was one of Robert Redford's first attempts at movie making from behind the camera. He does not appear on screen but does lend his voice as the narrator.

Without giving too much away, this is a film about fly fishing. Not the art of fishing itself, but how a common, shared experience brings people together regardless of how much they grow apart. In this film, the two brothers grow into men of different temperaments and ideals. However, both of them share the same life long passion that was taught to them by their father.

This passion is the unseen thread that holds the family together. Many families have this type of thread but it can take different forms. The mother driving her daughter to figure-skating practice week after week which eventually stretches into years. The father and son that tinker on their 57 Chevy for decades in the garage. The things that seem meaningless at first, but when looked back upon, create a continuity that makes us who we are at our core.

This film is exceptional in many ways. As a period piece, it makes the viewer long to live in rural Montana before World War I. Tom Skerritt as the father and the young Brad Pitt as his younger son give exceptional performances. I found the older son played by Craig Sheffer to be a bit emotionless and repressed. His love affair with the home town girl appears a bit forced at times and does not appear to move the plot forward much.

In the end, the eldest son stands along in the river where so much was learned and you can sense his anguish at what he has lost during the course of his life. The final lines of the film pretty much sum it up. "In the end, all things run together into one, and a river runs through it. And if you listen to the waters you can hear their voices.......I am haunted by waters." All in all, a beautiful film that makes us pause at the end and think about what is really important.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Iconic Eastwood, 10 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SYNOPSIS: A San Francisco Police Investigator hunts down a psychotic serial killer in the 1970s.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to do the right thing. Dealing with the endless red tape that comes from living and working in a bloated and spineless bureaucracy. Coming to terms with the frustrations that we all must face at some point in our lives.

PROS AND CONS This film is iconic. It set the standard for the 'new' cop/buddy films that were to follow it like a stampede. Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, L.A. Confidential and a slew of others owe their origins to this film. This film solidified Clint Eastwood as a major presence in Hollywood.

This is a film that we have all seen (probably numerous times). It has been a staple of television and cable for years. However, the version I watched on Laserdisc was the uncut original film that I don't believe is seen much these days. This film is easily censored and shortened in order to make more time for commercials and to fit into a 2 hour time slot. After watching this version, there were scenes that I don't recall having seen in the past. Scenes that don't add to the plot, but do flush out the character of Harry Callahan more and make him more complex than I remembered.

In this original version, Harry has a lot of inner demons and is not a nice guy. He is bigoted in a very politically incorrect way. There are racial slurs and references to ethnic stereotypes all through the film. There is also a lot of casual nudity in the background which is something that censors and advertises eagerly cut out to get this film on public television.

Along with "Bullitt" (Steve McQueen's police drama, also set in San Francisco), this film redefined the role of the police from angelic and efficient protector of the populace to the anti-hero where the rogue cop fights not only crime but his own department to get the job done.

Several things stand out in this film. First of all is the wonderful melding of Lalo Schifrin's musical score with John Surtee's camera work. They bring an intimate sense of voyeurism and hip-ness to 1970 San Francisco. Going back to when I first saw this film, I have always been impressed by Scorpio (the serial killer in the film) played by Andrew Robinson. Even at the age of 10 I was curious why he didn't get an Oscar nomination. He scared the bejesus out of me and still does.

As with anything successful (Rocky, Die Hard, Rambo), this film spawned 4 follow-up works all staring Clint Eastwood. The later films are somewhat curious after seeing the first film. At the end of "Dirty Harry", Harry Callahan, throws away his badge and as he has hinted all throughout the film, gives up his life as a police officer. Having disobeyed the police commissioner, the mayor and his supervisor, it seems unlikely that they would have kept him on the force. But then again, box office receipts are a powerful motivator.

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