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Genius & madness.
11 January 2003
What kind of madness, or genius, or both, could make a movie as quirky & great as "The Hudsucker Proxy"? I think I'm a pretty smart guy; but I submit that a monkey sitting at a keyboard could type out a manuscript for "Hamlet" in its entirety before I could ever come up with a movie as good as this one. esh. The extent & limitations of my talents, compared to that of the Coens (or anyone else, for that matter), quite frankly depress me.

The video box for this movie should have consisted of plain brown paper, instead of what it does consist of. The cover gives away the significance of the circle with which Robbins' character is obsessed for the first hour or so of the movie. When I rented it, I either didn't notice before I took it from the shelf, or I merely forgot after I left the store, what was on the cover of the box. This turned out to be a blessing, because it was all such good fun trying to figger out why Robbins was so obsessed with it!

The casting was, as is typical of the Coens' movies, superb. Having Robbins play the role of Norville Barnes would not have occurred to me. However, he pulls it off magnificently. (I guess this is why I'm counting beans here in Winnipeg, Canada instead of making my mark on Hollywood.) Jennifer Jason Leigh's Amy Archer is wonderful. Her accent/dialect is perhaps somewhat exaggerated, but none-the-less enjoyable. The "Pulitzer Prize" scene is a standout, in my opinion. Paul Newman plays the role of the nefarious Sidney Mussburger with a twinkle in his eye & his tongue in his cheek. We get the feeling that he is quite aware of the camera, but unlike Mel Gibson who is also always aware of the camera, Newman is still convincing. The movie would have been much worse off without him.

The "They dock ya!" scene near the beginning of the movie is great. Robbins plays it for all it's worth. Simply brilliant. The scene wherein the steel ball stops in motion is also brilliant in its simplicity & effective in its portent. I swear, only the Coens could conceive of it. And the preceding scene with the water bottle & trash can fire pays homage to Marx Brothers slapstick; again, Newman & Robbins are superb. I howled with laughter.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" is devoid of sex, profanity, drugs, car chases & explosions. Definitely NOT mainstream Hollywood. It has a kind-of Gotham City feel to it, a la "Batman". IMDb indicates its genre to be Comedy/Romance/Fantasy. I think this, while not important, is misleading. The element of romance is weak. And to suggest that it is fantasy is dubious, because most of what happens in the movie is plausible, except for a few scenes.

Roger was, in this scribe's opinion, a little too harsh on it: He gives it only two stars. Yet he says: "This is the best-looking movie I've seen in years, a feast for the eyes and the imagination. The art direction and set design are breathtaking, re-creating the world of 1930s screwball comedy in which towering skyscrapers and vast boardrooms were the playing fields for the ambitions of corrupt executives, ambitious kids, unsung geniuses, and lady newspaper reporters with nails as sharp as their wisecracks." Huh? That hardly sounds like the preamble to a two-star movie review. I think he should watch it again, maybe when he's in a better mood.

What more could you expect from a comedy/faux drama?! The only present I wanted for Christmas '02 was "The Hudsucker Proxy" on DVD & my girlfriend had to search high & low in my home town to find it, but find it she did. It's amazing, the s**t you can find on DVD these days. But trying to find a modern masterpiece is a crap shoot. It makes you wonder about how fickle the consumer is & how unimaginative some movie studio executives are.

This movie is crammed with pearls & I could go on & on describing the smorgasbord of wonderful scenes in this movie. Just rent it & learn for yourself what a great movie this is. I suggest that you won't be disappointed. Then eat your heart out in contemplation of how most mere mortals can only marvel at the handiwork of the brilliant Coen brothers.
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Hamlet within Hamlet
23 November 2002
Life is demanding, unless you're independently wealthy, or retired, or living on a deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. Most of us gotta make a buck. So, if you're a movie critic with deadlines to meet, time is a precious commodity. Therefore, it seems to me that professional movie critics probably don't spend as much time reviewing some movies as they should. Most movies are easily understood & enjoyed during one sitting. I'm thinking here of comedies, romance movies, action movies, etc. However, certain movies--mostly of the science-fiction genre--require slow digestion. Mental incubation is necessary to appreciate these movies. "The Thirteenth Floor" is one such movie. As I scroll down the rottentomatoes reviews, it is evident to me that most critics probably didn't spend enough time watching it. One critic crows: "This is a film about deeply confused people that seems likely to put viewers in a state of deep confusion for most of its running time." Another opins: "As compelling as a knock-knock joke." Yeesh. It makes me wonder if these pundits actually watched the bloody thing. One gets the impression that while watching it, they had their thumbs poised over the fast-forward button. (Those damned deadlines, you know.) In any event, keep in mind the Irish playwright Brendan Behan's wry observation: "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves."

Now, I'm not a simple-minded guy, I hope. But I found that I appreciated this movie more after having watched it a second, and then a third time. I agree that at first blush, it is superficially confusing. (Geez, if you want a no-brainer, watch an Abbott & Costello movie.) This movie is for a thinking man... WHOOPS!! Er, make that a "thinking person". In fact, I consider it one of the best sci-fi movies I've ever seen. It is very stylish, well-acted & well-written. Much time & effort obviously went into recreating certain parts of 1937 California. The only serious problem I had with it was the loud, mechanical-sounding whirring noises & excessive laser lighting generated by the computer equipment. This was very implausible, 'though it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie.

Before watching this movie, I'd never heard of Craig Bierko. But I thought that as the protagonist, he was excellent. He seemed aloof at times, but I didn't think that this was a problem. And maybe this is what his role required of him. Armin Mueller-Stahl's acting career spans almost half a century, with over one hundred movies to his credit, according to IMDb. He is the consummate actor. Very dependable & a fine choice for the role of computer genius & mentor to Bierko's character. His heavy German accent seemed all the more appropriate. Gretchen Mol was also very credible, and she wasn't hard to look at, either. I thought the ever mercurial Vincent D'Onofrio was convincing (no pun intended) as a computer geek-cum-antagonist. It's hard to believe that he was the guy who played the psycho in "The Cell"! I mean, the guy is so adaptable.

I shall resist the temptation to describe the movie's structure, because I think it is often better to watch a movie with little or no foreknowledge of the plot details. For instance, I bought "The Thirteenth Floor" on a whim because I liked the DVD box cover & because the price was right. I suggest that if you are an aficionado of the sci-fi genre, just buy it, then watch it, and THEN check it out on the net. I will say that, to the unwashed, the plot of this movie is far-fetched in the extreme. However, some computer science theorists suggest that in the future, what is depicted in this movie would be possible. We are already developing quantum, quasi-biological computers, so who knows? Thank God I'll be dead before they arrive.

So, there you have this critic's opinions. If you like a good, stylish sci-fi movie, rent it. Or buy it. (I found it in a used CD/DVD store.) But WATCH it.
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Hai shang hua (1998)
I shouldda known better...
17 November 2002
I bought this movie--oh, pardon me, "film"--because I am fascinated with Chinese culture. And because I have a new, Chinese lady in my life. I thought my having this movie would impress her, in the unlikely event that my charm wasn't sufficient! I must also confess that the beautiful cover of the DVD case (which is also depicted at IMDb) in the video store seduced me. I'm such a sucker for shrewd marketing. "A visually ravishing masterpiece...One of the most beautiful films ever made", proclaims the endorsement on the cover. In addition, to a westerner, anything with the word "Shanghai" in it seems to evoke romantic images of far away places--far away places which when visited, more often than not, make one yearn for home. Alas. The grass is always greener on the other side.

The entire movie was shot indoors, probably on a budget of $10,000, in the drawing rooms of brothels, with rather poor lighting to boot. Oh, I know the candle-lit ambience was intentional. Still, it was rather hard on the eyes. A ray of sunlight would have been a welcome relief.

It is essentially a series of vignettes about the relationships between Chinese hookers, their johns & mesdames, to put it bluntly. Petty jealousies, whining, conniving & duplicity abound. From FOS, I learned that women in 1880s Shanghai were just as catty as women in 2000s Winnipeg, Canada. The hookers spend much of their time pouting that their johns weren't paying off their old debts fast enough. Chinese men of that era were, apparently, just as naïve & dumb as Canadian men today, a sad fact to which I can attest from experience. (I don't know about you guys, but now when I meet a woman who even hints that I should pay her bills, I bolt.)

Obviously, the director has studied Ingmar Bergman well: FOS is just as uninspiring as Bergman's depressing "masterpieces". One user gushes that this movie's cinematography "can be simply orgasmic at times". Yeah, right. Unfortunately, there wasn't one orgasm had during the movie's plodding two hour plus run time. At least that might have awoken me from my slumber as I struggled to maintain interest in the movie.

This ain't no "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", believe me. Now THAT is a movie, eh? Action! Adventure! Romance! Unrequited love! The folly of youth! The folly of middle-age! FOS is more like a dirge compared to that movie. It is what you'd get if Igmar Bergman were to direct an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. (Is that still running? I dunno, 'cause I haven't watched TV in eight years.) I suffered through about an hour of FOS until I couldn't take any more.

So much for "films". Give me a good ol' movie any day, thank you. Long live the Coen brothers! And Spielberg! This one's going back to the video store--that is, if they're stupid enough to take it back.
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