Reviews written by registered user
birck

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65 reviews in total 
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"Spiral" (2005)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The characters are what makes this riveting, 18 September 2016
10/10

Some have criticized Spiral-I know not why, but I was hooked in the first few minutes. It came back to mind when I watched the first episode of "Jo", a French-made policier set in Paris, but with English dialogue, some dubbed, some spoken. Bad idea. I couldn't stand it. I'd rather watch French actors speak French in an un-clichéd story as in Spiral. What makes Spiral work is the utterly believable idiosyncratic characters, and how they manage to warp the cases they work on as their lives warp around them. A dedicated woman detective who happily shags every male who joins the murder squad without ever changing her shirt; an undercover detective who manages to succeed at his job while becoming addicted to heroin; a quirky judge who makes common cause with a prosecutor to shoehorn cases through the French judicial system in spite of the laws. There's more, but the point is, it's all Paris, all French, and it acts like it. The stories, the motivations, the legal system-none of it is like a US crime series. I loved Law and Order, which Spiral most resembles, but only superficially. It is about the French judicial system, as L&O was about the American system, but there the similarity ends. The two systems are distinct, and there's not much about Spiral that is familiar. I love it.

Complicit (2013) (TV)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Terror? or torture?, 17 September 2016
6/10

What is it about? I'm not claiming that this film doesn't have a point, but which one? The main character, an MI-5 analyst, is introduced at work, nodding off while reviewing and re-reviewing hidden camera footage of a particular suspected terrorist. He chases around London, searching for more detailed intel on his target, a Middle-Eastern man who-he is sure-is up to something. Part of his motivation is preventing a terrorist from succeeding at terrorism; part is to succeed himself, at last, at his career and make a major interception. To be noticed by his superiors. Unfortunately for him, he makes a few tactical errors, and the target turns out to be a British citizen with a thorough knowledge of his own civil rights. Who is succeeding at what becomes more and more ambiguous as the film comes to its end. Terror? or torture? It's a story with the ring of truth, told in a morose, silent, unsmiling fashion, and with one exception the audience is never quite sure who can be believed. The lone exception, an older man in the Egyptian anti-terror agency, to whom the hero goes for advice, is both the most candid, open and and helpful source he can find, and the worst mistake he could make. The film forces the viewer to decide between living with terrorism, picking and choosing who gets the protection of civil rights, and whether or not torture is acceptable. Take your pick.

"Marcella" (2016)
10 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Well-done, but with too many holes in the story, 11 July 2016
7/10

I wasn't bothered by the things some reviewers have complained about, like Marcella's indeterminate age or the characters that seem drawn from stock figures in other cop shows. It's an engaging story, with well-drawn characters that react to each other the way real people would react. The only disappointment for me was (as others have noted) that, with eight episodes to accomplish their objective, the writers couldn't fill in the numerous blank spots they created in the narrative. More blank spots than I'm used to seeing, like 5 or 6 pop-up characters who seem to have no purpose other than shoving the plot in a new direction, after which they disappear without a trace. Even at the very end, when Marcella has got the job done and can finally stop thinking about it, another character presents her with evidence that points to her, Marcella's, involvement in at least one of the murders. Then it ends. Huh? Possibly I missed some of the details that would have solved the problems I noticed, but there are a lot of them. On the other hand, it is quite watchable, and the dialogue is mostly comprehensible to Americans.

6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Ugh!, 15 April 2016
3/10

I can't stand watching this. I'm sure it's a beautifully -made series and it does have a great cast, but the only sections I can watch without squirming (and puking) are the behind-the-scenes sections involving the police and the LA judicial system. The sequences involving OJ, his lawyers, handlers, family, posse, and hangers-on, and their interactions with each other and the press&public, are so overblown and overdrawn that half of me can't believe it and the other half is revolted. Are celebrities (and their pilot fish, the celebrity lawyers, celebrity agents and celebrity "business associates")really this mawkish, clannish, fawning and maternal toward each other? The Us-v-them situation is clearly established, but is there no one among the celebrities who sees the situation as it is? That OJ might have actually murdered his ex-wife? The closest any character comes to offering a realistic aside to the audience is when the celebrity lawyer reads OJ's "suicide" note, shakes his head in disbelief and says: "who signs a suicide note with a Happy Face?" Maybe I'm missing the point, and the first presentation of the pro-OJ faction is simply to point out their circle-the wagons, above-the-law attitude, but the way it's been done here, this member of the audience wants nothing further to do with them. Yech. 'nuff said.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Low budget, sleazy-looking, repulsive, and genuine, 19 October 2015
8/10

I saw the original preview for this film in 1998 and never forgot the strange main character. I finally figured out what film I was looking for and watched it on Amazon. Thanks to Gallo, a great cast, and a good script, it really is a good film. A character study of a marginal personality-a guy who is barely able to hold it together, who meets a young woman who sees through his off-putting facade and really wants to get to know him, in spite of his twisted family history and repulsive mannerisms. The fact that Vincent Gallo was able to corral the excellent cast he did to fill out the story must be a tribute to the quality of his script. There are no clichés in it. It is one of a kind. It's ironic that a script of this quality can attract good actors, but not the money to make a more polished film. On the other hand, the basic, workmanlike production suits the story and the locale-down-and-out Buffalo, populated with characters that work perfectly in this story.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Unheard-of but riveting, 4 September 2015
8/10

This is clearly a low-budget/no-budget film, but it was made by a few people who know exactly what they are doing. The director has acquired a reputation as a difficult man; OK, so was Steve Jobs. The actress who plays the main character perfectly has gone on to become a good, dependable character actor. She is able and willing, in this film, to look dowdy, unattractive, weird, until she decides not to, and becomes genuinely attractive. The story is described in other reviews here; suffice it to say that it is never unbelievable, both central characters are spot-on, the acting is good, and the ending sums it all up. For a low-budget film, it works for me.

No Escape (2015/I)
11 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Solid suspense film for the whole family, 20 August 2015

In an unnamed SE Asian country Jack and his wife and 2 kids arrive to take up his job as an engineer for a multinational mega-project company like Brown & Root or Bechtel. Once in their hotel, things don't seem to be working-phones, newspapers, TV, and it gets worse quick. In search of a current newspaper, Jack witnesses a clash between heavily armed police and a large, angry crowd of demonstrators, which turns out to be just the beginning of his and his family's troubles. The tension starts early and builds into white-knuckle fear that lasts the rest of the film. And in an Asian country, Jack's shaggy blonde hair doesn't help him blend in well. There are a few incidents that stretch credibility but work on screen anyway; there's at least one cliché-character, a jaded Brit with a murky background (Pierce Brosnan)who manages to save their bacon a couple times, and one tense scene involving Jack, his two daughters, a gang of rebels and a gun that simply goes on too long for its own good, but those are quibbles. Jack and his wife (Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, both good)find out how far they are willing to go to save their family. The film does a good job of keeping the suspense topped up-for example, absolutely no one in the city (outside the hotel) speaks English, and there is not one street sign or visible shop sign written in a recognizable western alphabet. So the family is completely cut off from anything or anyone that can help them, in a hostile environment-but with just enough exceptions to that hostility to enable them to be together and safe at the end.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Spoiler alert: Boooooring, 1 August 2015
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The acting is excellent. On that score, it's worth at least four stars. I like all the actors and the characters they play, the setting, and the intriguing use of a local weather phenomenon (The Maloja Snake)as-what? a mood-setter? a theme? But very little actually happens in this film. It's all talk, talk, talk. The third or fourth time the two female leads started rehashing the dynamics of the 20-year-old play the actress is considering, I began wondering if there was going to be any real action to spice things up, or even some emphasis? A point? Anything? The parallels between the story we are watching and the written drama become pretty clear in the first half hour, so what is the rest of it about? Call me an uncultured clod, but I prefer films a bit more "gripping" than this. Gripping like maybe Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape or Endgame.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good American-made film without the usual Hollywood BS, 23 July 2015
8/10

I knew nothing about this film when I decided to watch it-I was interested in tank warfare, and movies about that are thin on the ground. The first pleasant surprise was that (in the print that I saw) the Afghans' dialogue is subtitled (rare in a pre- 2000 Hollywood film), and that the Russian characters speak plain American English. No clunky Russian accents, just dialogue between characters who all speak the same language. At first the "plot", such as it is, seemed pretty predictable. That may be true, but the way the film presents the plot is not predictable. All the praise the film gets in these reviews is merited-the acting is good, the story is believable, and what drives the story comes as a surprise. It may be a low-budget film, but if I had known about it when it came out, it would have put my butt in a theater seat somewhere, and I would have loved every minute.

Mary and Martha (2013) (TV)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
well-done propaganda with an A-list cast, 14 July 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's propaganda in a good cause, I suppose, but propaganda nonetheless. I was surprised to see, as the ending credits rolled by, no mention of the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation as sponsors. The story is propelled by some poorly-handled plot devices, e.g., bullying, which goes nowhere but seems to be the motive for mother and son decamping for exotic Africa, and by some unforgivable lapses like the couple not getting their "shots" before landing in a country where Malaria is a clear and present danger. For travel anywhere outside the developed world, I think immunizations are still highly recommended. Malaria as a political issue, and the wall-to-wall corruption that enables it to flourish, goes entirely unmentioned in the film. The first thing I saw in it that convinced me that it isn't an entirely straightforward story was the presentation of the older white malaria victim, the son of Brenda Blethyn's character. This young man is simply too wonderful to serve as anything but a straw man for the film's message. He's funny, athletic, gorgeous, generous and unselfish, all qualities dramatized in the first 8 minutes of the film, so obviously he has to die but quick. The story obliges by having him volunteer to teach in Mozambique, where in another 4 minutes he adopts an entire orphanage, gives away all his drugs and dies horribly of malaria, thus supplying us with Martha, his mother, who becomes an assistant to Hillary Swank's Mary in her campaign against the disease. If you can stand being bludgeoned by objects as blunt as these, the acting is good, the male characters (husbands and sons) are dealt with sympathetically, the scenery is fascinating and the film is at least watchable. BTW-for the unenlightened, Didier Drogba is a striker on the Ivory Coast national soccer team.


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