Reviews written by registered user
Whythorne

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36 out of 83 people found the following review useful:
Maligning of documentary proves its point as it exposes many ironies, 25 April 2008
10/10

One supreme irony of the reaction to "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is that it actually helps the documentary make its case.

The overwhelming sense that I got from Ben Stein's film is that all you have to do is whisper the words "intelligent design" to the so-called watchdogs of the scientific status-quo and its advocates, and then you had better give wide berth to the foaming-at-the-mouth, hysterical spewing against religion and "creationism."

I went to see this film with certain expectations based on all the angst reflected in both professional and amateur movie reviews. I expected to see a film that was filled with religious overtones and references to the creation account in Genesis. Instead, what I saw was a film that was far less ambitious. "Expelled" merely attempts to point out what happens when members of the scientific community, many of whom are not Christian, and who work within the best interests of scientific tradition, attempt to entertain answers for the origins of life outside of the Darwinist model, a model that even the scientific elite admit behind closed doors is inadequate and outdated.

I find it extremely amusing, in the midst of all the anti-"Expelled" hysteria, that professional film critics focus more on Ben Stein's "tactics" and the Evolution-Creation debate than what the film is indeed all about, and that is, the pursuit of intellectual and academic freedom to explore other possibilities for unanswered questions regarding the origin of life.

And much of this hysteria comes from the same crowd that considers Michael Moore and his approach to film-making the stuff of genius. For example, consider this: reviewers have accused Ben Stein of "blind-siding" renown atheist Richard Dawkins. And yet, these are the same folks who think it is appropriate for a Michael Moore, posing as an ardent NRA-supporter, to infiltrate Charlton Heston's home in an attempt to lay blame at his feet for a little girl's murder by the child of an irresponsible single mother, thousands of miles away in Flint Michigan. In fact, those tactics are not only applauded, they are considered worthy of winning filmdom's highest honor, the Academy Award!

Equally ironic is the fact that many decry the unfairness of linking Darwinism to such inhuman philosophies as Hitler's Nazi Socialism, and yet who can deny that much of the motivation behind the Holocaust was the notion that Aryans were more fit to survive than what Hitler and his cronies deemed were inferior members of the human race? As the film itself mentions by quoting Darwin himself, this was all part of Charles' thinking. Mankind's advances in medicine and social services have been able to overcome the tendencies of nature and so, according to Darwin, nature needs a little boost in weeding out the inferior, sickly members of society. There is no reason to believe, based on Darwin's very own words, that he would not have approved of Hitler's actions.

For those who find problems with "Expelled" because they misinterpret its obvious aim of promoting academic freedom, it is interesting that they should so quickly dismiss obvious facts of history while ranting about faith, "fairy tales" and religion. And yet, the amount of faith that is put in unprovable models about the origins of life, as well as the "scientists" who promote them, is a religion unto itself.

And perhaps the most laughable irony of all that is pointed out by the film, is that when it comes down to the final question of "how did we get here?", ultimately even atheists such as Dawkins are grasping at their own faith-based straws, and suggesting alien intelligences and the like.

An excellent film that has to be seen to be appreciated. It moves very quickly, and is entertaining as well as informative. It should not be judged based upon the opinions of the anti-God crowd, many of whom have obviously not even seen it.

Beowulf (2007)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Woeful Beowulf creepy for wrong reasons, 27 March 2008
1/10

While one can be impressed with all the gee-whiz technology that went into the making of "Beowulf," in the end it gave me the creeps for the wrong reasons.

The video game, talking avatar feel of the CG was disturbing in the sense that it made me think of cheesy wax museum figures or department store mannequins coming to life after hours.

Another unintended creepiness of the film stemmed from the fact that evidently Zemeckis and company felt that people would be titillated by the gratuitous use of video game-flavored sexual references. Maybe hormone-raging adolescents who enjoy AO-rated Playstation games get a kick out of that sort of thing, but an adult would have to really be in a bad way if digitized breasts and buns turn him or her on.

The fact that animated CG is such a planned, thought out, painstaking, technical process further gives the nudity and sexual overtones a rather deliberate, pornographic air that is repulsive.

A bad decision from the start, one has to ask, why go the CG route? If the goal is realism, then why not a film with real actors and settings? Instead, one is left with the impression that this was intended to be an exercise in showing off and boasting, "Hey! Look what we can do now!" Or, in other words, they make a film likes this simply because nowadays they can. And yet, in spite of all the technical sweat and tears, the human characters still end up looking unnatural and unconvincing.

In addition, the Grendel character, who looks like a cross between Gollum and the mummy from the Brendan Fraser movies, tears bodies in half and bites off heads, but the video game gore splattered everywhere is also unnatural and not convincing enough to elicit any kind of shock or horror.

I also had the impression that the CG technology process overruled the subtle and sensitive nuances that make great films, and watching the special features portion of the DVD confirmed that impression. The actors, out of costume on their virtual, sterile stages, and therefore out of their natural element, appeared to be going through the motions while the director seemed satisfied that one take was good enough, since anything that might be lacking could be added in later by computer artists and technicians.

With regard to the script, I am not troubled by the fact that it took liberties with the original myth. What does trouble me is that once again we have an example of a story in which we are suppose to identify with characters simply because they exist, without any substantial character development being breathed into them.

Hence, we are to root for Beowulf not for any number of admirable character qualities, but only because the script says he IS the hero of the tale. Or perhaps because he is relatively less repulsive than other characters in the story.

A sad waste of expertise, money, technology...this kind of CG may work for "Shrek" or something like "The Polar Express" that are intended to be pure, unrealistic fantasy, but it is still not yet ready for subject matter that is intended to be taken seriously. And "Beowulf" makes me wonder if it ever will be.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Inexcusable follow-up missing charm of previous movies, 29 February 2008
1/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am not one to get completely down on a movie because it isn't 100% faithful to a book upon which it draws inspiration. But if one is doing a follow-up to an already established film series, it seems to me it is just plain common sense that the follow-up should have some continuity in character personality and theme.

The previous Anne of Green Gables installments relied heavily on the charm of both its characters and Canadian setting for its success. In this movie neither the characters nor the setting are even given the chance.

The actors aged 13 years since the last sequel but for some reason look even older than their real-life early 30s. This is a detriment when we are supposed to believe they are still in their early twenties. Of course, what doesn't help at all is the fact that both Anne and Gil behave like folks who are worn down by life...even before they have had their WWI battlefield experiences. If Megan Follows had exhibited more of the fresh spunk and liveliness that made the Anne character endearing in previous episodes, it would have been easier to overlook the drawn face with the age lines around her mouth. Jonathan Crombie's Gil Blythe does no better, acting as drawn and haggard as he looks.

Simple plots based on small-town personalities, relationships, ambitions, etc. have been likewise removed in favor of a more "grandiose" plot involving Anne traipsing around WWI Europe in search of her husband with somebody else's baby in tow. The story not only comes off dull but conveniently contrived to boot. Is it just me, or did anyone else find it odd that, with the millions of combatants and support personnel engaged in WW1 Europe, Anne kept running into people she knew? Further, scenes with the diminutive Megan Follows lugging a large baby around that is nearly as big as her also came off as visually ridiculous.

Unfortunately, since the characters in this sequel bear little resemblance to previous incarnations, and since even the charm of Prince Edward Island has been supplanted with war-torn Europe, we are only left with asking the following question: Why bother?

It is as if the writer/director et al thought, "Well, the names are the same, and the actors are the same. That will appease the Anne of Green Gables faithful. For everybody else, we have a nice, sappy WWI melodrama!"

Relentlessly tedious, bleak and humorless, this "Continuing Story" continues scarcely little of the original flavor of the first two movies nor the "Road to Avonlea" TV series. Speaking as someone who is not even a devoted fan of Anne of Green Gables to begin with, this film makes me sorry for those who are.

Stalag 17 (1953)
12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Excellent drama that tries too hard to be a comedy, 21 February 2008
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a difficult film to rate because there are equal parts that deserve a ten and those that deserve a one. That's why I rate this a five.

The plot elements that focus on the drama and intrigue of an informer in the midst of allied prisoners in a German WWII prison camp are excellent. If the film had focused only on that, along with the addition of the acting and screen presence of William Holden, this would have been a wonderful film. Unfortunately, it is hindered by an overabundance of stupid shenanigans by a few characters who are supposed to be the standard comic relief. I think the intention was to depict these figures as lovable goofballs who are doing what they can to cope with prison life. That intention fails completely, since they never give any indication that life in the POW camp is anything but a time for frivolity and pranks, as if they are just grade school brats away at summer camp.

Evidently, the idea was to have a film that was half-comedy and half-drama, but the comedic portions come off as annoying, time-consuming filler until the film can resume the interesting drama - and real story - involving Holden as the self-centered and unpopular fellow prisoner who is singled out as the traitor in the barracks.

Actually, the dry, cynical humor from Holden and some others would have provided just the right balance of comic relief. Unfortunately, the scenes in which the Shapiro and "Animal" characters all-too often dominate are virtually unbearable. Their inane antics are pathetically unfunny. The presence of the "Animal" in particular is made even more repulsive by the over-the-top attempt to appear grungy-charming while only coming off as a constant, grotesque and distracting irritant to what you really want to see.

It really is a shame. You can also take away the guy with the nasally voice who reads announcements. Toss him out with Shapiro, and the "Animal" and actually you might have a very enjoyable film.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable adaptation, 12 February 2008
8/10

I feel compelled to write a few words about this adaptation after reading several negative - and, in my opinion - unfair reviews. Those who say this film does not resemble the book at all, or has "nothing to do" with the book, or that Fanny Price is "the complete opposite" of the character in the book have in truth either never really read the story, or are engaging in extremely careless exaggerations.

It is true that some mild liberties have been taken with this adaptation. The character of Fanny Price is not quite as meek and timid as she was in the book. But in this movie, neither is she portrayed as some kind of aggressive, assertive, anachronistic feminist. The few times where she is compelled to speak her mind are more than balanced by scenes in which she displays restrained sensitivity, or feels awkward, or defers to those who she deems superior to her in situation...just as the Fanny Price of the novel.

Further, the few references to Sir Thomas' involvement in a slave trade are merely an interesting interpretation, and of such a minor nature, that they do not detract from the spirit of Jane Austen's storytelling. The reality is that that spirit has been kept intact. ALL the major characters and plot elements are still there, a challenge made difficult by the time restraints of a two hour film, and yet quite competently and impressively met. If one wishes to criticize a version that completely misses the mark on those two scores and very much deserves harsh criticism, it can be justifiably directed to the more recent and poorly-made BBC version starring Billie Piper.

Some objections have been made to a more explicit depiction of the affair between Henry Crawford and Mariah. This was something Jane Austen decorously hinted at in her book but the full meaning of her intent was clear. The scene is extremely brief and not at all gratuitous nor explicit. If anything, it merely helps to emphasize the selfish betrayal of Henry and Mariah as they expose their families to scandal.

The film is beautifully lit and shot, and the direction is quite often wonderfully subtle. The acting is excellent all around, but Frances O'Connor's subtle expressiveness in particular is a pleasure to watch. The music - described by one reviewer as loud and obnoxious (are you kidding me???) - is very charming chamber string music, more than appropriate to the tone and setting of the film.

It may very well be impossible to satisfy some Jane Austen purists, but director Patricia Rozema and her crew deserve commendation for this enjoyable and intelligently made adaptation.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Excellent plot and script crippled by awful soundtrack, 6 January 2008
6/10

"The Caine Mutiny" is an excellent example of one of those movies that has a lot going for it but is hindered by a few unsuccessful elements.

In this case, the biggest culprit is one of the most annoying soundtracks ever composed. The music gives this film a cheap and dated quality. It is brassy, much, MUCH too loud, and occupies far too much time in the film. Further, it continually uses the same obnoxious theme melody throughout, with some excerpts of familiar military themes (marine's hymn, reveille, etc.) thrown in from time to time...all done in an overblown manner. It is an incredible distraction to a film that otherwise would be quite excellent. And because of its invasive, irritating nature, it is impossible to ignore it.

The acting is quite good for the most part with a couple of exceptions, most notably the part of Ensign Keith played by Francis. Francis is one of those typical young actors in the mold of a Tab Hunter that seemed to be much sought-after during the fifties. Unfortunately, he was a very poor actor. If this was a minor role, it would not be such a problem. But the Keith character is a central one. In addition to his role aboard the ship, he is utilized for a subplot involving a romantic conflict between his girlfriend and cloying mother. Actually, the film's story would have benefited by the exclusion of this subplot altogether.

But the soundtrack is the biggest drawback. It is unfortunate, because the story of a ship's officers growing increasingly disgruntled with their Captain Queeg, their eventual taking control of the ship, and the subsequent court martial trial is actually quite riveting and otherwise worth seeing. It's sort of like watching your favorite team playing in the championship game, while a fan behind you is blowing an airhorn in your ear.

A Christmas Carol (1984) (TV)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Perfect rendition of a familiar classic, and I say, God bless it!, 29 December 2007
10/10

Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is such an inspirational story that it has been told and retold many different ways, but it is difficult to imagine one being able to top this version starring George C. Scott. Although made for TV, this movie has the quality and feel (other than its aspect ratio) of a high-quality theatrical release. It is evident that much care was taken with every beautifully-lit scene.

What amazes me about this Clive Donner film version is that Donner's instincts for what to include, what to exclude, and what to add from the original story were flawless. I have read Dickens' little novel about a dozen times and treasure it for what it is. But there are some aspects of it that could be enhanced for a two hour movie.

For example, in the original story, Dickens' Scrooge undergoes his conversion from the very first setting that the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him to. In Donner's film, the Scrooge who has long been a heartless miser, while appreciating these views from the past, is still a bit reluctant to let go of tendencies that have been forged over many years, and his conversion is more gradual and realistic.

There are some scenes that have been added and they help flesh out Scrooge's character as well as the story. The encounter that young Ebeneezer has with his bitter father after leaving the boarding school with his step-sister Fan is very well done and helps explain why Ebeneezer is at a boarding school to begin with. This is not explained very well in Dickens' original story.

Another scene which is not in Dickens' book is the dialogue Scrooge has with his nephew Fred, as he tries to reconcile his relationship with him and the young man's wife near the end. Dickens has Scrooge dropping in on his nephew in the book, but unfortunately, gave it very little description and no dialog. The script writers of this version did an excellent job, and I have to say, with quite moving effect, of capturing the reconciliation in a very heartfelt way. When George C. Scott's Scrooge is standing between his nephew and his wife, and remorsefully states "God forgive me for the time I've wasted," it chokes me up every time!

Of course, this movie is aided most competently not only by its script but by a first-rate cast that brings beautiful subtlety, realism and conviction to each acting part. What else can be said about George C. Scott? He is such a master that one has to remind himself that this is an American actor playing an English part. Scott has taken the role of Scrooge, something that has been far too easy to turn into a cartoonish caricature, and breathed life and reality into it. As a result, Scott's Scrooge, while unpleasant and miserly, becomes a sympathetic figure that causes you to desire his conversion, and rejoice with him when it happens.

As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Angela Pleasance is appropriately haunting as memories can be. Edward Woodward's Ghost of Christmas Present is equal to the task of being a good match for the strength of Scott's Scrooge and a real delight. David Warner and Susannah York are perfect as the forebearing, weary, yet loving Cratchit parents. And speaking of scenes that choke us up, I can't leave unmentioned the scene where Warner's Bob Cratchit is trying to bravely deal with the loss of tiny Tim. Warner, Donner and the script writers here again need to be congratulated for the way in which their treatment of the dialog from the book was enhanced in such an effective way.

My only complaint is that I just wish the soundtrack was available on CD or iTunes. The use of authentic English carols and other music by Nick Bicat perfectly set the mood. The music is as much a pleasurable backdrop as the wonderful Shrewsbury settings used to capture the mood of Dickens' Londontown.

A real delight for the eyes, ears and soul all the way around, the kind of movie my family and I never get tired of seeing again and again.

A Christmas Carol (1999) (TV)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Faithful version of loved classic yet completely lacking in instinct, 28 December 2007
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Speaking as a big fan of Dicken's cherished Christmas story, I am amazed that it is possible to go so wrong with a movie based upon it, especially one that is actually fairly faithful to the content.

I think the main fault lies with the cast or direction of the cast. Patrick Stewart's portrayal is predominantly lifeless compared to other cinematic Ebeneezers. In those moments when Stewart does attempt to inject some color, his instinct is all wrong. I'll never forget the scene toward the end of the film, where the reformed Scrooge is rejoicing in a changed life, and Stewart attempts to morph cardiac arrest into a fit of laughter. I get what Stewart was trying to accomplish but the effect is just plain disturbing and bizarre. The director's goal in that scene should be to get the viewer to be happy for Scrooge's redemption, not to be repulsed by his grotesque antics!

The ghosts of Christmases past, present and future were also big disappointments. Especially the Ghost of Christmas yet to come. Others have noted that he looked more like a goofy character from an early Star Wars movie than the mysterious and dreaded apparition of inscrutable future events. The silly lit-up eyes illuminated the interior of the hood and betrayed the ghost as simply a guy in a cheesy costume. Of course, sporting a sci-fi head but normal, flesh and bone hands didn't help either. This costuming of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come was an even stranger decision by the director than the heart-attack laugh of Patrick Stewart's Scrooge.

There is a strange unemotional, detachment from this version that you don't get in others. I think it is because the direction is completely lacking instinct for the mood of the piece. Lines are quoted literally from Dickens' novel and yet the actors often appear unconvincing and without the emotional commitment required to carry off some of the scenes.

The staging at times is also quite weird. For example, other versions, for the sake of brevity, have not included some scenes from the novel, perhaps most notably the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a tour of remote areas where even people in seclusion are reveling in the spirit of the day. This version does include that part of the book. It utilizes the singing of "Silent Night" as a continuity element from one celebration to another. The vignette ends with a far away view of Scrooge and the Ghost triumphantly silhouetted atop a hill as the carol reaches its ending crescendo. Instead of it being a moving scene, it all comes across as a melodramatic and silly gimmick that is more comical than anything else.

Others have noted that this version also has that cheap, made-for-TV appearance and I have to agree. Compare to the rich, exquisitely-lit cinematography of the George C. Scott version and you will see that just because this was made for TV didn't mean it had to look it.

I rate this film with a two only because of my reverence for the story. Still, it's a shame this cinematic retelling misses so badly with such can't-miss material.

7 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Forced melodrama, 29 November 2007
1/10

"Inherit the Wind" may be the best example of Hollywood's general policy of not letting actual facts get in the way of telling a "true" story when over-the-top melodrama is the goal.

Spencer Tracy never looked worse than in this film, with his pants pulled up to his chest and his egg-beater hairstyle. But that is nit-picking a minor problem with what is supposed to be part of the intended charm of the story...the outnumbered, rumpled defender of common sense versus the ignorant religious nuts. Ironically, the intent of the film would have been far better served by a more straight-forward telling of the actual historical events of the events that this movie represents. (You can easily check the internet for what really happened before, during, and after the Scopes trial). Instead, the gross caricatures of fundamentalist "Christians" stereotyped as bug-eyed, lynch-mob fanatics, coupled with the smirking, sanctimonious pontificating of the Tracy and Gene Kelley characters, results in something that comes across more like hysterical propaganda than effective historical storytelling.

But my biggest objections to this movie are with regard to its pretension as court-room drama. Call me crazy, but to me the makings of a good courtroom drama include lawyers skillfully and cleverly presenting evidence, craftily examining and cross-examining witnesses, and developing strategies that will challenge the jurors, and have them, along with the viewers, swaying back and forth between a proclamation of guilt and innocence. Think of "Anatomy of a Murder" or "The Verdict." "Inherit the Wind" doesn't come within the same universe of films like those. All we get in the courtroom is emotional preaching and pontificating - by both sides.

The gross simplification of the characters and the issues, the general lack of subtlety, and the unchecked melodrama leaves me wondering how a film like this can attain the status it has.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
2 hour "comedy" is too long by an hour and a half, 8 November 2007
1/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Russians are Coming" is a dated comedy not because of its subject matter, but because of a 1960s comedic style that, for whatever reason, some found amusing then but is now painful to watch. At least for me.

This film has been compared to "It's a Mad, Mad, etc. World" and it is an appropriate comparison. If you found that film funny you will no doubt find this amusing as well. For myself, it takes more than an all start cast hamming it up before a camera and extras running around in the background to make me laugh. I require some cleverness or unpredictability to the shtick. Unfortunately, this film has neither.

For example, from the moment Ben Blue (Luther) is not able to immediately corral the horse he needs in order to warn the town that "the Russians are coming," was there any doubt that the camera would continue to check in on him from time to time, as he tries to capture the horse in drab, unfunny ways? Or that the film would end with him riding through the town long after the Russians left?

What amazes me is that you can watch comedies from the silent era that can blow you away with the inventiveness and creativity of the stunts and situations. A movie like "The Russians are Coming" doesn't even give it half an effort. Instead, this is what is supposed to pass for "hilarious" according to reviewers here: townspeople running around while Jonathan Winters with a grimace admonishes "Let's get organized!" And if you found that hilarious, you're in for a treat, because evidently the director found it so funny the bit just HAD to be repeated!

Don't get me wrong, I like Carl Reiner, Alan Arkin, Paul Ford, Jonathan Winters, even Brian Keith in some things when the material is good. For instance, Paul Ford in "The Music Man" was funny. Here, doing the same kind of character, but without any funny lines, he is just outright annoying.

To make matters worse, the bits which are not funny to begin with are dragged out in order to stretch this film out to over 2 hours. Example: toward the end of the film, Sheriff Brian Keith tells the Russian sub commander he is under arrest. This "joke" is dragged out for what seems like fifteen minutes, long past the time when it could be amusing to anyone.

How anyone can describe this as "hilarious" is beyond me. Maybe those who have do not know what the word means. Here is the definition, just in case:

Hilarious: marked by or causing boisterous merriment or convulsive laughter.

This film may force you to convulse something, but for myself it was absolutely not laughter.


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