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L'emploi du temps (2001)
I found Time Out to be an insipidly dull and uninteresting mess, with nary an ounce of emotion or insight to be gleaned. The main culprits are the script, which fails to offer any kind of insight into the protagonist's baffling actions, and the direction, which drags out the uninteresting details of his mind-numbing scheme interminably instead of attempting to connect you with any of the characters on an emotional level. When making a film about a "regular" person doing things as ridiculous as these, it is crucial to do these things, and Time Out does neither. Instead, I was stuck for two astonishingly slow hours watching a man the film never tells me anything about engage in a laughably amateurish plot for reasons that make no sense. The "tension" I have read reviews praise this film for generating must have been surgically removed before the film made its way into my DVD player, because last time I checked, tension over a film's events requires at least an iota of engagement with what is occurring on screen, which this film seems utterly uninteresting in eliciting.
The Man from Earth (2007)
Very weak attempt at a "think" sci-fi piece
First off, I am a huge fan of "think" sci-fi pieces, from Arthur Clarke to Fred Pohl to my personal favorite, Philip K. Dick, and have always thought the genre woefully underrepresented in films. So when I found out about this film and saw the high IMDb score (it was an 8.0 at the time) I eagerly bought it, only to be extremely disappointed.
The biggest culprit here is the acting, which ranges from "B" quality at best to "Z" quality most of the time. It's particularly bad in the first 20 minutes of the film, and the only actor who gets into any kind of groove as it goes on is Tony Todd. The story is also rather uninteresting--Jerome Bixby just took the story to the Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah," which was a mediocre episode to begin with, and remade it at 2x the length. Unless you are thrilled at the idea of hearing lengthy discussions about the geographical layout of the Earth in the cro-magnon period, the first half of the movie is a complete waste.
The film tries to regroup later on with a rather ambitious religious angle, and rides that to a few interesting scenes, but it lacks the insight to really explore the nuances of the subject matter, preferring an attack on religious conventions with the subtlety of a photon torpedo. To top it all off, there's a ridiculous, unnecessary, surprise ending that is worthy of M. Night Shyamalan (in case you're not sure, this is NOT a compliment).
In the end, this is just a really overlong mediocre Twilight Zone episode, except with worse acting than they typically had on that show. Perhaps it has such an inflated rating on this site because 90% of its votes came from non-US users, who maybe saw this film dubbed or with subtitles, masking the poor acting.
Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui (1982)
Okay, so the only reason I ever saw this movie to begin with was because I found the used DVD (the Black Belt Theatre version) on sale for $2 in a local video store in the middle of nowhere. I honestly expected it to stink to high heaven, and only bought it for the funny title. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it! I'm pretty confused at most of the reviews I see on the web for this movie calling it a "horror" film, because this is a comedy pure and simple. Everything is so ridiculous that it's absolutely hilarious, from the "wizard's" goofy dancing whenever he casts "spells," to the scene where they're out "shopping" for corpses, to the protagonist's complete indifference as to whether his obnoxious father lives or dies. The dub is absolutely hilarious (I've seen probably over a hundred dubbed movies/shows and this is, no kidding, one of the most effective ones I've ever seen, though it's obviously much easier to dub a goofy comedy than a drama), and it makes excellent use of music at hilarious times. I also have to give a hearty thanks to the editor for the Americanized version, who clearly edited out at least half an hour of what was clearly dull story, leaving absolutely nothing but kung fu and comedy scenes.
If you have the capacity to enjoy goofy, ridiculous movies and slapstick humor, I fully recommend this. The closest thing I can compare it to is a super low-budget version of Kung Fu Hustle. I only wish the DVD transfer were better (it's watchable, but the scenes in dark places can be hard to make out).
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
The best thing I can say is that it's clear the U.S. Navy cooperated a *lot* making this picture, as there's very nice and real plans and ships and everything all over the place. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies where the exposition--you know, the part kind of 'setting up' the major conflicts--takes up 3/4 of the movie. Up until the titular attack on "the bridges at Toko Ri," we have an hour and a half of, well, I'm not sure--mostly of Mickey Rooney being alternately silly and angry, Holden's family spending time together, and an absolutely astonishing amount of airplanes taking off and landing. Landing (or inability to land) airplanes accounts for right about 100% of the conflict in this film until the last 10 minutes. For a film that I suppose was trying to be a thinking, feeling man's war film, there is a curious lack of thinking or feeling. Various characters appear for a scene or two, engage in some overwrought meditation about war or male bonding, and then other characters replace them. The most consistently significant character throughout the film is actually Mickey Rooney, who unfortunately is stuck playing a silly, one-dimensional role. And that's really the #1 problem here: this film wants to be more about the characters than about the war, but the characters are cliché and contrived. Well, that and it's just plain dull.
Mr. Arkadin (1955)
The Orient Express of train wrecks
Even the inherent beauty of an Orson Welles film and an interesting story can't overcome bad editing, terrible pacing, sub par acting and an awful dub. The problems start early on when you notice that, what do you know, the dialogue just doesn't really match the lip movements. They're always a bit ahead or a bit behind or just plain off. This is no mere technical gripe--the constant distraction ruined any chance of immersiveness that's so important to Welles' visual style, constantly reminding me that this is "just a movie." A further problem, which is kind of hard to explain in text, is that the lines are not read like dialogue for a movie. Instead, they're read just like a radio show--like there's nothing to pay attention to except whatever the characters are saying. This combined with the frenetic editing results in most of the film being an endless barrage of spoken narration and dialogue with nary a break between lines. It sounds like the actors are trying to get through the script as quickly as humanly possible, and thus the nice acting of many characters is lost because it all sounds so staged. Finally, the acting of two of the leads, Robert Arden and Paula Mori (including whoever dubbed her voice), is terrible. Their characters are supposed to provide a lot of the film's emotion, but they have no chemistry or charisma. Orson Welles himself does a nice job, but constantly seems to be overacting because he's matched against such wooden and cloying performances.
The only reason one would watch this, except for being a Welles completist, is for some very beautiful camera-work, but even that is only on display in bursts here and there. And the story, while having a lot of potential, is told in such a haphazard way that it cannot be said to have been realized to any degree. The last quarter of the film in particular includes some actions by both Arkadin and Van Stratten that seem maddeningly incomprehensible, as well as a five-minute-long segment consisting almost entirely of a minor character repeatedly asking for goose liver.
I would recommend watching The Lady From Shanghai instead of this for a film with similar themes that works despite even more pronounced attempts by the studio to butcher Welles' work.
The Supreme Court (2007)
Good, if relatively brief, history of the Supreme Court
This is a nice documentary for those interested in the evolution and major decisions of the Supreme Court from its creation in the late 1700's through about 2005. Being only four hours long in total, there is not nearly enough time to cover every important decision in the Court's history, so it focuses on four important eras in the Court's existence: the fight to gain respectability as a significant branch of the Federal Government in the early 1800's, the battle over whether the Constitution prohibits government interference with contract and employment in the early 1900's, the civil rights cases of the Warren Court in the 1950's and 60's, and the troubled yet gradual "conservative revolution" on the Supreme Court from the 70's to today. It also focuses closely on one justice from each of those periods, respectively, Justices John Marshall, Holmes, Black, and Rehnquist. Other significant justices like Harlan I, Field, Brandeis, Frankfurter, Douglas, Warren, Brennan, Scalia, and O'Connor are also briefly discussed.
What's there is well done. There are a lot of photos and nice interviews (including several commentaries by current Chief Justice John Roberts), and a lot of color on the four justices it focuses on. The discussions of the cases are lively and not too technical, although viewers without any knowledge of constitutional law might benefit from watching the show with someone more familiar with it, as there really isn't enough time to explain the basics in great detail.
The subject matter is chosen well to appeal to people with different opinions on the Supreme Court: you get one justice who fought to expand the Court's power (Marshall), one justice who fought to restrain it (Holmes), one liberal justice who led the fight for civil rights (Black), and one conservative justice who sought to rein in liberal reforms (Rehnquist). Although the last episode mentions events occurring as late as 2005, the last case discussed is 2000's Bush v. Gore.
It's by no means everything you could hope to learn about the Court or Constitutional Law, but once you accept the relatively modest scope, it does what it sets out to do and does it well.
White Slaves of Chinatown (1964)
Interesting as a first attempt at the "abused women" genre
Basically, Olga's a bad person who likes to turn girls into drug-addicted prostitutes, which involves a lot of torturing them into submission. In 1964 I'm sure the torture scenes and all-but-shown lesbianism would have been shocking, but today it won't even raise an eyebrow. Acting is extremely poor--the vast majority of the girls supposedly being horribly tortured look more put out and bored rather than in pain, and the plot is nonexistent. There is no dialog, just voice-over narration, with a few comments from Olga but mostly by an upright male who is incensed at her methods. The musical score is extremely annoying, especially when it consists of "Chinese" music that the filmmakers must have only had about two minutes of, forcing them to loop it over and over. Oh and speaking of Chinese, this movie is pretty overtly racist, underhandedly blaming the Chinese for a lot of society's woes, even though there is a grand total of one Asian character (a nameless henchman who is in maybe two scenes) in the entire film.
It was interesting to see where the genre came from, but I'm only giving it as high as a four for unintentional hilarity and some wonderfully ridiculous overacting by Olga.
Vsyo budet khorosho (1995)
Low budget but charming comedy
This charming comedy tracks the lives of several romantic pairs through trials and tribulations. The main focus of the story is a young soldier with a good heart but little ambition and his fiancée, who feels torn when a charming and sophisticated intellectual enters her life and sweeps her off her feet. There are also several side stories, also all dealing with relationships, most significantly the soldier's mother, whose comfortable but unexceptional marriage is threatened when a past love returns to her life. The other stories are mostly there for comic effect, and some, particularly the tale of the elderly man determined to reach his long-lost wife in a very... creative... way, are very funny and even moving. I very much enjoyed the stories, though a weird subplot about a visiting Japanese businessman who acts sort of like a deus ex machina for one story seemed somewhat odd and tacked-on.
The film is very low-budget and simple, film-making-wise, but pretty well acted. The actress who plays Olga does a particularly nice job.
I would recommend it to those interested in a relationship comedy with some serious moments as well. There's nothing really deep being explored here, but there are plenty of charming moments and even some surprises in the resolutions of the stories.
For parents, there is brief partial female nudity in a comedic scene and some implied sexuality and one fight scene towards the end.
Karate Kiba (1976)
I liked Chiba in Street Fighter, and I figured hey, no matter how stupid this movie will be, I'll at least get to see him kick some ass, right? Wrong. This is a dull, dreary mess of pointless talking, half-assed scriptwriting and meaningless scheming. There are few action scenes of any kind, even fewer martial arts scenes, and the few that are are shot and edited so poorly that you can't even make out what in the world is going on. The dub is also atrocious, and perhaps the idiocy that is this movie is best illustrated by the fact that it prominently features the *Italian* Mafia... but they're all played by *Japanese* actors! Avoid like the plague--you would see better martial arts by looking through the window of your local preschool karate class for five minutes.
Three short films of vastly different quality
Wong Kar Wai's segment is excellent. It's amazing how sexually charged it is, especially considering there is no nudity and no graphic scene of intercourse of any kind. Gong Li is striking, and the piece practically oozes ambiance.
Soderbergh's is cute and funny, but more like a long joke than a film, and is about as "erotic" as watching Seinfeld. If not for the welcome presence of Alan Arkin, it would be difficult to handle.
Antonioni's is a dull mess, and his idea of eroticism is apparently copious amounts of random nudity. The ADR on his piece is also very poor, and the acting not much better.
8/10 for Wai's, 6/10 for Soderbergh's, and 3/10 for Antonioni's. If you're looking for an "erotic" film experience, stop watching after the first piece.