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Beautifully applied photography
22 July 2002
The filmmaker inhaled Andy Goldsworthy's art, his search for closeness with the land and the water, and his sense of proportion -- and so gently, so beautifully breathed it back on to film for the rest of us. "Rivers and Tides" loves Goldsworthy's work and joins it as a visual concert of time and human presence in a flowing world, a world that hides its power in plain sight. See this movie!
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beautiful, on film or video
7 February 2001
"the man who planted trees" stunned me. it's been a long time since i cried with joy for an idea ... a very deep, satisfying spiritual experience.

i've wanted to see this movie since i read that TAKAHATA isao -- co-founder of studio ghibli, director of "grave of the fireflies," producer of MIYAZAKI hayao's works "nausicaa of the valley of wind" and "laputa: castle in the sky" -- takahata wrote a book about "the man who planted trees," he was so moved by it.

i'm not associated with them, but i think "direct cinema limited" distributes the video in the united states.
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Chicken Run (2000)
Sober when I saw it, sober when I left
25 June 2000
I was speechless (with laughter) after The Wrong Trousers and I loved Nick Park's other shorts, especially the languid leopard from Creature Comforts.

So, I'm upset that Chicken Run didn't work for me, though it had lots of fun moments and a good ending. A few things bugged me:

1. The camerawork jokes on various movies drew attention to the clay medium, without allowing the characters to play around with being unreal. It broke my identification with the characters.

2. Emotional scenes were played very straight. Giving Ginger the hiccups when she gets feeling lovey would have been a great bit. Or SOMETHING.

3. "Look, chickens doing ..." is maybe too old a joke. I laughed when the rabbit leans on the hunter's gun and says, "What's up, Doc?" After that ... even Gromit's joke was never "how's Gromit going to do this undogly thing," but "EEEK Gromit-the-dog is doing this completely ludicrously impossible thing!"

4. There's a big difference, masked by tricky animation technique, between the "holy s---!" moments of The Wrong Trousers and the "yeah, and, what?" moments of Chicken Run.

5. Too long. The slower pacing drew too much attention to the medium, see #1.

I think the good lessons of the Wallace and Gromit films and of Babe (where "pigs can't be sheepdogs!" was a serious ideological problem) were not properly applied in Chicken Run. I'd like Aardman Animations to stay away from feature films until they've maybe done some cheap live action movies and feel comfortable satirizing feature films, from start to finish.
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What a thrill!
9 June 2000
When I saw this, I knew Francis Coppola and Gene Hackman were both doing great work at the time (as in, Godfather, French Connection). But The Conversation was better, much better, than I expected.

It seems like right then was the window in American film history where such a movie could be made: "small," tight, careful, playfully even daringly misleading, amazing to watch, and crushing when it needs to be.

A very natural style, too, that reminds me of John Cassavetes's movies. It lets the actors and the characters shine.

In fact I had so much fun watching Hackman as Harry, the story trapped me but good and left me wounded and helpless. You don't want his life but <shiver> it becomes yours. Very, very good movie.
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Hong fen (1995)
A beautiful look at a changing China
26 May 2000
The fortunes of two women, prostitutes, who flee the Chinese revolution by fleeing their brothel as it's being closed down. Through watching their lifelong progress, as they live in various relationships, we see how China was changing, and how it was not.

The film is beautifully photographed, from a distance, with great care paid to establishing their environment: the streets, and the interiors and exteriors of "home." We get special access to domestic life through the "fugitive" device: because they are in hiding, there is suspense simply in their efforts to live an everyday, inconspicuous life.

I recommend the film for its grace, its beauty, and its insight.
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"Good company" is harder to make than "good war"
19 May 2000
From Jean Renoir's autobiography, My Life and My Films (1974):

"If a French farmer should find himself dining at the same table as a French financier, those two Frenchmen would have nothing to say to each other, each being unconcerned with the other's interests. But if a French farmer meets a Chinese farmer they will find any amount to talk about. This theme of the bringing together of men through their callings and common interests has haunted me all my life and does so still. It is the theme of 'La Grande Illusion' and it is present, more or less, in all my works."

In a sense, 'La Grande Illusion' is a counterpoint in an argument of stories: in one corner, Jean Renoir & friends singing about humor and good cheer; in the other, a handful of Germans demanding bigotry and murderous pride.

My opinion of the movie is quite high, but I think, from having read that book and a few others, that the real accomplishments in 'Illusion,' artistic and thematic, come directly from Renoir's deep affection of people and our loves.

To live your life with love and humor takes thoughtful delicacy. It's much easier to close your heart, fence yourself in, and never have a true friend in your life: and such closed-hearted people are inevitably the ones who coolly turn the political screws until the world bursts into famine and war.

It was too much to think that 'La Grande Illusion' would prevent the then coming war, as Renoir hoped. But to look at the story again, as a lyrical anti-fascist statement and a call to weigh friendship and good company over nationalism (of any sort), that I think is where the story gets really good.

The modern era continues to give us a real choice. We can kill, without effort, to subdue the stranger. Or we can join the stranger for a meal and a conversation, and become friends. Which of these is the true vision of the world's "leaders"? Cold hearts, cold future.

Something to think about as you watch the movie.
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No, no, this is the "New Files" Series
17 May 2000
Everybody's written comments on this thinking that this is the movie, "Patlabor 2." Really this entry is for the series of 16 half-hour episodes produced from 1990-1992, between the two movies, after the television series came to an end.

These episodes, called "Patlabor: The New Files" in their American packaging, continue the silliness of the original material, and add sophisticated character exploration, additional intrigue, and experiments in style and tone, as the production team tests the waters for the serious art, design, and themes of Patlabor 2 the Movie.

If you haven't seen any other Patlabor stuff, don't start here: you'll be lost. The characters are not introduced, people come and go, and entire plots are jokes about earlier pieces of the story.

A good place to start is "Patlabor: The Original Series." Watch some of that, see the first movie, then check out these "New Files" stories. They're worth it, and they'll help you see the lighter side of the second movie that all the other comments here are talking about.

If you're hooked, the Patlabor TV series, all 47 episodes of it, has been translated and lucky you if you can rent it, it's a lot of fun. (The New Files is both a continuation of the teevee series and a riff on that material. The more of the teevee series you've seen, the more you'll appreciate how the New Files is playing with the Patlabor world.)
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X (1996)
I can't wait to see it again
11 May 2000
BACKGROUND. I was really excited about 'X'!

In Japan, hundreds of thousands were reading the 'X' story for years before the movie came out. So everybody already knew the characters and the concerns. The movie was a map of the story, a draft of future parts, a promise to keep the manga going, and a Frankenstein monster ('It's ALIVE!').

So reading the manga and then seeing the movie is a Cultural Experience. You also see the strengths and similarities of comics and film and how they can work together.

REVIEW. I loved it. I'm into melodrama, especially CLAMP's style, with lots of dreams and visions and questions and doubts and Fate.

Some people can't figure out how to discharge their divine duty. Others find out they're divine after their Terrible Duty is Done. And the main people already know the worst of the outcome, and they know that what they do to stop it is just part of making it happen.

Most of the movie plays around with those ideas. And everybody gets scared of their future.

The technical aspects were superb and very appropriate. The movie answered questions, illuminated the manga, and had me babbling about 'X' for hours.

'X' is not for everyone. It would shock anyone not familiar with how bloody Japanese storytelling can be. It compares badly with other anime features in terms of story continuity. But as a step in a manga/anime trip, it works beautifully and it *is* beautiful.

'I'm glad I read the book first!'

Regarding the violence, this is definitely 'feminine' blood: blood that belongs to nature, not to order and brains. That can be more disturbing.

DUBBING. Once someone laughs, it's all over.
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a surprising point of view
27 February 1999
A flirtatious series of near character studies. Scene by scene, we are given what might be the parts of a larger romance, or maybe highlights from a variety of comic romance films. Unlike more narrative explorations, few of the scenes get past the "discovery" moment -- introducing the tension -- as if "finishing" the scene, releasing the tension, would be robbing the characters of their right to resolve the situation on their own. In other words, the tension is not there to embarrass people into action; tension is an unavoidable, and funny, part of life, all by itself.

Though we get few good looks at any particular situation, the humor and the sense of anticipation at the start convinced me to stay when the scenes began to explore more static relationships and more durable parts of love.

Also, this film is more like a book than a movie. Imagine how silly it'd be for a bunch of people to make some popcorn, open some beers and sit down and read a book together and that's kind of how seeing this movie might be. But it's a good book!
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meet the new boss...
26 January 1999
Kevin Spacey is really great at playing power freaks who dip their tongues in acid before they leave for work in the morning. I didn't feel the "boss from hell" catharsis, though. This movie seemed to me like another commentary on the moral decay of Hollywood movie executives, with some David Mamet-style s/m exploration (and a dose of Mamet's disregard for women), but without the character or story complexity needed to back up the gut-twisting ending.
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26 January 1999
So one person says, "This movie is a beautiful, delicate exploration of West German life after World War II." And the other says, "Former Nazis living in bombed out buildings, and the movie is 'beautiful, delicate'?" And the first sits there nodding, takes another sip of coffee. "I can't explain. Just see it."
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