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19 reviews in total 
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Dawn (2014/II)
1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A Well Made, but Wrongheaded, Film Hearkening to Pre-Feminist Times, 26 April 2016
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Almost everything about this small film was excellent--the acting first rate, the cinematography accurately capturing the 50's era, good direction--but I actively hated this film. Why? Because not only was the look of the 50's era accurately reproduced, but unfortunately some of the era's most unfortunate sensibilities were also captured without the slightest trace of perspective or comment. What I'm referring to is cinema's earlier tendency to smack down its heroines who dared to step out of their prescribed roles as helpmate, mother or damsel in distress. Over and over in Hollywood's earlier history, women who daringly attempted to take control of their destinies were smartly put back in their place--sometimes comically, sometimes tragically. In this instance, it's the latter. A high school aged woman, living a constrained, suppressed life with her repressive parents, decides to do something a little daring with the urging of a young man she has just met. She sneaks out of her home and goes off on what is supposed to be an innocent escapade. Instead the young man and his two friends--another couple--drive out into the woods where things quickly turn toward the dark side. Our heroine is struck in the face by her hoped-for beau, knocking her to the ground. Then he produces a gun and asks her to walk off into the woods with him, and she meekly complies. Moments later, we hear a gunshot, and the young man returns and states he had just wanted know "what it was like." Ugh. How about a different ending? The two go off into the woods, we hear a gunshot, and the girl returns and shoots at the other two--either killing them or sending them scurrying away. She stands triumphant and perhaps we are given a flashback of her kneeing her would-be murderer in the groin and snatching the gun away (though I myself would probably prefer the details be left unshown). Sure, young girls are sometimes murdered by budding psychopaths in this world, but I've seen way too many movies "celebrating" the meekness and ineptness of women over the decades. This is a new century, and we need films that at least in some measure extol the virtues of this century--not those halfway back into the last. And sadly, this film was directed by a woman. With the ending I suggested, this film would probably have garnered a rating of "9." Instead, it earns a mere "2."

Miss Todd (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Wonderful!, 6 April 2014
10/10

I happened to catch this little gem at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival today and was blown away. The story--based on the historical fact that in 2009, the eponymous Miss Todd became the first female aeronautical engineer and pilot, was simply but thrillingly, inspiringly told--though the real treat was the means by which this tale was given life. The characters were watercolor-on-paper cut-outs, given life by means of stop motion animation. These cut-outs were photographed amid both 3-D scale models and other watercolors. It was beautifully, artfully done-- managing to capture both the feel of the period in which these events took place and the nuanced emotions of the heroine. This would be a terrific bonbon by which the developing minds of children might be inspired. But I should think most adults would warm to this creative concoction as well. This adult certainly did.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Decent, Ultimately Moving Film, 28 February 2012
8/10

I'm curious about the assertion that some have made that the film was a "character assassination." I myself saw nothing that would lead one to come to such a conclusion. Certainly, the film indicated he was not without faults, but I believe this only served to make this formidable militarist icon more approachable, actually breathing life into a dusty history lesson.

I enjoyed the film a great deal, even though I think it could have benefited by some reduction in the length. The ending was quite moving- -giving us a personal glimpse into the last moments of a living, breathing human being--instead of just a decorated martinet. It forced me to turn my thoughts to my own mortality and the events that have shaped my own life. As a result, I had a long and fruitful discussion with my parents which had been long over due.

I'd recommend the film highly, giving it an "8" out of 10.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Decent First Effort by This Novice Filmmaker, 2 October 2011
7/10

I saw this at the Kansas International Film Festival yesterday, and found it to be an informative and interesting account of the roiling controversy over the US Government's decision to reintroduce wolves into the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Wyoming. Most of the people she captures on film give reasoned opinions for their stances, though one fire-brand on the "kill 'em all!" side of the wolf debate gives an impassioned rant for the camera on why the re-introduction is one of the greatest evils ever perpetrated by our government (alas, he didn't rank this action against such other problematic policies--like slavery and the extermination of the native Americans). Most of the film was essentially talking heads, though the viewer was treated to some beautiful scenes of the area at the beginning, some shots of the wolf at the end (taken by a National Geographic videographer) and a bit of some of the mayhem wrought by the wolf in between. I think it could have benefited by more dramatization of the issue--film of wolves being trapped/snared/shot for example. It could also have benefited by some more immutable facts. For example, a rancher acknowledges that he would be paid for losses incurred by any predation from the wolf, but says he wouldn't be compensated for the aggregate loss of weight caused by the animals of his herd being terrified by the attacks and subsequently not eating. I'm sure an objective expert could have supplied figures for this claimed loss--or rejected it as illusory. To this viewer, it seemed only a rationalization for the rancher's disdain for the wolf though for someone who shared the rancher's view this would no doubt have engendered agreement--neither of us knowing for sure whether this argument has any merit. Still, I thought this was an impressive first effort by this young woman--done almost entirely on her own. Kudos!

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Campy, idiotic, often entertaining--hardly worthy of the lavish reviews found on "metacritic", 19 April 2010
6/10

On "metacritic"--a service that compiles movie ratings from established critics and averages those ratings--the film, "Superman II" has the second highest rating of any film rated since metacritic was borne (behind "The Godfather"). That rating of "99" (out of a hundred) has got to be the most ridiculously inappropriate rating in the history of rating film. "Superman II" has a few nice moments--but the villains are too, well, comic-bookish (compare to Heath Ledger's The Joker), and the script has some incredible gaffs--for example, when the trio of super-villains land on the moon, they walk up to astronauts there AND SPEAK TO THEM (!!!!--no matter how super-powerful you may be, you're just not going to be able to use your vocal chords in a vacuum)--and then there was the inexplicable emergence of certain powers in Superman--powers never explicated upon, powers that never existed in ol' Supe before. The first film, in spite of a slow start, was magnificent, thrilling entertainment, blending action and humor perfectly and topped by the still unrivaled portrayal of a super-hero by Christopher Reeve (playing the role straight but with an ever-present twinkle in his eye). Reed was just as good in this sequel, but all in all, the film was a mixture of the entertaining, and the incredibly stupid. How does that admixture rate a 99?

7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
One of the Great Love Stories Trapped Within a Flawed Film, 11 January 2006
8/10

There is both much to admire, and to despise, within this film. I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives, yet the negatives are so odious, so blatant, that they amount to a major defacement--all the more so because they could have so easily been corrected--marring what otherwise might have been a masterpiece of film making. As a drama about two lonely people who find each other and fall in love (though not in a romantic sense), this film is in a class few others share. As a drama about the sport of boxing, it veers wildly between insightful and ridiculous, and the film as a whole too often embraces caricature and melodrama, crippling our suspension of disbelief and leaving it floundering.

The film revolves about Maggie Fitzgerald--a 30 year old woman who attempts to escape a difficult upbringing in a single-minded pursuit of a boxing career--and Frankie Dunn, a down-on-his-luck manager/trainer and owner of a rundown boxing gym. She basically takes up residence in his gym, working out and trying to persuade him to take her under his wing. He wants no part of managing a "girl"--especially one virtually over the hill--and puts her off with one caustic rebuff after another. She persists, and over time, stubbornly refusing to take no for an answer, finally persuades him to train her. Before long, reluctantly, a bond begins to grow between the crusty old trainer, permanently estranged from his only daughter, and this fiercely determined woman whose father, the only person who ever loved her, died long ago. It is this growing relationship that is the heart of the film, and it is magnificently played out between these fine actors. Hilary Swank is mesmerizing, every gesture, every expression is convincing. The fact that her character is so sweet-natured, so adorable (in an early fight, she shrugs her shoulders to Frankie's mock disgust in such a way that it had to have melted the hearts of anyone with a heart) that it might give us pause later after the lights go on when we might ask, "How could this immensely genial character have been so alone?" but Swank is so compelling that as we watch her, we never doubt her or her situation for a moment. Clint Eastwood is almost as good, and his brusque, brooding, deeply wounded old gym-rat provides an excellent foil to Swank's more hopeful character. We become ensnared in their emotional dynamics, much more than their pursuit of a boxing title. As we watch their love for each other grow (the love between surrogate father and daughter), our love for each of their characters grows as well, so that the ultimate tragedy that befalls them is almost unbearable to watch.

Or at least, it would be if you can ignore the intruding absurdities. First among them are some of the fight sequences. Most of these play well, though there are occasional moments when a punch clearly lands upon air, half a meter from the opponent's face, and yet we hear an accompanying sound effect as if there had been a solidly landed blow. But the principle problem concerns the fights involving a character called "The Blue Bear"--a figure so ludicrous her appearance in a comic book would be jarringly idiotic. We see her perform acts of deranged mayhem in the ring that make the biting off of an ear seem pacifist. A Nazi Storm Trooper would find her embarrassing. Anyone displaying these traits in real life would be barred from prize-fighting years before reaching a title fight. To suggest that such a one could become champion is light years beyond far-fetched. Apparently, every one of her referees, and the two judges at court-side, are carefully selected for their inability to open their eyes. {Brief Spoilers Ahead} In the climatic showdown, we are told the "Bear" wins in spite of egregious violations, including the knock-out punch which occurs 10 seconds after the bell has sounded. {Spoilers End} I thought "Cinderella Man's" depiction of the fighter Max Baer was a bit over the top--but not compared to this. In a hundred other boxing films I have seen nothing to approach the outlandishness of this depiction.

There were other problems. Maggie's surviving family were overwrought, cardboard caricatures. Morgan Freeman, who plays Frankie's closest friend, provides the film's narration, and though he does his usual excellent job, his comments weren't as finely written (or were perhaps over written) as those he voiced in "Shawshank Redemption." Two or three times we hear him talk about being "somewhere between nowhere and good-bye," which was two or three times too many.

In spite of the drawbacks, which are far from incidental, I found myself spellbound by Maggie and Frankie's relationship. There are other nice things about the film, not least of which is a crowd-pleasing "interchange" between Freeman and a bully/would-be fighter, and Eastwood's direction which, in spite of contributing to the lapses noted above, does a fabulous job of getting the most from his cast and providing a wonderfully paced movie--but it is the strength of the central relationship which buoys the film, keeping it afloat in the midst of its sea of weakness. I cannot help but mourn the loss of what could have been. A more realistic villain, a fine-tuning of the script, and this might have been both the greatest boxing movie of all time, and one of the great love stories. I'd like to shake Haggis (the writer) and Eastwood for failing to fully capitalize on their opportunity.

83 out of 93 people found the following review useful:
Brilliantly Oppressive Film-Noir, 2 March 2005
10/10

**MILD SPOILERS** It is amazing the number of different ways a great film can weave its alluring web and pull you into its story. Of my 100 favorite films, this one's journey into that rarefied status is unique, based on but a single viewing. I saw "Sweet Smell of Success" when I was too young to really grasp the subterranean motivations of the characters who so vividly populate the film. I did not understand, for instance, why this powerful, loathsome gossip columnist, Burt Lancaster's JJ Hunsecker, who so clearly despised Tony Curtis' Sidney Falco (press agent), nonetheless tolerated his presence. There was much that I DID appreciate--the brilliant and daring acting of the two leads, the beautifully oppressive cinematography, and the scintillating dialogue--but after that single viewing, the film slowly faded from my consciousness. Twenty-five or 30 years later, I decided to make a list of my favorite movies, and came across the title of this film. Apparently, memories of seeing this production had been roiling around my unconscious all this time and now, triggered by the little blurb in the Leonard Maltin book, these half-forgotten images came bounding back into mind, now concatenated with a quarter century of life and movie-going experience. Honing my list over the next few months, and considering this film's merits, I more and more began to realize what a truly marvelous work this was. This was a study nonpareil of two creatures wholly wrapped up in themselves and their ambition, yet bound together in a mutual parasitism (the term symbiosis sounds much too nice to describe their relationship). I understood, finally, why JJ tolerated Falco's presence. He NEEDED Falco. It wasn't just that Falco would occasionally offer up tidbits that he could use in his column. It wasn't that the fawning Falco could be manipulated into performing certain . . . uh, tasks that were too dirty for JJ to touch. No, as a ruthless power-monger, he needed the treacherous sycophant as a constant reminder and test of his superiority. Falco could be demeaned and ridiculed, but he also represented a danger, a challenge. Falco might seem a toady, but he was also a cobra waiting his chance to strike, and Hunsecker relished his role as sadistic snake charmer. Watching these two play at their oppressive games of perfidy, and dealing dirt, provide a fascinating character study perhaps the equal of the more famous examination of one Charles Foster Kane in an earlier film. There are many other characters in the movie, such as JJ's sister and her lover, and some are played with great aplomb, but they are all pawns in this disdainful dance between JJ and Falco, and it is their personalities that stay with you long after the lights come back on.

Everything about this movie seems to be nearly perfect (some have criticised the film for the relatively weak portrayal of the two hapless lovers, but a stronger emphasis on these two would only detract from the real focus--JJ and Sidney) even to the choice of names. JJ Hunsecker and Sidney Falco seem perfect monikers, by themselves conjuring up images of loathsome characters. Unfortunately, for the team that put together this masterpiece of film-noir, "Sweet Smell of Success" was no success, and critics and movie-goers alike left the theaters convinced that the "smell" generated by the film was far from sweet. Amazingly, this film not only failed to garner an Oscar, it failed to receive a single solitary nomination--not for Alexander Mackendrick's direction (this abject failure truncating his promising career), not for the incisive, endlessly quotable screenplay (Ernest Lehman & Clifford Odets), not Elmer Bernstein's wonderful score, nor the tremendous performances of Curtis and Lancaster--not even James Wong Howe's gritty cinematography, beautifully capturing the seamier side of New York City. Fortunately, history has stepped in to provide a more accurate critique of this once ignored masterpiece. I can hardly wait to see it a second time.

33 out of 60 people found the following review useful:
Romanticism without the "base" alloy of actual feeling, 11 February 2005
5/10

This is a real curio of a movie, more a dry experiment with form than a story concerning fleshed-out characters. The primary focus is on the plot developments of a film within the film--a story of two illicit lovers in 19th century England--while a secondary narrative follows the two leads in that film who pursue a similar relationship to the one they portray. The way these two stories intercut back and forth is, unfortunately, one of the few interesting things in the movie. Unique to this presentation is the way the Victorian Era scenes are shown only (with the opening scene being a lone exception) as a finished product, that is, we see that part of the film as its theoretical audience would. There are no shots of cameras in the foreground, no scenes of director and crew watching rushes in a darkened theater. This device might have allowed the viewer to become more involved in the "old-time" goings on--if only we had been given something, anything onto which we could have hung our emotional hats. This is the insurmountable problem of "The French Lieutenant's Woman." While the Victorian Era plot is luxuriantly mounted--while the characters are played by wonderful actors--the "heart" of this film is occupied by this film within a film device. While interesting, it's not enough to keep our interest from flagging. In both story lines, emotions are uniformly muted, or absent altogether. The 20th century story is about two bored actors who engage in their affair simply as a distraction from the tedium of making a movie. No hint of passion here. The Victorian narrative at least provides a HINT of feeling, but always held at arms length--and further attenuated by the inevitable return to the modern story, reminding us that the "costumer" portion of the film is not only not real, but TWICE removed from reality. There is a scene at the end of the movie where all signs point to some grand cathartic denouement--a scene where, finally, we will be swept up into the currents of these players' lives, the promise of romance finally realized. Instead we are given an awkward, bumbled scene without so much as a kiss or an eloquent avowal of love. We are left with a muted, distant view of the two purported lovers on a lake--its surface as calm and unmoved as the film's audience. A disappointing end to a disappointing film.

28 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
A Patchwork of a Film, redeemed by the strength of its characterizations, 4 February 2005
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Essentially a "Wuthering Heights" on the high seas, this occasionally confusing film is really a piecing together of two previous films: The 1939 version of the Bronte Classic, and the 1942 Cecil B. DeMille actioner, "Reap the Wild Wind." Scenes from both of these films have been lifted whole from the originals and welded into the flimsy supporting latticework of its plot. What weaknesses the film has, however, are more than made up by the vividness of the characterizations, a powerful romance, and one of the best portrayals of a grudging symbiotic relationship in cinema.

The plot revolves around three characters, Ralls (John Wayne), ship's captain with a dark and dangerous side, Mayrant Sidneye (Luther Adler), an ubber-wealthy shipping magnate, and the beautiful Angelique (Gail Russell)--focal point for the romance. (There is a fourth "main" character, Sam, played by Gig Young, but he serves only as observer and narrator.) Ralls and Sidneye have a curious, bitter rivalry. Clearly, these men have a long history between them--a history which goes back much farther, and is much more complex than can be explained by their competition for Angelique's affections. Indeed, it is the relationship between these two men that powers this movie along, much more than the wonderfully played romance. These men hate and despise one another, yet there is clearly a grudging respect between them--and something more. Here are two men whose very existence and reason for being depends on the other. Every move they make is calculated as to its effect on their adversary. Though their mutual hatred extends well into the murderous range, neither would ever conceive of killing the other. So tied up in each other's fate are they that they would do just as well to kill themselves.

**SPOILERS** The doomed romance plays out between the three principles much as it does in the aforementioned '39 film "Wuthering Heights," complete with a virtual duplication of the dying scene--in this case with Angelique in Ralls' arms, looking out to the sea (instead of the heather), with Sidneye, the husband, looking helplessly on. That this is a virtual copy of the love story from the earlier film does not detract much from its power, as these three actors are at their riveting best, almost making us forget the Olivier/Oberon/Niven flimization. Luther Adler is terrific in his perhaps finest role. He makes his obsession with Ralls palpable, both his hatred and respect seem to ooze from his pores in equal measure. Though his character is confined to a wheelchair, his power is never doubted, making him every bit the match for his more physically imposing rival. Gail Russell is an actress whose flame died out too quickly. Here she gives us one of her two best performances, the other being in "Angel and the Badman" from the year before which also starred John Wayne. Though the main focus is on the two male characters, her luminous, fragile Angelique gives the viewer a sympathetic refuge from the often ruthless machinations of Ralls and Sidneye.

Undeniably, John Wayne gives one of his best--and most complex-- performances here. That he was an excellent actor should be undisputed, though too often he found himself in roles where he played one-dimensional characters that would have bored except for his considerable charisma. Here, his character is alternately charming and broodingly malevolent, given to alcohol fueled bouts of violence and self-loathing, his motivations are often morally ambiguous. Wayne hits all of these notes with perfect pitch, and does something many actors would not have been able to accomplish--he makes us care about this often unlikable personality through the sheer force of his remarkable screen presence. It is this performance, most of all, that keeps "The Red Witch" from sinking under the bleak, sometimes oppressive weight of its plot.

13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
"Punch-Drunk Love" a revelation for those who dislike Adam Sandler, 19 January 2005
9/10

I am not an Adam Sandler fan. When you mix moronic with hostility you produce something like, well, like Adam Sandler--it ain't pretty, and, more importantly, it ain't entertaining. But that's just me. I HAVE seen a few of his earlier movies and the experience was like that sweet sound of long, sharpened fingernails being raked over a blackboard (sometimes the experience was so bad it felt as if they were being raked over my juggler). There were a few moments when I thought I might have glimpsed something different, something almost human in his face, but then there'd be that idiot voice, or some wildly exaggerated mannerism--supposedly humorous, but actually cringe inducing--to reaffirm my antipathy. BUT, then I saw a trailer for Punch-Drunk Love, and-- what was this? a movie with A.S. and Emily WATSON?--that most excellent actress from Breaking the Waves? What was SHE doing in a . . . And that director? Wasn't he the one who did Boogie Nights? So, natch, I had to see this movie. I was curious. . . . But soon I was mesmerized.

Many Adam Sandler (AS) fans have lamented his radical departure from the kind of films he has done before--an entirely understandable reaction. None of us likes to see that which we love radically changed. People who love the glitz and neon of Las Vegas would reasonably be peeved to find that it had been razed, and a forest planted to take its place. It would be futile to attempt to prove to hard-core AS fans that this is a good film. How can you convince someone that something they don't like is something they should like? I know beets are good for you. I know that some people LOVE beets. I still hate beets. It's regrettable. It's too bad. My beet animus remains. I LOVE Punch-Drunk Love(PDL). **MILD SPOILERS** I love it for all the myriad odd details--the harmonium that is dropped off in the middle of the street for reasons entirely unknown, AS's method of accumulating zillion's of Sky Miles--but then doesn't get to use them. I love it for a plot that is SUNNY in spite of ink-sodden clouds rumbling ominously all around, a plot that clearly originated outside the Hollywood cookie/plot-cutter factory--totally impossible to predict. I loved it for that odd little romance (yes, I admit it. Emily Watson's immediate interest in AS was a weakness in the film. I could see how she could fall for him over time, but how could her first impression have been anything but negative?). I loved the overall arc of the film--AS, insecure, sad, with occasional bouts of unfocused, psychotic rage (here, reasonably explained, unlike in AS's past {reputed} comedies), transformed by love into someone who could take that boiling-over-anger and turn it into a powerful directed force for good (that scene with the blonde brothers ramming AS's car was wonderfully cathartic. As soon as he saw that trickle of blood running down Watson's face, he was transfigured. His protective instincts for this person he cared for transformed his rage into a calm fearsome purpose). I loved it for Watson's luminous presence. Most of all, I loved it for Adam Sandler (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Excised from the slavery of less than mediocre cinema, his wildly exaggerated mannerisms were given reason, and he was suddenly nuanced, subtle, even human. It was a pleasure to see him act, to watch his emotional turmoil play out on his face, to be drawn in, to empathize . . . with Adam Sandler? Now THAT is movie magic. I'm not ready for AS to elbow his way onto my list of favorite living actors, much less supplant Paul Newman from his lofty perch on the top rung, but I find myself looking forward to Spanglish. Who would have ever thought?


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