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L'enfant (2005)
sociology 101
13 September 2006
consistently well-acted and convincing, this understated piece peers into the life of a petty criminal, short on affect, the complications and consequences of whose life ultimately lead to a moment of moral action (as he turns himself in to protect a young accomplice), and to a final moment of feeling. the only art in the film is in drawn-out, and ultimately repetitive frames in which the principal character inhabits a blank formal scene, and, devoid of visible expression, waits. the camera is hand held, to deny Art, and the film is to be viewed in the context of, say, a high school or college class. a sympathetic piece, with, deliberately, too few dimensions.
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scripters' potboiler -
6 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
too predictable for spoilers, but i'll not be cagey below, so don't read it if you care.

a few dull scriptwriters together for half an afternoon, and even then they run out of ideas. so let's start with a criminal sought by all France...doesn't matter what he has done, we'll think of that later (they don't). some seconds of suspense, but not too much, and nothing unexpected, because that requires Art. half an hour needed to finish off the film; i get it: have them rob a jeweller's, and take a lot of time avoiding alarms etc.; everybody robs jewellers in films just ike this, it's bound to work (it doesn't). no humour, no character (ok, yves montand does get to ham it a weeny bit) and have everyone speak in a quiet deadpan voice that is supposed to make one think of noir, but merely makes the actors sound depressed. if they are silent, it'll make them seem grimmer - but also save us writing their lines. we'd better add something for the stay at home women who are going to watch this stuff, so let's have something to make them empathise with hubby (we forgot to put any women in the film). got it: a son on (gasp) marijuana - oh, and have him attempt suicide for no particular reason (shame? his dad's a mafia boss for crying out loud, but the audience will feel his fatherly care, and if not, sod them). oh, the crooked cop was a classmate of the guy who gets him in the end; wrenching, eh? let's have them all die at the end, or we'll never finish this stuff. is it in the can? right, that's over with then, thank god. who'll we get for director?
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Look at Me (2004)
a restrained soap
27 December 2005
to the extent that the English title, look at me, captures the actual intent of the film, it possesses in this a focus, and the two actors playing father and daughter play it out exceedingly well. but the remainder of its discernible subject is a theme of bourgeois professional games, and here potential tensions are barely introduced let alone resolved, so that characters remain no more developed, distinguished, than in a soap. this causes the piece to be very firmly one appropriate to television, not the cinema, and it is a commentary on the influence of the former that this film has garnered so many awards.
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stooges emote
17 July 2004
curiously slow-moving effort - scratch that, there's no effort about it, if we discount forlani's wrinkling her nose (which to do her credit, she does very well: it can keep one quite occupied during the enormous gaps in the 'action'). hopkins is miscast (when is he not?), doesnt much trouble to empathise with the character the screewriters have in mind; brad pitt is in one of his 'look at me, i cant act' roles. my kids were in stitches staring meaningfully, and for long, long minutes into each other's eyes, but then, they are human.

epic classical themese here, transported into a milieu (and a country of production) that cannot support them. pleasant for passing time on a long plane journey, for example, or anywhere where time does not matter - perhaps that was the plan.
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a farce
17 July 2004
this film supports, if that's the word, some extraordinarily poor acting, principally by Houston and Morgan, but also, embarrassingly, by the great Obi-Wan himself, grumbling unconvincingly into an invisible beard. The whole business is lifted from British rep, provincial reparatory theater, and no direction is evident that might have changed the pacing to that of a film. indeed, the blandly even timing, which is responsible for a lack of humour in well-worked sitcom lines, is redolent more of a radio play than one for the stage - though the british by this time had mastered that genre, whereas they remained curiouslty stilted in film. guinness wrote the script, and maybe he shouldnt have.

for once, a very rare once, television skills that were yet to be developed would have done this farce a world of good.
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Withnail & I (1987)
a capsule in time and space
26 June 2004
definitively scripted, cast and acted, the movie will nevertheless cause problems for our American friends. and enemies, come to think of it - but they'll be busy beating up on some other foreigners they don't understand, so where were we now....oh yes. what the British did to the freedoms of the 60s and on is quite distinct, and hard to read, 'cos they're smarter. which means they'll mix punk and Shakespeare, and the cynicism Americans can only get the tiniest hint of in their Left - because they don't have one. desperate despair, false meanings, all dipped in the hilarious soup of the queer game of the earlier upper class. and: Class. if you can adopt a British ear, this piece is a masterpiece. already worth the viewing for an exquisitely correct usage of the word 'mauve'. yes, the whole piece exquisite. a capsule in time and space.
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La bûche (1999)
american tv
16 February 2004
unfortunate that Beart lends her name to this made for television soap opera a l'americaine. weak writing, a cliche script, provokes competent but always facile acting. one thinks of face-lifts.
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class study
19 January 2004
The Swedish landscape is heartrendingly beautiful in this light-toned silent film. Sjostrom creates a nice little piece, with clear political intent - often missed in commentary inside class-blind USA - sensitively carried by the well-worked plot of maiden's idyll betrayed. The same falls in love with her employer's son, whom his father then sends away, one infers - the audience of the time would at any rate - in order to end the socially inappropriate relationship, but in fact so that he may use his power to take advantage of her, by force. She and her aged father are summarily dismissed; taken in by a wealthy patron, when he dies his family casts her out, into the demimonde (note her cigarette!) of the overclass' student life. A final set piece has her body, strewn with thorn roses, accusing the cause of her ruin.

The plot is incomplete, and these short moral films are not in fashion now, to say the least; but well worth seeing, in the context of retrospectives of Sjostrom's excellent work.
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can't cast, can't write, can do superb virtual reality sets.
20 June 2002
Appalling casting and dialogue leaves one longing for the

ensemble to go away and let us enjoy the quite brilliantly created

scenery. Artists and programmers have done us proud, while a

bunch of writers and actors (surely it can't be all Lucas' fault) share

a few tasteless american beers, take their cash, and entirely fail in

whatever it was they were trying to achieve. Unless it is after all

just a vehicle for those special effects - which, to give the

producers their due, brilliantly succeed.

Gems include confusing Ian McGregor with Harrison Ford (same

wisecracks, different, oh so different delivery); the same actor's

momentary lapse of accent on entering a bar; the evident character

design of Dooku's part with two different scripts . The teenage

performers are better than in #1, but still get their heads in the way

of the scenery, and a few virtual aliens upstage the lot.
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algebra going nowhere
20 June 2002
take puns & sex, a hopeful obsession with twos, and then... a few great formal compositions, but by no means as interesting as belly of an architect, that is to follow, and ultimately nothing.
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the British are smarter
20 June 2002
Intelligent, intriguing, interesting. Celtic or anglo-saxon warlike peregrination (imagined, we presume) overlaid on images of water, mostly running, structured like a symphony. For once no British repressed obscenities; view this early work as a five-finger exercise, mastered at last, assertive, showing class.
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graphic art
20 June 2002
critics know greenaway as a visual artist; here, his canvasses betray how good. lines stand by themselves, routes in the tale on which this is hung, somehow uninterpretable because of the unevenness of the line, the paint, the medium. the conceit would have been better supported by 50 rather than the 92 maps numerology imposes (the number of maps in a found book).

clever, ok, clever vehicle, catalogue for his graphic work.
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Eva (1962)
transitional genre, looking more back than forward
20 June 2002
The humiliation of a vain playboy at the hands of Eva (or Eve as he

will call her), played by Jeanne Moreau occurs with too much

predictability & haste, and must in the end drag. The film should

have been cast with Burton and Moreau, & the Stanley Baker left in

a more British genre - for though Baker plays with great

intelligence, nicely turning our sympathies away as the character

receives his come-uppance, there is a curious implausibility about

the combination. Two incommensurate worlds, sexes, as a

theme to be sure, but neither can be appreciated from the other,

and so neither is enhanced.
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25 December 2001
absurdly overrated vehicle for Marin county anorexics, of interest

only to older men charmed by, but largely excluded from, the

pretentions of the privileged young. also, of course, to historians of

the lesser directors of the old new wave.

the mannered failure of the principal actress to - well - act is

insupportable, and the annoyance is not decreased by a sense

that the director doesnt particularly care, in fact might prefer it that

way. the looseness of his direction is only pointed by the

conspicuousness of passages in which actual actors rebel, and

introduce verve.

in short, a film for the voyeur.
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Chocolat (2000)
just right for the airline trade
25 December 2001
A rather weak production for Lasse Hellstrom, and certainly not in

the league of Babette's Feast, on whose coat-tails it should not be

permitted to ride. Depp, for once, is correctly cast; but Binoche is

not, and appears uncomfortable with her lines (from the sound

quality I would guess most speaking roles to have been


The film's predictability and gentle nudge-nudge salacity make it

quite suitable for the airlines - but think, if such as Mikhalkov had

been there to arrange the details, develop characters, symbols,

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Topkapi (1964)
26 October 2001
A dismal hangover from the filmmaking of the 50s. Silence but for the action; labored. Mercouri is appalling, a death-mask of pretention - but lightens gradually during the film, which hangs entirely on the talent of Peter Ustinov, which is fortunately real.

As WWII ended cinema-goers expected exotic travelogues. At times the director appears to wash his hands of it, and offers that mode. But, really, he shouldnt be working.
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devil-may-care film making. terrific fun.
14 September 2001
an exceedingly eccentric film, with a devil-may-care approach that succeeds - and only just, at that - to the extent that one is charmed by wild improvisation. this is my style, so what, says the director, and shall we next try this?

Political analysis is quite beside the point, which is indeed the point, if any, of the film. The absurdity of grasping at political meaning (or rather, replacing it with expression) is wonderfully captured in amnesia (and the entire success of the film, by the way, depends on a brilliantly sustained performance in this role).

babble; terrific fun.
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An art-film sleeper
14 September 2001
Only the British could make surrealism seem matter of fact. Arty it could be, but for the imperturbability of its characters, who move like game pieces through the plot . Among all the cogs and set-pieces there is always the sense of private preoccupations that at a whim could be turned off like the telly. No greek tragedy this: beautifully un-acted: the affect is off.

The detachment this creates allows one to sit back and savour the dense painterly textures, perspective as palpable as in Wyndham Lewis' Childermass, the film a canvas, the plot a Slade professor's notes.

Watch it, you get your reward.
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jaw-dropping dud
29 May 2001
Remember the name Kevin Lime - and please, please never let

him direct again. Timing, pacing, editing: all hopelessly wrong.

Three or four decent professionals (next time, guys, walk off the

set) can do nothing to save this film from amateurs like Alice

Evans, and the kind of production standards you'd expect from

teen-produced children's shows on british TV.

Greatest mystery: the music. A score so inept, inappropriate and

ill-matched to the tone of the film that one seriously wonders if it is

a case of sabotage. Add an acoustic that booms apparently

unengineered from a single mike, and a director who only

intermittently remembers to add auditory action offscreen, and we

have what must be on of the greatest ratio of money to result of

recent years.
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
headless plot, wasted actors.
28 January 2001
A screenplay appropriate to the teenage male, and very likely

written by one: half-begun themes (principle, torture, witchcraft)

sacrificed to cheap special effects (how many heads do we really

have to see roll?). Any stroke of axe or Heath Robinson device

spurts blood precisely into the wielder's face; yet the level of gore

(blood spurting from each nailhole of a victim of the iron Maiden) is

marginally too great to support the only kind interpretation of this

film, that it is supposed to be funny. Lines of development so

poorly handled that characters must stop and catch the audience

up with the plot, as in some detective farce.

And what a romp it might have been: rarely can so many great

actors - for the supporting cast is potentially superb - have stood

around with so little to do. Not including Mr Depp, kept very busy,

who equates acting with swallowing to express fear, etc etc,

unfunny and untrained in pastiche, inadequate to attempting the

themes that first informed this abandoned script.

Kudos to the headless horseman, for twirling his axe in the only

act of real gusto in a long evening. And to the sets, that save this

failure from a bomb. Sympathies for the supporting cast, who

should have been left on their own to fashion a farce, or an

adventure, or even a drama, which this certainly is not.
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Trojan Eddie (1996)
television work
11 November 2000
With such a good cast, it is disconcerting to see the film not quite succeed. Part of the fault lies with the writing, that misses many chances for character development, and simply abandons any pretence of creating a female role. But more subtle is the failure of tone and timing; in both respects the flaws are inherited from TV work. Tarkovsky speaks of film being about time, and this piece is a study in how a casual and episodic realism that grapples with time neither in structure nor in scene can cause a work to drift away from its purpose, and art.

There is, again from television, an ambiguity of intent: the script writer sees a chance to draw a character of some violence; then glimpses the possibility of pathos. In the end we all suffer from a retreat, in which sitcom is next in line.
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cutesy rewrite shocks readers of the book
9 October 2000
harmless enough, but it lets the cat out of the bag: Hollywood scriptwriters only pretend to study literature on their way to the big bucks. Otherwise they'd have known the dollops of Disney cute that are larded over characters of ambiguous appeal could only choke the message. To Disney, the Ugly Duckling is a cuddly pet.

An echo of some greater work is here, though, in the classical score.
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Random Hearts (1999)
first against the wall when the revolution comes
8 October 2000
Located in the genre of soap opera, complete with elevator music to remind its drained, elderly audience to emote while nothing is going on, this drab throwaway never leaves the expensive scriptwriter's page. Harrison Ford has been told to allow no visible expression of feeling or character on his face - some american has read that the lecteur will supply what is too patently missing; but no, not the audience for this film. Meanwhile the women are universally as dimensional as cloned cutouts from glossy New England magazines.

The genre of soap opera, of artificial drama, leaves plenty of room for emotion; it can if it wishes inherit the grand tradition of melodrama, and tap tragic themes. Not here. Locked in their lonely worlds, scriptwriter, director, and, yes, the spoiled audience whose fantasy lives it inexplicably troubles to portray, all together remind us to be sure to preserve these people harmless where they presently are: anaesthetised, in little plastic capsules of vanity.
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holm does his homework
6 October 2000
The subdued temper of this film will appeal to enthusiasts of 82 Charing Cross Road, and the homage to the New Yorker is explicit. Beyond this, it must be seen by those - like myself - who have found themselves dissappointed by the work of Ian Holm, whose promise has always seemed greater than his very English voice and style. When - as in Wetherby - he is well cast, he can be a gem; but in so many films he has seemed to the English ear of this writer to be like Hopkins weakly cast, and unpersuasive in his adaptation to the role.

It is therefore an occasion for cheering to see Ian Holm at full, serious professional power, extremely well rehearsed for his part. Here his performance has the spontaneity and vigour one expects from the Russians; it is hard to imagine he achived this without a study of the manic, disturbed characters of which his subject is one.

He moves a notch up the ranks; let us hope he is now offered a belated accumualation of serious work.
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The 10th Kingdom (2000– )
no one can act
21 September 2000
Inexcusably inadequate casting of ham roles (the trolls, the half-wolf), inattentive acting and the concomitant lack of direction or timing, spoil a promising idea. Its made for TV quality is apparent: a casual acceptance of the first take - i hope it's the first take, or do some of the actors just accept they're slumming?

Teen audience stuff, with simple violence replacing charm and dread alike. Nothing to do with Film; everything to do with television in the United States. So many directors could have made something of this (and so many - compare the second with the first Never Ending Story - something just as artificial and graceless).
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