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Extremely disappointing
28 March 2004
As a fan of both James Duval and Ute Lemper, I picked up the DVD last night with somewhat high expectations. What a disappointing film! As soon as I saw the "Allen Smithee" credit, the red flag was raised, and I'm convinced the director couldn't have supported the final version and thus cloaked himself in the traditional tag. Richard Chamberlain absolutely devours the scenery (what's with the accent?), and Duval is all over the map. Imperioli, however, is good, and Lemper makes you wish she would do more film work (if you have the chance, see her in concert--she's excellent!). The supporting cast do what they can, and you'll recognize many faces (West Hollywood residents will easily pick out location shots). But why did Talia Shire get a higher credit than Austin Pendleton? Gay viewers hoping for man-on-man sex scenes are out of luck; beyond a few stage kisses, pretty much nothing happens. On the other hand, Imperioli and Lemper spend a bit of time canoodling, which seems odd for a film targeted for a gay audience. Another in a long line of gay-themed feature films, including JOHNS and BIG EDEN, that aren't much more than made-for-tv movies.
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Someone thought this was a good idea?
12 November 2003
As an Arch Hall, Jr., aficianado, I couldn't wait to play this film when I found it on DVD. Simply amazing--over-the-top performances, the usual strangely-themed Hall Jr. songs, characters who seemingly have no reason to be where they are (did Richard Kiel just want to get out of town for the day?), a talking white rabbit...the list goes on and on. Note the lack of continuity in the cabin-trashing and following scenes (the place must have excellent maid service)! See John Waters' star Liz Renay use power tools! Wonder how not one but TWO world-class cinematographers have lived down this disaster! And for being top-billed, Hall Jr. doesn't seem to actually appear all that much--even his band performs a song without him (which actually shows how good they are without their frontman, even while forced to sing ridiculous lyrics). And is it just me, or does the German character have an uncomfortable resemblance at times to Kenneth Mars in THE PRODUCERS?
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The Sadist (1963)
A small gem, not to be missed
12 November 2003
Like many of the other commentators here, I expected THE SADIST to be just another laughably bad Arch Hall, Jr. flick. But after just a few minutes, I knew I had stumbled into something completely different. The cinematography helps enormously, and the performances all around are great, but I don't believe enough credit has been given James Landis' writing skills here. The tension is almost unbearable at times, and the "shocker" alluded to elsewhere is one of the best I've ever seen, even in "A" movies. Everyone involved in this production should be proud!
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Simon Magus (1999)
A film that should be better known.
27 January 2002
I'd read about this film at the Noah Taylor website, but I don't believe it ever opened in the U.S. (or at least it didn't get wide release). The Sundance Channel recently showed it, however, and those good people should be heartily thanked for giving us the opportunity to view a minor masterpiece. The story involves the holy fool (Noah Taylor, in another remarkable performance) of a dying European village and the people whose lives he affects. The supporting cast, including Ian Holm and Rutger Hauer, who once again reminds us that he is indeed a good yet neglected actor, are all superb, and the story is alternatingly funny and tragic, in the best tradition of Eastern European literature. Strongest kudos must go to cinematographer Nicholas D. Knowland, who uses light and shadow to create a finely textured world, and whose often startling imagery (the Jews on the night train, the young girl waving goodbye to Simon) will stay with the viewer long after the film ends. If you get the chance, catch the director's commentary on the making of the film. I'm not at all sure that he realizes just how good a film he's made!
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Beautifully photographed, but awkwardly scripted
21 July 2001
The Learning Tree is one of those milestone films that one wishes were much better than it is. Parks' genius for the image comes through time and again, particularly in the opening sequence of the tornado and the horseback riders silhouetted by the sun. The milieu--rural Kansas in the 1920s--is unusual for a film focusing on racial conflict in the U.S., and that alone makes for an interesting film concept. But Parks' lack of film directorial and writing experience mars what could have been a major production. The dialogue in particular is often stilted and forced; too often the characters read their lines as though they're afraid they'll forget something. As a result, there's little real warmth or connection between characters. The other big problem here seems to be flow; each brief episode seems encapsulated, with new characters popping up left and right and then disappearing and reappearing without much development. Case in point: the series of episodes after the arrest. Who exactly are all of these new characters? What is the relationship between the white and black families, and between individuals in both groups? They come, they go, they reappear, but we're lucky to have caught their names. All in all, a much stronger film would have resulted from a collaboration of different screenwriter, director, and cinematographer, rather than having Parks run the whole show. If any film deserves a remake, it's The Learning Tree.
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Monkeybone (2001)
Played a weekend everywhere
13 July 2001
Monkeybone came and went in Houston (sneeze and it's gone!), and now after seeing the video release, I understand why. A good cast, particularly Fraser and Foley, is wasted in a film that doesn't seem to know which way to turn. Is it satire? Slapstick? Romantic comedy? Farce? Or just a paycheck for Fraser in between Mummy movies? I laughed maybe twice--most of this flick is simply dull. Even the special effects occasionally look cheesy, of the "Why is that guy wearing a rubber bull head?" variety. Wait for it to pop up on Comedy Central in the near future.
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Electra (I) (1962)
Great cinematography makes up for simplified plot.
17 January 2001
An extraordinary film from a visual and dramatic standpoint, _Elektra_ unfortunately too often plays like a _Cliff's Notes_ version of Euripedes' work (although, in all fairness, I must note that the film is only "based on" the classical play). The essential structure is there: Agamemnon's murder, the banishment of Orestes, Elektra's marriage, the reuniting of the grown children, the double murder. But by clipping away much of the Euripedean dialogue, much depth of characterization is lost. The principles become one-dimensional, with only hints of the complexity which makes the story so overwhelming. However, the stark cinematography and fine acting make this film eminently watchable, particularly at the climatic matricide sequence.
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Hamlet (2000)
At least the audience laughed....
3 July 2000
One doesn't have to be a purist to dislike much of this oversimplified version of one of the greatest dramas in the English language. ROMEO+JULIET was exciting, RICHARD III inspired, and Traymor's TITUS visually and dramatically impressive. Modernizing Shakespeare is nothing new--Orson Welles did a modern dress JULIUS CAESAR over fifty years ago, for Pete's sake. But this revamp is simply overly clever, replacing substance with style. But what else can you say about a movie with such obvious product placement?

The burden of the play falls upon whomever plays Hamlet, and Ethan Hawke just isn't up to the role. Does he even have a clue as to what he's saying, in some scenes (the Blockbuster "To be or not to be" in particular)? The supporting cast is better, particularly Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius and Leiv Schrieber as Laertes, and Julia Stiles occasionally rose to the challenge. But this is obviously meant to be a showcase for Hawke, and he just doesn't have the power of most of the earlier Hamlets, including Branaugh.

Anyone remotely familiar with the original stage play (or even most screen versions) will wonder at the absence of whole scenes and hunks of dialogue. But I guess they were excised to make room for the footage of the motorcycle trip into the city. The cuts, and the director's interpretation, leave us with not much more than a basic revenge play, eliminating the subtleties that make HAMLET such a magnificent work.

The audience (an older crowd) snickered when The Ghost exited via a Pepsi One machine, so we got some pleasure out of the movie. For the most part, however, the audience squirmed in their seats, and my attention wandered regularly. If you want to see HAMLET, rent either the Olivier or Branaugh versions. If you want to see Shakespeare as spectacle, see TITUS. If you want to watch Ethan Hawke watch videos, see this HAMLET.
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See this movie!
3 July 2000
Extraordinary is too meager a word for this stunning but little-known movie. Anyone who knows the films of Val Lewton will want to grab this one for his or her personal library. Every time you think you've got this film pegged--"Oh, that's what's going to happen!"--you're once again proven wrong. A particularly intelligent film, moody, atmospheric, with a final five minutes that will leave you wondering why more people don't know about this movie.
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A surprisingly intelligent film which both children and adults will appreciate.
25 August 1999
Adult sci-fi fans shouldn't be turned off by the title of this film, thinking that it's just for kids. INVISIBLE BOY has quite a bit of wit and humor which adults will appreciate, such as the father droning on at the dinner table about computers, or the IB's parents' attitude towards child-rearing in the 1950s. As a matter of fact, the IB disappears (no pun intended) for a large portion of the film, and you almost forget that he's part of the plotline. The boy himself isn't cloying, which makes the film all that more viewable for adults, but pre-teens probably will find him realistic when compared to other child actors of the period. Not a great film (many of the special effects are cheesy), but well worth a single screening.
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