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A good film that needs to be viewed with Perspective
30 March 2010
The film is well made and has excellent cinematic values, however, to read the titles of the reviews here you would think it was THE breakthrough film of cinema and an accurate documentary of the Moscow at the time.

1. Breakthrough film? It is not a breakthrough. The breakthrough film was one called Manhatta made in 1921 in the USA. It was followed by Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt 1927, Moskva by Mikhail Kaufman 1927, and Joris Ivens's Rain 1929. Then came "Man with a Movie Camera" 1929. In making Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov used Mikhail Kaufman the director of "Moskva."

Here is a short review of Moskva from a website that offers it.

MOSKVA (1927):

Wonderful, silent documentary, portraying life in Moscow and its suburbs during the 10th year since the 1917 Revolution in the former Czarist Russia. Unlike some of the propaganda films commemorating the anniversary (some of which we have for sale), some of the scenes of daily life shown in this film show aspects of life in Bolshevik Moscow, which would have created a far different, negative effect on some audiences than the director (Mikhail Kaufman) and the censors intended. Unfortunately, no English subtitles and quite a bit of the film is not in the sharpest quality; but for documentary interest and a look at life as it REALLY was in 1920s USSR, you can't beat this film.

2. Documentary?: There is a difference between documentary and propaganda. Documentary attempts to show life as it is. Propaganda attempts to show life as the filmmaker would like it to be seen in an effort to convince others of some (usually political or economic)idea. The Vertov film is propaganda.

3. Social responsibility: The social responsibility of artists is fairly new concept in the history of art criticism, It mainly started with the Nazi's and those who worked with Hitler to glorify his regime. Leni Riefenstahl is someone who did jail time for her association with Hitler. Yet these same standards have not been applied to the Russians who supported the brutal regime of Stalin. Vertov was one of these. 1929 Stalin had consolidated his power in Russia and was about to embark on what is probably the most brutal and bloody regime in the history of the world (worse than Hitler). You could say that Vertov did not really know at that time where the regime would lead, and in my opinion that would probably be true. However, he continued to make films that gave praise to the regime and to Stalin in later years (Kolybelnaya is an example). If Stalin approved of Vertov's films is beside the point. The fact is that the films supported and praised both Stalin and his regime. The effect on audiences is to put this regime and Stalin in a favorable light, thus supporting and possibly prolonging the regime.

I am not so sure how much I want to condemn an artist for working for someone like Stalin or Hitler. I enjoy Leni's films and Vertov's, and I am glad they exist. But it is interesting to look at all the criticism Leni draws and how nothing attaches to Vertov. It's a double standard if there ever was one. So if you are of the mind to hold a strong standard of social responsibility to artists, you should not overlook Vertov.

All in all, the film is well worth watching, but it should be watched with perspective. It one in a line of avant-garde films, that started with the breakthrough film Manhatta. It is a skilled, and at time moving, representative of the genre. It pretends to be a documentary, and it does show an idealized Moscow of the time, but it should be understood that the film had a propaganda purpose as well as an artistic one, and you should not be seduced by its art into thinking that life in Moscow was truly this wonderful.

I will leave it up to you if you want to hold Vertov responsible for the crimes of Stalin by giving his regime support and praise, but I only ask you to be consistent.
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Some will like it some will not
9 March 2010
This is a not a serious film and as such there are many things that you could find wrong about it. It does not rise to the level of Bergman or Welles or Antonioni. But it is a pleasant film.

It is a fantasy and not likely to happen in real life, but many times we go to the movies to escape reality and what happens in real life. At least one reviewer here seems to feel that this is not good enough and that is certainly his/her right to think so. However if your standards are not quite so strict you may find this a charming and pleasant way to relax and forget the cares of life. We all need such things and if you are willing to go along with this movie, it can take you there.
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Uzak (2002)
unloved and pointless
26 August 2009
I should live this film, but I don't. It won international awards, it is foreign (I usually like such films) it is slow moving (again something I like) and it has no gratuitous sex or violence. the problem is that it is boring. We have two friends from the same village in Turkey one "successful" the other not. the unsuccessful one comes to Istanbul to stay with the successful in an attempt to get a good job at sea. Both live lives that are unfulfilling, pointless and petty.

Well, it isn't the first time this kind of film has been made. I didn't see anything new being added to this tired theme. There are long takes that are just someone standing and looking at the sea or sitting in a coffee shop or watching TV. I do understand that this kind of thing is there to show the emptiness of their loves, While it does do that I got the idea in the first 15 min. I don't need to be beaten over the head with it for the rest of the two hours.

The symbolism is also a bit heavy handed. the plate of live minnow type fish with one off the plate and flopping around in its death throws. Symbols are best when they are not obvious but are there, in the background, creating a mood just slightly below the viewer's awareness.

The film is so apathetic, that it doesn't even rate a score of 1, so I gave it a 2. To rate a 1 takes a talent at being bad. This film didn't have that much energy.
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Unusual, different and challenging
27 April 2009
From the very first frame, you know you are in for something different. The first thing that strikes you is the composition of the visuals. Each frame is an avant-garde work of art. If you turned off the sound and simply watched the visuals it would be worth the time.

The plot is complex and enigmatic. Intentionally ambiguous, it deals with love, truth, reality and the validity of political action. Although it is enigmatic, it is not boring. Instead it stimulates thought on these subject. The ambiguity of the plot means that there are no easy answers and viewers must make up their own minds on these weighty subjects. It also means that the film can be viewed several times.

This is an "art film". The director was a major figure in the Japanese new wave that started in the 60's and watching this film one is reminded of Alain Resnais, although this is not a copy of his style. The film is part of a trilogy of "sex and politics" films (Eros plus massacre; Heroic Purgatory ; Coup D'Etat).

You will not like this if you are looking for an entertaining film, or a film with action, sex, comedy, great one liners and all those other things that can make a film entertaining. There is nothing wrong with such films but this one one of them. It is a film that will make you think.

Finding a good copy of this or any of this director's other films can be difficult. This particular film can be found if you search the internet but it is usually found with very poor and incomprehensible subtitles. Recently someone has made a new subtitle translation but it is very hard to find. I wouldn't recommend the film without this new translation unless you are a Japanese speaker. Subtitles that begin "This morning I lift the floor There are 3 worms" should be avoided. Those that begin "This morning, there were three cockroaches," are good. But on the other hand just watching the visuals can be worth it.
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Potentually compelling but ultimately dull
7 March 2009
Certainly we want to like this movie that portrays a real struggle in New Mexico against economic and racial oppression. And certainly if you are in some way connected to that area, then it would be meaningful. However, the script is not well written and instead of bringing inspiration and originality to a subject that certainly deserved such treatment, it falls back on the usual clichés and tired slogans of a union organizing pamphlet. I don't know the history of this film, but it seems that the producers of the film tried to use non-professional actors to five the film more authenticity. However, instead of bringing a sense of reality to the film, their acting is so wooden that you end up feeling embarrassed for the actors, who are obviously well intentioned. While the Italian neo-realists were able to do wonderful things with non-professionals, the director of this film did not seem to be up to the task.

The film is interesting from a historical and a cultural perspective. The fact that it was banned is also compelling. However, the artistic values of the film are so poor that it makes for difficult viewing. A pity - it is a powerful subject - but it was treated badly.
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Charming and Entertaining
19 January 2009
This is one of many Japanese sword and fantasy films, but in that genre it stands out. This comes as no real surprise since it is directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who is one of the masters of Japanese cinema. But if you are looking for a masterpiece here, you won't find it. There are many flaws. The character development is non-existent and even silly. One character, who had been a bloody killer of women and children, suddenly reforms. His explanation: "I heard a flute and it awoke something inside me." Well, don't let that or any of the many plot holes bother you. It is simply not that kind of movie. And you probably won't notice these flaws anyway, because you will be so wrapped up in the excellent action sequences that you won't care. Fukasaku uses his considerable skills to pull out all the stops on pure entertainment. Aside from the action sequences, the special effects are excellent and the production values are high.

Fukasaku was known for getting the best from his players and this is no exception. Among the actors, Sonny Chiba is up to his usual antics here, but Fukasaku brings out a certain charm that makes him a plausible romantic lead. Hiroko Yakushimaru plays the female lead. In this type of film, her type of character is usually just a pretty face that other, more interesting characters revolve around. But she takes the role beyond this and is not only beautiful, but charming and exciting. She gives the character a kind of positive energy that makes her character interesting and can't help but make you smile. The other characters also represent themselves well.

What really makes the film work is the pace. It is quick and pulls carries you through the story so that you don't notice its flaws. And really, do these flaws matter that much? To a purist perhaps, but a purist would miss the obvious good time of watching this film. So just let the film carry you away into that fantasy land that we all need to go to once in a while. It is fun and refreshing. Enjoy - it is one of the best rides like it that you can find.
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Best timed scream in film
11 January 2009
Despite the fact that the print is usually not the best (due to the fact that it is in the public domain and so any one who restores it will not get their money back) and despite that fact that there is little if any character development, Hitchcock gets so many things right in this film that it stands out. The terror is palpable. The building of suspense is masterful. The villains are very creepy and very likely to achieve their aim. You can't possibly figure out how this could unravel and as I mentioned, it has, without question, the best timed scream in Cinema. Not to be confused with the lesser 1956 version, also by Hitchcock (which is still worth seeing even if it isn't quite as good), The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of Hitchcock's best and one to see again and again.
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A Contrarian View
31 October 2008
As I look at all the 10 star reviews that others have given this film I wonder if I am being foolhardy in daring to say something to the contrary. I am and have been for many years a Bergman fan. I eagerly saw most of his films as they were released. I love nearly all of them - this one being an exception. Certainly the film is worth seeing - any Bergman film is. But this one is often cited as his best, and there I would strongly disagree. It is about an academic and although professor Borg has to face some of his demons, he comes out on top in then end. I understand why this film is so popular. Academics see themselves in professor Borg and academics have a lot of influence on what is considered art and what isn't. Borg ends up looking good at the end of the film, and academics, although they have their faults like anyone else, like to think that they are worthy of the respect that their position commands. In many, many cases they are - and this is not a diatribe against academics. I just think that Bergman let this character off too easily, particularly when you compare the way he treats his other characters in movies like "The Hour of the Wolf", "The Silence", "Shame" and so on. He plumbs the depths of the soul and takes no prisoners. "Wild Strawberries" starts out that way, when the professor flashes back to the key points in his life where he turned away from love, life and reality in favor of academic honor. But ultimately Bergman backs down. The professor, having seen the errors of a lifetime in a few short hours, is shown to be wiser and a better man now as he receives his honorary award. Bergman does not do this in his other films. For me this gives a certain falsity to "Wild Strawberries" that I don't see in "Persona" for example. Well, everyone will probably disagree with me, - this is such an acclaimed film - but sometimes it is valuable to hear a contrarian opinion even when you don't agree with it.
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The Sacrifice (1986)
Difficult but worth it
28 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Minor spoilers. This is not a film for everyone, and probably not a film for most. However, if you like art, it might be a film for you. The director, Andrei Tarkovsky, viewed film as art and his films make few, if any, concessions to commercialization and marketing. If you are looking strictly for entertainment, you may find this film to be slow, boring and depressing. However, if you are looking for art, then you should not ignore this film.

The artistic merits of the film are considerable. The theme is an individual's relationship to God, politics and mankind in general. How can a sensitive and intelligent person come to grips with these huge and sometimes overwhelming parts of life and still keep his own integrity in tact. Just attempting a subject like this is courageous and laudable, but in doing so the director walks dangerous ground. It is so broad that no film can truly encompass it, and wisely Tarkovsky doesn't try. Instead he shows one man's attempt to deal with it - flawed and inadequate as it may be. This is a clever way to approach it, because it stimulates you to start thinking of what your own approach might be.

It begins in color, with Alexander, a very self involved and disconnected man in his later years who is forced by circumstances and a very odd mailman, to confront his relationship to God, and society. This causes Alexander to go through different mental states which are filmed in black and white or muted color. As the day moves forward, Alexander eventually sifts from a passive observer of life to someone who is committed to playing a dramatic but positive and active role in the spiritual and temporal life. With this new reality, the film returns to color. The composition of the sets the framing and the editing of the film all are carefully done to support and emphasize the theme and development of the film. The film takes place on one day, Alexander's birthday (yes, this does have a double meaning).

Throughout the film death is the looming and persistent presence. Near the beginning Alexander rightly observes that fear of death will drive people to do many foolish things. We see some of these foolish things as the characters of the film become unfaithful, hysterical, and even cruel and destructive when threatened by death. Tarkovsky himself was facing death by cancer when he made this film and this was his final film. In the end, however, the film is life affirming, leaving us with a view of hope and even joy.

This is a film I respect but it is not very entertaining. I am glad I watched it, but I wasn't really ready for it when I started. If you are not ready to see a film this serious and deep, then it would be easy to dismiss it as difficult and even painful to watch. But to do so would be a reaction to that same fear of death that seems to be the root of so much evil in the world. Understanding that this is a film about serious topics that effect us all and not a casual bit of entertainment can make the difference between appreciating and valuing this film or not. But even though the film had some difficult and soul searching moments, you will enjoy the end and its message of hope. The final image of the film is a young boy bringing life to a dead tree. It is a truly beautiful image and one that think will stay with me for a long time.
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For what it is - a superior film
4 September 2008
This is a mindless soft-core film without a lot of sense and no pretension to anything else. Such films have their virtues: natural pretty girls with few clothes, some humor to keep things light, male leads who are such jerks that it makes you feel superior, soft-core with no real hardcore or violence - so things can be sexy without being too serious, and few distractions such as character development, good acting, plot and deeper meaning. It is relaxing and the sort of thing that many guys like when there is nothing else to do or they are between girlfriends. Taken at its face value, and without trying to compare it to Citizen Kane, the film works quite well. I was particularly taken with the scene in the bathtub that was both sexy and humorous. The girls were all fetching, especially the lovely Mae (Felicia Park). If this is what you are looking for, it is a gem. If you want great art, look somewhere else.
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Well worth watching
13 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Minor spoilers that really don't give much away.

On the surface the film is about war and the effect it has on children. However, at doesn't take long before the viewer realizes that this is only the most superficial meaning of the film. On another level is is about the relationship of two children trying to care for each other in a world that seems to have deserted them. The beauty of their relationship and the importance of that relationship even in death is one of the purest and most innocent portrayals in any film. On another level it is about Japanese pride and the self-defeating inability of the Japanese to admit defeat. For example, Seita, the boy, refuses to give in to those who have insulted him even to the point of putting his and his sister's lives at stake. How similar to the Japanese refusal to surrender near the end of the war, even when there was no hope. They were willing to die to the last civilian. It was only the total shock of the A-bomb that got them to do it. On another level it is about the briefness of life. Like the fireflies, life is brief and beautiful. It is the beauty of life that is important.

It is not a sad film, it can bring you through the emotions, but even from the beginning when the ghosts of the two children are united, we can see that their love has transcended death. Some politically minded people have described this as an anti-war film, a condemnation of American atrocities in WWII, or a film ignoring the atrocities of the Japanese and blaming their situation on the allies. It is none of these things.

If the director is critical of anyone, it is of the Japanese people themselves. He shows the Japanese as fanatically committed to winning the war and supporting their country even when they there was no hope of winning. In contrast to this is their callousness toward the two children who obviously need help. Do anything for the group but ignore the individuals, seems to be their attitude. The children themselves - at least the boy, share this attitude. He is willing to become a thief a liar and even endanger the lives of his own little "country" (himself and his sister), rather than surrender to his relatives. So while there are many anti-war films out there, this is really not one of them - it sharp critical look at the Japanese character.

The film is not without flaws. While the animation is usually quite beautiful, at times the animation is too static. Generally the pace is good, but at times it is slow. At times points are over-emphasized and made more than once. At times you want to say, for example, "Okay, I got it. You don't have to show me again that the sister is dying." When the director over-emphasizes these points, it can be painful.

However, the positive aspects of the film are so strong that they easily make you forget the flaws. The strongest theme of the film is the beauty of the relationship between the two children and the beauty of life even when it is brief. You walk away from the film feeling that life is worth it even in the worst of conditions. Not a small accomplish for any work of art.
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Frequency (2000)
flawed but worth it
10 August 2008
Let's just say that the premise of the film is improbable to the point of being silly. Let's also say that the movie works despite that.

I think I liked the movie better because I read the plot summary on this page before watching the movie. I wasn't expecting anything approaching reality and that was alright with me. I might have been put off it I walked into it cold, as many reviewers here were. I won't reveal the plot but suggest that you read the summary and then decide if you want to watch the movie.

The strength of the film is in the actors, the direction and the father son relationship. The two principle actors, Dennis Quaid and James Caviezel, carry the film as only good professionals can. Their down-to-earth approach to the roles brings a believability to the film that the plot lacks. There is also a strong "frequency" between them that strikes the perfect note of father-son love

The direction, particularly in the action sequences is excellent. At times they leave you breathless.

The father-son relationship is always a difficult one. The mother is always the comforter and tends to remain close to her children for life. But the father is the one that generally prepares the son for life. The son needs, at some point to reject this direction and strike out on his own. In the Oedipal pattern, the son kills the father and marries the mother. Certainly this desire, modified into into different forms, is present in many father-son relationships. In the end, unless the people involved are psychotic, father and son remain loving but distant and somewhat frustrated by a desire to be closer. The film plays well into those desires. The bonding of father and son later in their lives and the healing of old wounds is the real theme of this film. This is what appeals to the many positive reviewers here. It strikes a strong nerve in our society. It struck a strong nerve with me. If my father were still alive I would have rushed over to see him. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of fathers and sons became closer due to this film - it is that good.

So read the plot summary, get used to the idea that it is improbable, and then see the movie for the action but mostly for the human side of it.
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seen in 2008
10 August 2008
This is a review written in Aug. 2008 to see how it has stood up.

A few obvious things stand out. The first is that this is not a documentary, if a documentary is something that documents reality. This is a propaganda piece for the left.

The second obvious thing is the method. The method is to present assumptions as the truth and move quickly on. This is a propaganda technique that is particularly effective in film, TV and radio, because you are quickly on to the next thing and there is no time to pause to reflect. If this film had been presented in print with pictures and text, the reader might stop and say to him/herself, "Let me think this over. He just showed me pictures of Bush looking and saying a bunch of stupid things, then he showed me pictures of some radicals looking harmless and pleasant. He might be picking the worst of Bush and the best of the radicals. He just talked about the cutbacks for State police as if it were the fault of Bush. But if this is State police what has this to do with the Federal government? He seems to be biased and this is not conclusive data."

Also these media are much better that printed media at projecting emotion. See a woman cry over her lost son and there is no way you can be unaffected. Emotion is not something that should be disregarded. We are all emotional beings, but when it becomes the only governing element, when reason is excluded, then it becomes dangerous and a tool of propaganda.

Moore is not the first to use these techniques. Probably the first was D. W. Griffith in "The Birth of a Nation." Moore owes more to Griffith then he would probably like to acknowledge.

The film may masterpiece of propaganda, but does he make any real points? Most of what he presents is innuendo, supposition, and only half the story, but he does make some valid points. He asks the question why the Ben Laden family was allowed to leave the U S without being questioned. That is a good one. He also criticizes Bush for 7 minutes of inaction after he was informed that the US was under attack. Although 7 minutes is not a long time, it does seem to be a weakness in leadership.

That is the historical significance of this film?

Moore's film was timed to attack the Bush re-election campaign. He didn't succeed, Bush got elected by a significant majority. I recall a Democratic commentator writing a column after the election titled "The People Have Spoken - the Bastards." However, Moore did succeed in energizing the left and the successful attack on Bush and the Republicans after the election took its lead from this film.

Is Moore now vindicated?

His main points:

1. Bush stole the 2000 election

2. He is somehow connected and protecting the Saudis and the Ben Laden family.

3. He used the attack to create an atmosphere of fear which would get him elected in 04

4. He went into Iraq for no reason unless it was to create that atmosphere of fear in order to get re-elected.

1. Even when the film was released there was an answer to this. On Nov 12, 2001 the New York Times (not a fan of Bush) published an article called "Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote" (available on line). An independent Consortium of the Press had conducted a Florida recount. Bush still would have won if the recount Gore wanted had been done. But statewide, there were approximately 300,000 votes that were not counted because they were dimpled or because the voter had voted for two candidates. Using different standards of evaluating these votes, Gore would have won or Bush would have won - all by less than 500 votes.

With 300,000 votes that are unable to be determined and victory margins of less that four or five thousandths of one percent, there is no real conclusion possible. We will never know what the result true result would have been. However, this data was available to Michael Moore and he chose to paint the situation in a much different light. Clearly a bias and distortion of the truth. The same failing that he accuses Bush of having.

2. No resolution on this one either. We can guess and conjecture on this but there is no hard evidence other than allowing the Saudis and the Ben Laden family to leave, and there may be explanations for that, such as attempting to establish a much needed friendly state in the Middle East to combat the terrorists.

3. Again no resolution, no real evidence of intent or not.

4. As reported by one disaffected Bush staffer, the Bush administration pressured the CIA to come up with evidence of weapons of mass destruction. They did, and it was not correct. The staffer's data has not been verified but assuming it is true, this does not absolve the CIA of giving the government false or poorly documented information. Since that time, there has been evidence found of chemical weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs, however, the evidence is that they did exist at one time but were removed. There is also satellite evidence of caravans going from these sites to Syria just before the attack. Are these weapons now in Syria? Again it is inconclusive.

So the vindication is not there for Michael, but neither is it there for Bush. Perhaps the real lesson from watching this film in 2008 is in how much of a shadow game politics really is; how little is definite and how much is propaganda - on both sides.
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Holy Smoke (1999)
positives and negatives
9 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Contains some spoilers. I will say right out that the movie is well worth seeing. It is interesting and engaging. The two stars, Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel are both excellent actors, and they have some challenging material to work with. Some stars are lovely to watch. They radiate a presence that is engaging and enjoyable. Their acting skills may be limited but we always enjoy seeing them. Others are good at their craft, excellent actors who can create a mood and scene and a believability that draws you into the film. Then there are a few that have both the charisma and the skill. When that happens they can take just about any script and make it interesting. Both these actors are in that category.

As you may have guessed the problem with the film is the script. Not so much the actual dialog, which is good, but the plotting and character development. Due to the skill of the stars you may not even notice flaws, but then again you might. It may be that the writer/director simply took on more than she could handle. Although it would have been a bit dull and predictable, the movie would have worked quite well as a simple movie about "deprogramming" a girl who got taken up in a cult in India. However, the writer/director wanted to go beyond that. We all have our addictions. Sometimes it's a substance but more often it is an emotion, or a certain kind of thrill, self pity, a desire for power and dominance. I call these kind of addictions "character addictions." We all have darker things in our soul that we try to wrestle with. Deep seated desires and flaws. When people get caught up in a cult or a substance addiction it is usually an effort to handle or exploit these character addictions and character flaws. In the film the writer director attempts to explore this darker side of addiction, and in doing so delves into the emotions, desires and drives that we all have which we desperately try to manage and cover up. What starts out as a Macho American trying to deprogram a sexy but foolish Australian girl turns into a soul searching, and at times terrifying exploration of the darker side of both of these people.

Oh, if only Jane Campion, the writer/director, had been able to pull it off. However, she doesn't. As the characters descend into their darker thoughts and emotions the steps are abrupt and unconvincing. Kate seems to go from having some doubts, to grief, to insanity and voracious sexual desire - all in a flash with no real convincing turning points. Harvey, who knows he stepping into very dangerous territory and has had enough experience not to resist it, suddenly succumbs. We don't really see the reasons for this in his previous behavior.

Despite all this and other plotting issues, the movie does work, mainly due to the skill and charisma of the stars. I give Jane Campion a 10 for wanting to go beyond the ordinary, but a 3 for not realizing it was inadequate. The stars get 10's. The supporting cast gets about a 4. They are meant to be comic relief but come off as too silly for real life. The exception is Julie Hamilton as mum. She perfectly plays a deeply loving mother who, if not very bright, has a heart as big as the world, and would do anything, and give anything for her child.

Enjoyable, even if it is a bit confused and disturbing; a must see if you like these stars.
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Film about a strong woman and a comparison to the book
2 August 2008
When I wrote the following review, I had not read the book on which it is based. Since then I have. The book is a non-fiction book about main character and her time. I liked it but it is not historical fiction. I wouldn't recommend it unless you like scholarly non-fiction in feminist studies. The film claims to be a true story, but it really isn't. Not that much is known about Veronica Franco's life particularly the first part of it. There can be conjecture, of course, but the claim of it all being true is somewhat ambitious. Here is my original review

This film shows the methods a strong and intelligent woman might use to control men while making them feel as if they are in control of her. It shows women being witty, well educated, responsible and cleaver - often more so than men. Such would naturally appeal to many who find few cleaver women represented in modern films.

The production values are good and there is an abundance of spectacle. Venice, itself, is a fascinating and exotic city. Filming there with a good crew and excellent costumes is sure to please and this film comes through in that department. Don't underestimate the value and pleasure of a well shot and costumed film. Many people go to films just to see such things. Even history buffs love to see a film that tries to represent what it must have been like at the time

The film gets weaker when it comes to the script. Not that the script is bad, at times it is cleaver, but the plotting is predictable. The film claims to be a true story, because it was taken from an biography. Assuming the film is faithful to the biography, there are so many improbable things in the film that I would have to question how truthful the author was. (For example: a mother raises her family to adulthood, and they do not know that she was once a famous courtesan in the very town they are living in.) Also it is difficult to imagine how Veronica on her first experience as a courtesan could come out with witty and bawdy poetry done off the cuff to an audience of nobles, when she had previously lived a cloistered existence "perfecting her manners." Yes, she had had practice writing poetry, but not BAWDY poetry. Such things weaken the plot but they do not have to be fatal to the film. they are not major flaws and a film overcome them with strong acting, tight pacing and well handled dramatic moments.

The acting, however, is not the best, and the pacing can sometimes be rather slow - much like the kind of pacing you would see on TV. If you are someone who wants acting that rings true, tight pacing and well handled drama, then this film will not appeal to you.

History has been full of interesting, powerful and capable women. Women who have had incredible influence over men in the highest of positions, and women who have held those high positions without the aid of men. It was a woman, after all, who may have been history's most brilliant General - Joan of Arc. Yet it seems a surprise to many that a movie would "dare" to show that there were such women in history. If you like this movie, I recommend you start reading some history. There is a lot of it that is well written. Historical fiction is also interesting but real history is the best. In fact I think I will pick up a copy of "The Honest Courtesan" on which this film is based. For you see, I am one of those people who wants tight pacing, good acting and well handled drama. While I was disappointed in the film, I have a feeling that I might like the book much better.
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28 July 2008
Having read the rave review posted here I was expecting something interesting. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The acting was wooden the plot was boring and the dialog was trite: One of the better lines is, "So you just want to display your power and cast me aside." Despite pretensions to art, the "art" was simply a set up to display nudity. Extremely unrealistic: no dance coach acts this way. Yes, they can be very tough, degrading and demanding but not by saying a girl is too lazy for anything but being a whore, ripping off her blouse to display her breasts and then firing her in the next breath - all while the company is on stage - or grabbing a dancer in the crotch in order to tell her she needs more passion - again while the company is on stage. This might have been funny in a parody sort of way, but the delivery is so wooden that it just seems ridiculous and boring. The passion in the title was nowhere in evidence. It seemed as if the actors where there to collect a check and get out. The most passionate moment was when two girls were eating oysters together, but I think they were just hungry.

I was going to give this a 2 out of kindness, but after writing this review I realized I would only be creating false hopes in a potential viewer, so I gave it the 1 it actually deserves. Whatever it is you want from a soft core movie, you can find it better and in greater quantity - somewhere else.
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Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so.
20 May 2008
Maybe I just don't get it, but it seems as though I should. I usually like slow, sensitive, moody films with a deep human message. I'm usually the guy who sticks with a movie and finds it interesting when my more action minded friends have impatiently abandoned it. I love Eric Rohmer, and Ozu, for example. The setting of this film is exotic, the values and customs of the people are interesting. I thought this film would be something I'd love.

It wasn't.

Partly, I think it was the acting. The lead was good, but the acting of everyone else was - well, I don't like to criticize amateurs. It looks like the director used local non-actors for most of the roles, and while this did give the film a certain reality and authenticity, the non-professionals "acted" as if they were reading from a card. Scared and wooden, they seemed to be hoping they wouldn't goof up on the words. The only exception was that the child would occasionally seem natural, but in situations where he was still and before the camera, he usually acted as wooden as anyone else. This sort of thing tends to break the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for an audience to get involved in a film. Many people are too busy reading subtitles to notice this, but then many people do notice it even though they are reading subtitles. I am one of the latter.

Then there was the script. For a while it was difficult to figure out what exactly was going on and why the engineer was there. I don't think that was the director's intention and it may be the fault of the subtitle translation. However, the effect is to confuse the viewer for far too long. In fact if I hadn't picked up the case and read the liner notes during the film I may not have figured it out at all.

The pace is slow. Many great films have a slow pace, but slowness doesn't necessarily make a great film by itself. Great directors can build interest in a slow film with mood, a slow but steady accumulation of details and other interesting things. But without considerable skill at film-making, slowness is just - slow. There are scenes that just seem to be endless for no real reason. A long sequence of a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung, for example. There may be a symbolic meaning here but after a bit you either get it or you don't and there is no point in letting the scene continue to run.

Too many films today are superficial, and any director who tries to make a film with a deep human message, deserves some credit. However, just because a director has this as his theme, does not mean the movie will be a great one. Unfortunalatly, in comparison with films by great and highly skilled directors such as Rohmer or Ozu, this film does not measure up. I believe the director had a good idea but he overreached beyond his skills.

I hope that Abbas Kiarostami will continue to make films. Perhaps he will develop into a great director. Hopefully he will continue to tackle difficult themes, but more successfully. There are seeds here that could develop. Perhaps one day this film will be viewed as an imperfect early effort by a now great director. Perhaps.
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Dead Ringers (1988)
Not for everyone
2 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There are things to like about this film. The double role that Jeremy Irons plays is a tour de force (French for display of strength or skill). The worldly wise yet kittenish performance of Geneviève Bujold is a high point of the film and the story generates a certain twisted interest in the viewer. The direction has its moments of excellence and the script is witty and surprisingly thoughtful. Despite all of this, however, I didn't like this movie.

My tastes are fairly wide when it comes to films. I watch anything from foreign to silents to comedy to drama to documentaries and children's films. I am not put off by gore or sex, as long as it has a point, and I somethimes enjoy the off-beat and somewhat twisted. Yet I didn't like this film.

Clearly, with the 7+ rating that this film currently has, many people liked the film. However, I can also see many people disliking it. If you liked it, please do not be offended by my review. I like a world that has people who think differently than I do, but I think that there are many people who will not like this film and I would like to warn them.

So what is not to like? Perhap that despite its wit, the film predictable. A tale of an obsessive love that destroys the two people who are involved. Yes, it is novel and different and the twin bond is rare in film, but even this novelty could not prevent the film from becoming tedious as it plods that well worn and predictable track of obsession leading to senseless destruction.

Perhaps another reason is that I and the people with me didn't felt depressed when the film was over. There was no joy; there was not redemption. There was no sense that they deserved their fate or that something was somehow gained by what happened. There was not even the feeling of release that comes with a tragedy. Perhaps I am too much of an optimist, but I don't like coming out of a movie feeling down or depressed. This is a bleak film.

Perhaps another reason is that the ending seemed inconclusive and pointless. If I am going to feel depressed I would at least like a reason for it or some kind of point. The ending resolved their fate but walked away wondering why you needed to know this.

You might say that life is sometimes bleak and tedious, that sometimes there is no hope. Well, that is true, but I get enough of that from life without having to pay for it in the theater.

I felt mentally an spiritually raped by this film. Obviously there are many people who didn't feel the same way, or if they did, they didn't mind. If you don't like movies of this sort, then I hope you are warned. On the other hand, if you like this type of movie, then this is good and well acted example of the type, and I hope you enjoy it.
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could have been better
13 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The film is allegorical, and the themes are complex, but if I had to state the theme in a simple sentence it would be something like this: "to keep society together we have to have people who are willing to do unselfish things instead of selfish things." There is more to it, but it is more or less comes to that. This is a laudable effort at sending a positive message, and many people will give the film high marks just because of the attempt. However, it could have been done much more skillfully.

We don't really know what is going on through most of the film, and the whole idea does not become apparent until the end. Because of this the majority of the film is confusing, and drags. Even an art film has to maintain your interest and this one does so only in a very minimal way. While watching it on video, more than once I wanted to simply end off, but the people I was watching with felt they had invested enough in the film to want to see how and if it resolved. Even so, everyone was getting up a lot, looking for food in the fridge and checking their cell phones while the film was going.

The concept is also not fully developed. They are in a bad part of the country where civilization has broken down. They are waiting for a train (salvation). But where is this train going to take them exactly? Why did they suddenly end up in this situation? A good allegory would answer these questions within the structure of the allegory, yet in this film we have to ignore these and other questions in order for the film to work. Isabelle Huppert, as usual, does a terrific job. The other actors do well also but Isabelle stands out. The last 5 min of the film are the best and are probably worth suffering through the first 108, at least I thought so. But that is a matter of opinion and different people will have more or less patience with the film than I did. The consensus of the group I watched it with was it wasn't worth it. I gave the film 4 stars, mainly for making the effort.
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Opium (1920)
a mess
25 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
During the years around 1919, Germany was competing very hard with Hollywood. As part of that effort, they produced films that appealed to audiences through treating taboo subjects, the use of nudity, and violence. There was usually a contrived "moral" reason for exploitation, but was obvious that the filmmakers were trying to put things in front of the audience that would create a sensation. Thus plot, character development and any kind of sensible continuity was sacrificed to create yet another titillating scene. Since 1919 style sensationalism is fairly tame by today's standards, most of these films are quite dated. Opium is such a film. For some time the film was thought to be lost. Due to tales of it's initial popularity, (three weeks sold out seats) film buffs were anxious to see it. When a very poor quality print was unearthed, it was a disappointment for the reasons given above. To my knowledge that print is the only one available on the market. I have a video copy of that print, and this review is based on it.

The print is washed out and of a very poor quality. It was also made with hand painted German title cards. Although they are the most interesting design element of the film, because of the poor quality of the print they are hard to decipher. My copy contained no English translation but there are copies out there that have an English translation added. In short, it is a very trying, viewing experience.

The film itself, what I could make of it, was a rather turgid, boring, predictable and overwrought tale of temptation, debauchery and a the quest for an ever illusive redemption. A philanthropic European Doctor seeks to find a way to use the medical benefits of opium without it's addictive effects. On this thin premise hangs a tale of addiction, murder, infidelity and sexual abandon that would make any soap opera proud. You might think, "Oh this sounds juicy," but it is also slow moving, full of clichés, riddled with moral lessons, and overacted to the point of tedium. Plot twists are thrown in without any real reason other than sensationalism. You get the impression that the plot has no point except possibly the endless meaningless event of life. It is annoyingly racist in a way that is consistent with the times. Frankly the only thing that kept me interested was seeing if I could overcome the technical limitations of the print. There is a bit of "tasteful" Victorian style nudity to spice things up in the opium dreams. That and the soap-opera appeal of dealing with taboo subjects may have been the reason for its popularity when it was released. There is an "orgy" scene near the end which is actually just a bunch of scantily clad folks running around and overacting. These things add some slight interest but generally the film has the atomic weight and wit of block of plutonium.

I didn't gain any pleasure or insight from watching the film and I doubt that it contributed in any real way to the development of cinema as an art form. The only people it might interest are scholars of that historical period. There are rumors that a better print exists in a museum somewhere in the Germanic part of the world but so far I have heard no official confirmation. I recommend that the common viewer avoid it unless a viewable print emerges from some institute. Then it might have a certain comic appeal due to its ridiculous overacting or its extreme and improbable plot twists.
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19 January 2008
This film has something that a lot of comedies don't have - it is fun and enjoyable, while not taking itself too seriously. Unlike many modern comedies it does not try to be profound or convince you to become a Democrat or a Republican. It is about a guy who likes women and sex and life and that is about it. However, these are all pretty basic themes that most people can get behind and so the film does appeal. The comedy is relaxed and the cast is charming. The film exudes an optimism that is hard for anyone to knock down.

The film has its flaws, but they are mainly flaws of under achievement. While it is not going to win an Academy Award, it does work quite well as a pleasant comedy that can make you laugh and feel optimistic. There is nothing wrong with that. Even doctors say that laughing and feeling optimistic can help cure disease.

So if you want to enjoy yourself and you are not trying to find the next Citizen Kane, put this movie in you DVD tray and enjoy a pleasant evening that will leave you feeling good and feeling that love can win in the end. Not a bad attitude to have these days.
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The Tripper (2006)
ALERT this movie is politically motivated
23 October 2007
This is not a review of the artistic or entertainment qualities of the movie. This is an ALERT or warning, for those who care about such things, that the movie is politically motivated. It is an attempt to subconsciously persuade the audience that certain political figures and views are "dangerous."

There is a movement in Hollywood to make movies are don't seem "political" but are based on political assumptions. The idea is to make the audience agree with the assumptions in order to go along with the movie which is (in this case) an suspense action flic. When the audience walks out of the movie they now believe the assumptions without actually thinking about it. It is a propaganda tool which was invented in Nazi Germany and is now the M. O. for too many Hollywood productions. It only works if it is done repetitively and without discussion of the actual issue. The viewer is given the idea that "everyone knows that there are crazy conservatives out there who are nuts about Reagan and one of them could become a killer." Since Hollywood is predominately liberal you probably won't see a movie about a Clinton fan who goes nuts and kills church goers. But if such a movie ever comes out I will warn against it also.

The movie is entertaining, so go to it if you like this kind of entertainment, but be aware you are being politically manipulated and if you are aware, that will be enough to negate the effects.

Hollywood needs to stop trying to manipulate the public. There is nothing wrong with a political film, but it should be boldly political, not a manipulative political film that pretends to be an action/suspense film.
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Pleasantville (1998)
15 October 2007
I may have expected too much from this movie and that is why I gave it a low score. Being generous, I have to say that I thought it was pleasant, enjoyable and entertaining. What bothered me is that it was also trying to be profound and instead it was just a cliché of all the false ideas that people have of the 50's.

If you were born in the 70's or later or even as early as 65, you probably think the 50's is like what you see in old Ozzy and Harriet shows. It was far from that. WWII had ended in 1945. It was a blood bath. Many people lost their lives. Women and children were left bereft of their husbands, fathers and lovers. The people that came back had a hard time adjusting to civilian life - they were not the same people who left. Crime broke out and marriages broke up, for illicit sex was rampant. It wasn't just that people were horny, they had too much evil going on in their heads that they needed some way to escape it. With Hitler, every American learned the meaning of genocide. With Stalin, our former ally, becoming a greater butcher than Hitler, people wondered if anything had really changed. The terror of the atomic bomb was strong, and the treat of Communist aggression was real and had people building shelters under the ground. What people wanted on TV was normalcy. There was enough fear, terror, death and injustice in life itself. We didn't need to see it on TV. So TV gave us a fantasy world where there were good people who had good "clean" fun and everything worked out. It actually helped. It gave you something to shoot for, an idea that reality can be better. Pleasentville parodies a life and an America that never existed. It is stereotype that is as bad and, in my humble opinion, as reprehensible as a watermelon eating black man. The idea that there was a black and white world that is suddenly made colorful by sex is simply a heavy-handed and overly simplistic use of symbolism. There was plenty of sex in the 50's. I know, because I was there. It was rampant and good and dirty, with no excuses or apology. People didn't need to see it on TV. Unfortunately, it seems that the modern generation thinks they invented sex, or at least good sex. Trust me they didn't, any more than it was invented in the 50's. I wonder how they think that they got here?

There is something comforting in thinking an earlier age was so wrong and we are so right. Dream on. This movie is so popular, so my review will probably be hated. I'm not sure why I wrote it, even. Maybe because not everyone likes heavy-handed, stereotypical productions that pretend to be saying something. They should be warned. The movie tries to parody a overly simplistic world that never existed in an overly simplistic way. In doing so, it is its own self-parody.
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A good cult film - not for everyone
11 September 2007
As even its fans admit, this is a bad movie. The question you have to ask yourself before seeing it is do you love Elvis. If you do you will probably like this film. There are lots of things in it that refer to Elvis, his movies, his life and his legendary persona. If you love Elvis, then this movie will be kind of a cult film for you, a bit like Rocky Horror or Eraserhead. The fact that it is corny, over the top and ridiculous will only enhance you enjoyment, If you are not into Elvis, if you could care less, the flaws in the film may be too much to for you. Most of the actors are quite good, striking the right note of insanity and self parody that is needed to make the film work. The only exception is Costner. He works at it, but he tries too hard. It isn't natural with him and you can sense the effort in his acting. It isn't terrible but compared to Kurt Russell and Cortney Cox, he is outclassed.

Also trying too hard is the script. While it does have its moments, such as the performance of "What a Night" during the shoot out in the beginning, but there are too many times it is just straining to be cool or for a laugh. As cult films go, it is not bad, but it is not one of the best.

But none of this will bother you if you love Elvis. There enough good things here to make any Elvis fan happy. So enjoy.
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a disappointment
11 September 2007
There are a few obvious reasons for being interested in this movie. The director is a cult figure and there is always the attraction of sex in the cinema. Unfortunately this movie disappoints. This is not one of Metzger's best efforts, in fact it may be one of his worst. Although there are sexual situations there is no nudity or sex shown. This leaves you wondering what is so good about Radley. He does have a certain flair with sex themed films, and shows a refreshing irony. But when the sex or nudity are gone he doesn't seem to be able to carry off the picture. After the first 20 min I fast forwarded through the film stopping at something that looked interesting. Each time I stopped I would hear creative and original lines like, "I want you to turn me every way but loose." or (at an attempted jumping suicide), "It's a long way down." Then I would fast forward again.

One good thing about the film are the girls. They are all good to look at, even if you don't see them as much as you'd like. But when the only thing you can say about a film is that the girls are cute, then you are really grasping for something good to say. I gave it a two instead of a one - for the girls.
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