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1575 reviews in total 
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Victoria (2015/II)
technically terrific and as a real-time slice of life drama it's impressive, 7 September 2016

Victoria (2015)

There is a slow steady flow to this movie that might put some people off if they don't give it a chance. But give it a chance. For one thing, the naturalistic acting and dialog become increasingly important. And second, the movie is filmed in ONE TAKE. Yes. (There are a couple of moments I noticed where a cut could have been used, and so maybe was, but the impression is a single believable continuous shot for the entire feature movie. Like "Birdman" this is technically astonishing, but unlike that movie, or "Rope" for that matter, this one is truly and invisibly a single long moment on film.)

So watch it. Laia Costa, the leading actress and the title character, plays a low key lonely Spanish women in Berlin. We later learn that she has given up a concert piano career and is working in a coffee shop, and her innate talent and lack of success contribute to her risky decisions throughout. As does her loneliness.

When she meets four semi-tough German men out drinking and goofing around in the streets, my immediate reaction was, whoa girl, you're going to get hurt. It looked dangerous. This might be my American perspective, I don't know, but the stress of watching her go along with these dangerous antics just for the attention was painful. And great.

But it evolves. In real time, remember (no editing, no time changes). And we see how the group treats her, and what they are really up to, and what she is willing to go along with or not. Etc. I can't say more. Part of the depth of the film is the way it moves from one thing to another with rather convincing ease. It's not perfect, and it sometimes (rarely) seems just too slow with all the details, but it really sustains itself most of the time and has some intense highs that are terrific.

And the end? Filled with doubts, for sure. Check it out.

A battle of minds and codes of honor, as well as an adventure flick, 29 August 2016

Bridge over the River Kwai (1957)

A superbly well crafted World War II movie about British POWs working on a bridge in the Thai jungle for their Japanese captors.

That may sound like a summary, but along those lines it's simply a really well made (and fictional) movie. What makes it rise above (much as "Lawrence of Arabia" by the same director does) is the psychology, and the aggrandizing pro-British agenda. It's all feel-good stuff (if you're not Japanese, at least). And smart, sharply filmed, and increasingly complicated.

There are some welcome contrasts quite intentionally worked out at the start, including a common one in these film—the different military culture of the British (in Asia still very much of the British Empire mindset) and the Americans (represented by William Holden). The Japanese are really only present in the form of the prison commander, who is a combination of cruel and pathetic. You eventually feel sympathy for the fellow in a way, as the Brits show an unlikely but well-hones superiority in engineering and in morality.

There is some true basis to the movie but there were so many liberties taken with the truth that there is no need to dig into that (except for some sense of what the war was really like in SE Asia before 1945). So you really can't watch it for a glimpse of prison life in a Japanese camp. Instead think of it as a larger tale of dignity and perseverance. Alec Guinness (as the leading British officer) is wonderful.

The eventual climax is filled with irony and difficulty (and tragedy), but I can't go into that and the meanings here. Let it be said that you need to stick it out if the three hours starts to seem long. It has both a resolution to the plot and to the ethical issues that turn up.

Powerful stuff. In the big picture this will seem "by the book," an epic that is excellent but takes few chances. But it's so well made you need to appreciate it for what it is.

The strengths here, and insights, make it a necessary watch, 25 August 2016

1,000 Times Good Night (2013)

Wow, a powerful, amazing movie. It's about the ravages of photojournalism—the toll it takes on the photographer and her or his family. And I think it's rather real. I'm a photographer and professor of photography, and it felt pretty close to how it works— simplified a bit, but the feeling was accurate.

And Juliette Binoche is riveting. She makes the ups and downs, and the commitment to her profession, absolutely right on. Outsiders will find it hard to believe that a person can be so devoted to his or her career their children have to compromise (or worse), but that's just the normal truth of it. It's not a cushioned, safe world. And Binoche makes clear in her actions that she does it out of a real devotion to truth, and letting the world know. Admirable stuff.

Those are the big themes, and the movie fills it in with both personal angles (with the father of the children and the kids themselves) and the professional one (making decisions, doing her work). It also shows nicely the huge dichotomy between the world she works in and the one she lives in. This alone is worth seeing, because most of us will identify with the safety of an ordinary home, and the devastations she photographs are so opposite.

Yes, see this. It's imperfect in ways that are for film students to get into--what one reviewer sums up as the pompousness. But the overall is great stuff.

Heavy (1995)
A touching glimpse into a pizza restaurant and its workers, 23 August 2016

Heavy (1995)

The cast here is telling, and pretty remarkable. First there is Deborah Harry—yes that one, from the group Blondie. And even better (as an actress) is Shelley Winters, who is fabulous. And then in a bit part is Evan Dando, another actual musician (from the group the Lemonheads), and he gets to play his guitar and sing (very well).

This is an odd tapestry for a movie that has no real music in it (besides some good old-style country, which is really out of place for the lower Hudson Valley). The two leads are Liv Tyler, who is good and a little self-aware (as usual) and Pruitt Taylor Vince, show is terrific though his role asks him to say little and be restrained.

The title refers to Vince, who as Victor is an overweight pizza maker. The women around him like him but he doesn't seem to find a way "out" of their influences (from his mother to a long-time waitress who has an unspoken incident in the background). And that's the set-up.

Slice of life movies by definition don't need a plot. They operate better by showing little details and developing character and place. This movie does that really nicely. There are holes here and there, implausible and thin aspects, but overall you accept and like what happens.

So this quiet drama is perfect for those who like believable and touching situations. What is says about being overweight (since that's the title) is dubious, but in a way it doesn't matter. Watch it for other things. Winters deserved some awards for her role. Some great stuff in here.

Rope (1948)
A curious experiment that falls far short of Hitch's other films, 19 August 2016

Rope (1948)

I have now watched this movie for the fourth time. Once, as a college student, and then once every ten years or so since. And I've never liked it.

First, I must say I am a Hitchcock fan. Or worshiper. Something extreme. I even like the artifice in his work that turns off some younger viewers. The visual intelligence, the smart development of psychology as well as raw plot, the feeling of suspense and surprise (which has to do with when he decides to tell us certain things), and so on. He's unparalleled.

But there are so many things wrong with "Rope" I can never get to the point of seeing it Hitch's way. Or the way so many others have who really love it.

First, the acting is stiff, and maybe even debilitating. John Dall is just over his head with this kind of theater drama that requires genuine angst (his limitations are perfect in "Gun Crazy" two years later). The other young lead, Farley Granger, seems to be well cast (based on "Strangers on a Train," where he's perfect), but he stiff and unconvincing. Only James Stewart makes the movie really rise up (bit part actress Joan Chandler is really good, but briefly).

Second is the play, which is turned into a screenplay of some economy here. Are people really taken by the logic of a murder that is for fun? Certainly the Leopold and Loeb story has more intensity. The games (and dialog) of the actors around the main thrust (getting caught), are just awkward and clumsy. I'm really puzzled that other people don't see it that way, and I would love to grow up and see what is special here. Even a movie like "The Bad Seed" approaches the nature of murder in a more reasonable way.

Finally, the notion of making it seem like a single long take is a thrill, on paper. But the movie is tied down visually and kinetically, and in part this is because he wanted it to be continuous and real time. Great idea, but don't expect the lively, beautifully unexpected photography of his other films.

So back to artifice, since there is no doubt that we have to see it as an experiment.

You do wonder what the original play, "Rope's End," might look like on a stage. I think it might be better—and as a Hitchcock devotee, I am crossing a line here! The famous undercurrents of homosexual "charm" are never quite palpable.

One last point—the extras on the Criterion disc are really worth it. Give it all a look.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A warm idea that isn't pushed and pulled very hard--feels sorta good!, 4 August 2016

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

A sweet, uncomplicated movie. Paul Rudd is solid if a bit restrained (though he has a handful of great lines), but the younger counterpart played by Craig Roberts is really sharp and funny. They way they support and redeem each other is the whole of the movie.

There is an attempt to add some depth, from the straight up mother who overplays her custodial role to a couple of people who get picked up along the road trip, both quirky but neither very convincing in the larger story. They are all add-ons that have little depth. Too bad.

Yes, this is a road movie, with some well used ideas about finding weird Americana along the way to discovering yourself. It's fun, sure, but you'll find enough predictable parts to make you wish someone had take some chances. By the time they get to the highlight (which is a literal low point—you'll see), both of the add-on characters are pushed to extremes that don't resolve well.

I enjoyed the movie in some simple warm way, but don't expect brilliance. I think, in a way, brilliance was not the idea, but something more sincere and heartfelt. Hate to feel like I'm bashing a feel-good movie, but it's really the movie-making and writing, not the sentiments, that are the problem.

Delicate, intense, quiet, wonderfully rendered, 9 June 2016

Bernard and Doris (2006)

A remarkably well told, subtle and moving movie. At first it might seem to about nothing, and the characters are stereotypes. But this is not at all the truth, as both Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes are compelling and complex in their roles.

What finally happens between this butler who might have a drinking problem in his past and this woman who is a bit loose and unafraid of anyone is something neither of them expected. A kind of true love, though not in a normal, intimate way. Even better, really, respecting their different roles all along. Even at the end, when you know them and love them, the dramatic act that starts and then finishes the movie is tender and profound without a bit of sentiment or cheap heart-tugging. Well done!

The fact that this is based on a true story (loosely, they say) doesn't change the honest intimacy implied throughout. It's a quite movie—even as dramas go, it has lots of space and very quiet conversation. That's a strength, to me, but a warning to people looking for something more intense.

Mostly it's the really sincere, remarkable acting by the two leads, who take up almost every minute of screen time. You lose all sense that they are acting. Wonderful stuff. See it if it sounds like it might be your thing. Underrated.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Too long, too much, but technically very well done, 8 June 2016

A Bridge too Far (1977)

A must for WWII fans, but dubious for people looking for a drama that happens to be a war drama.

Here's why. First the upside. This was researched and choreographed in great detail. Some of the participants were at the original battle (or nearby). And there is a sense not of grandiose "The Longest Day" kind of drama, but of something that shows the nitty gritty of an important but not legendary battle toward the end of the war. There is a ton of action, very vivid and pyrotechnic, filmed with smooth precision, and edited down well even though the movie is still too long.

The downside is partly that the movie is too long. They include too much. And frankly, as good as the action stuff is, there's too much of it. The ability to do this kind of thing really well isn't reason to do it too much. ("Saving Private Ryan" has the same dilemma, and I think faces it better, with the amazing filming of action at Normandy.)

Furthermore, this is all action and all history. That's probably enough for people who are into it—and it's gripping, for sure, at its best. But the key missing ingredient is real characters. There's an attempt to give each of the stars and their colleagues enough for the audience to grasp, but it's never enough. The problems of the campaign and the personalities that pushed for it and doubted it are clear. But they aren't convincing.

And one of the problems is there is just too much going on for such a short movie. That's no joke. It could have been a t.v. mini-series, and the characters could have been developed. Instead we get a few minutes screen time—at best —of most of the key players. And there are a lot of big names involved, each for a million to five million dollars each. And that's with Joseph Levine (the producer) pushing hard to save money. It never feels bloated, just superficial. Oh! There's Robert Redford, there's Michael Caine, there's Laurence Olivier, and so on, with their key but tiny appearances. Don't blink.

So we end up back with the history, and the brutality (and spoiled brat attitude) of the Nazi Germans. It's good (and horrifying stuff, for sure, but there are lots of better WWI movies on many levels. This one is for people looking to fill in gaps and get the specifics.

A last note. This came out after the shift in Hollywood to newer ("New Hollywood") films in the late 60s, and it feels out of place. Other war dramas like "Patton" "M.A.S.H." and "Catch-22" all from 1970 and then just after this one in 1978 and 1979, "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now," all offer something more contemporary and compelling in terms of style and movie-making. And character.

Wonderfully romantic and romanticized, whatever the impossibilities, 7 June 2016

Age of Adaline (2015)

Like the Christopher Reeves quasi-classic "What Time Forgot" or the more inventive and well made "Benjamin Button," we have here an improbable and completely romantic and compelling love story. If the movie is imperfect in little ways, the love story holds together.

It's no secret that the key here is that the leading actress, a fabulous Blake Lively, never ages. And so she has seen decades go by and has a wisdom and caution you might expect in a much older person. When someone falls in love with her she has learned to run away because the relationship, unlike herself, has no future. Not together.

But of course she does fall in love herself and so doom of some kind awaits.

Which is what we all want. The leading man is a charming (overly-charming, actually, especially compared to the wonderfully restrained acting of Lively) young man who is secretly well to do (lucky her) and who won't take no for an answer. The actor, Michiel Huisman, grows into into his part and holds it up. Even better, however, is the appearance of his father, with a bizarre (improbable) twist, played by Harrison Ford, who is terrific.

At first the movie and the audience is distracted with the quirks of living forever—like being able to buy stocks "for the long term." And the sadness of not quite being able to partake in life in the usual way creeps in. But finally what matters is her wanting to really be in love, regardless, and to follow through. You'll have to see how the movie takes care of that.

Not a classic, I don't suppose, but if you like romantic, moody movies this is a must. I really enjoyed it—though Brad Pitt in "Benjamin Button" is on another level altogether. And for sheer impossible romance over time the weepy "The Notebook" is to be recommended.

That's the company "Age of Adaline" keeps. Give it a look.

Badlands (1973)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Looks really good but it's all veneer and affectation and nostalgia, 4 June 2016

Badlands (1973)

It's true what everyone says—this is a kind of Bonnie and Clyde story. But don't get it wrong, this has none of the depth or fascination (or originality) of that famous 1967 movie. It's worth seeing because this is director Terrence Malick's first big film. For those who follow his movies (or avoid them—the negative reviews for his later work are astonishing), you'll see the first signs of characteristic moods and styles and themes.

This romanticized story set around 1960 is shamelessly nostalgic. It is filled with intentional references to earlier (and better) sources, including Bonnie and Clyde itself and, most outwardly, James Dean. The violence is weirdly casual and frankly cruel and unfelt, and I suppose that's part of the aesthetic distancing involved in what is really a college student's view of the world. Not that Malick was still in college (he got out of film school four years earlier) but his sensibilities came from studying film more than living it (in my limited view). What he does without fail is pull together a great crew and cast and make the mechanics of the film really really good.

So yes, this is a very well made movie, and it sweeps through upper middle of the country with a kind of schoolboy feel for the icons of the place and time. I wouldn't be so crude as to say it's like a giant (and long) Hallmark card on the surface, but there you have it.

Martin Sheen is really good in his role as a kind of wannabe James Dean, and Sissy Spacek plays the naive 15 year old a bit too naively, though she has a country-girl innocence that sets up the violence well. Eventually, without giving away much, the two are on the run. And there are a couple of minor turns of events, but really it's a routine tale told better before (see "They Live by Night" for a great one), and told with more honesty.

The end is important, and hard to talk about without giving anything away. But when you see it you'll see something that was talked about at the time—the glorification of an anti-her, the identification with a mindless and selfish killer. (Al Pacino makes this the whole point in Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" two years alter). And here Malick makes it almost laughable and cheesy. And utterly unbelievable, especially for 1960, especially after such a killing spree.

Yeah, a love hate movie. Looks and feels good, but it lack depth and logic and sincerity, despite it's sincere appearance. The worst mix of things possible.

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