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jay4stein79-1

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154 reviews in total 
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4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Farcical Phantasmagoria of Yugoslavian History, 20 February 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Underground is the greatest film of the 1990s and, potentially, the greatest film of the last 25 years. It's terribly funny but ultimately heartbreaking and, yes, it's about war. In fact, it's among the greatest war films ever conceived.

The film follows Marko and Petar, small-time Communist gun-runners in pre-WWII Belgrade. The movie opens as they drunkenly make-off with an arms-cache to the tune of a gypsy band. The next day, their city is destroyed and the animals have escaped from the zoo, metaphorically and literally. With their families, Marko and Petar escape underground to Marko's uncle's cellar where they intend to wait out the war. The war stops, but Marko fools the cellar-dwellers into thinking that the war rages on and enlists their help in building guns. Of course, those living in the cellar eventually learn the truth.

With this movie, Kusturica created a hermetic world that is witty, farcical, surreal, and ultimately sublime. The photography is stunning and Kusturica's shot-composition is painterly. Underground is an amazing work of art, one that should be treasured not only for its cinematic value but for its cultural and historical values as well.

Deep Red (1975)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Masterpiece #1, 20 February 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Deep Red is Argento's first masterpiece, every bit as good as (or maybe better than) Suspiria and Tenebre. The narrative follows Marcus Daly, a British jazzman in Italy as he attempts to discover the murderer of his neighbor--a murder that, as it happens, wants to kill him too.

Marked by the intermittently silly dialogue that marred all of Argento's work (hey, you don't watch gialli for their scintillating conversations), Deep Red strikes me as a remarkably notable achievement in Argento's oeuvre inasmuch as its the most viscerally affecting of his major works.

From the moment the camera miraculously parts the velvet curtains at the film's beginning, the audience is faced with inexorable tension. The only relief is when someone is actually murdered. Otherwise, you're left dreading, know what is going to happen but not knowing when. Argento does that in all of his movies, but here it seems more central to his narrative style. Suspiria and Tenebre, though they have vignettes of excruciating suspense, also have down-time--moments that allow your anxiety to subside. Not so in Deep Red: I was a nervous wreck throughout but unable to look away. I felt very ambivalent when it was over--energized and enervated.

Fat City (1972)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Fine Mess, 16 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've never been a huge fan of John Huston, though I have great admiration for Treasure of the Sierra Madres, The Man Who Would Be King, Beat the Devil, and The Maltese Falcon. I find him a decent enough filmmaker, but there always seemed to be something pedestrian about his work, in overpraised pieces like The African Queen and Asphalt Jungle and especially in films like the bloated Moby Dick.

Fat City is somewhere in between his run-of-the mill work and his finest achievements. There's a lot that's wrong with this morose examination of how the other half lives--cliché-ridden dialogue and a tendency toward shoddy editing are the most flagrant faults--but the central performances and the non-boxing moments achieve such glorious heights that its impossible to ignore the movie.

Fat City follows two men, more or less, Ernie and Billy, scarcely a decade a part in age, but looking as though there's a much greater distance in years between them. Billy is down & out, a has-been one-time coulda-been boxer who spends his days on the sauce, even when he's out in California's growing fields, gathering walnuts or onions. Ernie is young, still has his baby fat, and meets Billy at the gym. Billy sees something in Ernie and sends him off to become a fighter, which he does, though not terribly well.

The film, at the start, has the trajectory of something like, say, Million Dollar Baby. It's going to be your traditional sports movie (older man takes on a protégé and shows him how to succeed in ways he could never quite achieve). Except, fortunately, Fat City takes a u-turn after Ernie's first loss. It's at that moment that you realize Fat City isn't about boxing at all--it's about the underclasses of America. It's about the people that work shifts in factory only to then spend hours chopping onions out of the dirt. It's about people who can't hold any jobs, so all they do is chop onions out of the dirt. It's about people who dream of becoming championship boxers only to settle into domestic life because simple economics tell you that you can no longer pursue your dream. And it's about people so beaten down by life that, more or less, they give up and hit the bottle.

When this movie is examining what it means to be poor in America, it cannot be beat. When it heads to the gym, it starts to stumble. The scenes of training, and any involving Ruben feel like they came out of screen writing 101. I read pithier dialogue during my intro creative writing class in college. It just falls dead when his character is around. I understand that he serves the role of eternal optimist, but, eek, his part is just dreadful.

The rest of the moving demonstrates some stellar writing and amazing performances, especially from Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, and Candy Clarke. But the bit players put on a sterling show, too. Curtis Cokes, in his, unfortunately, sole credited performance, has one speech, towards the end, that is better than anything else in the film. His performance in that scene is impeccable and puts even Keach and Bridges to shame. And then there's Sixto Rodriguez's role as Lucero. He says no words but perfectly captures the sadness at the heart of this film better than anything else. It's a remarkable performance, filled with such pathos, that it's hard not to get worked up thinking about it.

All in all, Fat City is a wonderful achievement, but it has its share of flaws.

Daisies (1966)
9 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
The Stunning Nadir of the Czech New Wave, 16 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I worry about being the lone voice of dissent in regard to this film. It makes me think I might be wrong, especially since people whose opinions I respect enjoy this film. I think it's garbage.

The film follows two Maries as they embark on their route to badness. What they do, though, isn't particularly malevolent or, I'd say, bad. They string men along, more or less, behave outrageously/obnoxiously at bourgeois entertainment, and use scissors frequently. There are some not so subtle nods to castration here and there and some not so subtle undermining of traditional feminine ideals.

I fear that summary makes the film sound somehow worthwhile. The fact is that the movie brings nothing new to these topics and, really, barely scratches the surface of being a woman in the Soviet bloc. The filmmaker is, ultimately, more concerned with the superficial "pleasures" of psychedelic film making (lots of colors and odd noises) than the plight of women during the Communist era. And the psychedelic style seems to be the end unto itself. Not that Vera Chytilova got that right either. The film seems more like a high school stoner art project than anything else.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One does a much better job of exploring psychedelia and a much better job of creating the anarchic joy Daisies aims for. It seems like the director was shooting for Bunuel and wound up with, oh I dunno, a Jefferson Airplane album.

The Czech New Wave, a grossly overpraised movement in terms of film quality, is besmirched by this movie, with its inane pretensions and obnoxious tedium. It looks bad (the framing is, um, nonexistent; it's as if the director never learned to compose an interesting shot) and it does a grave disservice to politically-charged film making.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Frequently Excruciating With Bouts of Brilliance, 7 February 2007
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't love Robert Zemeckis; he always seemed a shadow of his sage and master, Steven Spielberg. Oscar wins or not, he's simply not as talented as his teacher. That being said, he's had some seriously, delirious high points (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact, and Back to the Future), but the rest of his oeuvre is, well, cloying at best (Forrest Gump) and atrocious at worst (What Lies Beneath). He's a capable mid-level director who was rocketed to superstardom by his association with a true master of the cinematic artform (though, truth be told, Spielberg has missed the mark on numerous occasions).

In any event, one could view I Wanna Hold Your Hand as a microcosm of Zemeckis's entire career--frequently excruciating with bouts of brilliance. Where are the lows? How about the saccharine reiterations of the three four central female characters. For the first 45 minutes, the women are defined by repeated phrases that beat into the audience's brain their too-flimsy characters. Rosie loves Paul, Janis loves folkies, Grace wants to take some photos, and Pam wants to get married.

Ultimately, the arcs for the former three characters follow predictable patterns. With Pam's storyline, however, Zemeckis finds the heart of this film and creates a lasting tale that, more or less, makes this movie recommended (though not necessarily essential) viewing.Pam's conflict is fairly straightforward until she finds herself in the Beatles' suite. Then something interesting happens--she does something to a guitar that, well, I don't want to mention here for fear of having the post deleted. She cowers in front of that guitar and she shudders. Later, she clenches the hem of her dress in tightly wound fists between her thighs.

What Zemeckis finds between Pam's legs is the nascent youth movement of the 1960s. Pam's running away from her betrothed at the end of the film to the Beatles and that funny feeling causing her to quiver, demonstrates the shift from the cleancut, conformist ideals of 1950s America to what would become a more liberating--sexually and emotionally--period in the late 1960s. The Beatles were at the forefront of that youth movement and, here, the rumblings of the movement are present.

What Pam reveals in this movie is among the most emotionally and sexually truthful representations of that turbulent decade. I credit Zemeckis for his willingness to not ignore the sexuality inherent in Beatlemania, and I credit too Nancy Allen for an amazing performance. It's a real shame she's never received the recognition she deserves (for this movie, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill).

The rest of the movie, though, is hysterical, in the late-19th century definition of the word. Mostly, it's a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Bobby Di Cicco turns in a performance that is worth seeing, as he's able to find, by movie's end some level of truth in Smerko's character. And then, of course, there's the overzealous Eddie Deezen's overacting, which is shrill beyond all reason. It's rare to find a performance that strident and, at the same time, ingratiating due to the actor's prowess for physical comedy (again, his physical shenanigans are, well, overblown, but I somehow found them riveting).

All in all, this movie really isn't a seven--it's probably a six at best--but I cannot shake those scenes of Nancy Allen nor do I want to. They're probably the most wonderful moments Zemeckis ever contributed to celluloid. For that it gets an extra point.

Hard Eight (1996)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A package of matches..., 4 February 2007
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

During my teenage years, I did not have much of a life. I don't have much of one now either. My time was filled, then and now, with work, words, and images. School has become a stressful mid-management position, but the words and images remain the same--slightly offbeat.

Unlike my friends and peers, I watched a lot of randomly selected independent films during adolescence. I'm not sure who else in my rural town was renting Cold Comfort Farm or The Funeral (maybe the video store owners). In any event, as a preview, I first came to know this tale of down-on-their-luck individuals in the vast emptiness of Reno. I loved the look of Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly. I fell in love with Gwyneth. I additionally laughed gutturally when the pack of matches in John's back pocket self-combusted.

Mind you, this was before I saw the movie.

Eventually, the video came to Hudson Falls, and I dutifully rented it, watching it one evening when my parents were out. I must admit that I expected a comedy (based solely, of course, on the pack of matches), but what I found was something better and something that left an indelible mark upon me for the rest of my high school years. I've come to appreciate Boogie Nights and Magnolia more than Hard Eight, but this film still stays with me.

There is terrible sadness in this film--in the eyes of the characters, for the most part--that you cannot escape. Gwyneth's mascara caked orbs haunt me to this day, as do the sacks under Philip's eyes. The one bright spot too comes from the ocular apparatus--that of John C. Reilly. Though he has come to play a similar role in many films, here is the first time you see him as the naive innocent. He performs beautifully, as does everyone else.

It's truly a remarkable, though minor key, film. Magnolia and Boogie Nights are epic, in a sense, but Hard Eight, with its slim plot and grim photography, is a sonnet of awful beauty. One is not blind-sided by the movie; you can see easily the direction it is heading. It's impossible to look away, even though one knows they are awaiting a train wreck. For all the (welcome to me) bombast in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, I am happy to know that PT Anderson has the ability to subdue his more manic and excessive tendencies, as he does here. This is a movie for those that love Boogie Nights and Magnolia; it might also be a movie for those that hate Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Minor Masterpiece, 22 January 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Like After Dark My Sweet or Odd Man Out, The Rapture is a minor masterpiece. It will never attain the accolades heaped upon high profile successes like Chinatown or 2001, but, in terms of ambition and achievement this film belongs in their company. Like those other films, The Rapture is an uncompromising cinematic exploration of spirituality and existence in late-20th century America.

Through the central character of Sharon, writer-director Michael Tolkin examines the jaded ennui to which many succumb. Sharon seeks solace in the arms and loins of others the way some people turn to chemical dependence or fundamentalism. Finding the embrace of her lovers lacking the vitality she needs, Sharon finds God in the vision of a rotating, heavenly pearl. Flash forward--the apocalypse is nigh and, following the death of her husband (another reformed "sinner"), she treks to the desert, daughter in tow to await Jesus's return. Ultimately, Sharon finds herself on the precipice between paradise and eternal loneliness; she chooses solitude.

What is ultimately remarkable about this film is the way in which it doesn't reject the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity; it engages these beliefs in a respectful but critical dialogue and leaves the viewer to decide where they stand. Belief in the rapture is not dismissed--Tolkin buys into it for the sake of his film and allows his characters to encounter the end days. A lesser movie would have undermined the final 20 minutes by explaining it away as delusion. Tolkin does no such thing. In The Rapture, the verity of the apocalypse is never explicit, but there is little within the film to offer a notion that it's simply Sharon's imagination. Or a lesser movie would have found Sharon reuniting with her deceased husband and daughter. She would have chosen to submit herself at the end, ascending, like Deputy Foster.

That's the point of the movie, though, and the mark of Sharon's progression as a character--she moves away from submission to independence. At the beginning, she is a slave to men, following Vic out on his nightly prowls. Finding that lacking, she turns to another man--Jesus--in the hopes that he will fill her with the sense of purpose she desires. Upon killing her only child, she realizes that this man too has left her empty and caused her to lose the only thing in her world that mattered. In the end, Sharon chooses independence and stand alone, surrounded by the void. It's an incredibly liberating denouement (for women) and an intriguing premise.

It's all the more interesting in that it does this without taking pot-shots at religious faith. In my reading, the movie does not fault Christianity or any religion--it faults the people that blindly look to some crutch for happiness in guidance before finding it in themselves. In other words, first know thyself, then know God. Religion does not cause Sharon to shoot her daughter--she chooses to do so on her own

9 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Exhibit # 3A in the Case Against Method Acting, 25 November 2006
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Allow me to blaspheme: Marlon Brando is not one of the greatest actors to grace the silver screen--not even one of the greatest American actors. He's certainly capable and turned in consistently good performances throughout his career, but something is missing from his body of work, I think, that is essential to transcending the status of "good" actor and becoming great: humility. Marlon Brando thought he was hot stuff, and he was pretty good, but that egotism, I think, prevented him from ascending to the level of a Jimmy Stewart or Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. Those men were great, must have known they were great, but it never showed in their performances. The latter two owe a debt to Brando, for sure, but there is a naturalism that they brought to their defining roles; Brando has always seemed too mannered for me and in all the wrong ways. He served his era in the same way Brad Pitt serves ours: A Serious Actor.

The Wild One is a prime example of what is wrong with Brando. The man undoubtedly threw himself with vigor into all of his roles. Sometimes that worked (see The Godfather or Apocalypse Now, though his performances in both occasionally border on comical), but it does not here. Why? This situation occurs, primarily, because the film is risible. I understand that I have 53 years of perspective on this movie, but I cannot imagine that it was not perceived as a little too worked up for its own good in 1953. The plot, which follows a couple of bike-gangs as they rampage through a southern Californian town, while one gang leader woos a local beauty, is told with straight-faced earnestness, which makes it difficult to swallow and equally difficult to mock. How can one pick on a film whose heart's on its sleeve? I won't belittle it more than I already have, but I will say that watching it today you'll undoubtedly find yourself snorting derisively at times.

However, it's not simply that the story is naive and simplistic--the narrative is relayed visually in the most banal ways. The photography is dull and the framing barely competent. The editing and pacing are miserable and, frankly, I found myself dosing in what should have been a delicious melodramatic romp. I mean, the story is a soap- opera, but it's told without relish (go to Rebel Without a Cause for that--there's an outdated film that still musters enough energy and delight to keep you watching).

And then there is, as I said, the acting, particularly by Brando. He is as earnest as the screenplay, which is to his detriment. The performance is mannered, like his turn in Streetcar Named Desire, but it just doesn't work for me. It also doesn't help, as I said, that I cannot take this movie seriously. That he does makes me respect him less. It's not only Brando, though, as everyone seems to have missed that the tale is laughable-- everyone, that is, except the always brilliant Lee Marvin, who stumbles into this film as Chino (the only interesting character) and walks off with the picture. The movie is worth watching for his performance alone, but, then again, almost any movie with Lee Marvin was worth watching for his steely, sadistic gaze. In a just world, Marvin would have become a star of Brando's magnitude, but, I guess, Hollywood isn't a just world, forever rewarding mediocrity in favor of true talent.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Return of the Shaggy Dog, 24 November 2006
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The way a film starts can tell you a lot about where it's going. When Marlowe stumbles out of bed, mumbling and beholden to a mewing feline, you know you will not witness a typical translation of Chandler's work. I had reservations before seeing this movie the first time, worried, as I was, that Altman, by taking liberties with the novel upon which its based, was somehow mocking the source material. I was wrong. The Long Goodbye isn't a loyal translation of the novel, in terms of narrative, but it maintains the spirit, at least, and updates it for a new era. It's as cynical as Chandler's novel, but it's a different (and, perhaps, more justified) cynicism. If anything, Altman chose not to mock the source so much as to mock the continuing glut of crime films that refused to update their heroes for a post-Kennedy, post-King, Vietnam world.

What happens when you take a retro gumshoe and drop them into the southern California of the early 1970s? They seem distinctly out of place. They don't seem to get it and, as a result, they find themselves in a lot of trouble. Marlowe, in this version of the Long Goodbye, spends much of his time as a fish out of water. He's fairly ineffective as a private detective, though he does achieve a certain amount of success finding Roger Wade and deducing what truly happened with Terry Lennox. He's stumbling in the dark for enough of the film, though, to make his successes seem the product of chance, not skill. Some may call this the inversion of the genre--I would say, however, that Altman takes a familiar genre and all its trappings but places it anachronistically in the then-present to show the failure of the genre's tropes to universally translate.

Without the Long Goodbye, would there have been a Chinatown? A Farewell My Lovely? Perhaps, but Altman's masterful rendition certainly paved the way for those arguably more successful pictures.

In addition to upsetting a genre, though, the Long Goodbye contains an amazing performance by Elliot Gould, who more or less carries the film by himself (no one else has enough screen time), as well as a marvelous turn by Sterling Hayden, who seems to channel Ernest Hemmingway and Raymond Chandler simultaneously. The other supporting roles are filled with equally effective performances. There is also the sun- drenched photography. The Long Goodbye might be a noir, but it's not particularly dark, in terms of its colors. Much of the action takes place in the daylight, which, I think, makes it all the more ominous.

All in all, this is a fantastic film and one of Altman's best.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
I'm reminiscing this right now..., 24 November 2006
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this film when it first came out on VHS because it had Eric Stoltz on the cover and, I thought, anything with Eric Stoltz must be good. It was the mid-1990s, after all, and I had first become acquainted with the man through Pulp Fiction--he was so cool! He was also everywhere, even in some particularly banal films (Killing Zoe, anyone?), and, at the time, I grouped this flick with those.

Having sat down and watched Kicking and Screaming (in the wake of absolutely adoring the Squid and the Whale), I am sorry I relegated this movie to a "lesser Eric Stoltz film." It should be in the category of stellar post-collegiate ennui films. The wit and insightfulness, as well as an unwavering decision to present people as they really are and not idealized versions of themselves, are here, as they were in the Squid and the Whale.

Kicking and Screaming is not quite so acerbic as the later film (rightly so, says I, the subject matter doesn't warrant it), nor is it as slick a production. Baumbach was clearly learning what it meant to be a director, so while his writing is, as always, top-notch, visually speaking, there's something lacking. I don't find that to be too much of a detriment to the film, though, because, sometimes, we go to the movies to listen to characters talk. Baumbach has a great ear for intricate, though slightly unrealistic, dialogue. The writing in this movie owes a lot to Whit Stillman's Metropolitan and Barcelona (and Chris Eigeman's presence only makes this connection more apparent), but rather than a drawing room comedy for the UHB crowd, Kicking and Screaming is determinedly middle-class (upper-middle class, probably).

The narrative arc of this film is inessential. Basically, four guys refuse to move on after their college graduation. Nothing momentous happens in their lives; they simply live like, gulp, I have in the few years since finishing my bachelors. I mean, I don't work in a video store (thank you very much, I have a respectable office job), but the concept of dragging your feet into adulthood is a feeling I, and a lot of my friends, often feel. Watching a movie like this, then, as much as it makes you laugh, can also make you wince knowingly.

It's that knowledge that I now have that I think made it possible for me to see the wonderful nature of this film. I have lived this life, so now I see the humor.


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