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204 reviews in total 
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Her (2013)
Not yet, 20 October 2015

"Her" deals with possible future situations in which computers are so developed that people have satisfying, fully-committed relationships with them. I think that the premise of the film is intriguing, and I found that the first half of the movie, in which the relationship is less serious, was believable. I had a hard time believing in the depth of the relationship as it developed over the second half. The world as depicted in the movie seems almost current and I didn't believe that such a complex relationship with a computer was possible right now or in the next 25 years. Yes, the computer (Scarlett Johansson) is very smart and obviously scientists in the future, according to this movie, are able to program computers so well, that people engage in relationships with computers. I just found the depiction of this relationship to be implausible and I couldn't believe in the realization of such a film, at least not at this time.

Perhaps I don't want to imagine the sort of loneliness that could propel Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) into a relationship with his computer. I suppose these sorts of relationships will be plausible, perhaps within 25 years. Obviously people have Siri on their iPhones and some robots are able to fulfill specific needs in peoples' lives. People value their electronic devices and I don't exclude myself from that group. I just don't like the idea of them as intimate partners. It's a development that doesn't sit well with me. The notion of the autonomy of a computer which understands you enough to submit your writing as a book proposal is disturbing to me. I found the idea of not having any sort of image of the partner disturbing also. The idea of going on picnics with another couple and having your computer girlfriend's voice piped in via the ear feed which practically implants her in your head, is also disturbing to me. Fortunately, I think we're quite a way from this occurring.

The premise is fascinating and the idea is intriguing. However, as someone who thinks that in spite of the promise and capacities of computers, there is no replacement for relationship with another human, I am profoundly depressed by this film. I never see the genie being put back in the bottle. Our electronic devices are more intrusive and more indistinguishable from the people who have the technology. The immersion continues apace with this film and it's certainly not a trend I like. Perhaps this movie is prescient, but I hope not.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
You Wanna Die?, 25 August 2014

Korea is a wonderfully odd place for a westerner. I have lived here for a while and have learned the language to some degree. There is great innocence and great frankness in the society. It usually comes from a place of innocence and good intentions and those good intentions allow one to say things that might get you slugged if you didn't mean well. Directness, be it positive or negative, is valued in ways that often shock westerners and leave us baffled. This film is exhibit A in that sort of baffling mix of bluntness and sweetness.

This movie is hilarious, with two great leads in Gianna Jun as the girl and Tae Hyeon Cha as her suitor Kim Woo. They really make the movie. Cha is sweet and really clueless and must seem, to The Girl (Gianna's character is never given a name beyond that) like nothing more than a mouse with which she, the cat, can play. Having said that, she is still a woman and wants him to be chivalrous, even while she tests him as few women will.

The Girl's character is more than a little messed up, owing to some previous relationships. It's a great character and a star-making turn for her, giving her the chance to show great range as an actress. We see her as needy, as strong, as feminine, as sarcastic, and as very funny. The script, by Ho-sik Kim based on events in his life. It was adapted by him and director Jaeyoung Kwak who do a great job in keeping the characters likable in spite of some sharp twists and turns. There's some good supporting work from Kym Woo's parents (Sook Song Kwak and In Mun Kim) also. This really is a fun romantic comedy about the power of love. If you like Hollywood cookie cutter romances this isn't for you, but if you're willing to see other modes of expressing romance, this movie will reward you.

Modern Day Neo-Realism, 25 August 2014

This movie has the realistic feel of a documentary although I wouldn't call it a faux documentary because there is no pretension that it is a mock-up. It has the feel of a documentary and if you didn't know any better, you could quite reasonably conclude that it was. I would say that it is in the tradition of the Bicycle Thief or other classics of the Neo- Realist genre in which life proceeds at a leisurely pace and multiple quotidian events and regular people ground the plot as realistically as possible.

In this film, an Iranian director (Farah Kheradmand), representing Kiarostami, travels with his son (Buba Bayour) to small town Koker in the remote mountains of Iran to find a child actor who had been in his most recent movie and about whom he worried in the wake of a strong earthquake. Clearly there is some overlap with real life events as there was a major earthquake in Iran in 1990 and one of the stars of Kiarostami's previous movies ("Where Is The Friend's Home?") lived in this area. The pace of the movie, the everyday transactions, and the humans' doggedness in the face of tragedy indicate Kiarostami's love for people and thoughtfulness as a director.

Throughout the movie, we see slices of life. We see a young couple getting married even on a day when some of their relatives die, explaining that they thought they should continue, particularly on such a sad day. We see a man lugging heavy belongings to help out his family. We see a young Buba, with the wisdom of an old man, heartbreakingly consoling a woman who has lost one of her daughters. We see a little baby crying and the director quickly consoling the baby. One of these incidents in and of itself would be insignificant, but they are linked together in such numbers that the collective weight of the movie stays with you and cannot be shaken. Together, such a collection of events comprise the guts and the essence of life. The humble dignity of the characters will not be forgotten easily.

Seoul in 1961, 15 August 2014

The first half of the 20th century was traumatic for the Korean people. They suffered through a Japanese occupation for 35 years and then through a wrenching civil war which destroyed the country. Since the division of the country, South Korea has grown rapidly while North Korea has withdrawn and calcified in recent years.

At the time of that division, a destroyed Seoul begins to rebuild. This film is set just after that when we see a varied cast of characters adapting to changing times with varying degrees of success and willingness. The character at the heart of the film, Mr. Kim (Kim Seung Ho) is a doctor of traditional medicine and a rather old-fashioned man who is loathe to move into the future. Although he's good-hearted, his stubbornness is so strong, it almost destroys his life.

His son Hyun-gu (Kang Sin Seong Il), widowed daughter Hyun OK (Eun Hee Choi, and long- suffering wife Mrs. Kim (Jeong Soon Hwang). They deal with him in various ways, but usually by humoring him. A handsome young doctor of western medicine, Dr. Choi (Jin Kyu Kim) lives opposite him. Mr. Kim has two omnipresent friends - a sad-eyed real-estate agent named Mr. Ro (Hie Gab Kim) and a pretentious fortune teller named Mr. Park (Jang Gang Heo). He and his friends don't do much but drink and joke but they make for nice foils for Mr. Kim's grumpiness.

As regards Mr. Kim's kids, Hyun OK is secretly involved with the daughter of a lowly bar owner (Eun Jin Han). Before Mr. Kim knows about this relationship, he looks down his nose at the bar owner but when he learns about Hyun Gu's relationship, he has to re-evaluate his classism. No one else thinks the relationship is inappropriate except for Mr. Kim. Dr. Choi and Hyun OK are interested in each other and Mr. Kim frowns on this flirtation and also on Dr. Choi's western medicine. Mr. Kim really is the lodestone around which the community operates and so it is important that be progressive.

Most characters' responses to problems are pragmatic, but Mr. Kim feels his pride forbids him from changing. The clash between Confucianism and western ways comes into sharp focus over the differing medicines practiced by Mr. Kim and Dr. Choi. As I said though, this isn't a problem for Dr. Choi. It's only a problem for Mr. Kim. Dr. Choi is not threatened by Mr. Kim at all. Indeed, in one of the funnier scenes, when Mr. Kim wants to embarrass Dr. Choi, Dr. Choi turns the tables on him by soliciting advice on being a physician. Mr. Ro and Mr. Park also have no problem with Dr. Choi and wonder why Mr. Kim is so upset.

This is a big-hearted, warm film. The acting is good across the board and the story is well- told. There are some very funny scenes and the clashes over relationships and change are something all people can relate to.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Chaplin vs. Authoritarianism, 11 July 2014

Charlie Chaplin turns his comic focus on the dictators of his time - Mussolini and Hitler. He mocks their mien, their speech, and their policies. Chaplin shows himself to be brave and shows again that he is a comic genius. His imitation of Hitler and the scene of Hitler hanging from a moving plane shine in this film as Chaplin's shoe eating did in "Gold Rush". In contrast to the dictators' policies, he offers a beautiful vision of the future.

Chaplin obviously is a comic genius and was deeply committed to opposing tyranny. He used the talents he had to oppose it, and for that he should be commended. Hitler is seen as blustering and Chaplin hilariously lampoons his overheated style, practically spitting into the front row so overwrought does he become. The speeches are comic gems because of his use of pseudo-German, some actual German, and that aforementioned overwrought style. His advisors Garbitsch (Henri Danielle) and Herring (Billy Gilbert) are oafs and psychopaths by turn. Garbitsch, obviously modelled on Goebbels, is the psychopath. Danielle chills the blood with a stark, cold depiction of a man whose quiet confidence about extermination only re-enforces the psychopathy of the Final Solution. Herring is an oaf who can do nothing without making a fool of himself. By mocking Goebbels, Goerring, and Hitler so mercilessly, Chaplin gives us a release from the stress that comes from hating people.

On the other hand, there are residents of the Jewish Ghetto who live fearfully owing to Naziism's escalating oppression. They have tough lives but live with dignity and self-respect. They are routinely harassed and badgered by roughneck SS officers. One day however, a chance World War I encounter between a Nazi officer and the barber brings some of the harassment to a close, at least for some time.

The difference between Hitler and Mussolini on the one hand and the Ghetto residents on the other is stark, but given the horrors that Hitler and Mussolini inflicted on the world, they turn out to be prescient. There are some good performances from Paulette Goddard as a humble resident of the Ghetto, and Reginald Gardiner as an informal leader in the community. They bring humility and decency to their characters.

As usual, Chaplin's comic gifts shine through in set pieces. In this film, the set piece of Chaplin hanging from the wing of a moving plane is hilarious. Another hilarious scene is that of a bumbling crew messing up the debut of a new weapon. Neither shoe might hold up to the famous shoe eating in "Gold Rush" but they are worthwhile rivals.

The film comes to a head as the Ghetto barber as well as arrogant dictator Hinkle (both played by Chaplin) are mistaken for one another. The humble barber must address an assembly of Hinkle's most brainwashed followers and the unexpected speech leaves the crowd shocked.

As a statement opposing authoritarians it is very powerful movie. It is a pity more artists haven't used their power to condemn authoritarianism. It is a bit pie in the sky but at the time, the Final Solution hadn't yet happened and so what we see in retrospect was not inevitable. Chaplin's movie offered the world a beautiful vision of the future, but if idealism isn't expressed, it doesn't even stand a chance. Chaplin showed his cards and stuck his neck out and as I said, I have a lot of respect for Chaplin making a movie that was obviously deeply felt. It might not have happened but it's a beautiful, as well as very funny, vision to aspire toward.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Low quality restoration, 3 July 2014

Restoration is the story of a doctor - Robert Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.) who finds himself living amid the chaos of the interregnum - the brief period during the mid 17th century when England did not have a monarch. He lives the charmed life of a wealthy and charming bachelor in close proximity to the upper echelons of English society. However, his carousing is squandering his professional abilities.

Those around him, including one peer, John Pearce (David Thewlis) and his tinker father (Benjamin Withrow) see him wasting his considerable gifts. This movie, while it is supposedly a 17th century story, actually employs a rather tired, worn modern storyline of the talented man who squanders his gifts but who finally achieves redemption after Losing Everything. It is disguised as a Restoration-era movie, but it's clear that this is a well-worn clichéd story in wigs, if you but peek below the hood.

The script is rather pat, the characters slight, and the overall effect forgettable. Hugh Grant, in the wake of his success in various Merchant Ivory Productions, and some fantastic comedies, is given a forgettable role as a scheming court fop into which he throws himself. His character, however, is such a stereotype that even his great comic gifts cannot make much of it. His character is effeminate and one note, a scheming harpie with no depth.

Meg Ryan must never try to do an accent again. Leprechauns are more realistic than her Irish accent. Watching her performance here, voice coaches wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her Irish accent is like the Quasimodo of accents - you're horrified, but you can't turn away.

King Charles II (Sam Neill) and Merivel's chemistry here is hilarious. The king has no dignity and it seems very unlikely that he would have become so buddy buddy with a doctor who has no noble credentials. Yet there, they are, all but doing shots together. Neill is usually better than this but he is atrocious here. He looks bemused and stoned in the movie, it's really terrible.

Robert Downey Jr. is very charismatic and rakish in this film. As much as the work will allow, he imbues his character with charm and a lot of heart as he goes through his struggles. Ultimately however, this is a moralizing tale in wigs. The acting is weak and the script is terrible.

"Am I Black Enough for Ya?", 30 June 2014

Great romp of a film. As has been said, this might be considered the first blaxploitation film. It is Ossie Davis' directorial debut and he shows great skill in overseeing all aspects of the production, from the music, to a wonderfully filmed car chase, and from great performances to making a film that balances humor and action adeptly. He uses locations in Harlem such that Harlem is a character in the film. The characters are warm and familiar and well-drawn. Interaction among black and white characters is generous and complex and I love to see that. He has a very light, confident touch across production and his fingerprints are all over the film insofar as everything is handled JUST right.

The stars, Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) are two cops with a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges, but for keeping their word. Their motto: "We mighta broke a few heads but we never broke our word". A hustling minister, Rev. Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart) rides into town and Coffin and Gravedigger believe he is a scam artist who has stolen money from poor, hard-working black folks. This offends their sensibilities and they pursue the Reverend, believing he is selling communities bad bills of goods. Honestly I wish that the film hadn't included the robbery. I think the Reverend makes such an great bad guy and the cops such good guys that I would have enjoyed more focus on them.

That being said one of the Reverend's rallies is targeted by thieves and $87,000 is stolen. As the crooks make their getaway pursued by the Reverend and then by the cops, the money falls out of the back of the crooks' truck, wrapped in a bale of hay. As the detectives investigate the crime, we encounter sweet, tough old ladies, junkies (Cleavon Little as Lo Boy and Van Kirksey as Early Riser), bumbling cops (Dick Sabol as Varema), a vengeful Other Woman (Judy Pace as Iris), and a perenially scuffling junk dealer (Redd Foxx as Uncle Bud).

The plot is a bit convoluted but it allows us to get to know Uncle Bud and some of the local characters. Redd Foxx, previewing his character in "Sanford and Son" is lovable and decent, but always down on his luck. On the basis of these performances, Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques should have been bigger stars. They ooze charisma and confidence and they eat up the camera in their scenes. Once one sees how their characters operate, one just wants to see more of them because one can see that while they might be a bit edgy, they are decent men. I don't know if 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon might have based their characters' dynamics on these characters, but it is certainly plausible. Calvin Lockhart gives his character a greasiness that seems natural. His sleaziness seems innate. That is a tribute to Lockhart's acting. He makes the Reverend naturally slick. He really seems completely disreputable. Judy Pace is smoldering as his mistress and she also dominates the scenes she is in. She is very sexy and when she is wronged, her wrath is ferocious. She really is outstanding in the film. The white cops, Capt. Bryce (John Anderson as a more old-fashioned type) and Lt. Anderson (Eugene Roche) who trusts Gravedigger and Coffin, are great.

As I said, I thought the car chase was excellent. It's one of the better car chases I've seen. It isn't too long but the perspectives taken by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, the tracking of the car, and how realistic the chase seems, make it a lot of fun and very well-executed. I thought it was great. Also of note, Harlem is full of life in this film. There is one tracking scene where a great piece of music follows the camera as it pans over various businesses in Harlem. It's great to see the various aspects of the community and see the positive side of it rather than the blight and decay that too often stands in for depictions of the community in many films.

Ossie Davis went on to direct several other films and he showed in this one that that opportunity was well-deserved. As I mentioned, the work he gets out of his actors, his use of locations, the cinematographic choices he makes, and the blend of humor and action make this a very enjoyable movie which should get more credit as perhaps the first blaxploitation film. I think he deserves the most credit for the film's success and this is one that could withstand repeated viewings.

Viability into the future, 12 May 2014

The four men profiled in this picture - topiary gardener George Mendonca, hairless mole rat enthusiast Ray Mendez, big animal trainer Dave Hoover, and robot scientist Ronald Brooks are all committed to their work. They work diligently, unconcerned with how the rest of the world might view their work. The quality of their work is job one and non-negotiable. Underlying that commitment is a view toward the future and what it might look like. They believe that if their work is well-thought out and well-done that they can shape the future. Conversely, they recognize that if their work isn't well-done or executed that it will be forgotten in due time. Mendonca frets about his sculptures existence after he passes on, Brooks sees a future in which robots will exist on the same plane as humans, and Hoover's work with big animals colors his views about man's supremacy. Mendez has learned the importance of co-operation from hairless rats.

All four recognize the tenuousness of life and the importance of always changing. They all see that the unpleasant alternative to evolving is extinction. That is clear from their respect for other forms of consciousness. They are open to other ways of learning and being. The unique social system of hairless mole rats is lauded as a more co-operative way of living. Robots' consciousness also is seen as something which is rapidly developing. The big animals that Hoover trains have their own systems for dealing with their world too. Mendonca's commitment to his job for over 30 years gives him the knowledge that change happens slowly.

The subjects' views on different ways of life are really brought to life against the backdrop of a score by Caleb Sampson. His use of a frequently repeating motif score bought to mind Philip Glass and gave the film a melancholy twinge. Also helpful in creating the mood are schlocky films, many science fiction and adventurous which often play while the four subjects tell their stories about what inspires and has guided them.

Morris is a filmmaker always worth watching. His choice of music, subject, and how he puts everything together makes him one of the most unique filmmakers working. These portraits of men in somewhat unusual jobs doesn't seem like it would recommend as a guide to the future, but through their dedication and engagement, we can see a viable world.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A coming-of-age story and so much more, 5 May 2014

It's a cinematic valentine to Mexico. It's a coming of age story. It's a warning about income inequality, and it's an encouragement to live life to the fullest.

This is a remarkable film. It's hugely entertaining, heartfelt, considered, beautiful, and thoughtful film. Two graduating high-school students, one the son of privilege (Diego Luna as Tenoch) and the other from a lower-middle class background (Gael Garcia Bernal) take a road-trip to the mythical beach of Boca del Cielo which they invented in order to impress the estranged wife (Maribel Vertu as Luisa) of Tenoch's cousin Jano. Being 18 year olds, they are full of swagger and bravado but can't anticipate what will happen and this makes for the drama of the roadtrip.

They see Mexico and we see it beautifully, as filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki. It's often seen from inside a car as the group heads southwest toward the coast and we seen the dry, brown Mexican landscape often in shade. Lubezki uses extended shots, lingering over the dry, sleepy landscape. As they drive, they stop in different places and Lubezki captures the locals in their everyday lives. We see regular people selling trinkets, driving buses, herding animals. The dignity of regular people is honored as we see their lives doing their jobs. We hear about social conditions in the area through some very interesting voiceovers. They are interesting because they serve as a counterpoint to the privilege of Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa. We hear about the life of Tenoch's maid. We hear about the life of itinerant fishermen, and we hear about the lives of people struggling through the desert to get to the United States. Many times voiceovers aren't particularly helpful, but in this movie they really add a lot of depth and heart to the movie. I can't think of a film in which voiceovers were used as well as in this one.

The boys are immature but can also be very funny. Writer Alfonso Cuaron and his co-writer, his brother Carlos Cuaron, get the tone of 18 year old boys just right - boastful, over-the- top, overconfident. This is their first mistake. All sorts of betrayals and miscommunication lead to tension and fights. The boys fall out and make up. They bond and they bicker. There are awkward moments and moments of resolution.

This movie is so much more than a coming-of-age movie. It's so much more than a sex romp. It is not just social critique either. It's beautiful cinematically also, but it's more than just a valentine to Mexico. It shows that movies can charm us with their beauty and humor and joy but also make points about justice and struggle and yet everything can go down easily. It's a movie you can go back to again and again.

The power of love, 5 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I have wrestled with whether to trash this movie for Gallo's or to recognize that I don't hate it and that it has an odd sweetness in Layla (Ricci)'s and Billy (Gallo)'s relationship. It doesn't make a bit of sense to me. He is abusive to her. She seems like a sweet girl without the sort of emotional hangups to tolerate the abuse of someone like Billy. Billy is a horrible person- egotistical and abusive. The script, to me, doesn't make a plausible case that Layla would stay with Billy. We don't know enough of her background to believe that she would tolerate such abuse and bad treatment. He kidnaps her. He berates her for being TOO good at giving a good impression of him. He is jealous of her involvement with guys before she'd even met him. Why she stays with him is a bit of a mystery. This is one of the major shortcomings of the movie. It's hard to believe that someone would tolerate such unsolicited treatment. If we knew a bit more about her background, we might find her acceptance of him more understandable.

All that said however, for whatever reason, she does stay with him and there is the suggestion of love at the end of the movie. This makes the movie magical and really a little sentimental. It's ultimately a love story for hipsters.

I can't trash this movie because I'm not cynical enough to do that. It is a sweet movie at heart and it is as though Gallo dares us to not like Billy. Well, I don't like him, but if someone does, then I wish he and the girl all the luck in the world.

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