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10/10
A Mother Camel Rejects its Newborn
2 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is an amazing documentary! It's very real, very authentic, and gives the viewer an intimate look into the lives of a Mongolian family, four generations, living on the edge of the Gobi desert, deriving life and existence from their animals, camels, sheep and goats. Although they seem primitive to us, they are very creative and accomplished in the task of survival in a very bare and isolated area. We see their close attachment to and understanding of their animals, and they take very seriously the difficult birth and later rejection of a white newborn by the brown mother. In nature, sometimes for obscure Darwinian reasons, the mother sometimes rejects the newborn offspring. Maybe it was the difficult and prolonged birth. Maybe it was the unusual white color of the colt.

The family tries every which way to get the mother to suckle the colt, but they are unsuccessful. They try ritual prayers. Finally they try a time-tested remedy, and that is a melody, more specifically, music from a medical musician, a particular specialist with the violin. Sure enough, after requesting the 'consultation,' the violinist comes with the indigenous violin, a primitive-looking two stringed instrument, but it produces soothing and mesmerizing music! This, together with the whole large family watching, the beautiful young woman stroking and singing, brings about the desired result. The mother is actually weeping and allowing its offspring to suckle! It seems like a miracle, but also very natural. How did the Mongolian family come to this wisdom?

We cannot help but identify as human beings, with some mothers rejecting their babies. Sometimes healing interventions bring about rapproachment. Sometimes it is an extended family and sometimes it is therapy. Psychotherapists have something to learn from watching this extraordinary film closely and deeply. What we see is something at the core of the human condition. This documentary will be understood by bright children as well as perceptive and intelligent adults.
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Capote (2005)
8/10
There but for the grace of God...
25 February 2006
This is a riveting movie about the dark side of human nature. Why was Truman Capote so drawn to the multiple, apparently senseless killings in rural Kansas? All the reviewers miss this deep meaning, but I can tell you the deep dark secret, never mentioned, but inescapable is--- THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.

Capote identifies with the killers, especially Perry, who is also from the south, also abandoned by his mother and ultimately raised in an orphanage, where we presume he had the usual care, abuse and neglect. Capote had a similar abandoning mother ("we were both abandoned by our mothers"), but at least had the saving grace of being raised by a relative, an aunt. Probably his childhood had a modicum of love and security, but just the bare minimum, as Capote can identify with 'cold blood.' He also identified with Perry's creativity, as he was literate and artistic. After hearing Perry's childhood story, he said, "we were raised in the same house, and one day you went out the back door and I went out the front." This was the most telling moment in understanding their connection.

In a way, Capote was as cold-blooded as Perry, using him to write the story that would make him famous and earn him a goldmine. He was shown to have two faces, the sympathetic one toward Perry, gaining his trust and finally getting the details of the killing to end his book, and the other, the egomaniacal entertainer at Manhattan parties. He went from eccentric to an out of control alcoholic, but he was always discreet, never getting falling down drunk, but always sipping a drink. His writer friends were concerned for him but there was nothing they could do, nothing anyone could do.

The closing credits said he died in 1984 from the complications of alcoholism, but Ebert wrote that he died of an overdose. I figure he ultimately could not live with himself or his memories, knowing that just under the surface, he was a cold blooded murderer too.

And such is the human condition, that some emerge from a traumatic childhood and become an overt monster, and some emerge from a traumatic childhood, an eccentric celebrity, fiendishly brilliant, and a covert monster.

Audiences will be drawn to this by the millions and will be affected by viewing this, because all of us have a dark side. We can identify and there but for the grace of God go I!
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Syriana (2005)
7/10
Hollywood Leftwing Propaganda
4 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The end of "Syriana" says it all. The rest of the film was leading up to it, chopped up vignettes with a bearded Clooney as a CIA hit man.

The movie ended with a young, idealistic looking Arab, pointing a motor boat with a bomb aboard, heading toward a huge oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.

As the case for the suicide bomber developed throughout the film, it was shown how corrupt were the American oil billionaires and their diabolical relationship with the corrupt oil sheiks, who live in luxury while poor Arab workers, unemployed because of an oil merger, languish on the desert sands, playing pickup cricket on a desolate field with high rises in the distance.

The poor, downtrodden unemployed Arab workers are the bottom of the food chain, and understandably are prone to fundamentalist Muslim jihadist rhetoric. Blowing themselves up for Allah is their only chance at glory and redemption.

There are two Arab princes. Which one is to become the next Emir? One is scum of the earth, not fit to run a brothel, no less a nation. The other is educated and idealistic, and if he succeeds his father, will use the oil money to build an infrastructure and raise the standard of living for his people.

Of course the Emir knuckles under to the oil conglomerate because he prefers to retire in luxury in Europe! He has no use for bettering the lives of his people.

Translation--- America IS THE GREAT Satan. CAPITALISM IS EVIL.

The suicide bombers have no other choice.

If you want to see another Hollywood left wing film, go for it. "Syriana" is yet another of Michael Moore's ilk, Hollywood's disingenuous attempt to turn American politics around, to poison the audience's mind against the current administration, suggesting that this WWIII is nothing more or less than our 'addiction' to Middle East oil.

No mention is made of the alternative, the corruption of the so-called idealists, who seek to change human nature by force and oppression. The Soviet experiment speaks for itself.

We Americans enjoy our freedom and prosperity. Too bad protecting it involves sordid undercover operations. Considering the alternatives and the lesser of evils, I'll do my share of gas guzzling until energy alternatives become available, as most certainly they will.
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Middle School Confessions (2002 TV Movie)
7/10
13 year old kids need a lot of parental involvement, guidance and supervision!
13 September 2005
This HBO documentary may prove useful to parents of middle school kids, as it explores the various traps and pitfalls that kids get into. It shows the details of different problem areas (sex, violence, depression, alcohol) and how parental meetings and professional help can turn problem kids around. It ends on a mostly positive note, fortunately.

On the sex issue it was clear that peer pressure forces young girls to become actively sexually, prematurely.

On the violence issue it showed how role-playing helped kids to avoid violent confrontations.

On the depression issue it showed a family with strong genetic predisposition and yet how shocked the parents were to discover their child was depressed and thinking of suicide. Fortunately, he received professional help and medication which successfully helped to turn things around.

On the alcohol issue the documentary showed how easy it is for kids to obtain alcohol and experiment with it. Families with a strong history of alcoholism are most vulnerable and sometimes strong measures are needed to prevent further addiction. Kids made it clear they will not rat on other kids.
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3/10
Little Man Tate is a disappointment
13 December 2004
As a psychiatrist I have a dim view of the psychology of this flick. The characters are caricatures, stereotypes. Jodie Foster doesn't come across as gum-chewing, cherry pit-spitting, carefree, loving mom who doesn't know how to deal with a genius son. She's just a step above trailer trash and it doesn't work. Neither does Diane Wiest as the psychologist who specializes in genius kids, because she's so oblivious of kids' feelings and sensitivities. The kid is another caricature--- a sensitive genius. Lots of plot twists are empty and pointless and there's a false happy ending. I would have expected more from a movie that was somewhat autobiographical for Jodie Foster, who was a bright Hollywood kid, one who had intelligence and sensitivities beyond her age. She's too smart to do justice to a character who is so dumb.
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Elephant (2003)
TERRIBLE FILM: HOW COULD IT HAVE WON AN AWARD?
16 November 2004
I was hoping for better than this because it won an award and the director is famous because of "Good Will Hunting" and "Finding Forrester." The Roger

Ebert review gave it the full four stars **** because it was unique and

courageous in depicting a school shooting without having or suggesting any

explanations for the tragedy--- these things just happen and we will never know why. I strongly disagree with this and I am an experienced psychiatrist--- there are always explanations, not necessarily simple or definitive, but clues to

aberrant behavior. The Ebert review does not mention the fact that these boys were homosexual lovers. It was not shown that they were exposed or made fun

of, but perhaps they were and/or perhaps they were afraid of getting outed.

Early in the movie was a classroom discussion exploring how you could tell if a person was gay. Was it obvious? If he wore pink or rainbow colored bracelets? Not necessarily. One wonders about being able to get assault rifles and

explosives in the mail from the internet or whether violent video games could add to the motivations, or footage from the Nazi era. There is no focus, no

suggestion as to how it could have happened, and one can only wonder in

retrospect how a film about a school shooting could spend 80% of the time

simply in tracking shots of kids walking down endless school corredors. It was pointless and boring, although some critics in this series made a point that it was all about alienation. I would question the weird music accompanying green skies, the kind of skies that accompany a tornado. The movie suffered from self- consciousness, an obvious attempt to be arty and stylish, but completely lacking in character development or meaningful plot or focus. One can only wonder

about contemporary standards or criteria for film awards.
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THE WEDDING IS WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
9 June 2004
This is a coming-of-age, rags-to-riches, princess-and-the-pauper movie. It's definitely grade B but at times affecting, at other times suspenseful, at other times Hallmark-romantic, but altogether tolerable, if not downright enjoyable. There's a lot here that is true-to-life and worth seeing. A masterpiece it is not. A classic, it is not. Still, try it, you'll like it. The acting is not bad and there are sub- plots worth viewing. One is how the kids deal with the death of their mother, and another about the father's premature attempt to find a replacement in a

duplicitous woman. The cute little boy has a hobby which leads to the undoing of the gold-digging new mom. The princess-girl gets her suburban upscale

girlfriends to take 'the bus' to the inner city. The inner city is full of nice people, we would like to believe.
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A Harrowing Triumph of Justice in Racist Texas
4 February 2004
I agree with the previous two reviews in that this was an excellent film all

around. I only hope that eventually a DVD will be available so that I can see it again. The depiction of the false accusation of murder and rape of a white girl by a black school janitor is gripping and harrowing. All the evils of the racist south are distilled in this prosecution and courtroom drama. The acting was

underplayed rather than melodramatic and appeared true to life. Despite the

horrors of prosecutorial intimidation, lying and deceit, a redeeming ending was not evident until the last few minutes. This movie should be seen by all those debating the value of the death penalty. The fact of the unredeemable lethal injection was ever present, adding to the tension and suspense.
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Due East (2002 TV Movie)
Simplistic and contrived but somehow satisfying...
9 December 2003
The story is a setup to blast conservative-religious attitudes toward a pregnant teenager attending high school. It does a good job and it's hard to believe a principal would actually expell a valedictorian girl just because she was pregnant and it made people uncomfortable. They way she was, everybody loved her and she got lots of support and the mean old principal had to back down, especially after she wrote a brilliant letter in the town newspaper that got her lots of support. What was satisfying was the quality of the acting of the girl, who had a quiet simple honesty and intelligence about her. In a pivotal scene the principal blusters "how could such an intelligent girl do something so STUPID?" She answered simply that she didn't PLAN to get pregnant... no surprise. The father of the child died and in the end... well, better not give it away. It's a touching scene.
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Fourplay (2001)
One scene makes the movie worth watching
10 October 2003
There's not much to it except for beautiful people (Mariel

Hemingway) and a few funny situations. Not so funny is a

repetitive theme of unprovoked violence, which was passed off as

slapstick but proved more painful than funny.

The one scene was the couple in the marriage counsellor's office,

only the counsellor was a personnel counsellor and a hapless

chap that was clearly over his head, especially when the lovely lady

straight-facedly asked the counsellor to ask her husband, why

does he not like to kiss me between my legs like he used to. After

a go-around like that, she asked the counsellor to ask her

husband why he doesn't want her to make love with him with her

mouth anymore. "Ask him all the places where I do it." The park,

the Metro... "THE METRO?"

That's the funniest part about a half hour before the end. It's all

downhill after that.
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Snow in August (2001 TV Movie)
It's pretty awful...
12 August 2003
Ordinarily I would be interested in seeing a plot about some anti-Semite getting his just desserts, but this film was so hackneyed it wasn't any fun. There were too many unlikely elements in the plot, such as the store-owner getting beat up and beaten into a coma and the boy who witnessed it getting warned to keep his mouth shut and not be a stoolie. In spite of everything, the boy develops a relationship with the lone neighborhood widowed rabbi, who becomes a father-figure, the Irish boy, looking for a father (in the most unlikely place) becoming a surrogate son.

The boy corrects the rabbi's English while the rabbi teaches him Yiddish. Before long the Irisher is spouting Yiddish and getting a bargain suit in a Jewish clothing store. He's also an altar boy and subject to the anti-Semitic caricatures of his Catholic classmates. They wanted him to check out the rabbi to see if he had any treasures. The 'treasures' turned out to be books, not gold and so we get the strong hint that Jews are The People of the Book.

It's all so hackneyed, I didn't stay to see the Golem (earth god) take revenge on the rotten gang who seem to feel free to beat up people with impunity. The plot is so unrealistic, you just can't give it any credence.
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SOMETHING HAPPENED, BUT WHAT?
21 July 2003
My interest in this film was high because I am a practicing

psychoanalyst. I am interested in the phenomenon of community hysteria

which erupts when somebody is accused of being a pedophile and the vice

squad is interested in prosecuting the case. What happens is that they

start 'interviewing' suspected victims and often get the alleged

'victim' to 'confess' or 'come clean.' This process often succeeds in

getting people to make up stuff, to please the interrogators or to get

them off their backs! Why are some people so susceptible to make up

stories of molestation and abuse? I think sometimes it happens in their

own families and it is a well-kept secret, even repressed and forgotten,

but it is there in the unconscious, and the family jumps at the

opportunity to blame somebody outside their own family, now the accused,

who has been accused of something, so it is concluded that they did

something to my kid. The charges escalate and before you know it, it is

multiple, brutal sodomy and God knows what else, clearly exaggerations.

The father admitted to some fooling around, maybe one student, certainly

his brother when they were adolescents, and his own teenage son, who

doesn't remember anything like that, although later in the film he says

'maybe' something happened and he laughs about it. The family goes back

and forth between anguish and hilarity and you know something is wrong.

The naive mother is torn and feels angry and disillusioned. The accused

is an upstanding retired schoolteacher with previously an unblemished

reputation, highly admired for his computer and piano lessons, which he

gave to teenage boys in his basement with his son, Jesse, as helper.

Jesse was also accused of sodomy and rape, but it is clear he is no

brute. Neither is the father, but one incriminating piece of evidence

is that when the father was visited in prison by his lawyer, he told him

that another visitor with a little boy bouncing on his knee made him

aroused. There is no doubt the father is a pedophile, but what he did

is another story. He admitted to fooling around with one kid one time,

out of four years. One of the students was convinced that nothing ever

happened, while another claimed sodomy. How could he have molested

multiple kids for years with no complaint? Everything came out of the

woodwork with the police investigation after the arrest, which started

from a post office sting, in which he was set up to buy a pedophile

magazine from Holland through the internet. When he accepted the

package, he was handcuffed and taken to jail. In the upscale suburb of

Great Neck, Long Island, that fact threw a previously calm community

into an uproar, much like the mass hysteria generated by the McMartin

case in California and the Amirault case in Boston. In both of those

cases, and now this one, relatively innocent people were thrown in jail

and their lives ruined and the family destroyed.

As a professional, I would hazard a guess that there might have been a

little fooling around, like the old man tickling some boy's fanny, and

maybe even under his pants, but it was probably a guilty secret and

nobody would say anything, not until the ambitious vice squad got into

the act, eager to make their case and justify their existence. Why DO

some people want to be on the vice squad?

There are some professionals in the film who give fairly balanced and

objective accounts of what probably happened, but they were voices in

the wilderness. The community got out of control with charges and

counter-charges, assertions and denials. When Jesse came for trial, the

families of the so-called victims screamed epithets and physically

attacked him!

What makes this film unique is that the film footage is replete with

actual camcorder episodes of family arguments, confessions and

retractions, the splitting of the family, the males against the mother,

who eventually got a divorce and remarried. One of the sons wisely

refused to get involved and moved far away. The oldest son is a working

clown in NYC, itself an amazing bit of irony, as he is viewed going into

his act for kids' birthdays like Pagliacci.

The family movies go from a happy, normal family before any arrest was

made, through the worst of it, with one telling episode of the

self-recorder--- don't look at this, this is private, this is only for

me--- if you are watching this, stop looking! One reviewer trashed the

film and called the director irresponsible for not coming to a

conclusion as to blame and what actually happened, even though it was

obviously impossible to determine. He called it made for voyeurs and

for those with morbid curiosity, as if to say, tell us what actually

happened, or you shouldn't have made the film at all!

Actually, it is important that the film was made. It shows how hard it

is to trust memory and the reporting of events, and shows how the mind

remembers and then forgets, admits and then denies, and it is obvious

that the process is not consciously determined. Everything you see is

spontaneous and believable, and then it becomes unbelievable, but there

it is, right in front of your eyes. The audience member has to make up

his or her own mind, but we can truly never be sure exactly what

happened. That is the story with each 'recovered memory,' some of them

being about true events and some, most, being false. Only the most

experienced expert can tell the difference
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Freud (1962)
MEMORABLE!
16 June 2003
I saw this film 40 years ago and see that no VHS is available,

which is a pity. It is much better than "The Young Freud" which has

recently been showing on PBS. It captures in some depth the

creativity and uniqueness of Freud's early discoveries, which were

amplified by him and others throughout the 20th century and into

the 21st. We see him doggedly and devotedly looking for the root

causes of a psychological illness which masqueraded as a

physical (neurological) illness for centuries. His discoveries,

stemming from this time, have greatly influenced modern thinking,

such that we call our times "The Age of Anxiety." They have led to

the appreciation of childhood sexuality and abuse and have taken

psychological abuse out from under the carpet, where these

pivotal events have been hidden for centuries. Freud was able to

see the classic appeal of the Greek tragedies and interpret why

they retain their power and are performed today, 3000 years later!
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The Recruit (2003)
6/10
One sincerely hopes the REAL C.I.A. is NOT like this!
8 February 2003
Seeing this film meant another couple of hours outside a house

recently full of fumes from painting of the kitchen. In other words,

this is not my kind of movie. Still, it is an action film, full of

surprises and suspense, and it is recommended for fans of this

genre.

The movie, hopefully fictionalized and full of fantasy, depicts the

recruitment process for our government's Central Intelligence

Agency. Now that the C.I.A. assumedly has the green light to

resort to its most unsavory practices, anything goes, because all's

fair in love and war, and there is a love interest in this warlike

movie. Our enemies are unscrupulous, therefore we have to be

more so, because it's a jungle out there, a cold, cruel world.

Pacino, a senior recruiter is depicted as a unique genius. He

knows who has the stomach, the heart, brains and balls to serve

his country in the most heroic, deceptive and invisible ways, a

thankless task to boot. Some people have the gift for it and Pacino

has homed in on this intellectual genius who is also a keen

athlete with lightning thought processes and physical reflexes. Of

course he is up on the cutting edge of computer technology and is

given the task of uncovering a mole who is in the position of

secreting a 'worm' which will undo all of America's computer

networks and render us impotent and vulnerable to our enemies.

The training is brutal and disarming. The recruits have to pass

test after test of their ability to survive being a spy. Some of the

tests are unbelievable, but once you get caught up in the story,

which is a plus for the film, they become believable.

After countless such 'tests' which defy credibility and test the

audience's imagination, there is a denouement that is a true

shock and surprise, that is completely unanticipated and rather

ingenious, I must admit.

If you want to find out what it is, I would suggest giving up a few

hours of your leisure time and surrender to a tense adrenalin rush.

Try it without popcorn or a drink for full effect.
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Max (I) (2002)
8/10
Long overdue character study of the young Adolf Hitler
8 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
It is too bad that some commentators have negatively critiqued this long-overdue depiction of the young Hitler. Maureen Dowd of the NY Times, for example preferred the Hitler as 'evil-incarnate,' giving him the status as symbol, fearing he might be viewed more compassionately as a human being. Ebert mentioned in his review that Hitler is, in fact, a human being, and needs to be seen as such, if we are to understand the underpinnings of WWII and the potential of any human being. Shakespearean villains are analyzed as flawed characters who cause tragic consequences. Freudian analytic methods try to explain historical events and the unconscious roots of behavior, including large group behavior, such as the national psychosis of Nazi Germany.

There have been many theories to attempt to explain Hitler's wildly irrational anti-Semitism, resulting in the Final Solution and the Holocaust, among other genocidal atrocities. One of them, depicted in this excellent film, is that of the young artist, recently discharged from Germany's army, who achieved some notoriety as a medal winner and the rank of corporal. He came out of the war, as many Germans, dazed, disillusioned and in a personal existential crisis.

He had a certain talent as an artist, a painter, which was underplayed in this film. Actually, his technique was quite good, but he was a realist and out of date in post-war Germany, with many great abstract expressionists such as Max Ernst and George Grosz, which express the dark emotions in gross caricatures of the 'popular' art of the time. Hitler's work, in comparison, lacked their uniqueness, creativity and power.

Max Rothman was another German soldier who was discharged at the end of the war, but unlike Hitler, returned to the loving hearth of a wealthy Jewish family and a moderately successful art dealership. He befriended the young Hitler as battle comrades, Max losing an arm in the war, aborting his career as an artist himself. Hitler delivered liquor to the art dealership and Rothman took a liking to him, sensing the seething passion and blocked creativity.

The Jewish dealer gave him advice, to paint from the heart as well as the head, to give vent to his feelings, but Hitler could only stare impotently at the blank canvas. Frustrated in art, Hitler was prone to the counsel of a fellow German officer, who saw him as a potential genius to generate propaganda and seek political power to counter the threat of communism. Either the left or the right was going to take over Germany, and it had to be the right.

Communism was associated with Jews (Marx, Engels, Trotsky) and anti-Semitism was seen as an ideal basis with which to ignite the flame of German resurgence and power. Certainly the cancer of anti-Semitism was always deeply imbedded in the German character and it was fertile soil, especially considering the financial circumstances of the average German, contrasted to those of the German Jewish bourgeosie.

Max, despite trying to help Hitler, could not find his work good enough to display. Meanwhile, the poor and lonely Hitler could not help but see his mentor as living in the lap of luxury, having a beautiful wife, a number of lovely and loving mistresses, an architecturally stunning home and a live of comfort and ease.

This contrast made Hitler and the Germans wonder--- how do the Jews do it? Whenever and wherever they were in business, they rose to the top. The could not bear the possibility of seeing the Jews as smarter and superior, so they must be in a diabolical conspiracy. The Jews were fair game and dead meat, and in the movie a dramatization of humans ground up in a meat grinder proved so horrible, that even an artistically sophisticated audience is repulsed. The meat grinder was a prophetic warning of the death camps to come, but only the present audience has the historical perspective to be aware of it.

The end of the movie is a stunning depiction of the contrast between the newly prosperous Germany, celebrating Christmas, while the adjacent modern Jewish architecture is shown as cold and bleak, already a symbolic cemetery, the corpse of Max not yet buried.
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The Pianist (2002)
10/10
The most intense, vivid, graphic and poignant Holocaust film yet!
13 January 2003
I thought there could be no Holocaust movie after "Schindler's

List," because... what more could be said, described... the horrors,

the brutality, the random cruelty, the savagery, the relentless

murders of the Final Solution. "Schindler's List" had a redemptive

ending, a message of hope, but "The Pianist," although much

more grim, still found a way for art, as embodied in the culture of

music, to find a common language for Nazi and Jew. Polanski

created a cinematic work of art of the first order, which I am sure

will become a classic. The acting performance of the Spijlman

character was incredible, of the highest order. The film drags the

viewer bodily into the nitty-gritty of the Holocaust, taking him/her on

a harrowing journey from upper middle class comfort and culture

to one dispossession after another, leaving countless Jews bereft

of possessions, self-respect, family, security, honor, loyalty and

ultimately life itself. There are numerous examples of

collaboration, capitulation, defiance, embattlement and

unbelievable courage and luck. I hope writers, playwrights and

film-makers never stop reminding us of what happened in Europe

during World War II. If we don't remember history, we will truly be

condemned to repeat it. Hopefully it will never happen again that a

people will be subject to genocide. The unwritten message is that

music is the saving grace and common language of civilization.
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8/10
A Modern Day Kafka-esque Tragedy
26 August 2002
If this film is supposed to represent modern Israel, it's an abomination. It's about an Israeli family from Russia's province of Georgia and perhaps says more about that weird and primitive ethnic subculture than the deeper Zionistic roots of modern-day Israel.

Imagine an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv in which parents of Zaza, age 31 and unmarried, are desperately and relentlessly getting him to meet women, so that he will do his duty and get married and give them grandchildren. According to the film, it is a sin and a crime to be 31 and unmarried. He's been fixed up a hundred times, the last one with a gorgeous would-be fashion designer age 17, still in high school. They are allowed a few moments alone in her bedroom, kid sister hiding under the bed, a room full of stuffed animals and with a pink satin bed cover.

They question each other. He's a perpetual student working on his PhD in philosophy, working on the problem of why people believe in God. She thinks he's a shmuck and sends him on his way, after evaluating his kisses, which she invites. The girl's mother retrieves a special amulet which was placed there by the boy's mother, the remains of a circumcision, which is supposed to bring good luck to the couple. The girl's mother knowingly retrieves it and adds it to her collection of them, in a jar.

It looks like it is going to be a wryly comic film as the parents are presented as obsessed with the idea of marrying off their prize bachelor son, who with the aid of their credit card, has a nice apartment, a big screen TV, a stereo, a refrigerator and a nice car.

So he is supposed to be a man of means, even though he never worked a day in his life. There is no indication in the movie that anyone works. No indication that he has to serve in the military or that there is any trouble with the Palestinians. It is a never-never land in which there is no hint of religious observation, practice or belief.

Then we see why he is still single. He is having a longterm passionate affair with a divorcée, Judith, with a 6 year old girl named "Madonna." Does that mean she is a shicksa? No mention of that; it is bad enough she is a divorcée, used goods, with some other guy's kid. There is a long scene of graphic sexual involvement, complete with multiple orgasms and concern about contraception. He is warned again and again to pull out before coming. She checks it by smelling the tissue. He didn't come so they are at it again. What we see is passionate and lighthearted f***ing, giving the impression of really making love and being in love.

The little girl is not supposed to know, but matter-of-factly, she makes it clear she knows, and calls Zaza by his pet-name, "Dooby.'" She is very cute and keeps a diary. They wake up in the morning and she is sleeping between them, or at least pretending to, and Judith is critical of Dooby for not being gone before the kid wakes up, which he promised. It is clear he cannot keep promises and is endlessly procrastinating about committing himself to marrying her. She is head over heels in love with the handsome stud-shmuck and he acts like he can play forever.

Eventually the extended family confront the pair in her apartment and really make a scene. They call her a bitch and a witch and a whore and threaten violence if she does not break up with him. They say a man should marry a younger woman, and she is 34 and he is only 31. It is presented as if that is overwhelming logic. Zaza's fat momma asks for his credit card back. He give it. Zaza's calm demeanor is shaken and he is successfully intimidated. The scene with neighbors and child watching is unbelievable and I can't decide if it's funny or tragic or can be taken seriously.

The rest of the film shows it is in all seriousness, after which Zaza marries the next girl the parents arrange and he kind of goes nuts at his wedding. He's mocking and ironic but eventually acts celebratory and we don't know if he's kidding or serious as the film suddenly ends.

I've left out many important details and only tell this much so you can decide whether you want to spend an hour and 40 minutes with this erotic, exotic, quixotic weirdness.

If this represents Israel, it's not long for this world.
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The film is much more relevant today than two years ago...
7 August 2002
I saw the film last night on cable and was caught up with the theme of terrorism in the Middle East. Two years ago 9/11 hadn't happened and the Arab-Israeli conflict was not white-hot. Today, the film bristles with the energy of the mortal conflict between the West and East.

The story is about one Marine colonel trying to defend another, an old war buddy from Vietnam, from a wrongful charge of murder for firing into a crowd of so-called civilians, killing a large number of men, women and children. Today we call it 'collateral damage.' The movie shows that the attack was necessary, as the raging crowd was armed and firing at the embassy, killing three marines. The colonel on trial finally ordered his men to fire on the crowd, which to the viewing audience seemed the only sensible and logical thing to do. The following day there were all these bodies and no weapons, but the story was that the weapons were removed to give the impression that the 'peaceful' demonstrators were unarmed. The head of the National Security Agency was more interested in catering to world opinion than in backing up the American armed forces, which risked their lives to rescue the embassy personnel, which they successfully did.

The film is about how cynical politicians don't care a fig about the men who risk their lives to save them and keep them secure, only caring about their own image and reputation. And so it is a movie about the betrayal of fighting men by amoral politicians. The prosecuting marine attorney is rabid and ruthless in pursuing the murder charge, claiming the colonel violated the 'rules of engagement.' Tommy Lee Jones gallantly tries to defend his war buddy friend, with whom he had a prior bloody fisticuffs battle when he realizes there are no witnesses, contrary to what he had been told. The case was tougher than he expected, and he didn't feel up to the job in the first place, but he took on this life or death legal contest out of friendship and loyalty and a strong feeling of responsibility. So the film turns out to be a morality tale, the good guys versus the bad guys.

Similarly, with echoes to the present Middle East and terrorist conflict of today, the Muslims are depicted as clever, lying and barbaric, covering up their own role in inciting the massacre. When Tommy Lee Jones was in Yemen, looking for witnesses and evidence, he was surrounded by an angry crowd and almost beaten to death. They hated Americans and called him a murderer.

Fast forward to the trial, the defense attorney knew there was a video camera pointing at the place where the crowd was, that would have shown if they had weapons or not. The movie shows that the videotape was deliberately destroyed by the National Security chief, a slick and smooth talker, who convinced the ambassador to lie about being rescued by the marines. He and his wife were both eyewitnesses and the defense attorney never subpoenaed them because he knew they would perjure themselves.

Ebert and Berardinelli criticized the ending as weak and inconclusive, but the ending did not bother me. What did bother me after the fact was learning that the captions at the end, stating that the colonel was vindicated and the National Security chief caught with his coverup and suspended, was false and fictional, giving the wrong impression that this was a true story. That is unforgiveable because I thought it was a true story, but I'm glad the story was concocted in the first place, because these things do happen, and we need to know about them. Better to be informed by facts than fiction, but sometimes fiction informs where facts are lacking.

Shakespeare's historical plays were full of factual inaccuracies, but the basic facts of greed, lust for power, betrayal of trust, self-aggrandizement, uncontrolled rage and waging war for stupid reasons remain universal truths of the human condition and dramas about them are both informative and entertaining, reminding us of things we would just as soon forget.

So I'll raise Ebert's and Berardinelli's 2 1/2* to *** and recommend the film for those who enjoy courtroom dramas and those who long to see truth, honor and justice prevail over cynicism, betrayal and dishonor.
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8/10
Aching nostalgia and powerful coming-of-age...
5 July 2002
The first ten minutes almost turned me off, and then I was hooked, but I

am always hooked on Anthony Hopkins' acting and good coming-of-age and

nostalgia stories. What kept me at a distance for awhile was spooky and

other-worldly stuff, surreal reference to dark forces, here called The

Low Men. As the Hopkins character tells it to the boy, letting him into

his confidence and becoming his mentor, in the absence of the boy's real

father, who died when he was five, the boy is incredulous and indulgent

and tells him, "I won't let the bogey-men get you."

But the Low Men seem a real threat after a while, symbolizing evil

forces in the world and we all know that evil forces do exist, and they

aren't all known. Little by little we are caught in the mysterious

reality of it all, in the shadows and sunsine of simple, everyday life

in the 60's, complete with old cars, sports stories, a symbolic baseball

glove, a neighborhood bully, and a pretty mom who is not much of a

mother.

The boy clearly needs a father-figure and is hooked by Ted who advises

the boy how best to use his adult library card. His knowledge and

judgment are impeccable and he is clearly a good sort, a positive

influence, but the mom is the lying sort, devious, running down of the

image of the father, and suspicious of Ted, the new boarder.

Ted helps the boy earn money for his dream bike, a Schwinn Phantom,

black with red design, shock absorbers and white sidewalls. The boy is

to read to him and keep him company for a dollar a week. He helps the

boy regain a more positive image of his dead father, which helps his

self-esteem by a more positive identification with a good male figure.

The childhood is captured in blissful detail at age 11, with two special

friends, the boy who promised him the glove in his will, and the girl

whose kiss would be the standard by which all others would be measured.

Some say the ending is too vague, but they just don't get it. The end

is special and powerful, showing the power of nostalgia and the gift to

t
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8/10
Imagine a contest between Teddy Roosevelt and a Barbary Pirate!
18 June 2002
This amazing film is an excellent drama of epic proportions, one with many layers of meaning. It purports to relate to actual history concerning Morocco and American interests in the Middle East, and brings to mind the current conflict between East and West.

Sean Connery is a romanticized version of Osama bin Laden, swashbuckling, handsome, barbaric and romantically attractive to his kidnapped heroine, Candice Bergen, whose two children are also taken. The Arab leader quotes the Koran and prays to Allah and chops off heads of traitors with impunity. The civilized Americans are at first aghast and later, admiring.

She's feisty and beats him at chess and he keeps saying she's a lot of trouble. But she overcomes his traditional tendency to subjugate and disregard women, after giving her a good smack for laughing at him when the boy's horse succeeds in throwing him from the saddle. Despite some scary viciousness, there's much subtle comic relief.

There are many twists and turns in the exciting plot, dramatizing actual history, and if true, shows the preconditions of World War I. England, France and Germany are vying for power in the area and keeping corrupt leaders in power. Sound familiar? Teddy Roosevelt is looking for a fight and a campaign issue and makes it his personal vow to free the American family and capture the renegade Barbary pirate. The film goes back and forth between Morocco and the U.S., showing the politicking and personality of America's then most popular president, one who is handy with a rifle, adept at boxing and knowing how his grizzly should be stuffed.

The film shows in multiple realistic and exciting battle scenes how the rifle and cannon overcome the scimitar, and how Teddy's gutsiness overpowers the decadent Europeans. We not only see the basis of WWI, but a presage of Islamic terror.

The ending, having to do with the parting of Sean Connery and Candice Bergen, is haunting and poetic, symbolizing a transcendent romantic bond, however unfulfilled. Somehow the Americans, living in the desert and getting caught up in Islamic ways, end up admiring the barbarism of the Arabs.

Psychologically, this possibility is sound, as we all harbor and contain barbarous impulses and admire heroism. On yet another level, there is a cynical view of colonial politics and the hunger for power and dominence, embodied by our own presidential hero, Teddy Roosevelt, who speaks loudly and carries a big stick.
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Unfaithful (2002)
Emotionally gripping, powerful acting, strong plot
17 May 2002
This film is mindful of two other dramatic films recently: "The Deep

End" and "In the Bedroom." In these three movies there is a

murder or accidental death and its impact on what seemed to be a

solid, well-established marriage.

What is demonstrated is the universal truth of the fragility of

relationships, even when there is a seeming calm and stability on

the surface. Marriage requires fidelity, security and commitment,

and few adults are capable on it in any sustained way.

Each of us is lured by the prospect of adventure and risk-taking,

especially if there is the promise of sexual fulfillment and the

fantasy of secrets being kept. The movie shows the difficulties of

living a lie and a double life.

Most often, the result of unfaithfulness is disastrous.

The acting is superb, especially that of Diane Lane. Richard Gere,

though more passive, soft-spoken and laid back, is the perfect foil.

The psychological truth is revealed that these seeming quiet and

restrained people can explode, given great provocation.

The moral of the movie is that the risk of an affair is hardly worth

the trouble, but there are many such movies, plays and novels and

people take the risk anyway. We wonder why, each in his or her

own way.

The movie is nothing if not provocative and stimulating. And there

is no gratuitous sex or violence.
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The problems of wealth and poverty converge in modern day Beijing
3 March 2002
`BEIJING BICYCLE'

Victor Bloom MD

`Beijing Bicycle' has been compared to Vittorio de Sica's `The Bicycle Thief,' a classic of decades ago, but this film is a landmark classic that raises the bar on movies about poverty and the city. The director, Wang, is being called a 6th generation Chinese film director, from a long tradition of great movie-making despite the political censorship inherent in communist China. I am sure the censors let this one through because of the theme of peasant nobility and capitalist corruption. They let this one pass because it also shows the tremendous urban development of China's ancient capital, where great projects of high-rise housing are dwarfing and replacing the old hardscrabble alleyways. It is clear that Chinese entrepreneurs are beginning to accumulate great wealth as capitalistic enterprises are being not only tolerated, but encouraged by the old guard, who are realizing the tremendous economic potential of a billion energetic and hardworking people.

Since China is becoming more open and industrialized, not to mention technologically sophisticated, the powers that be are showing off with this stunning film. Beijing is beginning to rival Tokyo in terms of developing garish areas of entertainment, including the adrenalin-rushing venues of video games and carnival arcades, populated by hopping and harem-scarem teenagers. There is a pulsating intensity that is almost New York City or Las Vegas, luring the kids to blow their allowances, cut school and smoke cigarettes. Into this hodge-podge of posh high-rise hotels and down-and-dirty slums we have a voyeuristic view of present-day Beijing.

If you were a normal American tourist, you would never see this interior view, so the movie is worth the price of a socio-anthropoligical tour that would have cost in 5 or 6 figures. Therefore, the movie is a great bargain because in less than two hours the viewer is exposed to cinema art at its highest level, with a synthesis of a classic story, one dramatic situation after another, subtle and powerful acting, original and creative cinematography, tied together with a pounding and relentless soundtrack that keeps the forward motion escalating to the very end.

The Shakespearean plot is mindful of `Romeo and Juliet' and `West Side Story.' The protagonists are teenagers, but the story is such that this over-used American term simply does not apply. These adolescents are young men and young women. And what emerges is the fact of China's one-child policy, in which many female newborns were dispatched, leaving the present China with many more young men than young women. At a billion and growing, China needed birth control. They formulated a plan and enforced it. Now what is the fallout?

The consequence of this policy seems to lead to white-hot competition between the males, and therefore gets primitively brutal at times. That has always been the case, given human nature, but we see that Chinese young men have not developed their aggression to the point of shooting up their classmates. They are not above braining each other every now and then with a brick, but bruised and bloody, they wake up from being knocked out and are ready for more conflict. Their 5000 year civilization keeps them trying to compromise and halting their aggression just short of murder, unlike the Europeans.

The competition is naturally about who's going to win the heart of the lovely girl. In this bicycle film, the heroes are those who can do the greatest tricks with a bike, and especially the latest mountain bikes, with shock absorbers, rugged tires and multiple gears. They can bounce up steps with them, whirl around on wheelies and even maintain a precarious balance while stationary. The girl is attracted to the Marlon Brando type who performs the best tricks bare-chested and who is cool enough to smoke cigarettes and carry a Zippo lighter. Instead of motorcycle gangs, the rich boys ride their daredevil bikes up the high stories of construction sites.

If you know anything about Beijing, it is a city of millions of bikes, swarming like taxis in New York. Most are for simple transporation to and from work and shopping, but some are used to transport multiple birdcages and even mattrasses. One bike is shown failing to support a refrigerator! The camera is everywhere, recording the waves of bicycles amid the swarms of automobiles, from ground-level up, through flashing spokes and chains, to panoramic views from above. The camera shows the poor neighborhoods with newcomers brushing their teeth in the street, even sharing a toothbrush, as well as the interior of posh hotels, where the hapless bicycle messenger must undress completely and take a shower in order to deliver a message to a Mr. Zhou. We find Mr. Zhou getting a comically assisted workout by the masseur and he is not the right Zhou. There are many Zhou's in China! `Try Zhou Yimou' is the inside joke, as that is the name of the director's mentor, the Great Zhou.

The bicycle messenger is a stubborn lad from the country and gets caught in a revolving door and into the machinations of the new posh living, and thus we are caught in the never-ending struggle between wealth and poverty, sophistication and ignorance. No need to go into the details of the story--- suffice it to say it is a gripping one, a coming together of age-old irresolveable conflict, that of young men looking for romance and poor people looking for a better life. As we observe the young men, struggling with inborn instincts of sex and aggression, there is sure to be shock, pain, bloodshed and important lessons learned. The audience of this great film is priviliged to observe them as it was, first hand.
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Spielberg's first film is wonderful, a classic.
10 November 2001
Haven't heard about "Sugarland Express" till recently and I had to see it because it was vintage Spielberg, and I'm a fan. And I wanted to see the young Goldie Hawn. I was not disappointed. It was one of these road-chase movies, bigger than life, but it was unique, especially because it was based on a true story. That fact made me incredulous throughout the film, but everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger than life.

Goldie desperately wants to get her baby back. She was in jail for some minor crimes and was found to be an unfit mother and her baby was put in a foster home and the foster parents were going to adopt him. Despite being a young girl, or maybe because of it, she was desperate to have her baby back. It was a love-child and the mother-love was passionate and obsessive. Hawn played the part to the hilt and used her sexuality and femininity to overcome the objections of her husband who was in a pre-release facility with low security.

She had a plan to help him escape, but he didn't want to risk it, take a chance of being caught and being incarcerated again. He only had four more months to serve. The other inmates were incredulous as they disguised themselves and got an old couple to give them a ride.

From this quiet beginning the film proceeded to repeated crescendos of drama and excitement. Try to imagine the young couple, young officer in tow, leading a chase of police cars, first a few, then a few dozen, then many dozen and ultimately hundreds, law-enforcement officers from all over the state and then snipers and a helicopter.

Lucky for the young couple an old-hand cop realized they were just a couple of kids and he staved off snipers with telescopic long-range rifles and a couple of vigilante gun-nuts.

You know something bad is going to happen at the end, because these kids didn't know what they were doing; they were madly in love and in a fantasy-land of getting their little boy back and living happily ever after in Mexico. Something bad happened, but something good happened. It will be worth your while to see this little classic from one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
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9/10
She does her best to deny the death of her husband...
26 October 2001
Charlotte Rampling does an award-winning acting job depicting a woman's reaction to her husband of 25 years disappearing into the ocean in the south of France. They seemed to be a serenely and smoothly functioning couple taking their annual vacation together. They had a lovely seaside villa and seemed to know the routine of travelling, opening the house and preparing to relax. They seem like a loving couple, but she is in her 40's, fit and trim while he was aging and overweight. He got wood for a fire and she made pasta and they went to bed together with affection, but no passion.

The next day was lovely and he lovingly applied sunblock to her back. He went swimming by himself as she preferred to relax for awhile and read a book. She never saw him again as he never returned. She was frantic and initiated a search, but no body was found. The following year she was trying to get on with her life, still denying her husband's death. Her friends grew increasingly concerned and tried to fix her up with a pleasant single man, and eventually she agreed to have a date with him and make love. The image of her husband remained with her in a soft, friendly way.

Events accelerate, the finding of the body, a shocking talk with her aged mother-in-law. Ultimately she seems to come to grips with reality as she breaks down and cries on the beach, but the sudden ending must be watched closely for a clue to how she eventually copes.

After the love-making scene, there is a shocking realization by the new boyfriend, that their physical intimacy meant nothing to her after the fact. This is what many lovers feel when they realize the physical intimacy was only skin deep and temporal. One wonders by what magic enduring love and commitment happens.
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A Doll's House (I) (1973)
9/10
As good as it gets.
24 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Can't imagine a better cast than Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom! The play is a classic and it is acted to perfection by pros. Bloom's portrayal of Nora shows her to be cunning and deceptive from the start, but cleverly playing the game of being her husband's little 'doll.' He is pompous, arrogant and authoritarian, oblivious of his insensitivity to his wife's feelings and needs. In the context of the approaching death of their good friend, Dr. Rank, who professes his love for her, and the denouement of the revelation of her forgery and shame, Nora realizes she doesn't love her husband, doesn't know herself, and decides to leave him altogether, including their three young children.

How shocking this must have been at the turn of the century! The one serious conversation of the couple married eight years is one that many unhappy couples should witness and study.
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