Reviews

19 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
7/10
funny in a gentle sort of way
13 February 2017
Three men of different ages meet and socialize at a ski resort. Each is a misfit of some kind -- a physician with no money, a very wealthy man who has no privacy because his name is always recognized and strangers ask for money, a man who's lost the love of his life and sees no future. The snow, beautiful and eternal, provide a landscape of loss in which these three wander until each rediscovers his best self in the others.

This 1936 movie was made in Czechoslovakia. By this time the author of the book upon which it is based, Eric Kaestner, had become suspect in his native Germany. Kaestner later became famous in the U.S. because of the movie "The Parent Trap" which was based on his story, "Die Doppelte Lottchen," and because his "Emil und die Detective" was acknowledged as generating a sub-genre of child detective stories here, in both print and film. Kaestner was interrogated several times by Nazi authorities, 1936-1945, and his books were publicly denounced as being "antagonistic to the German spirit." He was never imprisoned, only marginalized as a creative artist. He was likewise spurned by politicians during the Adenauer regime, from 1949 into the 1960s. Adenauer may have still been miffed by Kaestner's well-known dismissal of the integrity of the Weimar Republic, in which he (Adenauer) served: "A democratically-elected government funded by capitalist cash boxes, and defended by an army composed of displaced aristocrats commanding the unemployable and outcast."

The three men in the story, and film, embody the unemployable and outcast. Despite their sense of persecution they do not submit to isolation with good grace -- each demonstrates a capacity for creativity. Their relationship is based on good humor and keen observation of their surroundings. The characters speak in Czech, but German subtitles were added in some markets.
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makes you stronger
22 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is movie about two broad subjects: the ongoing, systematic injustice shown in formal settings toward indigenous people, and the temptation to engage in victimization. The treatment of Mr. White is an example of the injustice. The testimony of those family members who originally (and falsely) testified against him, but now recant that testimony, illustrates the second: de Debbil (the government) made me do it, I'm not responsible, I was only a child, and afraid. Connecting these two horrible subjects, in real life, is the havoc that generations of injustice and self-hatred, have wreaked on the families of native people. Although not for the faint of heart, some of the film is uplifting -- particularly what Mr. Arvol Looking Horse has to say. For viewers and readers unfamiliar with the history of indigenous people it may come as a happy surprise that our genuine leaders do not encourage resentment, but instead remind us to be aware of real history, to understand that what hasn't killed us will make us stronger. They prompt us to realize that you don't have to deny who you are in order to succeed in the new civilized world, and that in this life the main obligations are to protect the weak, to respect the earth and her people, and to find something or someone to enjoy each day. This is at the heart of the traditional spiritual teaching of such men as Mr. White and Mr. Looking Horse. Christianity may be the foundation of civilization, but the traditional spirituality does not prevent us from succeeding in the new civilized world, and keeps us from its downside. Mr. White died in prison, last year, but we don't have to. To Mr. White's grandsons, who now recant their childhood testimony, I have sympathy and hope this tragedy will strengthen them. We are all children, we are all afraid, but -- I shake my little pebble-filled turtle shell, young men -- it is better to "act out" or raise hell than to give in to bullies. Teach your children.
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two questions
14 August 2010
This movie is about more than the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca. It shows the contrast between the artistic authority of anyone like Lorca and the power of the so-called authoritarian governments, such as the one formed by the Fascist party in Spain, 1936-1976. If you are creative in music, dance, theatre or art then you are the natural enemy of the power-hungry, who create nothing, and are compelled to disguise their inadequacies with culture they steal from you and those like you. They covet your authority, and what you make, in order to present themselves to the world as "authoritarian" and "cultured." But they are only impotent thugs. Too many Americans are sympathetic to such motivations and procedures, and find this movie confusing. These are the same uninquisitive folk who never notice that Spain was not involved in World War II -- Hitler occupied every country in northern Africa, Scandinavia and Europe, except for Spain. Why not? The Allies, relentlessly speaking out against the horrors of fascism, never said a mumbling word about Spain. Why not? I especially liked the movie because of Andy Garcia's portrayal of Lorca. His Lorca is intelligent, vigorous, creative, comfortable, confident and responsible.
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9/10
breathe to live, not live to breathe
22 May 2010
The dancing of Anna Halprin, now in her eighties, is the subject of this film. She still dances. Formerly (before the onset of infirmities and several bouts with cancer) she, as a modern dancer, "lived to dance." Now, she tells us, she dances to live. That is the theme of this remarkable movie. What is dance, what is poetry, what is music, what is art, what is theatre? They are, Halprin asserts, inseparable from the breath we issue and draw in. We, especially if we are creative persons, need realize the simple truth of "we breathe to live, we don't live to breathe." To believe, as too many creative persons do, that (instead) we live to create poems, artwork, music and so forth, is to diminish ourselves without real humility and to glorify ourselves without real confidence.

I especially enjoyed Halprin's discussion of "reverence for the aged body." She does not mean reverence as making symbolic gestures of submission. She means reverence such as knowing that the land we live on is not just real estate or that the sea is more than a highway. This knowledge, and reverence, is often neglected or ignored. The attraction of the mature female form, illustrated by Anna Halprin's graceful authority in this film, need no longer be an unspeakable subject, and is essential to what can make us human.
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Hair, Let the Sun Shine In (2007 TV Movie)
museum piece
1 March 2010
This film never comes together. It contains some very interesting parts but they remain fragmented because the producers treat the performances -- with one exception -- in the original "Hair" stagings only as fodder for publicity, and certainly not as the beginning of careers for individual artists. The exception is Diane Keaton. The narrator reminds us that she left the role of Sheila, and became famous and successful as an actress. Although some of the interviewees in this brief film also became successful after their "Hair" performances, neither that success nor their artistic development is given any notice. A glaring omission concerns Jennifer Warnes. There are several scenes from the original "Hair" in which Jennifer's presence is central, but she is never identified and no mention is made of her subsequent commercial success as a singer and songwriter ..... in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and during this last decade, let alone any mention of her development as an artist. The new participants in a "Hair" revival were shown only briefly, and their performances seemed to be imitations of the original. The film's narration indicates that "Hair" changed theatre in America, but by its construction this film treats it only as a museum piece.
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Blindness (2008)
not credited
5 April 2009
This movie is based on a novel by Jose Saramago, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature over a dozen years ago. However, Senor Saramago's scenario (in which a dozen blind dimbulbs are lost in the darkness of their own ignorance) is not new to literature -- Maurice Maeterlinck's play, "The Blind" (also called "The Sightless"), is a well-known predecessor in this regard. Maeterlinck won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911, primarily for a series of horrifying puppet plays ..... but is primarily known to American movie-goers for his light-hearted "Blue Bird of Happiness," a children's story made into a movie with Shirley Temple in 1940, in an attempt to compete with "The Wizard of Oz." But Senor Saramago not only borrowed from Maeterlinck, he also incorporates essential elements of Bertolt Brecht's play "Mother Courage and Her Children" (1940). In the movie, "The Blind," no credit is given to Maeterlinck or Brecht.
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Appaloosa (2008)
3/10
a package of horse poop
14 February 2009
Robert Knott's screenplay does not do justice to Robert Parker's book, and this film is like a Department of Tourism film -- 70 mm, golden light on antique objects, with local celebrities reciting platitudes. After some interesting characterizations in the early part of the film by Ed Harris and Viggo Mortenson, the film begins to disintegrate into the distinctly unrelated sections, and all characterizations become flatter than a flitter. Lance Hendrickson, Timothy Spall, Jeremy Irons and others do good imitations of uninspired actors. Harris directed this film. He did a remarkably good job with "Riders of the Purple Sage" a few years ago, but Robert Parker is not Zane Grey. Like Knott, Harris's thespian skills were developed in Oklahoma, but they flatter themselves if they think this historical connections applies to westerns set in New Mexico Territory, let alone to Parker's revisionist craftsmanship. What really put the bow on this package of horse poop was the appearance of Oklahoma actor Rex Linn, whose chief talent is as a pitchman for car dealers and local banks.
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self-indulgence
18 February 2008
The patina of Alan Bennett's clever dialog soon wore off this polished piece of didactic self-indulgence, revealing only the arrogance and confusion of entitled British twits ..... and Bennett himself. Bennett's last hurrah as a creative person was "The Madness of King George," fourteen years ago when he was sixty years old. Since then, he has supplied the voices for cartoon characters and appeared in memorial videos. I don't know when he wrote the play which became this movie, "The History Boys," but it is a disappointing assembly of out-of-context monologues, sarcastic anecdotes, sophomoric references to modern history and homosexual humor.
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1/10
bronzed baby shoe
17 January 2008
This is the worst movie ever made. Oklahoma actors Gailard Sartain, Rex Linn and Mr. Brimley, who have shown themselves capable of fine performances, just took the money and ran, in this deal. The writer/producer must've wanted to make a movie before he died, had a lot of money and figured that's all it would take. Wrong. The actors are not without fault, however. Sartain, for example, has made only one other movie in the last seven years ("Elizabethtown"). Maybe he can't get work anymore. Brimley's day is past as a character actor, and Rex Linn -- despite a few good performances being coaxed from him by excellent directors -- is essentially an ad agency spokesman. The story about cockfighting in Oklahoma is contrived, and no longer (six years later) of real local interest. Even though it's supposed to be a comedy, this movie is heavy handed, like a bronzed baby shoe hanging from the rear view mirror. Val Lewton could make fine movies with a budget a fraction of this one's, and Ed Wood's poor-boy movies could be interesting in a desperate sort of way. This one, "The Round and Round," has no redeeming qualities I can find, but it's the pretentiousness of the production that makes it the worst movie ever made.
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Silkwood (1983)
what you have done for others
13 February 2007
I saw "Silkwood" again recently, and it seemed to make sense of the past 25 years of my life -- I finally understood why I began doing what I do.

When I was sixteen years old I broke both legs, and was out of school for two months. But twice a week my father, who worked nights as a security guard at the Kerr-McGee office building, took me downtown to the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, to watch the proceedings of the Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee trial during morning sessions. He insisted I go, he said, "So you'll learn something." I learned a lot about people then, and about the law, and the experience certainly took my mind off my own physical discomfort.

Mr. Paul, an excellent corporate lawyer, represented Kerr-McGee, which leased the operation of the plutonium plant in Crescent, Oklahoma, about thirty miles north of here. Mr. Spence represented the children of Karen Silkwood. Mr. Paul and his six associates seemed to change their suits every day. Perhaps they didn't want to see like the "great gray wall" -- which was the stereotype of corporate lawyers. But the net effect of seven men striving to seem individual was that of a great plumed serpent preparing to devour any small creature in its path. Mr. Spence, on the other hand, wore the same buckskin fringed coat each day. Each day he would place his Stetson on his table. He and the hat sat in splendid silence while the Kerr-McGee attorneys conferred and whispered.

Both men counted on the sentiments of a working-class jury. Mr. Paul figured people would recognize the contribution made to the community by Kerr-McGee, a locally owned business with world-wide influence, which provided many jobs to people here. Mr. Spence counted on them harboring deep suspicions, after having been treated like throw-away people for so many years by other employers of the same size as Kerr-McGee. My father was such a person. He worked for Kerr-McGee, but he distrusted corporate politics, and rightly figured they'd let him go right before he qualified for a pension. Later, that's exactly what happened.

Mr. Spence has sued the corporation for 2 million dollars. But the jury awarded him, and Karen Silkwood's children, five times that much. Later, thanks to an excellent foundation laid by Mr. Paul, Kerr-McGee was able to get the conviction overturned, then eventually settled for a payment of 1 million dollars to the grown children. Of course, Mr. Spence took about half of that, and after taxes, I suppose each of the three children had about enough to get a college education, or to buy a new truck and have a down payment on a house.

That's what happened to me. My father died not longer after being let go by Kerr-McGee. There was enough insurance money to pay for my college education. Then my mother died. For many years the social atmosphere in the Kerr-McGee offices, where one of my friends worked as a draftsman, prevented anyone from ever saying anything good about Karen Silkwood. I will not repeat was generally said about her, or her social life, her motivations or her politics.

I never met her, but I did see and hear the people who were for Karen Silkwood, and those who were against her, at the trial. It was clear to me that whatever else she may have been, she was a courageous person. By the time the movie was released, I was a junior in college, and suddenly changed my major to drama. After graduation, I found work with a film production company which filmed herds of cattle -- "Video Auction" was its name. Then I went to California, where I taught drama, or worked as a stage manager, for twenty years.

Watching "Silkwood" last week, for the first time in 24 years, reminded me of what the trial, and later the movie, showed me -- the part of you that lasts is what you have done for others. The lawyers will take everything else.
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