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832 reviews in total 
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ParaNorman (2012)
Fun and technically terrific, but without the soul of the greatest animation, 21 November 2014

Wildly creative and technically terrific, there is much to admire in this animated play on traditional zombie films. But unlike "Coraline" – made by some of the same people – or the other Tim Burton/Henry Selick macabre animated works, there's a certain lack of soul and emotion here that keeps it from climbing to the heights of those films.

There's also an odd unevenness of tone. While it has a few really inspired visual and verbal gags, it switches a bit awkwardly back and forth between being almost over-earnest, and a kind of hip, ironic distanced humor. And much of the plot feels familiar and/or predictable.

Part of the struggle for me as an adult is that this is really made for 'tweens. Too scary for little kids, it also limits the film a bit on the older side. It can't work as easily for adults as some 'kids films' (ala Pixar, etc), where 8 years olds can enjoy it while 30 or 40 year olds can get it on a whole different level. I bet 11 year olds would flat out love this, but unlike the films mentioned earlier, I felt a bit left out of the fun. Still, it has it's moments, both of humor and heart, and I'm glad I saw it. I just don't know that I'd ever go back for seconds.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Disturbing and powerful - as "Frontline" often is, 20 November 2014

Strong "Frontline" documentary about kids under 18 who are given life sentences without parole.

It's shocking to see the story of these kids, for whom the punishment is clearly out of line – one is an accessory to a murder, not the killer himself. Another murdered his parents – horrible of course - but was being physically beaten and sexually abused. Many clearly had inadequate council.

And it turns out the U.S. is party to an international treaty on human rights that specifically outlaws the use of 'life without parole' on minors, but has begged off, saying it's only used on cases of the 'worst of the worst'; kids beyond any hope of rehabilitation who will always be a danger to society. But as the kids profiled in the show demonstrate, that is clearly far from the case at least some of the time.

The show also points out that the U.S. has over 2200 kids serving a 'life without parole' sentence. The rest of the world combined? 12.

The filmmaking isn't anything that special, and I wish there had been more detail about some of the cases, even if fewer were reviewed, but there's no questioning that there is something terribly wrong in the sentencing part of our legal system, and this film will open your eyes to it.

A charming, surprisingly subtle silent comedy of manners mixed with drama., 20 November 2014

It's interesting how much 'wit' can be found even in a film without spoken words. "Beau Brummel" is playful, a little naughty, and at times quite sad. The acting here is notably restrained and natural for a silent film. with John Barrymore leading the way in an excellent performance as Gordon Byron 'Beau' Brummel.

Brummel was a real person, even though the film acknowledges up front that his escapades have been largely fictionalized by legend. In this reality, Brummel was an 18th century army officer and dandy, who, despite his lack of wealth or noble blood, partied with the elite, romancing the women, befriending the men, and being a style and trend setter. What gives this a sense of drama to go with the playful social satire is the fact that Beau is denied the one woman he really loves, so his other successes are all a bit hollow. Also, in the end Brummel has little other than his smarts and charm to stand on, which keeps him always one insolent move from falling into poverty and disrepute.

There are weak spots. The photography and direction aren't particularly imaginative, with a very stagy feel to the blocking and camera angles. Most of the film is shot in head on, eye level medium 2-shots. The sets also often look a bit more like something designed for the stage than for the 360 degree vision of film. But if this isn't a great film, it's a good, clever, enjoyable one, and a chance to see Barrymore, said by many to be the finest actor of his time, as a comparatively young leading man.

An amazing man, 19 November 2014

Sometimes what's important in a documentary isn't style, or grace of story-telling, but simply a charismatic and moving central figure. Certainly that's the case here. The photography can be amateurish, the music schmaltzy, but Henri Landwirth, a survivor of Auschwitz who became a wildly successful real estate entrepreneur, only to turn away from focusing on riches to devote himself and his millions to bring joy to dying children is one of those people it's impossible not to love and be moved by.

Henri has created a 55 acre getaway called 'Give Kids the World' where dying children and their families can come and have a free vacation in a whimsical play-world Henri created while always trying to see from a kid's point of view. The ease, love, playfulness and gentle kindness Henri shows these kids is quite overwhelming.

So, for me it was frustrating that the bulk of the film is spent on the also moving, but somehow more familiar story of Henri's return to Poland, visiting his childhood home and the remains of the death camp that took most of his family, and from which he barely escaped. Ultimately there's a bit of lurching between the worlds of the film, and by spreading itself thin, we don't go as deeply into any one part of this remarkable, tragic and triumphant life as we might.

But this is still very much worth seeing, if only to get a chance to meet and be inspired by someone as remarkable as the soft spoken, huge hearted Henri.

Its the images that star here, and they are wonderful, 19 November 2014

As a documentary this is a fairly straightforward, even dry at times, telling of the history of The Photo League. It was a photography center and school in New York that fostered and help train some of America's greatest photographers in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, especially (but not only) those who worked in a documentary style capturing the humanity, struggles and dignity of the poor and working class in the depression, through World War II and beyond. It's an interesting, sometimes moving story of artists fighting to change the world, and inspire others.

But its real strength lies in the images themselves. The bulk of the film is spent looking at the works of these photographers which are overflowing with emotion, beautiful aesthetic qualities and the reminder that photography is a special and magical art that can capture a moment in time, and allow us to really take it in -- to feel that we are there -- like no other. Whether funny, sad, horrifying or inspiring you realize that the people in these photos may no longer be with us, but that moment – that kiss, that loss while watching a burning building that holds your children, that moment of kids playing together on the streets of New York has been preserved through a talented eye that picked just the right moment, just the right light and framing to let you feel a sense of presence and understanding in a way that the fast pace of life too rarely allows.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Beautifully made and haunting, 14 November 2014

A beautiful film, in terms of both images and story. This very sweet - but never sticky -and slightly disturbing story of a platonic 'love affair' between a psychologically damaged, almost child-like ex-soldier and an emotionally abandoned 12 year old girl is deeply moving, honest, and just creepy enough in terms of in nascent sexuality hovering around the edges of the relationship to keep us from feeling too at ease. Shot in gorgeous black and white, with great use of shadows and silhouette, the images are both beautiful and mysterious -- as is the film's central relationship.

Hardy Kruger is excellent as the amnesiac soldier who has the feeling he's done something awful, but doesn't know what, or how to atone for it (we know more, having seen a dream- like flashback of his war experiences to open the film). He is lovable and sad, but we sense there's always a danger this man could lose control and cause damage without meaning to. And Patricia Gozzi is remarkable as the young girl, bringing an almost frightening amount of pain to this hurt character, and never feeling like a kid faking it for a film. There's a complex honesty to her performance combining hurt, innocent joy, emotional need, the first flickers of adult sensuality and manipulativeness, and yet a child's open heart that any seasoned actor would envy.

The film does telegraph where its headed more than once, but somehow it doesn't matter very much. It's the humanity of the telling rather than any surprise twist that makes the film work so well. We root for this odd pair to be able to maintain their bond in the face of a grown up world that doesn't understand how much these two damaged souls need each other and is, as one character puts it, afraid of any love that doesn't fit into nice neat categories. Beautifully made and haunting, it won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1962.

Poetic, unique, sad and haunting film, 11 November 2014

This takes place in a Paris brothel just before and just after the start of the 20th century. While there is a lot of nudity and sex, the film is almost always anti-erotic, as it is so clear that the women are less than enthusiastic participants. Interestingly, I found the only moments with any erotic charge were moments between the women themselves, who support each other in what amounts to indentured servitude. Occasionally we feel the heat of human connection between them in a look, a touch, and that is far more sensual than anything they share with their clients, which is often degrading, and occasionally violent.

The film is a look at the trap poor women found themselves in, when being a prostitute was one of the only ways to make your own money, and other professions had just as many drawbacks (one woman speaks of giving up being a washer-woman because her lungs were becoming damaged from breathing ammonia all day). But the irony is, the 'expenses' of being a well kept prostitute (from room and board to perfume) are more than the women can take in, so they inevitably fall deeper and deeper into debt. Like sharecroppers, they soon 'owe their soul to the company store'.

This isn't a naturalistic film in the usual sense. It jumps around in time – something we sometimes only realize because we'll see a moment we'd watched earlier happen a second time, but in this case from a new perspective or in a new context. It's 'slow' by our usual standards, and is less about plot than about captured moments that build to something larger. It also uses anachronistic, modern music to great effect. But for all it's intentional artifice, there is a feeling of an honest sort of hyper-reality here. In the same way a poem can capture the feeling of a sunny day better than a lot of scientific explanation, so too does this poetic film capture a complex and sad world in a way that lets you feel a sense of understanding and empathy more than straight forward naturalism might.

The film-making itself is of a very high order. The cinematography and acting are both first rate, and there is a sequence near the end that combined acting, images and music to give me chills in the rare way sequences by great film-makers can sometimes do. Not every choice works, but this is a bold, challenging and emotional film. It doesn't tell you what to think, it just creates a world, invites you inside and allows you to draw your own conclusions. I suspect I will get even more from it on a second viewing.

Entertaining and well made if one sided, 9 November 2014

Interesting and entertaining look at how a bunch of the powerful in Philadelphia basically conspired to take one of the great modern art collections in the world away from it's home in the suburbs, , and transplant them into Philadelphia proper, against the express wishes left in Albert C. Barnes will (made in 1922).

While there's no question the tactics used by those in power are sleazy, the film also ignores what I consider a key issue: Is it really such a bad thing that one of the most amazing collections of modern art be much more accessible to the public, even if it violates the will of a man with no heirs who has been dead over 50 years? At what point do old grudges - going both ways - count less than art belonging to the world? I'm not saying there are neat answers to such questions, but the film acts like there's no moral murkiness at all.

Similarly the film uses questionable tactics to argue its case. For example it's constantly stating how those on the 'other side' refuse to be interviewed. Yet, it is clear that the ideology of the film-makers is known to all involved -- the film is financed by one of the leaders of the group fighting against the collections movement, and guards at a gathering of those planning the art move know not to allow in this specific film crew, even mentioning their production company name. If you knew you a film was being made whose basic premise is that you're a swindler a cheat and a thief with no respect for art, would you agree to be interviewed?

Additionally, some of those who seem so calm and well reasoned while being interviewed and arguing the art should be left where it is, seem a little less impressive when you see them outside that same gathering screaming 'philistines!' at those going inside.

None-the less, I still enjoyed the film, and there's no question it does a good job exposing the fact that many of our biggest public trusts and charitable institutions have a lot going on besides 'acting in the public interest', and are willing to play dirty pool to get what they want. I just find it hard to see this as a case of moral outrage to rank with the Iraq war, or starving children, or the U.S. educational crisis. It's basically rich people hating on rich people. Fun, but not as nutritious as all that.

The Blessed Ones (1986) (TV)
Harrowing two handed television drama, 7 November 2014

Harrowing and sad, this drama made for TV focuses on the tragically dysfunctional marriage of Viveka and Sune. Viveka is slowly going ever more insane, with paranoid and often religiously based delusions driving her further and further from reality. Meanwhile, her husband Sune is pathetically co-dependent, and unwilling to force Viveka into treatment, or even really challenge her misguided view of reality, choosing instead to play along, hoping to ease her panic and rage, but only feeding it. Eventually it becomes unclear if Per is starting to share her delusions as well.

Per Myberg and Harriet Andersson give superlative performances in this blacker than black piece, which also has moments of incredibly dark humor mixed in as well. In a career of questioning whether life has any meaning, I don't know if Bergman ever went further into the abyss.

Occasionally it will hit a false note, or feel theatrical in concept or execution, and the writing isn't always as strong as the greatest of Bergman's films (he didn't write the screenplay). But it certainly is worthy of being seen by anyone interested in Bergman's work, or in great acting, and it's a shame that finding it is so nearly impossible.

Hints of a great film in this good one, 4 November 2014

It's all relative. For a Hollywood film with a big star, this look at a man deeply, profoundly scarred and damaged by loss (Charlie; Adam Sandler) and the slow rebuilding of his friendship with his dental school roommate who wants to help (Alan; Don Cheadle) is often refreshingly honest about the complexities of mental illness, and the fact that there is no magic bullet for pain for any of us.

On the other hand, there are a number of contrivances, forced plot twists and supporting characters that remind us we are indeed in a Hollywood dramady, not real life.

Cheadle does some amazing low key work in the less showy of the two main roles, giving us a man in mid-life crisis, disconnected from his family and his own heart, who perks up when he gets involved with the damaged Charlie. It's partly because helping someone gives his life meaning, but also because part of him envies Sandler's adolescent-like freedom to act out, even if it comes from a wounded and destructive place. Sandler struggles more with the pathetic Charley, partly because the character's pain and PTSD has created a man almost hollow. That may be accurate, but it can make him hard to identify with. Also, the ways Charlie's illness suddenly manifests can seem a bit 'story convenient'. There's no question Sandler has the chops to be heartbreaking as a wounded soul (Punch-Dunk Love, Funny People), but here the thousand yard stare and the mumbled words sometimes feel more like an acting choice than a real expression of pain so deep it can't be handled.

Another problem area are the women characters, who seem a bit trapped in the old Madonna/whore bind. They are either cold and unsympathetic, or a very male fantasy -- either gorgeous sexual predators, or beautiful nurturers or both.

A good solid film, but I can't help wishing the great one that seemed to be lurking underneath had found its way to the surface.

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