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Highly Entertaining
28 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I watched "The One I Love" because I Love Elisabeth Moss' acting. Her work over seven years in "Mad Men", in "Girl Interrupted", & "On the Road" have all been excellent in my eye. Can she handle a lead role in a romcom feature?

I liked her a lot as both Sophies in this off beat and clever film. Kudos to co-star Mark Duplass and to director Charlie McDowell. The story did not wander off point and contained suspense and a wonderfully ambiguous ending in a not overly long 90 minutes.

I have a female friend to whom, I once mentioned how much I liked Ms. Moss in "Mad Men." Her response was, "The ugly one?" I couldn't believe she was saying that. Women can be hard on one another. Elisabeth Moss is an excellent actor and a beautiful woman as "The One I Love" proves. Watch it, or don't.
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Back Beyond (2013 Video)
Philip Seymour Hoffman "Back Beyond" unused scenes from "The Master"
2 February 2014
So sorry to lose one of our great actors. I especially loved Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance in "The Master". I thought it one of his best. I found the video of "Back Beyond" on You Tube and it is great to watch if you're a fan of the film and the actors. It fills in some holes for those familiar with the film and of previews of the film which included scenes not in the theatrical release. The scene at the very end with Hoffman and Phoenix is sweet, funny, and now so poignant . My thanks go out to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his wonderful work. My sympathies go out to Mimi O'Donnell, and to their three children. He has left us with an impressive which we can watch and cherish .
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The Master (2012)
The Price We Pay
27 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I lost track of the number of times I've watched "The Master." It's been six or seven and I'd still be going back if it was still in theaters. I found the film mesmerizing. It is for me, perfect in so many ways. I'm thankful Paul Thomas Anderson is making films. I've put off writing my thoughts down about this film partially because I've not had time because I spent too much time going to see it, but mainly because the film has such breadth of meaning to me that I find it hard to put my thoughts down coherently. I've read many, many reviews including excellent ones by Kenneth Turan (LATimes), A.O. Scott (NYTimes), and Ella Taylor (NPR). I like these reviews because I agree with them.

On the cinematic level PTA has made another accomplished work of art. It shines on all levels for me. The acting across the board is tremendous and especially the three featured actors, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. The cinematography and art design are beautiful to behold and the score by Jonny Greenwood works perfectly. Thematically I think this film is expansively broad in scope. I see it as a sociological rendering of the past sixty plus years of the United States of America.

The USA has been at war in all of that time and has paid a great price for that in many ways. The Master looks at the few years after the end of WWII and the price the "greatest generation" paid. The concept of a "greatest generation" is laid bare here. Freddie Quell and all of the men, women and children who survived that war and the wars that have continued unendingly have suffered this nation's inability to find an alternative.

NPR's Ella Taylor put it much better than I am able. "Without ever saying so, the movie adds up to nothing less than a social psychology of the nervous, spiritually questing geist of post-World War II America. After hard times were declared officially over and peace and prosperity were proclaimed, the legacy of the past opened a space for all manner of restless malignancies to take root."

This is not specifically a film about Scientology or cults, or alcoholics, or Freddie, or Lancaster, or Peggy or Elizabeth, or Val , or Doris, but it is a story about all of them and all of us right up until today. We wouldn't need a Lancaster Dodd to show us as individuals how we can save ourselves, if we lived in a society that didn't need to be at war with itself and the universe. If you've read this far you're the bravest reader I've ever met.
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The Girl (2009)
A Wonderful Swedish Film on "growing up"
26 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The girl on the cover of the DVD "The Girl" looks like my conception of an old friend's description of the way some people are treated, "like a red-headed step-child." Also the wonderful actress Blanca Engström, who inhabits the flesh of the film's central focus looks like my daughter's best kindergarten friend. Except the "Girl" of the film is given very little to smile about, unlike my daughter's little friend.

The girl's parents are on a mission to Africa ostensibly for humanitarian reasons but in reality because as the mother states, "I can't stand living in this cramped little world." And when, the parents learn that their daughter is too you to join them and her brother, they abandon her to an aunt who can't even take care and responsibility of herself. The Girl cleverly manages to rid herself of the aunt and her partying friends.

After I've watched and love an under-the-radar film like this I try to figure out how I found it and in this case I have very little idea. The cinematographer handled the camera in "Let the Right One In" which I loved, but I doubt that's how I found this. I'm grateful for Netflix letting me find these obscure films and for having such a vast selection so easily accessible. These are great times for cinephiles.

"The Girl" is a film about the power of silence, of observation, and the wisdom of some people, children included. The girl is wise enough to dispatch her careless aunt, to hide her situation from those adults who mighty impose on her and could disrupt her learning and her ability to discover, for herself, how the world works. The friends her age, she finds, are as thoughtless and cruel as the adults she is subjected to. Yet she pushes on, totally alone at times into the adventure she has helped create, without remorse.

This is the kind of cinema we don't get from Gollywood. This could have been made into a complete tear-jerker. But it is not, even though I did cry at the end. What a beautiful and insightful movie.
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Napoleon (1927)
Abel Gance's Napoleon in Triptych-vision
1 April 2012
I feel fortunate that tickets were available at the last minute and I was able to see the Kevin Brownlaw 5 1/2 hr restoration of Abel Gance's "Napoleon". The hype after the first weekend's performances made it irresistible. The film was accompanied by the Carl Davis score, conducted live by Mr. Davis, and played flawlessly, by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland, California. (Eat your hearts out Manhattan and Hollywood.) It felt a special occasion and the audience was primed for the event.

I've wanted to see "Napoleon" for a very long time and somehow as I've gravitated toward DVD I hoped that I could watch it at home. Wait, wait, wait and nothing. Luckily, the DVD option never happened.

When I heard that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival intended to show the Brownlaw restoration over two weekends in Oakland. I never thought that a regular film buff, like myself, would be able to get tickets. Fortunately I was able to do so.

I traveled to Oakland, arrived an hour early for what was, in itself, with intermissions and a dinner break, an eight hour commitment. I've attended films with similar demands ("Our Hitler" comes to mind) and I only hoped it would be worth the commitment.

At the dinner break, about half way through the film, while I was impressed with the production values and the seemingly modern shooting style what most impressed me was the live symphonic accompaniment. But, based on my own expectations, I was a bit disappointed in the film itself. But that feeling was soon dissipated by the beauty and the power of the last half of the film. The cinematography seemed even more modern (lots of hand-held shots and special effects), plus the frankness of the sexuality, the humor, the romanticism, and beautifully paced scenes of great sensitivity.

By the time of the "Three Screens," wonderment, (Gance called it "Polyvision") I'd been won over, completely by this Masterpiece. There is no way to describe what Gance was able to produce. It must be witnessed first hand. One can only hope that somehow it will receive further exposure to those who love the greatest art form, Cinema. I'd see it again in a heartbeat.
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Cold Weather (2010)
Who Dun It?
19 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes I get films from Netflix and I have no idea where I got the inspiration (or lack of) to rent the film. My renting "Cold Weather" (what's the title supposed to signify?) must have been inspired by the NY Times reviewer Manohla Dargis whose opinions I've come to trust. Well I think I have to reevaluate my Dargis trust factor. There are several other "professional" reviewers who also liked this film but for the life of me I cannot understand why.

I like independent films but "Cold Weather" left me cold. It was like the Hardy Boys meet Portlandia without the comedy but with unintended laughs at just how amateurish this film is. I have a great tolerance for slow moving thoughtful films and with films that leave you hanging at the end but the four main actors seemed without talent and I got tired of scene after scene of sleeping actors and telephones ringing. If this film is your cup of tea I do not mean to offend but I will stay away from Aaron Katz films in the future.
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Malick's Job
5 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The poet, painter, engraver, visionary, William Blake spent over 40 of his 70 years illustrating the Book of Job and his final set of 21 engravings brought him his greatest recognition as an engraver and visual artist, but not until after his death. He worked in almost total anonymity in his lifetime and was misunderstood and unappreciated. The engravings are remarkable for the subtle complexity of the symbols. The story of Job was obviously an important one to Blake.

The story of Job is important to Terrence Malick too. The words which open the film from Chapter 38 when God answering Job's complaints about why he and his family are being unjustly punished God speaks from within a whirlwind, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Basically God answers the question of the existence of evil in the world by showing that unless you understand the whole of existence you cannot understand the parts.

Malick sets about showing the viewer both the good and evil that exists in the world and he names them "the way of Grace and the way of Nature". The loss of a dearly beloved son and brother much before his time is the dramatic vehicle to attempt to "justify the ways of God to man" and why he allows the existence of good and evil in creation. If the question of good and evil is "prattle" or "pretentious" then what questions are worthy of pondering? On the visual level the film is stunning and the cinematography and camera work incredible. The "child eye" angles, the swooping, swerving, circling, movement capture my memory of growing up. The story is driven by the images and not through dialogue which I see makes some uncomfortable. The acting is also marvelous given the same "limitations" of plot development and narrative.

I grew up in the 50's and for me the film does a masterful job of recreating the flow and rhythm of those times and the frustrations of growing up in America then. It is not an easy task Malick attempting and for me he succeeds completely.

I knew before the film was released that this film would be greeted by derision by those viewers who need to be told directly what a film is about and that people who appreciate subtlety in art would appreciate another Malick masterpiece. He has been working 40 years towards this achievement. I remember the reception "2001 A Space Odyssey" received in 1968 and how it is looked on now. In '68 a majority of professional film critics got "2001" wrong. I think the positive critical response to "The Tree of Life" in 2011 came in part because of the genius of Stanley Kubrick leading the way making films which challenge the audience. Thank you to Stanley and Terrence.
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I Love Shakespeare, but...
17 April 2011
Oliver's first cinematic Shakespeare, David Lean as editor, J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan author) credited for "treatment" of the play, Jack Cardiff (the great cinematographer) as camera operator. With all of that talent it should be great. I'm not some kind of purist when it comes to cinematic Shakespeare.

Given that "As You Like It" is not one of my favorite plays this experiment of bringing the Bard's work to the masses could be enough to keep this viewer away from ever wanting to see any more of this. The most damaging part of this version is the poor choice by director Paul Czinner of turning over the pivotal role of Rosalind to his wife, Elisabeth Bergner. For me the thickness of her German accent bleeds all of the life and poetry out of the production. She is quite attractive but just not right for this part. The beautiful photography, the fairy tale sets, the play itself, and the beautiful Oliver (whose performance is far from classic) can not salvage this abomination. It's everything Shakespeare should not be.
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True Grit (2010)
True Grit is truly great
24 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Last summer when I saw the previews for "True Grit" and the exchange between Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn, "What do you want girl?" "I'm looking for the man who killed my father. The man's name is Tom Chaney and I need someone to go after him." I waited for its release with great anticipation. I have not been disappointed. "True Grit" is a remarkably religious film exploring Grace, justice, revenge, retribution, law, salvation, etc.

For me "True Grit" is one of those films that come along every so often that I "have' to see over and over again. It repays repeated viewing because it is so deep and rich on many levels. I think every actor in the film is perfect in his/her role from Hailee Steinfeld who is in every scene, except when the "adult" Mattie appears and she carries the movie. There are scenes wherein she is the "harpy in trousers" the woman fixated on justice, law, revenge, and getting her way. Then there are several scenes where she gets to be the 14 year-old girl remember camping out at night, "We had a good time," or her delight in wanting to "double back over our tracks, and confuse the trail in a clever way" and her looks of horror when she witnesses the chaos her pursuit of Chaney is creating. I will be disappointed if she doesn't win the Oscar but won't be surprised because the Academy's logic (or lack there of) is so often flawed. Then on through Bridges, Damon, Brolin, Pepper, onto the horse trader, the undertaker, Yarnell, the hanged men, the woman at the hanging, Bear Man, and on and on. Roger Deakins' cinematography is gorgeous especially the night lighting. The costuming, soundtrack, the art direction, and set decoration.are all brilliant. The Coen's commitment to being faithful to the Portis novel should put to rest peoples' concerns about this being a remake of the '69 "True Grit." It is a very funny and yet very moving film. I, for one am glad the Coens made this "True Grit."
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Secretariat (2010)
The film 'Secretariat' would have had to be awful for me not to Love it
8 November 2010
I remember seeing the Belmont Stakes on TV in '73 and knowing I had seen a remarkable achievement by an equestrian (or any) athlete. Since that day 37 years ago the mystique of that horse, "Big Red" has only grown in my heart. I still cannot watch Secretariat run that day, without tears coming to my eyes. Thank god that U Tube exists and I can watch every race that wondrous stallion ran and see footage of him running in his paddock, filled with himself and his power. I don't know about Man of War but I do know about Secretariat and I have a hard time believing there was ever a greater Racehorse than he.

When I learned that a film was coming out about Secretariat, I could only hope it would do him justice. I am not a great fan of the genre of sport films, with 'Raging Bull' being one of the few exceptions. All I felt I could hope for was that they would not demean the memory of the great Secretariat. I have waited until the film showed at my favorite local cinema to view it.

I was planning to see it on the day that the equally wondrous filly Zenyatta was attempting to conclude her remarkable racing career by winning the Breeders Cup Classic for the second year in a row a feat almost as remarkable as Secretariat breaking the record for a 1 ½ mile race by 2 2/5 seconds, a record which still stands and which will not be broken, at least, in my lifetime. I would like to think that Zenyatta is a candidate for another equestrian cinema biography.

When Zenyatta made another of her great stretch runs from far behind (not unlike Big Red's usual mode of running) but this time came up a nose short I found myself again in tears and unable to go see 'Secretariat'. But the next day I decided to see 'Secretariat..' I'm glad I saw it and while it is certainly not perfect, and is a Disney product with designs to sell it as a Christian media event, the story is actually accurate from what I know, to the achievement that Secretariat, Penny Chenery, Ron Turcotte, and Lucien Laurin were able to pull off.

Diane Lane and John Malkovich were really fine. I wondered how Secretariat would come across. In the film he's a cipher just as he was in my mind in real life. How was he able to accomplish what he did in the Belmont Stakes? We'll never know.

So here's to the film makers for not totally screwing up Secretariat's life as they did with that Seabiscuit film..

Long Live King Secretariat (Big Red) and Long Live Queen Zenyatta!!
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Who Is Robert Stone and Why Is He Propping Up the Warren Commission?
18 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Oswald's Ghost" just demonstrates how Kennedy's death is still being white-washed. The writer, director Robert Stone gives the viewer a series of repeating, talking heads with differing opinions about what happened in those days. Mark Lane is given a goodly amount of screen time. But Norman Mailer gets to put the final nail in Lee Oswald's coffin and if he was still with us should be ashamed for his part in the cherry-picking Mr. Stone does in the continuing obfuscation of what happened in Dallas.

I believe you can get a much better sense of the Kennedy and Oswald assassinations by seeing "JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America." You'll be able to see for yourself what was going on in Dallas those few days, without talking heads trying to make up your mind for you. The Police work in Dallas that day was so amazing in how they found their man and all the evidence they needed to convict "their man" with certainty within hours while at the same time the President and his "assassin" were murdered in their jurisdiction. I wasn't aware the "powers that be" are still trying to make sure we end up believing the official version.
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Taramtino IS a Bastard!
16 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
OK, I got that out of the way. (why basterds??? Oh, I get it, it builds up the mystique.) I liked IB more than I'd expected. I really enjoyed the constant cinematic references. I got hooked very quickly into the story and the actors' performances. I was even able, in the beginning, to overlook Brad Pitt and his over-the-top performance.

The film is great to look at and well constructed and for a while I was lost in the web Tarantino was weaving.

Yes, there is violence and blood. I was troubled by the death of the two females. But that had me wondering about my values. Why would I object to the death of women in a film but not so much a man??? I really tired of Pitt by the end and if the film had been shorter by 30 or 40 minutes it would have worked better for me.

The end, where all the baddies are destroyed was a superior cinematic conceit. If only… For those who are afraid that this film will somehow change the Holocaust history, get real and relax.
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Hurt Locker
30 July 2010
Males and females at IMDb both rate this film equally at 7.8 (but as usual it's 10 to 1, male raters to female). Then the other interesting demographic is males and females under 18, which is also skewered way toward males to females by 8 to 1, but both of these gave the film the highest approval rating at 8.3 of any demographic. And therein lies my objection to this film and especially to the fact that this film even was nominated, let alone won, best picture from gollywood. The academy, the industry, the military industrial complex all helped honor this film with the "supposed" highest award.

I was suspicious from the very beginning of Hurt Locker and as it went on, and on and on without any cinematic competence I began to compare it with "Apocalypse Now" which did NOT win best film, best director, best supporting actor , best writing, best editing, best art directing, but managed 2 awards for sound and cinematography. Hurt Locker won 6 of the 9 awards for which it was nominated. I am saddened here that the first AAward given to a female director is given to a film which I believe to be a most unfeminine film. Women have mourned for centuries the loss of their children and husbands to war, yet we in the midst of two of our nation's longest war, Ms. Bigelow is put to the task of enticing under 18's to this violence as something they might want to take part in so they can, "Be all they can be" as the film informs them more than once.

We were and are in the midst of a severe financial crisis in which "I'm lucky to have a job" is a phrase I hear often. These sub 18's are facing an uncertain future. But the a Huge growth industry, which has continued for decades now, in this nation, is the Military. The military will not go unfunded in this, the most violent society in the world.

I don't believe that is any conspiracy here. But the message sent by this film is "war is romantic." I'm disgusted in the nation in which I live.
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The Best of the Lancaster/Douglas Collaborations
11 July 2010
I saw "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in '57 when I was 15. I loved movies, westerns, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I remember loving it back then and it has held a fond spot in my memory. So here 53 years later I revisited it. Westerns are not a genre I'm overly fond of anymore and O.K. Corral didn't hold up to my memories of it. It has an excellent cast, but it felt a bit clichéd and Tiomkin's score and Frankie Lane's singing were a bit much. (Dimiti Tiomkin also scored "High Noon" and the drama of that film warranted the score but O.K. lacks the drama of "High Noon".)

In '57 I think I preferred Burt Lancaster to Kirk Douglas. But seeing it again I preferred Kirk Douglas' performance. This caused me to muse about which of the 2 actors had the better career. Their careers were so parallel. Both began acting in 1946 with both appearing in about 90 productions. Lancaster received 4 Oscar nominations as best actor and won 1, while Douglas was nominated 3 times and he received an honorary award from the Academy for "…50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community." They both appeared in truly great films with their acting contributing to the greatness of those films. Just a partial list includes for me: "Champion," "The Bad and the Beautiful," "Come Back, Little Sheba," "From Here to Eternity," "Paths of Glory," "Sweet Smell of Success," "Spartacus," "Elmer Gantry," "Birdman of Alcatraz," "The Leopard," "The Swimmer," "Atlantic City", and many others.

I have to say watching "Gunfight" brought back a bunch of great memories about two wonderful actors and I didn't even mention Dennis Hopper. Thanks and kudos to them all.
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Early Effective 3D
27 June 2010
I saw "It Came..." at age 11 in 3D. It was at a time when a spat of films were being released in that format. We were into horror films and there was little else to watch but film, as TV was offering Howdy Doody and Beany and Cecil to stimulate us. Howdy and Beany were great and stimulating but... The horror and Sci-Fi films really captured our attention and this film captured our attention about UFO's and alien invasions.

Well, now we're still gnashing our teeth about "Alien Invasions" and the center of that is Arizona. All I can say is that this was and (in many ways) still is effective Sci-Fi Hollywood fodder.
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Anything Else (2003)
Anything Else: A Woody Allen Cinematic Hash for Gen Y
8 April 2010
For thirty years Woody Allen was one of my two favorite directors. I saw all of his films and if possible I saw them the day they opened. During the span from 1969-1999 he literally made a film a year. Of those 30 films I consider a dozen of them great films, and 2/3rds were certainly above average. Over the course of time I watched those 20 or so films over and over never tiring of them.

Then came the new millennium and something went sadly awry. "Shadows and Fog" and "Manhattan Murder Mystery" were early warning signs. Then a trifecta of awfulness hit, "Small Time Crooks," "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," and finally the first Woody Allen film I walked out on "Hollywood Ending" were released. Thirteen films since "Shadows and Fog" and over half were just not very good or outright stinkers. At the time "Anything Else" was released I stopped going to see his films in the theater and I had never seen "Anything Else" at all until yesterday. Of the six films he's released in that time, only "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" rose above torpid.

But I was reading an interesting film blog and the obviously intelligent reviewer said that "Anything Else" was Woody's most underrated film and he also praised another film I hadn't seen, "Whatever Works." Perhaps, I thought, I've been throwing out the baby with the bath water. I put both films in my queue.

"Anything Else" is Woody Allen for Gen Y. Is Woody aware of just how repetitive this film is? Characters, setting, scenes, jokes, music, etc. consist of Woody retreads. There are many laugh-out-loud lines but if you've seen Woody's movies as many times as I have, then this was a sad, sad effort. Watching it was not unlike seeing Van Sant's scene for scene remake of Psycho. Van Sant did his film for Gen Y because he was afraid that generation would miss the great Hitchcock "Psycho" because they're averse to black and white films. That did not justify the effort and I have a hard time imagining this effort being so repetitive.

This film's cast was able to get down the yammering delivery of Woody and Diane Keaton, and Mia Farrow in those countless films but they did not serve the project well. I'll not be sorry if I never see Mr. Biggs and Ms. Ricci in a film again and it's really not their fault. If someone had never seen or seen only a few of Woody's earlier films then maybe stealing his own jokes wouldn't seem so clunky and not funny. I felt sorry for Diana Krall having to do Bobby Short in the post Manhattan nightclub and no one should ever feel sorry fro Diana Krall.

I want to pay respect to Woody Allen for the many great films he has made. But now, he is several years past his prime and he is continuing his film-a-year pace without having any real reason or ideas with which to work.
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The Obvious
25 March 2010
"JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America"

I was 22 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and remember where I was when I learned what had happened, and remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being assassinated live on television. Those events and the subsequent events shown in this remarkable documentary hold a vivid place in my memory. I understand that memory is a tricky thing ("Memories are interpreted like dreams." -Leo Longanesi) and for that reason watching this documentary was spellbinding.

I thought the lack of narration, especially in the first half, was a stroke of genius on the part of the film makers. I have my bias about whether there was a conspiracy in the President's murder. And to watch the events depicted in this film of the events of November 22, 1963, my feeling of conviction about the conspiracy was completely verified. To watch how quickly the Dallas Police gather evidence and draw conclusions about their certainty, while at the same time completely mishandling of the events of that weekend scream "frame-up." I didn't need any narration to explain what was happening and am grateful for the chance to relive so many of those moments with the advantage of hindsight.

I do not pretend to know who was responsible for President Kennedy's death. I would like to know before I go to my grave but alas I will not. Once again, I am grateful that this film is in the record just as I was when Oliver Stone released his "JFK." This injustice must not be forgotten.
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Tulpan (2008)
Marvelous Film Shows Us a Disappearing Way of Life
20 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I had no idea what to expect from "Tulpan". I can't recall where in my movie trolling I'd decided to rent and watch it. Would it be one of those small, eccentric films with a quirky character in the lead? Those can work but I've been a little leery of them lately. The writer/director, Sergei Dvortsevoy, who is 47, is from Kazakhstan where Tulpan is set and has been involved in a half dozen films as writer and director. But I enjoy Russian cinema and Kazakhstan was once part of the Soviet Union so maybe… Kazakhstan is the world's largest landlocked country although it does border on the Caspian and Aral Seas. The steppe where the film takes place is the largest dry steppe region in the world and the film offers dramatic vistas of this flat, flat plain where people have lived as nomadic herders for centuries and continue to raise sheep, goats, camels in one of the least densely populated regions on earth.

Asa, the main character, has come home from his duties as a sailor in the navy. He hopes to arrange a marriage for himself with the help of his sister and brother-in-law with a local girl he's never met, Tulpan. There is much delicious dry humor in this set up. Asa hopes to set himself up as nomad, living his life in his yurt, scratching out an existence from the hard-scrabble land. The film beautifully portrays for us in almost documentary fashion the life Asa hopes to achieve.

His sister's family is lovingly presented. His sister is beautiful and loves her daughter whose constant singing irritates the stern, hard working father, and her young son who gallops about pretending the stick he is straddling is like the horse his father rides. But the authenticity of the life presented here is documentary like and I mean that in the best possible way. The young boy appears to not to be aware of the camera at all as do all of the actors, camels included. So what we see seems a very authentic look at a fragile way of life.

And therein lies another of the beauties of "Tulpan". As the attempt at arranging the marriage runs into roadblock after roadblock, we see how much Asa loves that existence. His brother-in-law wonders why Asa would choose such a difficult existence, given the choice. But Dvortsevoy, while showing the daily life and death struggles a herdsman must endure, is also able to demonstrate why someone would do whatever to live a rich life in such a beautiful yet primitive place.

I can't recommend "Tulpan" highly enough. See it if you can. I have a feeling what has been captured here will not be around for much longer.
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Goodbye Solo (2008)
Will I Ever Be the Same???
3 February 2010
I'm always trolling for movies. Sometimes a film will arrive in the mail and I'll have no idea why I rented it. When I got "Goodbye Solo" I checked its rating at the Metacritic site and instantly realized why I'd rented it. It was a small independent film with a super high (89 average) approval rating. I expected to be moved and entertained. I'd seen "The Taste of Cherry" a few months ago and thought it was stunning. "Solo" had a similar plot line.

I watched "Solo" and waited for it to work its magic but nothing happened for me and I felt the end to be no end at all. What will happen to all of these characters after the film ended? Worse I didn't really care. As I read the critics and users reviews here I can understand how someone might be very moved by it all and feel the ending profound but it left me cold.

I believe a hint of why I reacted that way to "Solo" lay in an experience I had last year with "Happy-Go-Lucky," another independent, quirky film that interested me because of its critical reception. I watched it and loved it and gave it the highest rating and recommended it to friends. Then one night I watched it with a couple of friends I was sure would like it. I began watching "Happy" with them and was laughing in the spots I had laughed the first time though until I noticed my friends weren't laughing in the right spots or at all and eventually I realized they were really disliking it. We stopped it a couple of times to talk a little about what wasn't working for them and by the end of "Happy-Go-Lucky" I was agreeing with them and couldn't figure out why the film had such an impact on me the first time. Poppy just didn't work for me after it was pointed out to me how unrealistic here character was.

I'm not usually a film buff whose opinion is easily swayed by others. But now I'm wondering if my friends may have ruined the quirky independent film genre for me. It's possible based on my experience with "Goodbye Solo," but I sure hope not.
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Australia (2008)
Less Than the Sum of Its Clichés.
19 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It took me a while to get to it but I finely tried to make time (154 minutes) for "Australia" Baz Luhrmann's attempt at creating a National Cinema for his homeland. From the length of the credits it looks like he was able to hire everyone in Australia to work on the film. I hesitated seeing it due to the initial critical response. But I held out hope for the film. I've liked all three of Luhrmann's first three films. "Strictly Ballroom" was a fine debut film, I very much admired his "Romeo + Juliet's" slick take on Shakespeare with excellent casting. I fell in love with "Moulin Rouge." I'm embarrassed at how many times I've watched and although I already enjoyed Nicole Kidman for a while I only needed to see she was in a film than I had to see it now.

But something more than the bad reviews of "Australia" made me nervous. I hoped maybe all of the negative reviews were like or were those who trashed "R + J" and "Moulin Rouge." But Nicole"s recent track record has been less than stellar. Between "Dead Calm" and "Flirting" on to "Dogville" and "Birth" she'd been in over a dozen really fine films and in many she was the reason the films were excellent. But then her participation in films like "Stepford Wives" and "Bewitched" and "The Interpreter" led me to realize I didn't have to see all of her films. But still, Nicole and Baz teaming up again. What the hell! It was worth the 154 minutes. Well, Nicole is not the reason the film is a failure and to me it is a failure. The best I can say for Baz is, three out of four's not bad. What was he thinking? How did he so lose his way? But lose it he did, way out there in the Outback.

I didn't need the full 154 minutes to realize "Australia" contained every western, cattle drive though Aboriginal Territory cliché ever dreamed up in scene after scene after scene. Finally I had to stop watching. I cheated to the end to see if the image that kept coming to me of Lady Sarah, Nullah, Drover and King George all together living happily ever after in the end came true. I won't reveal whether it did here. I hope Baz can find his way back out of the Outback and that Nicole can find her way back in to consistently better films.
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Antichrist (2009)
Antichrist; Art in the "I" of the Beholder
20 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I drove 150 miles this week to see Antichrist in the theater. I didn't want to have to wait for its DVD release. Since seeing it I have not been able to get the film out of my mind. I expected to be blown away and I certainly was. It is not an easy film to watch but what it demonstrates about the nature of Nature and the World is not easily found. For a film which is playing in 12 theaters nation wide the amount of comment on Antichrist is amazing. There are almost 200 external reviews at IMDb and many user reviews. As usual with von Trier films many of the reactions are extreme. Some love it, some hate it. I can see how the film engenders such passionate response.

Antichrist does for the forest what the Shining did for hotels. So now on my morning walk through a nearby wood I see deer and crows and I expect to see a talking fox. I celebrate the fact that von Trier has made such an uncompromising film. He shows us how the decomposition of Nature and Natural things is paralleled by the deconstruction of humanity and human relationships. Most of the world wants to ignore what is happening every day in the world, the continuing war and destruction of the planet. Antichrist forces those who are willing to sit through the film to face some of the things that are happening. The story that von Trier was so depressed while making the film that he had to turn the cinematography over to someone else is revealing.

Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg deserve the accolades they have received for their work on the film. Defoe played Christ, in The Last Temptation and now comes full circle. (The question of who the Antichrist is in this film is not easily answered and is subject to opinion some saying it's She, some He, some Nature.) Some comments I've read about He feel he's controlling and overly rational from the very beginning. I thought he was caring, concerned, and compassionate in the beginning but then made bad decision after bad decision for She. Like Jack Torrance, He, falls under the spell of his surroundings and is incapable of being any thing but destructive. And She does everything she can to bring about her own destruction because there is, obviously, no other possible ending.

As I read in a user comment, von Trier has the ability to polarize his audience and the extreme reactions are to be expected. As IMDb user, McHenry observed, "The only way to insult this movie is with indifference."
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Kiss My Ahnk
17 November 2009
I saw this in '68 when I was about in the same place Harold Fine was, in his social development. I was already married and had kids though. At the time of its release this seemed like an important movie. It was funny and satiric but it ended in a positive note for someone ready to drop out. If we'd only known where that was going to lead, but it was fun for a time.

I'm so glad I revisited this over 40 years later (yikes!!) Some of the film I remembered as if I saw it yesterday. Some scenes I had no recollection of. Peter Sellers is marvelous and the rest of the cast is fine. It is a time capsule of a film and really blends film styles. It has a definite TV flavor. Hy Averback mostly worked in TV so that's not a surprise. The film though, is authentic to the time and it was fun to watch for this old hippie.
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The Window (2008)
Dreams Do Come True
10 November 2009
"La ventana," Carlos Sorin's beautiful film from Argentina deserves a wider audience than is evidenced by the responses at IMDb. This is a very sensitive and beautiful look at the coming of death. Nothing is overly stated, overly done. It reminds me of "Mother and Son" by Sokurov in it's beauty, quiet, and lack of the need for narrative. The cinematography is beautiful. There are many characters who greatly add to the authenticity of the story yet the film does not get distracted by trying to do more than is necessary to tell a universal truth about the human condition. This film has an audience but it is probably very limited. I highly recommend "La ventana."
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Donnie Darko (2001)
Donny Darko, the Harvey of the 21st Century
7 August 2009
This news item appeared in my newspaper today:

"Spielberg to remake 'Harvey' rabbit classic Friday, August 7, 2009

Steven Spielberg has a giant rabbit on his mind for his next film.

Spielberg is directing a remake of the James Stewart classic "Harvey," the story of a bighearted eccentric who's branded a crackpot for claiming to have a 6-foot-tall invisible rabbit as his best buddy.

Casting is just getting started, with production expected to begin early next year.

The new version will be a contemporary update of Stewart's 1950 film, which was based on Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

The film is a co-production between Spielberg's DreamWorks Studio and 20th Century Fox. A release date has not been announced, but a Fox spokesman said the studio is looking to have the film in theaters late next year.

Associated Press" My response to this news: (and please pardon me for quoting meself) "Richard Kelly already effectively did this with "Donny Darko", the "Harvey" for the 21st Century. I don't have a lot of faith in SS not making something sappy starring the new Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks. Yuck!"

I haven't seen "Donny Darko" for a while but this remembrance insures I will watch it again very soon. A Remarkable Film.
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Paranoid Park (2007)
2 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I've never skateboarded in my life. My grandson is a skateboarder so I suppose I should have no way to relate to Alex but of course that's a fallacy. We all get to be teenagers and get to go through what Van Sant shows us of Alex's life. I remember that isolation. Alex has no real connection with anyone in his world. He has no real friends. He's unsure of who he is and what he's able to do. He gives himself over to a guy he meets at Paranoid Park and disaster follows. There is no undoing what is done, no way of making it right. Once again he tries what another person suggests. What good comes out of that? Nothing that I can see. He moves on like we all just move on.

Gus Van Sant is an excellent director and editor. The film looks good and conveys the angst I think some Van Sant's films are about. I loved the grainy washed out look of Paranoid Park. I think it's an honest film. I value honesty in film.
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