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The Bridge (2006/I)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Exceptional documentary in many ways, 19 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the opening shots of The Bridge we see typical moments at the Golden Gate bridge shot from faraway with a telephoto lens: tourists with their cameras recording mementos of the sight, others peering down the drop from the safety of the railings, the grand architecture of the selfsame bridge. Suddenly, one of the people seen climbs over the edge and leaps to his death. What is dramatic about this scene is not the fact that we are witnessing an actual death, but the juxtaposition between the jumper and the other people. Before the jump, you simply could not anticipate him committing suicide. He seemed to share the same fascination of the scale of the structure and the distance to the lingering abyss. This is a very subtle juxtaposition which will create a very dramatic effect in the viewer, as it leaves us to think what could have possibly been in the man's mind before the fateful jump. The filmmakers try to probe this during the following 90 minutes.

The opening scene is also very talking of the approach the filmmakers have taken, which deserves special attention. The documentary itself tackles a very difficult subject that can easily be reduced to crass exploitation, especially when we are talking about filming actual suicides. However, The Bridge is an incredibly touching and artful exploration of the subject. Some people (at least at the IMDb boards) have complained that The Bridge fails to deliver enough information on the subject, but this totally misses the point of the film. First of all, we must remember that the subject at hand is incredibly complex and hard to grasp. We do not know why people are driven to end their own lives, and it would be ridiculous to claim that a documentary can pin down even one reason. Moreover, it would be futile to try to find out why so many people go to the Golden Gate bridge to leap to their deaths. The survivors appearing in The Bridge try hard to understand why their loved-ones chose this destiny, but no through explanation is found. But this film is not in vain: it does not try to explain, but to illuminate its subject. In this it does exceedingly well.

Unlike many who have not seen this film think, The Bridge is not an exploitative documentary. There is not a single moment when it becomes tasteless or unaffectionate. Moreover, its imagery and the people appearing in it either interviewed or in legend are all incredibly inspiring, which is tremendous when knowing what the majority of documentaries are, as this film could easily have been overly literate and argumentative. However, The Bridge provides not only food for thought but also to your imagination, and whatever you may think of the subject after seeing the film, The Bridge will surely haunt you long after it.

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Peckinpah's best film, 18 July 2007

I have to comment on this film, although I don't know how well I am able to address my feelings relating to it. I guess you can't blame me: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a bizarre, not-so-literate film. But the minute I saw the poster of the blood-stained hand holding a pendant, the title and Warren Oates in the headlining, I knew I was going to love this film. Now having seen it, I have only superlatives to say about it.

What makes Peckinpah's films so good in the first place is that even though they have a lot of graphic violence, it's not self-serving, brainless entertainment like Tarantino's or Rodriguez's films (not that I don't like them as well). Peckinpah makes a point with it all, especially in Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch, and Al Garcia is no exception to that. Here Warren Oates is a man whose morals are challenged by greed and corruption around him, who loses everything he has and thus takes his shots on the bad guys who try to capitalise things they bear no emotional relationship to. Not that I could make sense everything of it; as said, this film is bizarre and surreal from start to finish, but somehow it grabs you and doesn't let go. Just as Ebert said, there's hidden meaning even in a severed, rotting head. Considering this film was made when Peckinpah was losing his credibility among Hollywood studios, I would say he wanted this film to be an allegory of a maverick director surviving in the Hollywood system.

How this film has remained only a film buffs' favorite, I don't know. I mean, come on, it has everything to be a crime/thriller classic: Peckinpah in the director's chair, Warren Oates at his best, truckloads of attitude and some jet-black comedy in lines such as "you guys are definitely on my s**t list now." A truly brilliant, brilliant film.

5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Plainly repulsive, 16 July 2007

To my understanding, the merits of Borat are supposed to be two-fold: 1) despite his outlandish personality, the character Borat is based on a real, existing person, and 2) Borat's racism and sexism is supposed to reveal parallel attitudes in USA.

The movie Borat fails on both counts. I don't care if Borat was inspired by an actual person, or if Sacha Baron Cohen is, despite Borat's oft-voiced Antisemitism, Jewish. I am saying this because Baron Cohen has fabricated an entire Kazakh national identity similar to the repulsive character, and it isn't funny, because the way Kazakhs are shown is not true to life. You're not given a chance to look at these people and say, 'It's funny, because that's how it really is there,' because it simply is not a truthful picture of any Eastern European folks. The filmmakers merely rely on the outrageousness of the situations. Moreover, it enforces existing small-minded attitudes towards foreign peoples and it's really a shame.

As said, this disgusting protagonist, what the filmmakers seem to see as the stereotypical Eastern European guy is supposed to be in unison with the underlying attitudes of Americans. Problem is, only a few racist or sexist Americans are to be found in the movie. Most Americans seen are more than willing to accept Borat and his sidekick, and want to show what hospitable folks Americans really are, but the filmmakers exploit this trust to reach their own, suspicious goals.

Here comes another worrying element in the film. First of all, to be honest, whenever I am watching a hidden camera show (which Borat essentially is most of the time, as the non-actors appearing in the movie were tricked to do so) in the vein of Candid Camera, I find myself wondering what it would be like if they would not limit themselves to harmless little pranks, but put their victims into an extremely uncomfortable situation. Well, the filmmakers of Borat truly have freed themselves from such silly restrains. The victims of Borat are bullied to boiling point, which takes varying amounts of time, but what becomes clear is that wherever Borat goes, he is supposed to cause havoc. The further you watch the movie and the more you read the interviews with its creators, it becomes obvious that they wear every called police patrol, every forceful tackle by security like a badge of honour.

It seems to be impossible for Baron Cohen to use the premise of the film to extract subtle, poignant humour from situations in which the cultures collide. Instead, Baron Cohen and his company have reduced themselves to mere a**holes and aim for the lowest common denominator, complete with the tiring scenes in which the filmmakers assume that the naked body of an ugly man is supremely hilarious, especially if it is wrestling with another ugly man.

Car Bonus (2001)
6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The Finnish Dream, 31 August 2005

Car Bonus exists as a proof that the phrase "reality is stranger than fiction" is the understatement of the century. I caught Car Bonus accidentally as it was on the DVD of Screaming Men, another documentary from the director Mika Ronkainen. Car Bonus proved to be superior, which is funny as it appears to be a rather raw and truthful film whereas Screaming Men consists mostly of staged or otherwise stylised scenes.

Car Bonus captures some moments when Viljo and Kaisu Mikkonen, a middle-aged married couple, try to survive in post-recession Finland. During the recession they lost a successful business because of cheap loan from banks abroad, mainly owing to misplaced advice by Finnish banks. Now they are unemployed, heavily in debt, trying to get back on their feet with network marketing. "Car bonus" is a milestone in selling nutrition-based products via network marketing, which would come much in hand as their current vehicle is falling apart.

The premise may sound boring, but what makes Car Bonus special is the couple whose mishaps we are set to follow. Even though they have lost their business, they seem to be in high spirits, finding a new passion in network marketing with unrealistic beliefs that with much determination they will succeed. However, this is just the surface: every scene reeks of their desperation. And let me tell you, it is painful to watch and realise it: there were several moments when I just succumbed to shame and wanted to turn the movie off. This happened especially when Viljo attempted to lure unsuspecting people to one of their marketing meetings, or when the couple Mikkonen fed vitamin tablets to their turtles.

So a warning is in place: Car Bonus is a great movie, but not for the usual reasons. It's an incredibly depressing vision of recession-stricken people, but its accuracy in revealing something truly profound in banal-looking people and situations is so unbelievable that it has to be seen. It's out on DVD, folks, with English subtitles, so there's no excuse to not see this masterpiece. (update: it seems to have been uploaded to Google Video by the production company, so there's one reason more to see it now)

57 out of 61 people found the following review useful:
The inevitable sadness of life, 1 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first time I read about Ozu, I immediately became obsessed to see his films. Based on what I heard, I knew I would love them. The first one I saw was Tokyo Story, pet of film historians, which disappointed me (although I've later learned to love it like any other Ozu). After that came End of Summer and Late Spring, which both floored me with both emotion *and* intellectual delight. Even after seeing it I can't stop thinking about Late Spring, and now I'm ready to herald it as one of the greatest films I've ever seen.

Late Spring perfectly encapsulates Ozu's one and only theme: the inevitable sadness of life caused by change. It's a theme that never goes away. However, hardly no one else than the Japanese were able to tell you about change in the 1940's. Mind you, Ozu made his greatest films during a period when Japan became under the Western influence: Coca Cola and baseball became commonplace, industrialism and capitalism accelerated rapidly, and the concept of a traditional Japanese family and society became to fall apart. Considering the value of traditional Japanese culture, this change shouldn't be underestimated. Unlike Wim Wenders in his Ozu documentary Tokyo-ga, Ozu's point of view in this matter isn't preachy, however. What makes his films so fantastic in the end game is his sophisticated yet simple-minded philosophy of life: change and sadness are both essential and inevitable in life, and we have to accept it.

Not that Late Spring isn't amazing when forgetting its context. Ozu's relentlessly formalist visual style his apparent here, and both Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara deliver what are staggering performances. The film is brilliantly lyrical, especially the ending, which I consider one of the saddest and most touching movie endings aside Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthasar: the father (Chishu Ryu) returns to home from his daughter's wedding, sits down to peel an apple, but soon understands his loneliness, and how inevitable it is. From here Ozu cuts to a simple shot of waves hitting shore, without trying to underline or prove anything. The End. This is what movies are all about.

Mahler (1974)
17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Great film about artistry and creativity, 5 April 2005

Mahler is an interesting case. Whereas Ken Russell's films are either just over the top (his theatrical films), or maybe even too subtle (his television work), Mahler is both. Its closest companion may be always the simple but exquisite Song of Summer, but there is that usual kitsch and excess you can find without a magnifier from Lisztomania and other Russell classics.

What I'm trying to say is that if you find Russell's television work too tame, and The Devils and Tommy are just too much, Mahler might be your film. It's not Russell's best, but in this film he found a balance which is rare to him. It may be a slow and long film, but in the end game is wonderfully rich and profound in explaining the essence of artistry and creativity. And much like Michael Powell did to ballet dance in The Red Shoes, Russell doesn't just explain his subject matter in Mahler: he brings it alive. It's like the romantic Gustav Mahler himself made this film.

And, of course, there is the music! Much recommended to everybody.

94 out of 109 people found the following review useful:
Devastating but brilliant masterpiece, 1 March 2005

It's easy to overlook this movie. For modern audience and especially my generation (I'm 21), this movie is just close-ups of a crying woman and grumpy old men. But of course that's like saying Mona Lisa is just a picture of a woman, or The Last Supper is dudes eating. If you experience it with open mind, The Passion of Joan of Arc will give you one of the most profound visions of devotion, faith and martyrdom.

I must confess, even I thought the praise of The Passion was too good to be true when I began to watch it. But when the film ended, I wasn't just impressed, I was completely devastated. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a downright amazing realization of Joan's last moments. There's not a hint of sentimentality, and still I was in tears. Yep. Call me a pansy, but this is one of the very few movies that had that impact on me.

I don't know what else to say about this movie, sorry. The Passion of Joan of Arc counts as the most upsetting movie experience I've ever had, but it's definitely a positive one. On the contrary to what the other commentators have said, you don't have to be religious to be receptive in front of this movie. Believe me, I'm a hardcore atheist. If you're going to see this film -- I sure hope you do -- make sure it's accompanied with the Voices of Light soundtrack, which doesn't just fit the film well, but is amazing as a standalone composition, too. I can guarantee you won't look cinema the same way again.

Whole (2003)
9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Gutwrenching and disturbing, but ultimately touching and thought-provoking, 26 January 2005

It's long I've been wanting to see this documentary, and now that I've seen it, I can gladly say it exceeded my high expectations. Whole truly is a documentary that's disturbing, bizarre, but also touching, profound and even at times funny.

You could see Whole as an antidote to all the worthless plastic surgery shows every other TV program seems to be these days. The people interviewed in this film -- just like all who drop by at a plastic surgeon -- have an ideal image of themselves, and want to realise it. But these people aren't complaining about nose that's too big or breasts that are too small, they have been miserable for their entire life just because they feel they have one limb too much. Call that superficial?

Tragic thing about this is that they cannot get professional help for this. Pathological desire to amputate oneself isn't widely accepted as a disease so far, and healthy-limb removal is out of the question in the medical world. From the documentary Whole we learn that not only this leads to excessive depression among wannabes, but ultimately to the act of self-mutilation (although wannabes themselves don't see this as "mutilation," but more like "relief"). In the movie, we meet a man who shot off his leg using a shotgun. We hear how one sought professional amputation from Mexico but died from complications following surgery. This give rise to a question: should these completely sane people be able to remove their limbs by professional doctors if they want? Or are they just plain sick?

Whole doesn't provide concrete answers, and maybe that's why it is so effective. It doesn't judge wannabes and certainly doesn't approach them sentimentally. Melody Gilbert has wonderfully turned a subject matter that's normally fodder for sensationalist journalism into a thought-provoking, profound journey to the world of medical avant-garde. Highly recommended.

10 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Pretentious as it gets, 3 January 2004

I had pretty high expectations for this film, mainly owing to the interesting cast. But seeing the movie.. man, have I ever been so disappointed!

Sin noticias de Dios is a very pointless, pretentious showcase of previous achievements of popular cinema. There's everything from modern reading of Christian religion (Dogma did this much better and even that flick sucked) to lesbian love (Bound, anyone?), but still it is missing its own point of view and especially any coherence. I can very well imagine how this movie gets five stars in women's magazines and trendy periodicals.

So, if goofy shallowness turns you on, this is your movie, but if you have any respect for yourself and movies with actual content, there are a whole better films to see.