Reviews written by registered user
|794 reviews in total|
A simple story about mistaken identities and lost idealism, "El
Mariachi" gets high marks from me for its authentic visuals and absence
of big-name movie stars. The film was shot in a real town on the
Mexican border, enhancing realism. There are lots of hand-held camera
shots, fast cutting, and pleasant lack of CGI. Images look grainy,
possibly intentionally so. When the movie was made, none of the actors
were well known. As a result, you see characters, not actors playing
script roles. Despite the lack of professional actors, overall acting
quality is fine.
Ambient sounds are amplified, probably for dramatic effect. I really like the guitar score; it's appropriate for the Mexican setting, and it's slightly mysterious. Effective editing masks minor mistakes, such as mismatched lighting and poor lip-sync.
The main weakness is the script, originally only 40 pages in length. A guitar-playing musician comes to town looking for work. Unbeknownst to him, a man wearing similar clothes and also carrying a guitar case is involved with a drug kingpin.
Except for some violence at times, the story itself is fairly low-key; gore is minimal, thankfully. Though the story could be construed as serious, the tone is decidedly tongue-in-cheek.
This film is a pleasant change from splashy, over-hyped, big-budget Hollywood productions that cost millions of dollars. Though I found the story a bit boring and contrived, the overall production offset the script's weaknesses. "El Mariachi" is a good film to watch at least once for its authentic visuals and its ability to convey a credible story at a very low budget.
It plays like a TV Western miniseries: slow, deliberate, lots of
characters. But the script is a mess. The inciting incident doesn't
occur until twenty minutes into the film. The protagonist disappears in
major segments. Characters are miserable, poorly defined, loud-mouthed,
and annoyingly angry. There's a lack of plot flow that makes the film
hard to follow. For example, characters in early scenes disappear to be
replaced by new characters that then disappear. Some plot elements seem
unrelated to the underlying story. The entire plot is chaotic and
The film attempts to tell the story of Val Casey (Dwight Yoakam), lawman in a desolate town called Los Tragos, Arizona Territory; the year is 1907. But something happens and Val morphs into a different occupation; I'm not sure what. We meet a variety of people in this film, most of them unlikable. There's lots of gunfire and violence.
As bad as the script is, the visuals are fine. All that dust, the dim indoor lighting at night, wooden exteriors, and the vast expanse of empty land combine to make for a visually pleasing, and realistic experience. And the sound of the wind adds to the tone of forlorn desolation.
Threadbare costumes and interior decor seem realistic for the period. But I didn't like the highly repetitious score.
At over two hours in duration, "South Of Heaven, West Of Hell" is something of a chore to get through, aside from the interesting visuals. It's as if we are watching a downsized Western epic. Dwight, stick to songwriting and singing. That's where your talents lie.
The film gets off to a good start with some nice south-of-the-border
music and atmosphere, set in a Rio nightclub. Here we meet the future
murder-ee and most of the suspects. Eventually, the plot shifts to a
spacious mansion, where a party for the murder-ee brings forth all the
nightclub suspects plus a couple of others.
The story gives us an interesting puzzle. Despite the large number of suspects, (approx. nine), I correctly guessed the identity of the killer, but for the wrong reason. Clues are rather subtle, which is good. To correctly guess both the murderer and the motivation, a viewer will need to employ his or her powers of inference. A cigarette, a cup of coffee, and the sharp pin of a lady's broach give Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) what he needs to solve the case. But the clues do not explain the killer's motivation.
B&W visuals are quite good. But there are no menacing shadows, nor are there other elements that create spine-tingling suspense. Casting is acceptable, as is most of the acting. Prod design is more detailed here than in other Chan films.
In addition to lack of suspense, another problem is the presence of some filler scenes involving number 2 son Jimmy Chan. I suppose he's included for comic relief. But he overacts. And I find him annoying.
Jimmy Chan aside, "Charlie Chan In Rio" makes for a pleasant way to spend an hour, as the production values and story are pretty good.
It took about a minute for me to know I was not going to like this
film. The male character, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg), a Harvard University
computer geek, addresses a college-age girl sitting across from him in
a pub. In an annoying voice and with all the warmth of a dead computer,
he speed-talks his way through what is supposed to be a romantic date.
As the plot moves along, Mark morphs into a kind of juvenile Gordon
Gekko, obsessed with his work, greedy, self-satisfied, and unconcerned
with the welfare of anyone but himself.
With the possible exception of Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), almost all other characters, including Mark, are cold as ice, selfish, and downright soulless. The Harvard University President is portrayed not only as obnoxious but also unethical. Basically, the script consists of a thousand villains and no one to applaud.
One really good line of dialogue stabs like a dagger. In a scene where Mark sits in a conference room staring at his laptop, as usual, a female legal assistant named Marilyn asks him: "What are you doing?" "Checking in to see how (Facebook) is going in Bosnia". To which Marilyn responds in a tone of sadness: "Bosnia, they don't have roads but they have Facebook".
The cast is too big. Acting is acceptable, given the heartless subject matter. Visuals overall are too dark. Sound quality in some scenes is terrible. Filler scenes could have been edited out.
Trying to be "hip", "The Social Network" cashes in on the "success" of a contemporary internet fad. Twenty years from now the film not only will be dated; it will play like some relic from antiquity. Either that or humanity will have been replaced by soulless robots exchanging notes with each other in code through some ghostly Orwellian hologram called Bot-book.
Some films seek to entertain. "Zeitgeist" seeks to inform. This
sociological documentary contains a wealth of facts. And these facts
function to support its overall message; namely, that powerful,
societal institutions, through action and speech, control individuals
in unimagined ways. For what purpose? Power. The film singles out
religious institutions, government institutions, and financial
The film's first segment, 28-minutes in duration, is unparalleled in its succinct yet potent discussion of religion, and its relation to history and current culture. Splendid narration, background music, and visuals make this segment spellbinding. But more importantly, the message is factual and nothing short of profound.
The segments on government and financial institutions are scarcely less significant. The focus is on the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center. Viewers who adhere to the official line will no doubt protest. But they cannot alter the facts that point to a conspiracy of powerful institutional leaders. The banking/financial segment follows suit with a similarly scathing critique.
"Zeitgeist" hammers television. From the film "Network" (1976), the character Howard Beale shouts the evils of the "boob-tube"; "Television is not the truth; television is an ... amusement park"; its output is designed to keep you in a distracted, naive bubble.
The film is not perfect. Discussion of 9/11 will eventually make the film dated. The first four-minute segment is sleep inducing. A few spots of filler could have been replaced with further critiques of the media. And most importantly, what the film calls "lies" (as a noun) in some instances could be replaced with the word "ignorance". Yet, whether the evil is ignorance or lies, the end result is the same.
Ordinarily, these imperfections would reduce my rating from a perfect score of ten. But the overall message of "Zeitgeist" is so profound and the presented facts so stunning that I cannot justify a score less than the highest possible.
How could any mystery fan not enjoy this terrific whodunit, set in the
early 1930s and mostly on a quaint steamer cruising down the Nile with
a boatload full of suspects? "Death On The Nile" has eccentric
characters, humorous dialogue, extravagant costumes, fantastic scenery,
and a star-studded cast that includes some of the most talented actors
Hollywood has ever produced.
Naturally there's a murder on the boat, which is a closed space, implying that the murderer has to be someone on-board. Peter Ustinov makes the perfect Hercule Poirot, the Belgium sleuth who always manages to be at the right place at the right time, to put all the puzzle pieces together, and solve the case neat and tidy. He tells one suspect: "I, Hercule Poirot, have eyes which notice everything"; and I would add ... a brain that remembers everything.
Probably the funniest suspect is the usually inebriated Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury), romantic novelist: unobservant, galling, and a hoot when she dances the tango with an embarrassed Colonial Race (David Niven). But throughout, Mrs. Otterbourne can't quite remember Poirot's name, and thus refers to him as the "famous French sleuth", Monsieur Porridge. Wonderful.
The script contains witty put-downs, as in one scene wherein Mrs. Van Schuyler (Bette Davis), always disgusted with her sickly-looking maid Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), introduces her maid to another character: "My companion Bowers; she once did 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey; he was never the same man again".
The plot is complex and intricate, and requires Poirot 23 minutes at the end to explain. It's totally contrived and not at all realistic, but who cares ... it's the puzzle that counts. The genius of Agatha Christie is that she wrote animated algebra. Each story is a puzzle that contains a basic, underlying logical equation that lies hidden beneath an ocean of irrelevancies. And it's up to the reader, or in this case the viewer, to solve the equation.
For sheer entertainment, "Death On The Nile" is hard to beat. It's one of my all-time favorite films. Production values are top-notch. The cast and acting are almost perfect. One would be hard-pressed to find more spectacular scenery. And that ponderous score by Nino Rota marvelously adds to the Egyptian visuals. The only negative is that because of its exceptionally high quality, the film makes today's Hollywood films look really bad in comparison.
Violence is the theme of "The Killing Of America", a visually graphic
compendium of murder in the U.S.A. "Guns and more guns" intones the
narrator, as shots are fired, victims fall, chaos ensues, and the
killer's face appears on screen ... over and over and over, one crime
after another. Watching this film you'd think that there's a killer
hiding behind every bush.
Beginning with the JFK assassination and progressing to the early eighties, the film compresses some twenty years of violence into ninety minutes, giving a somewhat distorted cultural impression. How does the murder rate during those twenty years compare to prior decades? The film doesn't tell us. How does that period compare to more recent times? The film can't tell us. So that one problem with "The Killing Of America" is that it is time-bound, stuck in a particular era, without reference to the past or future.
One might also ask ... how does American gun violence compare to other countries? The film compares the U.S. to Japan and England, which have ultra-low murder rates. Beyond that, the film doesn't say. Recent statistics show that in comparison to other industrialized nations, the U.S. has a higher murder rate than any country except Russia. But when compared to non-industrial countries, like Honduras, Venezuela, and the Ivory Coast, violence in America is quite low. So a second problem with the film's message is lack of adequate geographic perspective.
There's also a problem with the film's structure. Although there's a general chronological progression of events, I cannot justify the film's sequential positioning of different types of gun violence, for example, a political assassination followed by some local neighborhood murder, followed by an expose on a highly publicized serial killer. Such sequencing is haphazard and arbitrary. Apart from the obvious violence, what is the unifying theme in this jumble of cases?
The visuals in the copy I watched are poor with lots of out-of-focus scenes, though that can partly be explained by impromptu photography. Overall images trend a little too dark. Sound quality also is poor in spots. Most background music is a bit too frenzied and too loud. John Lennon's song "Imagine" provides a welcome reprieve at the end.
There is no question that the level of violence in the U.S. was then, and still is, too high. "The Killing Of America" does indeed provide factual information, with very good video footage of local murders and highly publicized national cases. But the political bias toward gun control is blatant. And the overall production suffers from morbid exploitative visuals at the expense of calm, rational analysis.
It's the story of three strange friendships, with a serial killer
lurking in the background. Lives of the three single people, two guys
and a gal, all under age 30, become intertwined over a five-month
period as a result of living in close proximity in a Montreal apartment
building. The film is less a whodunit than a play of mind games, as
unlikely events collide, to force the three to question each others
motives, then plot ways to a self-interested outcome.
The three characters are mildly interesting, though the Victor character is so neurotic, and dense to others' cues, he quickly becomes grating. I see that as a script problem. There are also a couple of significant plot holes. And the ending I find less than satisfying, as it leaves viewers wondering, and questions unanswered.
Casting is acceptable. Acting is fine given the subdued story line. Visuals trend a bit dark. Most of the plot is set indoors. "Good Neighbors" is a low-budget film, and uses a minimal cast and minimal sets. Overall, the film has a pleasantly European look and feel, with interspersed French dialogue, Canadian accents, musty interiors, and cold climate exteriors.
If you're looking for a whodunit, or an extravagant production, or a film of great thematic depth, look elsewhere. Notwithstanding weakness previously described, "Good Neighbors" excels at character drama, with a touch of low-key quirkiness; a cozy, intimate little film worth a one-time watch on a cold winter night.
Haunting, evocative, melancholy, this film oozes emotion and
atmosphere. Set in the American South, the script tells the story of
Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton), a middle age man of limited
intelligence who gets released from a mental institution and has to
fend for himself in a small town, without support from relatives or
As the plot evolves, Karl encounters a young boy, and the two become friends. Which leads to friendship with the boy's mom and her best friend, a gay man named Vaughan (John Ritter). But Karl must also interact with the mom's live-in boyfriend, a cruel redneck named Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). This eclectic character mix provides the fuel for the story's slowly developing climax. And throughout there's a sense of fatalistic doom.
The central figure, Karl, is richly conceived, and very well played by Thornton. His humped-over posture, jutting jaw, jarring voice, physical gestures, and unchanging facial expression combine to present a highly cohesive, realistic, and memorable character. Supporting characters are almost as strong. And the actors playing these roles are well cast, and give excellent performances. There's not a weak casting or acting link in the bunch.
Cinematography adds enormously to the emotion and atmosphere. Camera shots tend to be static; colors are generally muted with a trend toward brownish-yellow hues. Shadows add melancholy to interior scenes. And production design is outstanding in its detail and replication of a Southern, rural setting. The visuals remind me a lot of the film "Silkwood", with a similarly depressing, down-home, mournful backdrop.
Technically, the film has very few weaknesses, though I do think a few scenes could be cut shorter or deleted entirely. And though I empathize with Karl, that downtrodden feel of his character and of the plot begins to grow thin after a couple of hours.
This is a film that really pulls at your heartstrings. It just drips with sentiment and down-home, downtrodden atmosphere. It's sad, slow, and highly mournful, though punctuated with occasional humor. It's a film that the big Hollywood studios, with their corporate greed mentality and obnoxious hype, refuse to promote. Thank goodness for the originality and high quality of indie productions like "Sling Blade".
Grim and harsh, the story evolves into something of a morality tale, as
a noir anti-hero named Stan (Tyrone Power), employed in a carnival,
uses tricks of the carnival trade to manipulate his way to fame and
fortune, with the help of a mind reader named Zeena (Joan Blondell).
But people and events conspire against Stan, and turn his world into a
nightmare. It's a strange, elusive story involving tarot cards,
religious beliefs, and mysticism.
Although carnival life is portrayed as rather seedy, carny people have a sense of morality; a protective attitude toward their own. However, when Stan moves out of this closed environment and into the larger world, he encounters deception and conning that is far more dangerous than the nickel and dime deception he has been so accustomed to. This is one dark, unforgiving story. The ending has a horror-like motif.
I have two problems with this film. First, the story takes forever to get going. The script's inciting incident doesn't occur until some 29 minutes into the film. Up to that point, the script is mostly exposition, back-story, and filler.
Second, and more serious, the story expects viewers to buy into the legitimacy of mysticism and occultism, without which, various plot points don't make sense. How else does one explain Stan's ability to know things that he could not possibly have learned through conventional tricks?
I have no problem with the film's casting. And the acting is above average. I thought all four leading actors gave credible performances, especially Joan Blondell. The B&W lighting is quite good with hard shadows, which accentuates the story's grimness.
"Nightmare Alley" gives us a character study of desperate people who use a variety of tricks and cons to get what they want in a hostile, unforgiving world. We as viewers get a sense of perspective, as character desperation takes the form of traveling gypsies, immoral tramps, and outright thieves.
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