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Movie about "life"?
26 March 2011
Let's say you are not Canadian. Or Jewish. Then how are you entertained by the movie? Alternatively, how do you explain that Giamatti won the Golden Globe for a COMEDY? To me, the film is overlong, depressing, and devoid of entertainment. The acting is a dissonance. Dustin Hoffman is trying to be lovable Dustin Hoffman and to take over every scene he is in. Minnie Driver is fine but her character supposedly did her master's at McGill and shows nothing of the sort. Actress portraying 3d wife/"love of entire life" does not do any acting, and Giammatti is forced to overact (I actually think he is brilliant in showing the aging of the character through the physical cues, but watching one scene after another of drinking/smoking/doing something idiotic gets tiring after awhile).

I do not join the criticisms along the lines "how did all these women fell for this guy?"--it happens, women like to be pursued and do not necessarily fall for Apollonic beauty or Emily Post table manners. I have not read the book, so can't really comment on faithfulness of the movie, but I do think the title is unfortunate (i.e. something works fine for the way the book is structured but not here).

Thumbs down. Unless you are Jewish Canadian.
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Mammoth (2009)
Lucas's morals better than your morals!
17 October 2009
Saw the movie at Chicago film festival. Disclaimer--I am not at all familiar with the director's work. However, I am very familiar with the feeling I had when back in the USSR they made movies trying to depict life in America. Well, this time the Swedes (with the assistance from the Danes) make the movie about life... in America, Philippines and Thailand. I swear, sometimes these kinds of things should really be left to the locals.

As a moviegoer I want to be entertained, whether it's a tragedy, a melodrama, or an action flick. On this simplistic level the movie definitely fails. It could be OK, there are plenty of long European movies which are more of the statement of the vision or the philosophy of the artist (The Class/Entre Les Murs is an example of a movie that would be fun to watch only for teachers and nobody else--but at least you appreciate what the film is trying to do)...

However, Mammoth failed for me on an almost visceral level. I very strongly disliked the moralizing approach taken by the director. If you enjoy being told how wrongly you live your life, this is for you (when mother stabs her son in the stomach, is is bad?.. and should we draw a few analogies to this kind of thing?). The rest of the audience should be better off seeing a nice romantic comedy.
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Cold Mountain (2003)
I liked the violence!
26 February 2004
I went to see "Cold Mountain" with my wife and in the end we had a big argument--of course she liked it and I could not get out of the theater soon enough. But then even two days later I was thinking about the movie, and even had some dreams about it! The film clearly had a powerful effect on me.

Why was that? It was surely not the acting (the interactions between the protagonists are uninspiring--they give each other long looks that were supposed to embody pain and passion and that was it). It was not the character development (absolutely lacking except as the plot outline promised Ada "struggles to keep the farm" which culminates in her successfully shooting a turkey!). It was not the predictable plot (the cast of different characters Inman meets on his journey was the only redeeming feature). And even as the sweeping shots of Romanian landscape were good, I had a strange feeling that the cinematographer could have done a lot more with the peace and beauty of nature--as opposed to the gory mess the warring men create out of life.

Come to think about it later, that was it. The most haunting and redeeming feature of the film was that tons of people die in it. None of deaths is beautiful. None of the deaths is glorious. All the deaths seem almost inevitable. Nothing is more contrasting than the Southern jubilation on the great news "we got a war" shown (in a flashback) after one of the most gory battle scenes ever shot. It makes you really consider the frailty of life and especially question thinking about wars from your armchair in terms of geopolitical abstractions. (reminds me of "Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Freedom" article from The Onion). It's interesting that just like in the "English Patient" Minghella takes up the cause of the losing side in the conflict.

All in all, an overlong, cheesy Oscar vehicle--but not a total failure.
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Don't miss the message!
10 February 2004
It has been said enough in the comments about acting v dancing in the movie. I do believe that the plot (super-predictable) and the acting (everyone talks like they read from the script) really disintegrate toward the second half. I enjoyed the dancing, even though with my 2 left feet I cannot really judge it--but my wife (a former ballerina) was impressed (nevertheless thinking that the film was god-awful overall).

However, one point that has not been made is that the film was not meant to be an artsy one, or an Oscar vehicle. Instead, it is directed to black teens and pre-teens and the filmmakers tried to put as many positive messages as possible into the movie.

The characters explicitly say on the screen: don't cuss, train hard, go to school, don't put your hands on the girl, don't get involved with crime... etc etc. One poster complained about the violence--but come on! It's an extremely watered-down picture of life in the 'hood.

I would rate this movie a PG, not even a PG-13. While the plot line is a knockoff from 8-mile, its closer comparison is Sesame Street! If you are a movie buff, it's easy to dislike the film, but movies like this should be made, and I am all too happy to see it do well at the box office.
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Bond, Step Aside: Stierlitz is in town
10 January 2003
One of the little-recognized deficiencies of spy movies is that 'action'--chases, shootings, explosions, etc.--is dominant content. Of course, the trend caters to modern audiences that are addicted to sound and special effects. However, action-driven spy movies (e.g., James Bond) suffer from 3 major defects: 1)They are not believable 2)They contain little or no acting performances to speak of 3)As such, they are easily forgettable. This is not the case with "17 moments of spring" (hereafter SMOS)

The 12 episodes of the series have been specifically shot in Black and White, in fairly simple studio sets, with no special visual effects. What makes SMOS the favorite of audiences, is a gamut of absolutely incredible acting. Each role, even a minor one, casts an "all-star" Soviet actor, and they deliver deep psychological performances. Tikhonov is an obvious star as Stierlitz, but consider Leonid Bronevoy as Mueller, the friendly, always suspicious and incredibly cruel inside Gestapo chief. Or Oleg Tabakov, as cheerful Schellenberg of the German intelligence. Or Plyatt as very vulnerable and very human Pastor Schlag who nevertheless embodies the power of the Church.

So essentially SMOS is not a spy movie, but a tight psychological drama. But we must not forget the subject, and it is an important one, based on a major real life event: in early 1945, trying to finish off the Nazi Germany, the Russians found out that SS-gruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff (essentially a representative of the odious Himmler) attempted to negotiate a separate piece with the Americans in Italy. The talks were top-secret (OSS star Allen Dulles was the US negotiator) and essentially meant a betrayal of Russia by its anti-Nazi allies. SMOS is about how the Russians discovered the secret and forced the end to negotiations.

In short, this is one of the greatest all-time spy thrillers. Just as "Rosemary's Baby" is arguably the best horror movie because of its acting and directing, so does SMOS shine through the mediocrity we are fed today. I wish it were shown to the wide Western audiences, so that they can see for themselves!
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Chocolat (2000)
Too many sweets lead to diabetes
1 March 2001
OK I admit it. I like European movies. Mostly because compared to the usual US productions they are untrivial in subject matter, and have original cinematography and acting. Sadly, 'Chocolat' is not one of those. The movie is bound to have you feel good when you leave the theatre. However, I have seen enough of 'feel-good' movies to require something else to enjoy one--some originality perhaps?

The good parts of the movie are the setting and the cast, but the cinematographer does not manage to do anything special with eihter. Indeed, it seems that the primary technique to amuse the viewer is to do a close-up on Juliette Binoche (always wearing red, with bright red lipstick) and hold it there: look, isn't she beautiful. As to the plot... cheesy and predictable. I am not religious, but as many others. I also find that attacks on Christian values are a little bit out of place. If you want to make a movie about hypocrisies of religion, you can deal with the topic thoroughly--otherwise the cartoonish portrayal of Christian life is enough to offend the believer but not enough to make it believable.

And lastly--what was Johnny Depp doing in the film???
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East Is East (1999)
But why did they have to pee?
8 August 2000
One strange thing about the movie is that many characters (esp. Sajit) tend to urinate in public quite a lot (in fact, the film opens with a mock urinating scene and it gets worse afterward).

Otherwise, the points have all been made in other comments. Good movie, but could have been a lot better.
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Reality Bites (1994)
I bet they were having fun making the film
8 August 2000
I liked the movie. On the other hand, it was pretty painful to watch.

To explain. The comic effect of the film is based on many situations where the characters find themselves having to say, declare, profess something that must feel important to the other person(s), right now, right this moment. They take a deep breath... and fail miserably. I was moaning and closing my eyes time after time.

The characters are recent US college grads and therefore clueless. They do not have to appealing to be funny. Ben Stiller did a good job acting and directing, and "There's Something about Mary" was still to follow...
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The Haunting (1999)
The triumph of movie technology, the fall of acting
28 July 1999
I agree with all the comments about the sound and the special effects. Those are very well-done, and I will not be surprised if the movie gets nominated for Oscar in either category.

But come on! As a film, "The Haunting" is just a horrible Hollywood concoction. It contains no plot to speak of (or believe in), and Lili Taylor is the only one that gets to do any acting in the movie (and I don't think she's that good an actress anyway). Catherine Zeta's initial few lines when we first meet her character are funny, but then there's nothing. She and Liam Neeson are only there for the "star power" and contribute no value added otherwise.

The movie is all about the sound and special effects, and that's why it'll make a lot of money in the US box office. One star out of five.
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As A Russian, I find the film nothing special.
22 July 1999
As one reviewer had pointed out, the value of the movie is metaphorical. Viewed in that sense, the acting and cinamatography are excellent (especially compared to sound- and special-effects-based crap Hollywood is serving upon us), but the subject matter is quite trivial.

To explain my attitude, I must add that unfortunately I (as well as many other Russians) have been through so many books/plays/movies dealing with the tragedies of the late 30s, that the movie is not as 'revealing' to me as it might be to a Western audience. I think Mikhalkov could have done better! Rating 6/10 from me.
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Scandal (1989)
Excellent representation of the times and facts.
22 July 1999
I've read the book that the movie is based on (a collection of reports on the 1963 affair that shook the UK politics). I must say that the movie is very accurate in its portrayal of the times and facts of the case.

That of course would not have made it the film to watch. So it has a lot of nudity to spice things up (man, the sixties were a decadent time!), good acting, and brilliant soundtrack of theme songs just recreates the times for you. John Hurt as the ambitious 'doctor' is excellent, as is Bridget Fonda. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, who played the protagonist, Christine Keeler, is quite forgettable though.

I highly recommend this movie, but beware it's a STRONG "R" film.
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The Third Man (1949)
Great mixture of story, acting, and music-one of the best movies ever
12 January 1999
With Graham Greene you usually cannot go wrong. I have read the book, and (even though I love Greene as a writer) I was not that impressed. The movie is a different story however!

The haunting image of post-war Vienna, occupied by all the different Allied powers, is beautifully recreated. Orson Welles is amazingly the star of the movie, even though he is hardly ever seen--his off-screen presence as mysterious Harry Lime is that great. The plot has twists and turns, and the public is generally kept in the dark. I do not know who Anton Karas was, but he created one of the best music scores to any movie I have ever seen--and what instrument is he using anyway?

Watch that movie, enjoy it, and read more books by Graham Greene ... Like "The Quiet American."
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