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9 Songs (2004)
Why did this sensitive story of a contemporary affair raise such a storm?.
12 November 2010
This is another of the numerous films which chronicle the history of a short affair. Not surprisingly such films became very popular during World War II; and for me 'Brief Encounter' remains the finest erotic film ever created, but in its style and pacing '9 Songs' owes more to '9 1/2 weeks' which provided a template that has been followed by many more recent films. In '9 Songs" the spacing element that controls the timing of the affair is a series of nine rock concerts attended by the couple; but their relationship, although very fresh, is not as impersonal as it was in '9 1/2 weeks'. This film brings out the very real problem young people today face in building a career at the time when strong biological urges dictate that their first call should be to create a family. Whilst not taking sides in any obvious way, it is made very clear that the demands of society can often be impossible to reconcile with our instinctive urges. It features a young man who works as a research scientist in Antarctica except for brief periods of leave in London, England. A common attraction for rock music leads to friendship with a student from the U.S.A., who will only be in London for a very limited time before she has to return to the U.S.A. They can either ignore each other or respond to their mutual attraction whilst recognising that any continuing relationship appears virtually impossible, and they choose to accept the latter alternative. This award winning film provides a very sensitive and thought provoking glimpse of the type of relationship that can develop under such circumstances.

Like many similar films, '9 Songs' started as a film festival project. It was featured at Sundance, the Toronto Festival and also at San Sebastian where it was an award winner. It then received a limited general circulation on the strength of its festival record, but its backers probably recognised from the start that its greatest returns should come from DVD sales, a situation which often makes it hard to decide whether the theatrical release or the Director's Cut DVD should be regarded as the definitive version. Whilst the latter is usually sexually more graphic, the greater differences in this case appear to be regionally based.

The storm began when Michael Winterbottom, the Director, went on record as wishing to blur or break the distinction between softcore and hardcore sex which is currently maintained by the mainstream movie industry. I have strong reservations about this. Films are created by actors trained to simulate every kind of activity and emotion. There seems no reason why the simulation of sexual activity should necessarily be any less satisfactory for a normal audience than its actual performance.. An actor is never going to be asked to kill or wound his colleagues, we readily accept that when this appears to take place it is simulated. Today the same is true even of sequences involving the apparent death of animals, and there is no reason why it should not also be true of explicit sexual activities. However I watched the unrated Canadian version of the DVD which runs for five minutes less than at least one of the versions referred to in other IMDb user reviews, and did not include some sequences IMDb viewers in Europe have discussed. It contained nothing that I have not also seen in many other mainstream films. Those who are uncomfortable with any nudity or any simulation of sexual activity will of course choose to give this DVD a miss - others need feel no concern. The film is a serious attempt to take a realistic look at one of the problems associated with the society in which we live today, and in my view drawing attention to such problems can do nothing but good. My version of the DVD made no implicit attempt to preach to us - it simply presented an entertaining and well made story which brought out some of the problems inherent in our present day lifestyles.

Basic requirements for viewer enjoyment are fully satisfied. The film-script is largely believable; the cinematography is competently done (some of the sequences featuring Antarctica are alone sufficient to justify watching the film); the acting, particularly by the young couple who carry most of the acting burden right through the entire film, was, I felt, remarkably natural; and the all important rock music sound track (which I am too deaf to assess for myself) has been commended by many others. This film is not intended to be a tearjerker, the couple concerned knew the implications of the situation in which they found themselves and got as much pleasure and satisfaction out of their brief romance as they could possibly have expected. But many older viewers who have been blessed with lifelong supportive relationships starting at a similar stage in their own lives, will probably look back over their own good fortune, and may even experience a hint of damp eyes from sympathy with the dilemma faced by the couple portrayed here.

Unfortunately however, whilst remaining an enjoyable movie, '9 Songs' was too documentary in style and too short to enable its principal characters to become adequately developed, a problem that also led to unacceptably frequent and over-abrupt switches from domestic bliss to frenzied rock concerts - filmed in totally incompatible ways. I first intended to give '9 Songs' an IMDb rating of 6, but I unexpectedly found the film quite hard to forget - not because of any of the controversial sexual sequences, but because of its treatment of an affair that circumstances would never allow to become a romance. This aspect of the film has had little discussion here, but because of it I am raising my rating to 7.
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Evening (2007)
A well made film which fails to meet expectations.
12 November 2010
'Evening' is a film to ponder over rather than to enjoy. It currently has an IMDb user rating of 6.5 stars, but in general it has only received a moderate reception from film critics. We are told that it is a film about an elderly lady who is on her deathbed throughout the entire movie and is looking back on her life to review the mistakes that she feels she has made. Supported by two daughters who had different fathers, she tells us very early on that she has had 'several' husbands. The film opens when in a half conscious state she keeps speaking the name of another man of whom neither of her daughters are even aware. The story behind this emerges slowly through a series of half remembered flashbacks - often in a way that is quite difficult to follow on first viewing. 'Evening' is clearly intended to be a film of some significance, its theme, the self-assessment of ones own life as it draws to a close, is a universal one, and it must be reviewed on this basis - not simply by a trite comment that it was less (or more) enjoyable than expected. Unfortunately the unfolding of this story is an integral part of its appeal, so a detailed discussion would completely spoil the film for anyone yet to see it. Rather than this I have decided to restrict my comments to impressions formed when first watching it, followed by a brief assessment made after the second viewing which I found was necessary before I could fully follow the story. Readers should be aware that 'Evening' is much more polished than most new films and this critique may therefore not adequately reflect its very considerable qualities.

1. 'Evening' is ultimately a 'soap opera' - probably intended to appeal primarily to women - but it is more profound than most films of this type and should provides equally enjoyable viewing for both sexes.

2. Good points include its overall visual appeal and superb photography (which reminded me of Jack Cardiff's work at many points). Also I am hard of hearing and I appreciated that the optional DVD subtitles were firmly located in the black band below the wide-screen image. Oh how many fine films have been spoiled for me by a line of script superimposed along the bottom edge of the image and often unreadable.

3. Next in importance to the general image quality is the acting, the cast here were given the opportunity to create real characters - not cardboard cut-outs - and they largely succeeded in this. Most films that include so many great actors feature several cameo performances presented largely in isolation, but here the interaction between these characters was exceptional. In particular I must rate a reminiscences sequence between Vanessa Redgrave (Anne) and Meryl Streep (Lila) as truly superb cinematography.

4. The flashbacks feature a Newport "Blue blood' family which still believes in arranged marriages to secure the continuance of the family line and fortune. This is not P.C. today and is intrinsically hard to fully accept.

5. The sound track is an abomination - whenever a Director fails to appreciate the proper impact of periods of silence many scenes become ruined by totally intrusive background music. If I want to see a musical I will pick one and enjoy what I am expecting, but too many dramas today are presented as half baked musicals and I have no time for this.

6. The flashbacks are not presented as fragmentary dreamlike recollections but as an ongoing almost continuous story, which is very confusing

7. Much of the sequencing seemed all wrong. Anne on her deathbed appeared as if she should have had teenage grandchildren around her; instead one of her daughters was just considering starting a family. Anne tells us that she has had several husbands but the story as presented seems very incomplete as all the flashbacks relate to one of her pre-wedding romances.

My final assessment after later consideration:.

This film would have been better scripted sequentially. with the story gradually developing, and viewers left unaware of how things worked out in advance. This would have eliminated a lot of confusion, but might have conflicted even more with the original novel (which I have not read). Many database users have commented that the film already departs too far from this novel - but they have also suggested that the novel as written is almost unfilmable. Whether based on history, literature or drama; a film must never distort its source, but there is a solution to that problem.. Instead of claiming to represent the source material, the film can claim only to be a story inspired by it. By mutual agreement the necessary recognition can be paid in this way without inhibiting the screenwriter from doing his job properly.

Ultimately we go to the cinema to be entertained, and I have to report that despite all its qualities I did not enjoy this film as much as 'Soft Fruit' - an Australian film with a very similar theme but clearly made with a much lower budget. Directed by Christina Andreef and produced by Jane Campion (the conjoint creators of 'The Piano'); this was filmed with a much less experienced cast, but somehow by the time it ended I found I was feeling as if I really knew the characters (and was wanting to root for them too!}. This never happened with the much more reserved characters portrayed in 'Evening" - leaving the viewer with something of the feeling of having watched a documentary presentation which gave no real sense of involvement.
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Himalaya (1999)
Please try not to miss this masterpiece of the cinema.
6 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This is a superb example of the film genre which originally did most to establish cinematography as an important new art medium - it is a visually very striking tribute to a traditional lifestyle that is most unlikely to be able to continue for very much longer, and that would be lost forever if not recorded on film. Even back when feature films were still regarded as only poor shadows of stage presentations such films had already established themselves as a unique and irreplaceable adjunct to written or hand drawn records.

For many years documentaries were probably the type of film most extensively made and, although the development of lightweight equipment that could be used in all weathers only took place very slowly, many anthropologically important works such as "Nanook of the North" or "Legong - Dance of the Virgins" began to appear soon after WW-I. Some were true documentaries where the photographer tried not to interfere with the normal activity pattern of his subjects, whilst in others the cast are deliberately acting out such activities for the exclusive benefit of the camera. Nanook of the North is an example of the former group whilst Dance of the Virgins has a story line built around the traditional ritual dances that are the principal cultural activity of the Balinese villagers who acted in the film. Himalaya is also an example of this latter type of documentary. It features the people of the Dolpo region, a high altitude plateau situated on the border between Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayas and so remote that its population appears to have only been estimated (somewhere between 5,000 and 18,000 according to Wikipedia). At an altitude of around 4,000 m this is one of the highest agricultural areas in the world with poor mountain soil, extremes of weather and a very short growing season, so not surprisingly the communities living there need to supplement their own food production through trading. For many centuries the traditional method has been to take salt (plentiful in Tibet) to Nepal by an annual Yak caravan trek across the mountains following the primitive trails developed to permit such trade, and to exchange this salt for grain. When Eric Valli made his documentary in 1999 this traditional practice was still being followed in a way unchanged for many centuries, but he appreciated that it was a fragile lifestyle and wanted to capture it for the world in case it came under threat. Since then a two prong threat has developed - the absorption of Tibet by the Peoples Republic of China has led to attempts to close the Nepalese Tibetian border which makes it harder for the Dolpo people to acquire the salt needed to continue this form of trade, and alternative sources of salt from other parts of the world have reduced the dependence of the Nepalese on the Dolpo caravans. It is hard to be optimistic that major changes will not become inevitable - a poignant concern whilst watching this beautiful film..

Valli's team must have spent a long time getting to know the community and achieving a concensus on the story which would be presented. The final product is so realistic and documentary in effect that one almost feels it must be auto-biographical, but I believe this is unlikely as it would then have threatened to re-open the conflicts shown with potentially disastrous effects. It is much more likely to be a re-creation of legends and oral history from sometime in the past. It features an aged tribal leader Tinli, whose family has held this position for many generations, ready to hand over to his son just when the young man is killed in an accident. We learn that the role of tribal leader is not quite the hereditary right of this family, being subject to community approval which is based on proved ability to provide strong leadership - most effectively demonstrated by successfully leading their vital annual yak caravans. The old man's grandson is only a child - his other son is a monk in a Buddhist monastery with no experience to match the communities needs. He decides to once more lead the caravan himself and determines the departure date ordained by the gods. The community is split, many supporting another leader who spurns supernatural guidance and plans to leave earlier. Ultimately two caravans leave four days apart. They rejoin near their destination, the old leader dies of his exertions and the split in the community is healed. - this simple but very effective story provides a framework upon which Valli has created a memorable film that can be recommended unreservedly. The Himalayan scenery is unsurpassed and creates a must-see for all mountain lovers, but the most memorable sequences are those where we see (and experience) the vitality of the community when discussing the wisest course of action to follow..The ultimate triumphant success this almost unique movie achieves is the way in which its viewers come to feel they really know Tinle, the aged leader, and his contemporaries - this is an experience which is truly not to be lightly passed over. .

For me the climactic sequences were those showing Tinle's followers waist deep in snow, battling their way through a storm which had created white-out conditions.. One could not but reflect that even the short time interval between the grain harvest and the onset of winter is always subject to storms which would render mountain travel hazardous or even impossible, Over several centuries many of the caravans must have just disappeared in such storms without trace. Every time this happened it would have been a very traumatic loss to the community concerned. What determination and trust in their gods must have contributed to their survival on such occasions. There are lessons for us all in this!
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Whatever went wrong here?
6 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The IMDb does not provide a great deal of information about this 1995 film except that it has an 'R' MPAA rating, has achieved an impressive IMDb viewers rating of 1.4 stars and has a theme based on the fantasies which may be experienced by anyone hovering between life and death. In the past I have watched one or two films with similar themes which provoked some quite challenging thoughts so, when I saw this was scheduled for showing on a local TV channel recently, I decided to take a chance and watch it despite the low rating. A few comments follow, but my principal interest is to see whether other IMDb users can help fill in some of the gaps currently existing on this database.

This movie was based on a series of sequences showing a young woman undergoing a preliminary time of death interview by a 'Guardian' responsible for assessing her life. These were filmed reasonably adequately using soft focus, low contrast, muted colours and lots of swirling mist. But all of the associated flashback sequences were totally unacceptable, their quality was appalling and even worse they differed so drastically amongst each other that the viewer was left to constantly fiddle with contrast, chroma, brightness, gamma or hue controls every few moments. If this was the fault of the film it deserves to be very quickly forgotten, but producers put a lot of effort and money into creating a film and I cannot think that this is so. It seems more likely that the TV station concerned transmitted it with all their video controls badly mis-set. Despite these problems I felt it had the potential to be a marginally adequate minor film and, more important, that its final sequences provided an unexpected ending which was challenging enough to deserve mention here. But as I saw it on television the quality was way below what would be expected from any film destined for public release. It seems unlikely that there will be a DVD release soon, and I would be interested to know whether this film has been previously shown in a more acceptable form elsewhere. As seen, it was reminiscent of the output from a short film school project, although its R rating suggests that it was not made exclusively for TV and at some point must have also received a cinema release.

Warning:! Although this film may possibly be worth more, on the basis of what I actually saw its present IMDb rating of 1.4 might be judged by some viewers as a little generous.
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The Window of Time....
6 September 2010
I was a youth living near Hornchurch RAF aerodrome during this battle and vividly remember the hot sunny September afternoons when we could watch great aerial dogfights in the skies above almost every afternoon. We ducked into the shelter if the dogfights were directly overhead, but the drama was too great to stay there if the coast seemed clear enough (This was probably unwise- on one occasion a piece of metal, later identified as part of the engine cowling from a Me 109, whistled into our garden a few yards from us - but what wonderful memories it has left me throughout a long life.) I avoided watching this film depicting the events for a very long time - I did not want to come up with some lukewarm judgment that yes it was quite a good attempt to re-create what I remembered so well. The greatest compliment I can pay this film is to acknowledge that I made a mistake - watching it, I learned what it means to be transported back in time and to be present again during one of the great moments in history. This experience totally transcends any reality TV.

My heading - the window of time- refers to the short period following any great event during which it is possible to create a worthy reproduction of it in pseudo-documentary form. Once this opportunity has slipped away it will never return. Recognition of this finally led to the long planned film actually being created - there were only just enough of the aircraft left flying, many of them having reached the end of a long period of service with the Spanish Air Force. Details like antennae changes were not really important except to survivors of the battle, but it was sad that the film has had to reinforce the myth that the United Kingdom was saved by the magic of its new Spitfire fighters - actually the brunt of the battle on the British side was carried by the more venerable Hurricanes which achieved the majority of the "kills" during this phase of the war. There were not enough Hurricanes still in serviceable condition to enable this to be shown accurately (one of the very few minor historical 'errors' in the film). We can all envisage an attempt to create a similar film today if it had not been made when it was. Very carefully constructed flying models, assisted by close-ups shot in re-constructed cockpits and some computer generated fighting effects, would all look incredibly real on the screen but at the end our reaction would be that we had watched a technological masterpiece, not a feeling that we were present during real events! The cast list reads like a who's who of the great British actors of the period, but as with the real events the Germans and all important Canadians, Poles and Czecho-Slovakians were also appropriately represented. Overall the acting level was consistently good and this film also incorporates one of the all time great moments on film - I am thinking of four very brief linked sequences totalling not much over a minute which essentially summed up the complete story. First Londoners, sheltering underground from the nightly blitz on September 15th, listening to a news bulletin reporting heavy German air attacks all day, their losses 163 planes with RAF losses 40 and 10 pilots safe; then Air Marshall Downing, asked by Churchill for amplification because Capital Hill believed German claims that the low RAF losses showed the final destruction of the RAF, responded "I am not very interested in propaganda, if we are right we have won this battle - if wrong the Germans will be in London in a week." These were coupled with two very brief sequences, one showing returned German pilots assembling for their evening mess dinner and staring dismayed at all the seats which were not filled, the other the German invasion flotillas in the Channel ports being dismantled two days later. Historically this film has few inaccuracies but wisely does not address the ongoing question of whether the Battle of Britain or the Battle of the Atlantic (almost equally well served by the film "The Cruel Sea") was the more important. Whilst both were vital to an allied victory, the former was shorter and more intense - which made it easier to reduce to the scale of a film - whilst the latter dragged on right until the end of the war and ultimately claimed many more lives.

For a very long time to come this film will remain a standby in schools trying to increase awareness of key events that have shaped their world among today's children - many uninterested per se in history, But I was too personally involved to assess its likely appeal for other IMDb users - all I can say is that it a well made and gripping film which will not be quickly forgotten. Some critics dislike a very minor romantic sub-plot involving the wife of a squadron leader serving in the WAAF, who fears hearing of his death every day as she is plotting the movements of the planes - eventually he experiences a bad crash, surviving severely burned and facing a very long period of rehabilitation. But I believe this provided a very necessary reminder that great events are achieved only at high personal cost.

Real history buffs may note that there is a later DVD also entitled 'The Battle of Britain' (Classic Pictures- 2004) It carries the sub-title 'The Official History' and is essentially a documentary assembled from contemporary monochrome newsreel sequences, spanning a longer period that includes the night bombing 'blitz' which followed.
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Easy Virtue (2008)
Vintage Noel Coward - a rare joy - Sophisticated humour.
5 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Although not of aristocratic birth Noel Coward became the protégée of Mrs Astley Cooper at an early age, and through her gained access to London Society where his sharp eye and keen perception enabled him to achieve an almost unique appreciation of both its strengths and its weaknesses. He exploited this shamelessly in a steady stream of very popular plays as well as such epic dramas as the award winning WW-II film "In Which We Serve".

Easy Virtue, first staged in New York in 1925 and one of Coward's earlier plays, was completely reconstructed to become an almost incredible silent Alfred Hitchcock film made in 1928 shortly before the Hayes Code came into force. It was a daring film even for this period, mocking divorce laws which ignored such trivial matters as love, support or understanding from a spouse, in favour of a black and white judgment based solely on proved infidelity. This film turned on a divorce court action brought by a wealthy husband against a wife he accused of having an affair with an artist who was painting her portrait. Little evidence was shown but it was made clear that the jury picked were likely to side with the husband. When awarded his divorce his wife became an outcast - a lady of 'Easy Virtue'. Both Coward's play and Hitchcock's film contrasted this standard with the failure of the husband to make any attempt to provide his wife with the love and support to which she was entitled. Coward's play went even further, comparing these domestic failings with post-WW-I failings of the British aristocracy to recognise their long established obligations to attempt to create an acceptable lifestyle for all those living on their estates. He portrayed landowners, depleted in both number and wealth by the conflict, as becoming sterile and embittered - with their energies spent almost entirely in trying to preserve their line and as much as possible of their estates. This is hardly the subject for a traditional comedy but Coward's biting wit and mastery of irony made for dialogue which was often both absorbing and enjoyable. .

Hitchcock's early film was thought to have been lost until a copy was discovered in Austria, and later featured in one Hitchcock collection. But it would be hard to obtain a copy today, and for most people probably not be worth the effort. By 2008 it was time for this remake from Ealing Studios who have a long tradition of filming major British comedies. Their film-script only broke with Coward's play at two significant points. It is both well made and well acted so it provides very enjoyable viewing, but I do not think it deserves the 8 or 9 IMDb rating that some reviewers here have given it. Its re-written dialogue attempts to reproduce the irony and sardonic humour in Coward's play, but does not always succeed. Some of the humour almost approaches slapstick and is rather out of place in this comedy of manners, leading to a few sequences which induce shudders. Nevertheless its makers deserve recognition for creating a sophisticated comedy rather than relying on belly laughs. I felt that, if the dialogue had been a little more true to Coward's original, this film could have been in the running for an Oscar, but its box office appeal might then have been less. Most North American film-goes remain conditioned to expect the types of situation comedy so brilliantly exploited by Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon and many others - all working before effective dialogue became practicable; and sophisticated comedy still seems to have very limited appeal here.

This film features Jessica Biel as an American racing car driver, Larita, who captures the heart of a young and immature English landowner John Whittaker (Ben Barnes). Married, they return to his family estate where he totally fails to provide his wife with any support against the onslaughts of his horrified and gorgon like mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Larita's only support comes from John's alert and observant father (Colin Firth, giving the best of many consistently good performances) who unfortunately still suffers from experiences as an army officer during WW-I that have left him rather ineffectual. We also meet Sarah (Charlotte Riley) John's former girlfriend and daughter of a wealthy nearby estate owner. We find it easy to understand why Mrs Whittaker with a loveless marriage and facing an unending battle to manage the estates and deal with the debts, is so anxious to destroy John's marriage and encourage him to re-marry Sarah. Our natural sympathy with Larita, who has blown into the Whittaker household like a much needed dose of salts, is tempered by the fact that she is not presented as an entirely sympathetic character, leaving us free to sit back without taking sides and simply enjoy the dialogue (often witty and still showing glimpses of Coward's original brilliance) whilst closing our eyes and ears occasionally for a few shudder inducing sequences. With Coward's plays it is often true that the characters are almost caricatures designed to complement the author's plot, nevertheless the resulting ride remains a lot of fun. The film-script differs from Coward's play both in the nature of the scandal in Larita's past and in the ending. The former change I felt was unfortunate - it opened up a whole new playing field which there was no time to explore; but I do commend the scriptwriters for their ambiguous new ending that seemed to me to be more in accordance with today's lifestyles. As usual the credits were overlong, but those to "the orchestra" were delightfully original. The film probably deserved an IMDb rating of 6, but because sophisticated comedies are as rare as hens teeth today I felt compelled to rate it 7.

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A good film but a lost opportunity!
5 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
There have been few other actors, before or since, who could play the part of a cad better than George Sanders, and he was at his best in this film. Nothing will ever alter the fact that he gave a very fine performance in a film which any movie-goer is likely to find rewarding, and I recommend it to any IMDb users who happen to have so far not seen it. It is based on a great fictional work by Somerset Maugham that is clearly and openly acknowledged to be a non-biographic fictional reconstruction of the life of the artist Paul Gauguin who walked out on his wife, family and friends in Paris to spend the last days of his life in a wild painting spree in Tahiti - so poor that many of his final works were painted on the walls of his hut because he could not afford to buy more canvasses. Similarly Maugham's artist, named Charles Strickland, was a well to do Englishman, and the book starts by picturing the build up of frustrations he found in his very conventional life there. He eventually walked out of it to spend many years of penurious and bohemian living as an artist in Paris before his culminating mad dash to the South Seas finally provided a sense of release and freedom through the copious colours and lifestyle changes he found in his final destination. It is a book I first read as a boy and have always loved, but it is a long time since I last read it so I should now download or purchase another copy.

This said, my expectations exceeded what this film provided. The film of this book appeared during the war in 1943 - a time when many of us were experiencing symptoms of escapism. It can perhaps best be described as having achieved modest success. For many years I did not want to spoil my fading memories of Maugham's great book by watching another version presented on celluloid - many others may have felt the same. But I vividly remembered reading a review of it which described the tremendous visual impact it achieved when the black and white images associated with Strickland's drab life in Europe finally gave way to the riotous colours he found in Tahiti. I immediately felt that here was a perfect example of how monochrome and colour sequences could be integrated into the same film to increase its emotional impact. By then early home videos of this film had been released entirely in monochrome, this seemed to me to miss the whole point of filming the book so I never bought one.

A DVD claiming to present the complete cinema version of the film as it had been originally screened, finally appeared in 2007. I bought it with great expectations and waited with breathless excitement to see the transition to colour when Strickland reached Tahihi. Unfortunatelty the report on which I based this expectation proved a little misleading - only the almost final sequence was in colour, and this showed only the paintings Strickland had completed on the walls of his hut before his death, not the third or so of the story which took place on the island. I still enjoyed the film and this relatively small difference should not affect any viewers coming to it with no prior expectations, but for me it was not the film I had been waiting to see for so many years. I believe a great opportunity was missed here for creating a visual impact that would perfectly compliment the emotional impact experienced by Strickland when he changed his lifestyle. Whilst I still have no hesitation in recommending this DVD to IMDb users who are interested in art, this has been one of the extremely few occasions where I felt that I would like to see a film remade. True today's directors would probably film the European sequences in muted colour with a heavy sepia over-wash rather than in black & white, but with enhanced colouring used for Tahiti the overall effect would be the same. Sadly such a future film could not star George Sanders, but maybe Michael Douglas would step in here.
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Angel Heart (1987)
A very misguided attempt to create horror.
5 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Verbal stories, books and dramas, based on the theme of someone prepared to bargain with the devil, and ultimately selling their immortal soul in return for worldly treasure of one type or another, have been a part of the literature of almost every culture and religion since the dawn of writing - so it is inevitable that the cinema has its share. I will nail my colours to the mast right away - in my opinion none of these works surpass the classic play "Dr Faustus" by the early English dramatist Thomas Marlowe, either in well rounded dramatic appeal or theological relevance . For me, this play although not totally original towers above later and often better known versions of the Faust legends such as Goethe's dramatic poem or Gounod's opera. All of these however transcend Angel Heart. This popular film still carries a (for me) incredible IMDb users rating of 7.3; if compared with them it can be seen as the absolute trash that it was. Assuming the supernatural was what its makers wanted to feature they would have done far better to base their film on Marlowe's great out-of-copyright drama rather than to purchase rights to a twentieth century imitation set in New York, and then stiffen the content by stirring in a gratuitous mix of voodoo rites that had nothing to do with the book they were filming. But they appear not to have known or even cared, whether their aim was simply to create a horror film designed to appeal to impressionable young people or whether it was to provide some sort of morality linked message - ultimately they achieved neither. True the film has a certain superficial gloss which is initially attractive, but ultimately most of it is simply ludicrous and where its search for horror runs unchecked it becomes crude and disgusting.

If its makers aimed simply to create a horror film they needed to recognise that horror comes from showing ordinary normal people going about their normal days activities, and then to gradually make the viewer aware that these people are unknowingly only a hairbreadth away from some contingency that will change their lives for ever. Think not of imaginary monsters or supernatural events, but of such ordinary situations as 2,000 people following everyday activities on the Titanic when they were told that most of them were five hours away from spending their last five minutes battling the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Or think of the office workers in the twin towers carrying out their normal daily activities five minutes before the terrorist's 'plane struck and doomed almost all of them. Among films, few create such a sense of horror better than 'Naked Fear' where a young girl quietly trying to earn her living in a strange town suddenly discovers she is on the hit list of a maniacal serial killer. But Parker's films are always flamboyant and he is not the right director to produce such a film. Instead we have a film steeped in necromancy which can raise little more than a chuckle with its juvenile efforts to make our skin creep. Murnau did far better with his silent classic 'Faust', filmed in 1926 but still supporting an IMDb rating of 8. Did the makers of 'Angel Heart' ever watch this? I have not read their original novel but I understand its scenario was entirely set in New York. Parker has attempted to rake up the horror by shifting the scene to New Orleans and bringing in some lurid voodoo rites. Voodoo beliefs provide much of interest but I felt they were better featured in such simple low cost B movies as 'French Quarter' or 'Barravento' and I do not know what place they were supposed to have here unless it was to provide justification for some of the extremely crude and gross, but totally pointless images - often verging on the obscene - gracing this film. Ultimately for me the only real emotion these raised was extreme distaste. I can only hope that those responsible for the planned re-make are determined to avoid repeating Parker's fiasco.
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The Dreamers (2003)
A reverie about the realities of life
2 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If, like me, you have reached the age when you need assistance in understanding how today's young people behave, watching a North American movie production may help you. However if you want to understand not only how they behave but also why, what they are really thinking, and how they regard today's world, then you may get more help from one of the better European or Asiatic films, and "The Dreamers" might provide a very good starting point. If you recognise any need to become more aware of the factors contributing to the evolution of the society of the future you have few other options, but you might also be helping to reduce the generation gap and its associated stresses that have led to much recent street violence. My generation has no obligation to accept the judgements or wishes of a younger generation, but it has a real responsibility to at least understand them; young people today are very ready to discuss and defend their beliefs and this needs to be encouraged.

My apologies - I am writing a review - not preaching. Films like "The Dreamers" are less common in North America than in Europe and therefore tend to finish up more controversial here where far too much attention has been paid to the sexuality in the film. Not this but the more appropriate thoughts above came to my mind when I started commenting on it for IMDb. This film nominally follows the inter-relationship between three young people with an intense love for the cinema, an American student in Paris at the time of the 1968 student inspired street riots and French twins of a similar age. But this only provides a background against which its director Bernardo Bertolucci used the individual frames and sequences to build our appreciation of both the intensity and the shallowness of the beliefs that motivate his principal characters. It is easier to follow this film if one is a movie fan - flashbacks from classic films called to mind by one of the characters are used to set moods or changes of emotion. Street activities and even their layout or architecture are built into the fabric of the film. It would take many viewings before a critic could develop a full understanding of the message the director is trying to convey. Quite correctly this was an NC17 film in the US and Canada, much of its imagery would merely be confusing or disturbing to anyone younger, apart from this its very frank portrayal of the sexual interactions between the characters has also proved disturbing to many adult viewers. It is certainly not a film with universal appeal, although it is extremely rewarding for those viewers open to its attempts to probe the generation gap. Isabelle and Theo, the French twins, initially appear to their very conventional American friend Matthew to be modern radicals in full tune with the many concerns about society that young people were feeling during this period, and he willingly allows them to induct him into the various causes the rioters were attempting to promote. But gradually as the film runs we see him becoming disillusioned. He starts to appreciate that circumstances have led the twins into an over-close relationship which has begun to dominate their lives, so that despite lip adherence to these various progressive causes they are really becoming addicted to a personal lifestyle that is essentially self destructive. The film's ultimate message is obviously subject to the interpretation of the individual viewer, but in essence Bertolucci very gradually shows the twins as parasitic, they are not producing but are becoming conspicuously greater consumers, and this is clearly intended to be a parallel progression to that of the street rioters who initially have many very genuine concerns, but whose behaviour evolves in a way which makes their protests increasingly ineffectual. There is no future in anarchy as it rejects the very concepts of compromise and working together which provide the only basis for eventual progress.

No film attempting to convey such an ambitious message could totally succeed, nor could it hope to appeal to all filmgoers. Anyone planning to view it should at least read some reviews first to prepare them for what to expect, and if it does not sound the type of film they would enjoy they would be wise to stay away. But for those prepared to view it both closely and sympathetically this film can be a very rewarding experience. The credit for this must be shared between the director and the three young principal actors. Theo is played by the son of French director Phillipe Garrel and his background may have made it easier for these three actors to achieve the confidence in Bertolucci which must have been essential during the filming of some of the more intimate sequences; but all three of them have a remarkable maturity and offer us superb performances.

The film is based upon an original novel by Gilbert Adair. He also wrote the film-script so it should reflect the intentions of the original work fairly well; but I still want to read the book to assess whether Bertolucci has merely attempted to recreate it as a movie; or if not how far he has gone in re-interpreting it. Meantime my tentative rating for "The Dreamers" is 8 stars.
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Big Bad Mama (1974)
Hilarious, fast paced and incoherent fun
31 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Released in 1974 and not viewed again since I saw it in a local late night theatre back then, I remembered this only as a rather crude B film which provided an enjoyable romp for killing a few hours, but was not intended to leave any lasting memories. I was vastly surprised when I saw it listed on Turner's Classic Movies program recently. A Classic! - what was wrong with my recollections of it.? So I decided to watch it again and find out. As I remembered, it was a well made but essentially very bad film, most of which is in very poor taste and was difficult to justify watching. Nevertheless it proved to be a classic guilty pleasure that I kept remembering and drawing amusement from for a long time afterwards, so I found myself again facing the eternal question to be answered by every movie enthusiast - what constitutes a good movie? Does it have to be educational, enlightening or inspirational? Can't it just be lighthearted fun, perhaps in bad taste, but nevertheless welcomed for providing a little real relaxation after a period of hard work? I have always accepted the latter position, so after re-watching Big Bad Mama I am happy to report that, although it is a movie in rank bad taste which deserves only a low IMDb rating, it provides a hilarious and very enjoyable viewing experience. I am now on the lookout for its successor "Big Bad Mama 2 " which I have never seen.

Its failures are largely in content, it makes fun of every serious concern it can look at during a relatively short running time of just over 80 min (ideal for cramming onto an 80 min VCD disk). These are all covered at a cracking pace that leaves viewers with little chance to think seriously about any message. In retrospect I am sure it tackled as many targets as it could possibly cover, but with no objective other than to amuse, certainly with no intention of forcing us to think. Politics, religion, the law, prohibition, misuse of firearms, bootlegging, taxes, burlesque, kidnapping - you name it they were mostly there (although I do not remember any references to race relations, which was probably wise.) Its period was set squarely in the middle of the depression and the location was somewhere in the deep south of the USA where this was biting particularly severely. The pace was such that each sequence tended to end just a tad too soon, so there was no opportunity for any boredom. Its ending was interesting. As Mama with her daughters escaped from their last shoot out, (apparently) with a minor wound to her arm, she suddenly collapsed and passed out. Her implied death tied up loose ends and no doubt pleased advocates of Hayes Code, morality rules, without prohibiting her eventual recovery to participate in a sequel 13 years later. Bravo RC - too many sequels created recently have been spoiled by illegitimately changing the ending of the original film.

What more should I say? First I should commend Angie Dickinson who has undertaken an incredible range of roles over almost 50 years. Perhaps none were truly memorable, but I can't remember going home unhappy after seeing any of them. This film earns one star for excellent photography, including some extremely enjoyable shots of many delightful 1930 era vehicles, another for Roger Corman's usual impeccable direction - it is incredible how many different genres of film he has made that deserve this comment, and a third for its very acceptable acting - far above what I remember as the standard I used to expect from B movies, especially those seen in Drive-in theatres. Despite its entertainment value; I found difficulty in justifying another star without ignoring artistic quality, but eventually recognised its outstanding and almost unmatched pacing by awarding a fourth. I must also thank TCM for giving me this chance to see it again, and look forward to doing so next time if they decide to give it another spin. If not - with a bit of searching I might find a DVD still available, or perhaps I should suggest the release of a Blue-ray edition.
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