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11 reviews in total 
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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A waste of a fascinating subject, 30 September 2007

You'd never know from this stifling, woodenly acted, tritely written biopic what an electrifying and singular woman Alma Schindler, by all accounts, really was. As portrayed by Sara Wynter, she's got the allure of a dishrag and may as well have "Serial Victim" stamped across her forehead, her complex life story reduced to a series of oversimplified episodes (Girl Meets Artist, Artist Falls for Girl, Artist Turns Out to Be a Self-Absorbed Jerk, and Girl Meets Another Artist). Not only do you get no sense of what a great composer, architect, sculptor and writer ever saw in her, you don't get much of a sense of what she could have possibly seen in any of them. The movie makes the 22-year-old Alma look either cynically opportunistic or oblivious to find anything attractive about this movie's smug, devitalized old-fogy Gustav Mahler (who could never have written the amazing symphonies the real Mahler composed). Walter Gropius, et al. don't fare much better. Something that looks as though it was made for--and rejected by-- Lifetime Network, despite pretty cinematography, sets and costumes. As a then- member of the Gustav Mahler Society of New York, I attended a free pre-release screening in spring 2001--and still wanted my money back!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
For fans of the book, a missed opportunity. Otherwise..., 28 March 2007

"The Natural," Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel on which this movie is (very loosely) based, presented a considerably more flinty viewpoint of baseball and its protagonist, the late-blooming Roy Hobbs. A movie true to Malamud's conception has yet to be made, and would probably start with a younger and less iconic actor in the starring role (Hobbs as written by Malamud was in his mid-30s, but Robert Redford's gravity suggests someone a decade older). In its own right, this is an enjoyable baseball fantasy with a nostalgic haze (literally so, in the way many scenes are lit). Randy Newman's score is the best thing about it, playing up the mythical Americana element of the movie. Twenty-three years after I first saw it in a theater, "The Natural" strikes me as a long-form version of the "Morning in America" TV ad campaign that helped propel Ronald Regaan to re-election that same year. No accident that two of the movers and shakers behind this movie were major players in the world of advertising.

Happy Feet (2006)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Dance of the Penguins, 3 December 2006

Spectacular animation in both macro (multitudes of penguins arrayed on frozen landscapes, zippy underwater action) and micro (the nuances of motion--even down to the flutter of tongues as the birds speak) details make it a must to see this on a large screen. If you have an IMAX theater handy, so much the better. But while the visual splendor is one of the primary attractions here, it's the story, with some unexpected twists and turns, that provides the main interest.

Yes, the basic premise is familiar--an "ugly duckling" (in this case, a penguin named Mumble who dances far better than he sings--in a community where singing is all-important) who rises above his misfit status. And yes, there are plot developments that are never fully explained, and even a moviegoer who has environmentalist leanings (as I do) may find some of the message mongering a little heavy-handed (as I did--but more on that later). Yet the movie has more on its mind than giving us yet another parade of wisecracking animals, and manages to speak its mind within the context of Mumble's journey. Younger moviegoers (and, perhaps, their parents) who have been conditioned by "Ice Age," "Over the Hedge," et al. may find the going a little slow here, but it's possible that like "Shrek," this is a kids' movie that adults can better appreciate. There's plenty of comedy, but with serious underpinnings.

It's interesting that the commentators on this site who seem to be most uncomfortable with the environmental subtext of "Happy Feet" are more likely to pan the movie as a whole. As I said, I found the integration of the ecological theme a little clunky and obvious, but at the same time I thought the movie was a perfectly appropriate vehicle for sending this message, so the disparaging comments may be a matter of shooting the messenger. Those who don't want a little environmentalism mixed in with their singing and dancing penguins may not want to see it anywhere else, either.

King Kong (1976)
8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Better than it's given credit for, 11 December 2005

I know, I know--anything from the '70s that didn't star Jack Nicholson or wasn't directed by Martin Scorcese is suspect these days, and if you're talking about a heavily-hyped remake of an indisputable classic, the urge to take potshots is irresistible. But despite the dated special effects and elements of camp, the movie does not fall on its face into a Kong footprint. The doomed love that the giant beast felt for the beauty (who, in the person of Jessica Lange, is a stunner) is well-delineated, there's actual excitement and suspense, and the allusions to the rape of the environment by "civilization" are not amiss here. Moreover, the movie's intended humor really is funny. And John Barry's score has stayed with me all these years, although the same basic sound recurred in his music for "Out of Africa" and "Dances with Wolves." For anyone who was in New York on 9/11, there's an inadvertent poignancy in this movie's concluding scenes at the Twin Towers. I'm sure that within a few weeks of posting this, I will have seen Peter Jackson's new version, which updates the effects with CGI technology yet returns the story to the 1930s. Speaking of heavily-hyped remakes...

246 out of 386 people found the following review useful:
Plot holes like craters, but a scary ride anyway, 4 July 2005

"War of the Worlds" is Steven Spielberg's third movie in which extraterrestrials visit Earth, but the first in which their intentions are malevolent. It can't be coincidence that the arrival of the ETs is heralded with eerie lights flashing amid lowering clouds, as in "CE3K." From there, the similarity ends--no light show as friendly aliens come in for a closer look. These creatures (presumably Martians, as in the original H.G. Wells novel) aren't interested in making nice; nor is there any ambiguity about their ultimate objective (as there was for much of "CE3K"). They're here to wipe us off the face of the planet, plain and simple, a point we understand before the movie has played for even half an hour, and the giant walking tripods they deploy are remorselessly efficient. So, too, is the movie--at scaring the hell out of us, notwithstanding some gaping plot holes (what's up with that camcorder, anyway?) and a couple of sequences that are too reminiscent of other movies (particularly "Independence Day" and Spielberg's own "Jurassic Park").

That Spielberg uses imagery alluding to 9/11, the Holocaust, and perhaps the siege of London during World War II is, for me, less an exploitation than a reflection of how seriously he intends the audience to take the on screen mayhem. The atmosphere is heavy with threat, and the depiction of a populace numb with shock amid the devastation is chillingly convincing, despite a few moments of Hollywood cheese. We don't have Will Smith delivering snappy one-liners right after millions are massacred by the invading alien forces, a la "ID4." Nor is there much of a rah-rah, let's-kick-some-alien-ass mood as the outmatched Earthlings try fighting back. Even the ostensible protagonist (a low-key, effective Tom Cruise) crumples at one point under the enormity of what's happening.

I'm not really sure what the posters who complained of insufficient action and FX were talking about. Seems to me the tripods were pretty much a constant presence (if not always in the foreground) from about the 15-minute mark onward. And in fact the "war" of the title is waged from the beginning--it's just not on the level of humans vs. aliens combat that some viewers apparently were expecting.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Force is still with it, 12 June 2005

This is the movie for which "Star Wars" fans have waited at least eight years (since George Lucas announced that he was making a "prequel" series) or maybe 20-plus years (since the similarly titled "Return of the Jedi," after which Lucas said he was through with the "Star Wars" universe). After the dull "Phantom Menace" and nearly unwatchable "Attack of the Clones," "Revenge of the Sith" wraps up the prequel series and sets up the "original" trilogy with finesse and not a little emotional resonance.

My wife commented that she grew impatient waiting for Darth Vader to emerge and put on that (in)famous black helmet, which to her was the whole raison d'etre of this movie, but for that scene to have any impact or meaning it was necessary to see Anakin Skywalker's journey down the path to darkness. While Anakin's early steps down that path were uninterestingly depicted in "AOTC," here his mix of conflicted loyalty, pride, ambition, and impressionability is a convincing basis for the manipulations of Lord Sidious. Also, Lucas has got the tone right: "Sith" is almost unrelentingly dark and serious (Jar Jar Binks here is confined to a wordless cameo), and while the digital landscapes and cityscapes are as hyperdetailed as in the first two prequels, here the storytelling is big enough that the effects don't overwhelm the people.

Sure, there are moments of wooden acting and clunky dialogue (as there were in the best of the original trilogy), but the first two prequels were virtually nonstop showcases of wooden acting and bad dialogue, so we're way ahead here.

If Lucas is really finished with making "Star Wars" movies now, as he has declared (but then, he said much the same thing in 1983), then he has ended the series on a high note.

Uneven, but still a fitting close to the original trilogy, 5 March 2005

Starry-eyed as my 22-year-old self was on opening day for what was then (1983) simply called "Return of the Jedi," I recognized that the special effects wizards at ILM dominated this show. Given what we've seen to date in George Lucas' prequel trilogy, "Jedi" was a harbinger of what was to come: increasingly hyper-detailed CGI landscapes populated with sketchy characters. Nonetheless, this did bring the original trilogy to a satisfying, if uneven, close. The battles raging on the forest moon of Endor and in the heavens above the new Death Star, spectacular as they are, really take a back seat to a smaller- scale conflict involving Darth Vader, the Emperor, and a young Jedi that both are trying to bring over to the Dark Side of the Force, Luke Skywalker. It's this aspect of the story that gives the movie's title (which has a few meanings) its resonance.

Oh yes, there are major complaints here. There's hardly a memorable image or scene to compare to what we saw and heard in the two previous movies; the dialogue is often dull when it's not forced. The Ewoks, while embodying one of Lucas' original concepts for "Star Wars"--primitive warriors overcoming advanced technology--are at times just a little too cutesy. Worst of all is the neutering of Han Solo, who doesn't have a tenth of the swagger and brashness that made him stand out in what are now called Episodes 4 and 5. But all in all, as a resolution to the conflicts laid out in the first two movies, it gets the job done, and is still measurably superior to what we've gotten thus far in the prequels. As to the changes made for both the 1997 "Special Edition" re-release and the DVD, they're of a piece with the modifications to Episodes 4 and 5: some are effective, some detract, and some are of little consequence. Most controversial, of course, is the substitution of Hayden Christiansen for the late Sebastian Shaw in a brief visit by the spirit of Anakin Skywalker (the younger actor plays Anakin in the second and final installments of the prequel trilogy). It makes perfect sense and makes no sense at the same time.

Jaws (1975)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The head, the tail, the whole damn thing, 26 February 2005

Slightly less than 30 years ago as a teenager, I saw (on my second attempt--the first time the showing was sold out) what at the time was the first heavily hyped and marketed summer blockbuster. It was one of the most enthralling movie-going experiences I've ever had, and watching "Jaws" today on DVD misses something of that magic (nothing like seeing it on a 50-foot Panavision screen with 1,000 moviegoers screaming, applauding and laughing in all the right places) yet does not diminish the movie itself. Steven Spielberg would go on to projects of greater artistic ambition ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan") and would enjoy the services of much more reliable and convincing special-effects monsters (although less convincing humans) when he brought dinosaurs to life in "Jurassic Park," but has yet to make anything that's as perfect as "Jaws," on its own terms, was and is. Visually dazzling, marvelously suspenseful, and blessed with more character development and depth than most popcorn flicks, this is one for the ages.

Jaws 2 (1978)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Not bad for a rehash, 24 January 2005

The original "Jaws" was a summer blockbuster that time has proved to be an unexpected classic. (I mean, they teach that movie in film schools now.) When "Jaws 2" was conceived, the studio didn't think in terms of doing justice to a classic; they looked at the amount of money that "Jaws" was piling up very quickly and hoped to make lightning strike twice. So "Jaws 2" was, in the words of Steven Spielberg, "an exercise in corporate business." It jettisons the interaction among the mismatched trio of shark hunters from the first film in favor of putting a group of mostly whiny (and in one case, relentlessly shrieking) teens in jeopardy. It asks us to believe that ANOTHER jumbo-sized great white shark would happen upon the same little East Coast island resort. It is erratically paced and often poorly written (by a couple of the same team of writers who shaped the original "Jaws" script). It is marred by some special effects shots that should have either been re-shot or scrapped (at one point, the shark's lower jaw is CROOKED as it lunges out of the water).

Even so, this "Jaws" fan has a soft spot for "Jaws 2," because it's the only one of the three sequels that has enough elements of the original to make it watchable. (In fact, "Jaws 3D" and "Jaws The Revenge" are beneath contempt.) Reprising his "Jaws" role, Roy Scheider is as good as could be expected given the lack of a consistent script or any opportunity to work with costars on the level of Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. John Williams turns in one of his most underrated scores, building on the sound and style of the original without lamely repeating himself. Director Jeannot Szwarc does manage to create some pretty scary and suspenseful sequences, unlike either of the directors who followed him in this series. And even if the whole thing is nothing but reheated leftover fish cakes, it still tastes pretty good.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Best of the original trilogy, 19 October 2004

I write this partly as a review of the movie itself and partly as a review of the DVD version. "The Empire Strikes Back" is simply the most "adult," emotionally resonant and dark-tinged of the original trilogy--and for that matter, of the five "Star Wars" movies now extant. (We'll have to see what George Lucas comes up with for "Revenge of the Sith.") There are no easy victories here; in fact, the movie ends with pretty much all of the main characters (even, to an extent, Darth Vader) in defeat. And for the benefit of those who have never seen it, I won't reveal the jaw-dropping plot twist near the end--suffice to say that I vividly remember hearing an opening-day audience (in 1980) of 1,000 moviegoers gasp as this plot turn was revealed. At the same time, the movie's sense of wonder and fantasy keeps "Empire" from turning grim.

It's probably no accident that of the original trilogy, "Empire" has been subjected to the fewest changes (both for the "Special Edition" theatrical release in '97 and the DVD). Lucas must have recognized that this was artistically the most accomplished of the three and therefore "needed" little tinkering. We get a few more shots of the snow beast in its ice cave, a slightly expanded version of the dialogue between Vader and the Emperor (now with Ian McDiarmid's face and voice) and a different voice for bounty hunter Boba Fett's two or three lines of dialogue. That's about it, aside from some minor (and helpful) sprucing up of the special effects and a more prominent place for John Williams' music in the sound mix (also an improvement--the music often came across too faintly in the original release). Oh yes, and a "Special Edition" change that everyone seemed to detest--Luke's scream as he takes a swan dive in Cloud City--has been deleted. Thankfully.

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