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403 reviews in total 
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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Feel welcome to watch, 12 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's not common to see such a close combination of innocence with sharp satire, but that's how one would have to describe this film. On the one hand, it is a cheerful and likable film about children and their eternal struggle against the grown-ups, but on the other that means it's also essentially a feature-length ode to sticking it to the man.

It seems that perhaps because it is a story about children, there is almost no need to disguise the satire, and it's simultaneously the more pointed and the more innocent for being so out in the open. Inochkin is expelled from camp for swimming to the island in the lake, and decides to stay and hide out instead of going home. The support for him among his follow camps becomes like a popular uprising, and the movement for Inochkin becomes like the white whale to the Ahab of the camp's director Dynin.

And while it tears into the arbitrariness of authority, it's also quite entertaining with a slapstick sensibility to its gags and chases that also helps its parody elements to go down acceptably. There's a feeling of delightful chaos to all the proceedings which is authentically childlike -- from a title poking fun at the hypocrisy of the signs on the fronts of the camp to the admonishment of the fourth wall at the end. And the end -- with people magically flying across the river to the island -- is a bit surreal, but is like a tacit encouragement to break the rules, even of the method necessarily doesn't seem reasonably possible.

Kumaré (2011)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Smarter than the average yogi, 12 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's said that Vikram Gandhi "impersonated" in Indian guru for this documentary but it seems like the deception he carried out was limited to speaking with an Indian accent rather than his own New Jersey one, wearing robes, and growing his hair and beard -- external elements that his disciples interpret in ways that vastly change their interpretations of the actual content of what he says.

The film starts as a sort of practical expose of false gurus, and it never loses its power in that way -- these people are all very easily led to thinking they have had profound metaphysical experiences after speaking with a complete skeptic who merely looks and sounds like he could provide them with a metaphysical experience -- and who is telling them he's an illusion the whole time.

If that's immoral at all, it's far less immoral than what is done by the countless "actual" gurus who seriously present supernatural claims and use them as a way into people's checkbooks.

A key to the success of this film is Gandhi's performance in his "role" -- giving Kumare an innocence through his reactions and style of movement that endears him to the disciples while they are convinced of his wisdom. Without that their striking reactions could not have been captured. And it is remarkable when he realizes that he can make deeper connections with people and enjoy life more when he is playing Kumare than when he is not.

There is an attempt to show that despite the earthly nature of his teachings, the students' lives have actually improved after their instruction with Kumare/Vikram. I'm not certain how I feel about that, but it's not a scientific claim, and amounts to saying that an admittedly-fake guru can help people as much or more than a supposedly- real one, and that they most needed to be told that they didn't need a guru. And that's fair.

This is a fascinating experiment and a worthwhile documentary.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Shouldn't be kept silent, 8 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was pleasantly surprised by "Dr. Ivens' Silence;" while in one sense it has a fairly conventional or even perhaps even stereotypical science fiction idea near its heart (aliens from a more developed planet are shocked at our human propensity for things like war and income inequality), it has a very intelligent script that does some very original things with it.

Despite the science fiction premise it is, as the title suggests, first and foremost a character piece about Dr Ivens, and in that sense it is a very effective one, assisted by the fact that Sergey Bondarchuk gives an excellent performance in the leading role. His initial "silence" comes at the beginning when he says nothing about a fire that he sees on the wing of his airplane, and his final silence comes at the end when this readiness for death has been fulfilled.

The fact that its essentially an unlikely human-alien love story is novel enough to allow it to explore the themes in novel ways, and while it is detectably pro-Soviet in its depiction of this story set somewhere in Western Europe, it is at heart a rather despairing message about humanity's lack of readiness to react to the coming of these creatures without Earth's characteristic flaws.

In all, a success of cerebral rather than action-oriented Soviet science fiction, through good dialog and good characterization.

Tabloid (2010)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Front page stuff, 7 June 2014

The story told (or approached, or retold in varying ways) in "Tabloid" is an extraordinarily salacious one, and riveting on that level in the way that extraordinarily salacious stories are. We're watching because we want desperately to see what happens next, but as we do so we are acutely aware of the sensational nature of the events.

Which is why it is appropriate that "Tabloid" is as much about the tabloid exploitation and exaggeration of the Joyce McKinney story as it is about the story itself. After one-larger-than-life event, the press becomes as much as part of the story as what it is they are covering. And as the interview subjects tell the story, it becomes apparent that rarely has the inherent subjectivity of events been laid out with such wildly (in every sense) versions of events.

It's a credit to Morris that he draws from this story that is so outlandish as to be almost absurd a thoughtful commentary on truth, will, privacy, love vs obsession, and more. At the center of it is the extraordinary interview with McKinney herself, who comes across -- then and now -- as charismatic, funny, obsessed, and more than a little unhinged. Smiling ingratiatingly as she explains (or explains away) every step of her life from (allegedly) the woman who brought her dog to her every modeling shoot to the woman who flew to Korea to have another dog cloned (disguising herself as an Indian and a deaf-mute somewhere in between), she is compulsive viewing.

"Tabloid" pulls of the coup of being completely fascinating for the reasons that tabloids are and -- because it is completely self-aware in the regard -- being also a very thoughtful meditation on the issues raised by both press sensationalism and this story itself. Quite an accomplishment.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
I believe it's worth watching, 6 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This won the Best Foreign Film Academy Award and it has received a lot of very high plaudits here. I didn't like it quite as much as would justify all that enthusiasm -- but I did like it.

It's a sweet story, touchingly told, with very good acting from all involved. Because it's presented in two parts which, when combined, make for a fairly long movie, it has time not only to follow its characters but to develop themes -- prominent being that of the loneliness of people in the big city and the sometimes unwise things they do to relieve it.

Because of the wise scope it moves slowly, but that and the effective device of setting in two distant times allows for the payoff of some affecting moments in the second half.

While it's nominally a drama-comedy, it means more on the side of drama, and sometimes feels almost novelist in its wide scope. It was also interesting to see how it addressed various aspects of the social implications of the introduction of television and the social effects of income disparity in the two times. But overall personally I found myself more appreciative than enthusiastic.

9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Should be known, 4 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At the end of this film, Errol Morris asks its subject, Donald Rumsfeld, why he is participating in the film at all. The response he gets is, "I'll be damned if I know."

Morris has a particular genius for drawing and highlighting themes from the raw, direct interview material of his subjects. And prominent here is Rumsfeld's unusual and apparently absolutely comfort with uncertainty. "You can't know with certainty, he tells us. "When you say, 'How could you know?' the answer is, 'You can't.'" In old press conference film he misquotes Hamlet to assert that "there are some things neither bad nor good but thinking makes them so." He assures us with a glib grin that "All generalizations are false -- including this one."

But the film invites us to take note that Rumsfeld is not just comfortable with uncertainly, but comfortable with acting on that uncertainty in ways that lead to catastrophes like the Iraq War. For Rumsfeld, not only is absence of evidence that Saddam Hussein did have "weapons of mass destruction" not evidence that he did not -- but that lack of evidence that he did not is reason enough to go to war. Rumsfeld shows himself to be a dangerous man because not only is he aware that he can't reach absolute truth, he's profoundly incurious about approaching information that would approximate truth.

Morris doesn't narrate, but his voice here is a prominent one. Rumsfeld, often terse, impossible to pin down, and obsessed with definitions, is engaged in dialog with his interviewer, who through both sharp and naif questions as well as eloquent imagery and editing presents a counter-narrative that neatly undermines Rumsfeld's. Over the course of about 100 minutes of listening to Donald Rumsfeld, he allows himself to show himself to us as deeply self-contradictory -- and deeply satisfied with acting in an examined way.

This is a sharply intelligent and subtle film, dealing with and revealing a mystifying almost deliberately thoughtless subject.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Doesn't do Jack a kindness, 31 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The concept for this documentary was intriguing and filled with promise, and the piece of film that inspired it was not only very funny but mysteriously appealing beneath its surface. While we watch Jack Rebney the RV salesman, we simultaneously feel on the one hand that he sounds like a an angry, overbearing, foul-mouthed, pompous blowhard -- and on the other hand we feel for him being trapped in a horrible, humiliating situation, and appreciate him for colorfully expressing the mountainous frustration that we come to feel along with him.

With this documentary, history repeats itself. Jack is placed in just as frustrating a situation, and is just as eloquently, extraordinarily, literately uncouth about it. And that makes it an entertaining film -- inadvertently. In the end, "Winnebago Man" is not a deliberate success, but it's ironically a mesmerizing vehicle for the strangely interesting man that Jack Rebney is in the same way as the corny Winnebago ad that inspired it. And you get the sense that Ben Steinbauer is rightly as irritating to Jack as Tony, the hundred-degree heat, and the flies were in 1989.

Steinbauer wants to find the man in the video and make a film about him, but despite this he seems to make no effort to understand him. In fact, he almost seems determined not to understand him. Jack is a literate, opinionated man who wants to express his views about the world. Steinbauer says Jack sent him columns and the draft of a book, but doesn't say anything that even suggests he read them. He says he wants to understand Jack, but asks him quests he specifically doesn't want to answer, and ignored he organic attempts to talk. I can't help but think that more would have been achieved by letting the cameras roll as the subject was allowed to relax and speak his mind. Instead Steinbauer condescendingly tries to drive him to town so that he can buy a video camera (which, owning a computer, I expect he could have already acquired if he wanted it) to post on YouTube (a medium he hates).

In the end, there are some moments that consist mostly of what Steinbauer has filmed occurring at a live stage event, and Rebney does get to speak his mind rather insightfully if briefly about the appeal of the video itself.

Some points have to be awarded for this being an entertaining film -- but the only credit the filmmaker gets for that is for physically finding an entertaining subject and owning a video camera. His lack of curiosity about the man he finds seems to miss the entire point of this kind of film.

Has its Pirx, 29 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was initially somewhat puzzled watching this, noticing that that main titles were in Polish, the actors were speaking Russian, and the signs were all in English. It was in fact a co-production of Poland and Soviet Estonia, and its setting in the ambiguous West (complete with strip club and McDoanld's) lend it a cosmopolitan feel and verisimilitude to the idea of huge business interests being at work in backing or opposing the space flight that the plot centers around.

I haven't read the original story by Slatinslaw Lem. The concept of a human leading a robot crew is interesting, though the execution of the element of mystery around who is a robot and who is not ends up seeming somewhat contrived. Overall, even though the acting and cinematography are good, it ends up seeming somehow without much dramatic tension, which is not good considering how much potential there is for it in the premise.

There are a lot of scenes of negotiations for Pirx to take on the job, expository scenes about the robots, shots of scenery, et cetera -- and it somehow ends up less involving that it could be. When a robot crewman finally laves a threatening message, it doesn't have have the impact it could for not having been built-up-to with many solid dramatic events.

I was surprised to see that the famous composer Arvo Part, perhaps the most notably Estonian element. It doesn't have heaps of the minimalism he would be later known for, but it is an excellent score.

In all a fairly ambitious and interesting-shot film with an interesting concept, but that concept isn't fully explored and the dramatic tension remains at a fairly lowish level.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Should not be forgotten, 25 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film uses the form of a chance-driven romance -- of which the filmmaker had already proved himself a master -- to tell a story that is deliberately and contrarily to expectations, not a happy one. And it mixes this with sharp, heavy satire in ways that are both daring and interesting.

The film itself draws attention to the fact that its making is historically placed right at perestroika, and some of what we see is as much speculation about what that will mean for art and society as it is pure satire. I could not be lost on anyone at the time that they were seeing a film with nudity, formal experimentation, and politically critical content -- in which the characters wonder what will happen if such a thing is allowed.

We start with a broadly satirical song about society, and are quickly introduced to a main character who works for a fictional "Bureau of Free Time" -- a deep jab in itself. The protagonist, Filimonov, is a corrupt man working for a corrupt department; he's looking for advancement and we watch him unequivocally cheat on his wife, then deal unfairly both her and his mistress -- and repeat. The most regular stylistic device shows him seeming to take a brave stand in his life -- only to have it revealed as a daydream.

Interesting, the only things on the side of redemption for this sad but unsavory character are art -- a former flautist, he is the only one in his department willing to stick his neck out for original art. And notably, the other woman he falls for is one he first saw in a non- traditional production of Gogol's "Inspector General."

This artistic/satirical/political content is mixed with a lot of character-driver personal interaction as well, and though I think we do not (and perhaps are not really meant to) like the characters in question, they are well-written and acted enough that they are always engaging and interesting.

The experimentation and the blending of what are really two different types of content make for a heady mix that is not always easily digested, but it is fascinating admirable, and well-worth it. Having seen several of Ryazanov's films now, it feels almost as if he decided to mix the social observation of "Garage" with something like the framework of an "Office Romance" or "Irony of Fate."

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Has life in it, 22 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Putyovka k Zhizn" has the distinction and historical interest of being the first Soviet sound film, and its adaptations to the new technology make it a sometimes strange but quite worthwhile experience to watch. While sounds was new and undoubtedly must have presented some technical difficulties, the makers of this film must have made a definite decision not to compromise visual style in the face of the introduction of sound.

While dialog helps to tell the story, it remains a very visual film, full of lasting, striking images -- especially of the desperate street children in the earlier parts of the film. In fact, in many ways it retains a silent-film style -- with dramatic, close images, artists slowing of the film at various point, dwelling shots to convey story, and copious (interestingly realized) inter-titles to convey story. This combined with the audible voices makes for a unique and rather extraordinary viewing experience.

As perhaps might be expected for such a lavish expense of a film in its historical context, it is also a propaganda film -- but it is a well-made propaganda film that leaves a lot of strong impressions beyond those of its political message. The moral is that homelessness can be fought and street children made into useful members of society through the virtue of communal work -- but the film does not shirk from showing us the problem in a human way, so the boys do feel like characters. And, when all is said and done, we do have a piece where one of the boys is responsible for the other's death on the tracks. We end on a downer note with a prime reformed child needlessly killed, casting doubt on the idea that work really redeems absolutely everyone.

The pace is deliberately slow, which contributes to the dreamlike, visual nature of the storytelling. It may be a political message film, but it's not entirely a two-dimensional one, and it is one from before the imposition of Socialist Realism in Soviet art, which allows it to be an expressive, experimental film in its visual style. It's a confident step into sound filmmaking that operates by merely adding dialog to the bold, expressive, and occasionally almost avant-garde style of Soviet silent film, and that makes it well worth a viewing.

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