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Stalker (1979)
10/10
An Eerie, Dreamy, Isolating and Dangerous Search (Mild Spoilers for Film Explanation)
8 March 2017
For those who feel that Stalker is a waste of almost three hours of time, perhaps they haven't really looked into the back story of what inspired the film (and its locations) in the first place. Many cinematic features today want to keep up the pace, and it's easy to count to four seconds before having to restart the count whenever a scene cut is made in modern cinema. Stalker isn't about picking up any pace; it relies on IMMERSION. And it's easy to give up on Stalker as a waste of time.

Honestly, I started thinking that at the very first portion of the film. Here I am, watching a sepia-toned feature that has possibly two minutes before even the first cut changes perspective. By the time the scene reached a bar, I was finished with it.... for the time being. There was something that told me to revisit Stalker when my mind and time frame were clear, and I'm glad that I did.

Embrace the concept of emotional immersion when viewing this film, when you're awake and you have nothing pressing to accomplish. It's not for those who want a story line dealing with heroes/villains, rite of passage, or gaining popularity. It's bent on personal turmoil and a quest of inner peace, acceptance, or even what the existence of life is all about. Stalker reminds me of Wizard of Oz (1939) insofar as its structure, relying on film stock to highlight location, yet there are also subtle comparisons regarding what the three characters (just like Oz) hope to find in their own searches. The film starts in a community that has been cordoned off, similar to actual Russian events of chemical/nuclear disasters, prior to Chernobyl, and by the time the film winds up, you'll see some instances of dismal foreboding (which occurred seven years later in Chernobyl), as well as with the demise of a number of cast and crew of Stalker, who wound up succumbing to bodily poisons incurred through the production of the film.

While they shortened their lives making Stalker, it's a visually stunning and eerie masterpiece, which live on. I speak of these radioactive events - Kyshtym (1957, at Ozyorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast) and the Leningrad Nuclear Reactor (1975) which must have inspired director Andrei Tarkovsky.

The child in the movie acts out a debilitating condition that many people affected by these disasters had actually suffered, in large part because government officials refused to acknowledge the disaster and fallout quickly enough to evacuate many people in time. I think that Stalker was written to tap into those events as well as dig into the minds of a dreamer, a writer and a professor, each seeking something very personal, and yet they have to ask themselves how genuine their soul-searching is.

The long, deliberate lack of camera movement used in Stalker has been abandoned today for a quick-pace editing, which makes viewers not think so much. Tarkovsky relied on the snail's pace approach, which compel an audience to reach into their individual senses of sight and sound which will help or disturb the viewer's inner peace. And there are so many things that give viewers a sense of unease, which is so effective: Sounds don't match sights throughout the film. The dialog was completely rerecorded after filming. You'll hear birds, waterfalls, wind, and the clickety clack of the work car they ride, all which simply don't match. This is a film technique that adds to an underlying state of mental instability for the viewer.

One particular scene is also subtly jarring, when the "stalker"walks away from the writer and scientist, going to a grove of trees for a monologue; upon his return, the scene behind the trio has become shrouded in a fog.

The trio leave a community to journey to a fenced in Zone, but are they prisoners both where they live, as well as where they travel? When you review every shot of Stalker, you'll realize that no scene has a sense of unconditional beauty. There is decay, desolation and a sense of infectious isolation that pervades, starting with the family scene.

I bring these to light to help those who shrug off the film as worthless. But ultimately, however, Tarkovsky only cared about what two people in the whole world thought about Stalker : Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman. By the time the dust (or fallout) settles, we are somewhat like those three who find themselves searching in the dreamlike world of The Zone: what is this all about, how did we get here, and what should we gain - or lose - from the experience. Stalker is a keeper.
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7/10
One of the most surreal westerns I have seen
26 October 2016
I may be giving Django Kill a higher star review than what I'd usually hand such films, but it's a strangely addicting film. First of all, this review is mainly for the English-dubbed film (with references to the original Italian version), which does NO justice for the main character - "The Stranger" (Tomas Milian). His actual voice is so very much better than the dubbed version, and the producers did a poor job of choosing whose voice would carry him.

The first scene... I simply can't get that opening out of my head. It literally can turn your head upside down, just as some of the filmmaking showed. There are scenes, characters and animals in this first montage which is pretty jaw-dropping. It invites you to a place where you simply don't want to visit. And while my gut instincts told me that the gang shouldn't keep going, they do. But they are a group packed to the gills with six-shooters and attitude.

Everything was named "Django" for a while following the original film's success, but this feature has no Django at all. If you haven't seen Milian in such films as "Run, Man, Run (1968), you won't be able to appreciate his talent in Django Kill. He has expressions and body language that should have been featured more effectively, which speaks to the lack of wisdom of the direction and production. Having said that however, I just cannot get some of the scenes in this film out of my head. At the very least, get a hold of a dual language version of Django Kill! to compare the English with the Italian, as well as the subtitles, which reveal a few masochistic moments that wind up being lost by the time the dubbing was set. For instance, a girl in the English dub says "Give up! Give up!" while you see what REALLY happens in the Italian version. Films like this, and The Great Silence (1968) took Italian westerns to atypical locations than the Leone copycat films.
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8/10
Muscle Cars and One-Liners Make for a Great ThrillCom
11 October 2016
I finally got the chance to watch DMCL, decades after enjoying it on network television back in the 1970s and it still is a very watchable and thrilling piece of filmmaking. First I have to compliment the way the story boarding brought the characters together. Deke (my favorite) joins up with Larry and eventually, Mary and the trio wind up running afoul of the law. Headed by a no-nonsense captain, his squad battle over ribbons of two-lane highways that showcase driving and flying skills as well as one of the most classic rides in muscle car lore, the 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440.

It could have been easy to scoff at Larry - an egotistical, narcissistic race car hopeful - paired with Mary, a very attractive woman who really talked far more than I could have tolerated. Deke was the moral compass who kept the whole operation from going belly up. While ready to take care of business, he showed a sense of compassion very early in the film and that moment was conveyed by Adam Roarke through moments of candor and even a simple smile.

"Comedy" should also be added to the description of this cool retro chase flick. There are plenty of one-liners which keep the entertainment flowing, coupled with moments of facial expressions and glances by a number of the supporting cast. Also look for Hank, played by Eugene Daniels, as the ground-based obsessive patrolman, driving a pursuit special and the talent of James Gavin, who operates the Bell Huey helicopter. A fine piece of suspenseful flying.

I revisit some of my favorite films that I recall as a youngster to see whether they could stand the test of time and DMCL definitely is one for the muscle car enthusiast. It's a classic, IMHO. As long as you get past Mary's incessant chatting.
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9/10
Watch Again if you saw the Original Film Release
4 October 2016
It's really a bit of an eye-opener to watch Crying Game in today's society if you can put yourself back to remember how things were in 1992. It feels like a completely different era of an even longer time removed since then. So much has changed, yet some things still remain constant. One of the most glaring reminders of the day: the murder of U.S. sailor Allen Schindler in 1992, and the military's alleged attempt for a cover-up afterward.

My own perceptions and ideals have changed since I saw this at Baltimore's Charles Theatre. It's almost creepy to see how I've changed regarding certain... It's almost impossible to express without spoiling the film if I could ever say what I would like. Let me say however, that I wept with pain in my heart as I finally watched it again, just now. My empathy and personal awareness certainly has grown in 24 years since I saw the film's theatrical release.

It's an amazing piece of cinematic achievement considering the time of its premiere. Really gutsy filmmaking, acting and direction for all involved. Seeing it again still makes my jaw drop because of all the nuances and story lines. It wasn't perfect looking at the film now. Some of it was a little dated, and perhaps I am being too picky regarding that. Yet it reawakens some troubled times that people faced in 1992, and how troubling things remain today. So much work is yet to be accomplished.
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The Driver (1978)
9/10
Simplicity: The Lesson in Effective Filmmaking
5 September 2016
Keep it simple. An action story doesn't need plot twists, love interests or emotional depth to produce an effective film. Just a straightforward plot, like The Driver has. Even the credits reveal that we don't need to know names, as if the film had no intention of letting viewers be emotionally invested about any characters. Bruce Dern (The Detective) and Ryan O'Neal (The Driver) excel at keeping their own characters on point; A-type personalities who have been battling each other for months.

They don't want to be likable. They put their heads down and focus on their end game. The Driver shows his mettle through deeds and few words. In one scene, he was compelled to demonstrate his skills. He winds up showing how he could even be skillful at destroying the car to the objections of his passengers. While The Driver is about substance, The Detective boasts more than he delivers. Even when he kills someone The Detective overdoes it.

It's a rat chase where there's zero moral lesson by the time the credits roll, because there is no good guy, only two different people who wind up ignoring the right thing to do in order to get the better of the other. Those who have any moral convictions get ignored and belittled while the main players obsess over each other.

It's interesting how a feature can demonstrate the ability to keep your attention. There is no theme music, and the only time that any music plays at all is when there is no chase. Although some scenes had stunt stand-ins, the actors did most of their own driving and chase sequences. The Driver reminds me in some ways about the Terminator, which perhaps may have been influenced by the story line and cinematography.

Most of the scenes happen at night, which reveal L.A's seedy underbelly. And like Terminator, the prime characters have minimal dialog, speaking only when they really need. Even some of the vehicles used in The Driver looked similar to those in Terminator.

The Driver is a great action flick which shows how films can be made again, without all the fluff, high moral ground and theme songs. The result? Entertaining mayhem, filled with twisted bumpers and shredded fenders.
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Stranger Things (2016– )
10/10
First episode: Wow! Season cliffhanger: WOW!!
22 August 2016
Hopefully Stranger Things will add a second season, as the first was one of the best series I have ever enjoyed. Throw out any preconceived notions about whether it's "hokey" and try watching just two episodes. You have a better than 90% chance of enjoying it. I rolled my eyes at first, thinking: how could an 8-episode series of an '80s throwback be something worth watching? The previews showed influences of Close Encounters, E.T., Goonies and even Silent Hill, and I wasn't interested in embracing the nostalgic aspect. The opening credits really dug right into the 1980's, and even the title slid in as if it suggested that Stephen King's own name would burn into my LCD screen. I'll just get right into the meat and potatoes. All the players work, all the scenery, action, editing, and photography really create a great series. I can't think of any one episode that they could have thrown out, because they all really go well together. As for the kids, the one fear I have is that these child actors are getting older. They can't keep riding their bikes and talking with lisps. So I can't imagine that Stranger Things will have a long run, unless they wind up doing away with them, or changing up the story altogether. And that would be a shame because the talent of all those kids is DEEP. Take for example, Millie Bobby Brown (who plays El). So few words come out of her mouth, yet her expressions and emotions carry so well. The kids are like Our Gang - you just fantasize of becoming a kid again, grabbing your bike with its reflectors and streamers, and hanging out with them after school. One typically might expect that kids running about on their own to make things right in their neighborhood is rather hackneyed, but the writing and execution of the plot for each episode kept driving action, adventure, mystery and drama, without it ever feeling as if it were getting stale or bogged down. Even when the story had to explain things, the characters got right to the point and took action. Only a couple of the adults played central characters and they certainly did well also. Chief Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers are introduced as people with some shredded back stories, and the Duffer Brothers - the writers / directors - slowly peel back the layers of their pasts. I put Stranger Things beyond The Walking Dead and Peaky Blinders, into Breaking Bad territory - not to compare whether it's "better" than any of my favorites, because it's so different than any other series.
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Peaky Blinders (2013– )
10/10
Take off the Blinders and give this series more press!
6 July 2016
You find a "television" series once in a blue moon which blows your mind, and Peaky Blinders has accomplished that in my mind. As of this writing, I'm on S03/E06, which I think is the most well-written and explosive episodes of the series. It's also one of the most amazing series that I have seen. These seem more like mini-features, with almost a full hour of drama. By the time I started season three, I started saying aloud how I love Peaky Blinders and its characters. They thrive on a combination of excellent storytelling and photography. "Breaking Bad" is the only other series that I know which have become the platinum standard of any series that I know exist. I venture to believe that Blinders beats out Game of Thrones as well. The main reason why Thrones and Bad don't live up to what I've experienced with Blinders? The sheer boldness of how the show compels you to understand and even empathize with people who make a living out of doing just about everything illegal that they could ever muster, in a place where just about everyone seems to be about some kind of illegal activity. The complexities of the characters demand that everyone must sell who they are and I cannot for the life of me, find any character who is a "weak link" to the series.

Game of Thrones is a terrific series as was Breaking Bad. Yet GoT has a number of slow moments. Breaking Bad, while rather straightforward regarding the plot, was just somewhat unbelievable when viewed through the lens of real-life probability. Blinders is deeper and more raw, without looking to any sense of patronizing emotions to give a sense of redemption. Blinders takes off the blinders by asking which holds more value, between family, friends, relationships and business transactions. Or, whether money is really what can repay the emotional anguish of those casualties called "relationships." Blinders has been throwing some really interesting plot twists and I've finally been blown away at where this series is heading.

I remember the first season where a young Winston Churchill was introduced, and I feel that was probably the slowest part of the series - even GoT suffered from the need to explain who/what was happening, while Breaking Bad simply jumped right into a whirlwind of trouble thrown the way of Mr. White. Stick with this however. These characters have truly embraced their roles and the photography and writing seem to actually have gotten even better. I'm not one to ever have been interested in an emotional investment of series characters but this so far has been my finest emotional investment. The violence sometimes is quite intense. So much so, that my wife stopped watching by the second season. Considering the date in which Blinders is told, I expect that the violence might be rather extreme.

Perhaps I'm being unfair in even speaking about GoT and Breaking Bad, two other exemplary shows which made me loyal to their broadcasts. But Blinders keeps raising the production bar like the other two haven't quite done.
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Woodlawn (2015)
6/10
A film like a cat: You either love it, or hate it.
29 January 2016
Some may debate whether I'm spoiling Woodlawn with this review, but spoilers reveal plot twists, and this contains none of it. I can see why Woodlawn has garnered only a 6.3/10 for such an emotionally powerful film. Sean Astin plays the man who brings a sense of religion into the team, and it can rub a good number of people the wrong way. I'm not at all religious, but spiritual, and it's very personal for me. As the film developed the story, I resisted the urge to shut down, because I don't want to simply give up, but Woodlawn can make people feel really uncomfortable, because of the religion being played in moments throughout the film. I found myself almost rolling my eyes between tears. If this is what truly happened at Woodlawn HS, terrific. But I also get a feeling that the film was produced to react to the ongoing debate over how personal religion may bleed into someone else's comfort zone. Throughout Woodlawn, this fact kept in my consciousness, which was a little discomforting, and at the end of the film it tells viewers about upcoming rallies for Jesus.

I'm telling you this because it's not spoiling Woodlawn, but revealing for those who either love Jesus and God, or for those who don't want to feel preached to, to consider watching something else. I was puzzled the way the film started because I had no idea about the religious back story embedded in Woodlawn. A coach on the west coast recently was called to task about similar actions, to that of the team coach in this movie. SCOTUS has been reviewing cases even now, and religion has become a hot button topic in the elections. Whatever you feel is your choice, but I don't care to let my guard down just so that I can feel somewhat emotionally and spiritually exploited, as I did by the time the credits rolled.

It still is a powerful film, but the message of team and personal sacrifice and achievement was underscored by the recurring message of a higher power. I understand that the Jesus movement helped many during an era of national turmoil. As people spoke about what happened in the 1960s and early '70s, footage of actual interviews were shown, and the messages ring true in today's unrest. That message has told me that, even after decades have passed, maybe technology and music can change, but people tend to react now as they have decades and even centuries ago.

The acting itself was top-notch. The story begins with some really heart wrenching accounts, and the characters piked up the ball, so to speak, and scored. All characters felt believable, the music and editing were fine, and I liked the cinematography, which was nice but not amazing. But one character - a student with a very large afro - didn't seem to make a final confrontation like I had expected he would.

If it weren't for the heavier-than-expected religious insertions, I would have enjoyed it more.
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9/10
A Ballad of the Heart.
24 August 2015
I hesitated watching BALLAD because I was a bit concerned about seeing a propaganda film. But boy, did I cheer the soldier in this story! The filmmakers did a fine job to build sympathy for him from the moment the viewer laid eyes on him. He's handsome, tall and the kind of person with that boy-next-door appearance. It is really a tightly-knitted film in which you wonder from the opening scene, about the son, whose mother longingly stares down the one road into their home town. Having the opportunity to follow his journey, we really get a sense about his upbringing, his hopes and dreams, and where his heart lies. I dare not divulge too much, because it was such a treat to see how this young man undertakes a journey to try and see his mother.

As for calling this a "war" story, it's not the kind that we might picture: the John Wayne flicks, or ones like, "Saving Private Ryan," for instance. There's not much violence in this film, at all.Rather than a film with attitude, it's a film of the heart. And BALLAD certainly has heart. This film delivers with a terrific story line, in which the filmmakers help the viewer open their hearts up to those of the main characters. Witty combinations of humor and nostalgia transcend borders, giving the viewer a sense of wanting to know many of the people portrayed in this film. Why, I actually searched for further information about the lead players, and my heart dropped when I learned that both of the main talents recently passed away in real life. In a sense, it felt as if I had lost two genuine friends.

BALLAD gives us the opportunity to see the two lead characters in their first roles. They were simply mesmerizing on film, which has preserved them in time. The players had little to no experience, yet their screen presence showed tenderness, charm and power. Please do yourselves a favor. If you're sitting on the fence about whether to watch BALLAD, go ahead and watch it. Even if it was a film to showcase Communism and the motherland of Russia, I didn't care.

I really argued whether to give this a perfect score, but just couldn't do it. And I'm trying to express why, yet I can't. I'd like to pick apart an obvious shot using models instead of real equipment, or maybe the shot of either lead looking through a window as trees reflected. Or perhaps the ending, which seemed a bit abrupt? It's the ending. I guess I wanted something a little more, or different. How nice it was, upon reflection, to watch an almost flawless film.
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It Follows (2014)
8/10
Pretty Creepy!
5 June 2015
Let's get the frustrations out of the way. First, when someone breaks into your house call the police. When something happens, TELL someone. That's the horror mantra that It Follows pursues. But I DO understand why they wouldn't tell. No one would believe them. Because as everyone knows, It is only seen by the chain of sexual adventures from one person to another.

The characters all seem to have parental issues and have wrapped themselves in their own world, with hardly a care of being caught for things like smoking or even casual sex. And that is the worst of it. The kids are on their own to deal with a monster that pursues someone who had sex with another that It had been pursuing. The religious references usually seen in films is abandoned too. What would YOU do if you suddenly see yourself pursued by It, and no one else sees It?

This is a good concept, and the film is left with questions that beg for a sequel. Will there ever be a cure or action to stop It? Why does It follow? And, just what is It? I certainly hope as the filmmakers pursue making sequels and/or prequels to It, that they explain some things. I did wonder if this is some veiled attempt to morality-preach, as there was no religion or family structure whatsoever. And the film took place in a city of complete and utter decay, symbolizing that perhaps, whatever people touch is doomed.

It Follows seems like a cat, or brussels sprouts: you either like it or absolutely hate it. It goes against how young people trend: the film shows them embracing all things retro and rejecting technological things - no Facebook friends in this film. That seems like a gamble, since most of the generation are about Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to hope for a follow-up film to learn what IT is all about.
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Leviathan (2014)
10/10
That Northern Russia Climate Bites Hard
4 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
What would compel me to give this film ten full stars? There has to have been something to knock at least one off. Otherwise I'm saying that this is a cinematic masterpiece on all levels.

It simply is, and I can make my own points about it.

Plot: Spot on, with some twists and turns to keep the viewer not only glued to the story, but wanting more. The plot further peels open, and I was left simply nodding my head in disbelief. This is not the kind of film that is feel-good. If you want all of the endings tied up like a Christmas bow, forget it, as Leviathan is NOT for you.

Cinematography: Crisp, colorful, artistic, and well-conceived. Anyone not privy to life in Russia will feel like they've gotten their passport stamped by Vladamir Putin himself. Watch the film to get the sense of coldness of an unforgiving, northern climate. Utilizing the magic hour, and pre-dawn/twilight settings, it was an incredible visual experience.

Acting: The only actor who didn't seem so believable was a 3-year-old in a church near the end of the movie. Yet he didn't have any bearing on the film. The rest of the characters really made their parts believable, to the teeth. Even the young actor, Sergey Pokhodaev, truly didn't seem like the no-it-all you love to hate. He was conflicted and you could understand why. The officials seemed truly official, just like those plain clothes Russian cops, whom I would never want to meet. And when the players were drunk (which was often), I could believe that they really were blitzed during filming. Some might get bothered by the amount of vodka-drinking, but that's a big Russian staple. The acting, from the happiness, to the anger, disappointment, pain and sorrow, couldn't have been better.

Believability: One wonders if this kind of thing truly happens. It's downright scary. No spoilers, you'll see when you watch the film, and I strongly urge true film lovers to watch this. I just shook my head and asked if this also happens in the U.S. Maybe so, maybe not with such a stronghold. I can imagine in places like Russia, Mexico, and other struggling economies, it is very possible.

Music: The film used old music from Philip Glass (works that reminded me of Chronos and Koyaanisqatsi) at the start and end of the movie, and only sparsely added drone violins to suggest impending trouble. The film didn't need much music, which is also the sign of excellent work.

Ambiance: What a way to showcase Russian life and livelihood. How bleak, yet how beautiful? I want to watch it again and again, just to wrap my brain around the scope of what I just watched. Leviathan was truly well-planned and well-executed. Who are these actors? Looking at the main characters' bodies of work, they've been in front of the cameras for numerous films, but part of the effort of great filmmaking is assembling the cast, which was also top- notch.

I feel like I was plucked right down in the town of Kirovsk, compelled to follow as a passenger as all this unwound and unraveled, getting frustrated with any roadblock that came. How poignant that Leviathan starts so innocently and yet who in the end, is innocent?
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Clutch Cargo (1959– )
6/10
Inspiration for Conan's Bill Clinton "Live Satellite" Sketch??
1 February 2015
Clutch Cargo and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot, seen on WDTV - there's a stream of two seasons of this cartoon, where it instantly reminded me of the "guests" that Conan O'Brien would have by dropping a monitor down to show them live via satellite!

Oh my gosh, if you have a moment to watch these episodes, it is truly creepy. Interesting concept that people chose, choosing to use "Synchro-Vox" a "revolutionary miracle technique" claiming to capture speech as it appears rather than conventional animated lip sync. I'm sure glad they didn't use this for Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny! The lips look fruit-juicy red and it really doesn't look that good in today's world. Better for use on late night TV of course, and Conan O'Brien does it well!

This process uses much less animation process which ultimately saved tons of money. And I do like the voices used. Save for the lip sync of Spinner, who has the voice of a woman. Something about a young boy with a woman's lips is truly weird!
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Nebraska (2013)
9/10
"Napoleon Dynamite" For the Older Viewers
13 January 2015
I'm trying to think of what was wrong about "Nebraska," and I could find very little to pan. After seeing this quiet and effective movie, memories of "Napoleon Dynamite" came into my head, not because "Nebraska" had any storyline at all like it, but that this film was filled with characters that fit in with the lifestyle and landscape. I figured "Nebraska" might be filled with heavy emotional themes but it was the opposite. Rather than a yarn of an elderly man facing death, the film places the audience into the front seat of Woody's family and allows us - like Woody's son - to journey through the miles to learn just who they are, discovering why Woody became salty.

It's as if the miles of distance between Montana and Woody's ultimate destination of Nebraska helped roll back the years while peeling open his history as Woody revisited his family along the way. As the journey ended, I wound up realizing how different I felt about everyone, which made for a really profound journey of thoughts about family and friends. "Napoleon Dynamite" had that country-simple charm of young characters with really unique quirks, and "Nebraska" also exploits that similar charm in which the people involved are middle-aged and elderly.

Add to this film, some great B&W cinematography (the DP made a statement from the very first scene, how well the film would be crafted), fine writing filled with wit while avoiding sentimentality, and effective musical scoring, and you have a movie that I predict can be watched decades later. One could never tell that Bruce Dern in real life runs marathons, because he embraced the character of an alcoholic whose body has deteriorated more swiftly than people his age in the movie. Bob Odenkirk (Ross), June Squibb (Kate), Will Forte (David) and Stacy Keach (Ed Pegram) highlighted a terrific cast - it seems that cast and crew truly believed in this project and they put their best efforts into a charming film that I urge movie buffs to watch.
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C.B. Hustlers (1976)
1/10
::Rolls Eyes::
24 May 2014
Already with the first scene of players, you see the driver and a woman sitting in a van, acting as if they're traveling on the road. Horrible lighting and the fact that the van was obviously being rocked since the background never moved, told me this would be a stinker. Within the first eight minutes, a very beautiful woman exposes her chest and buttocks, but one has to be very desperate to want to continue watching this. Maybe there's a taste for the film from its period nostalgia, perhaps?

The movie was made only to cash in on the "free love," Scooby-type vans, and the CB radio / trucking craze, popularized by the film and hit single, "Convoy." It's actually a film to snicker at, because the scenes were so poorly scripted. I'm sure none of the players ever became an A-lister. A dog wearing a Go Pro would probably come back with better scenes than the cinematography here. For instance, two men sit at desks in a small room, eating food, while making dumb comments as the CB radio blares. Would they ever leave that place, which looks like the size of a converted jail cell?

It makes me wonder what they're doing today. Did the cast and crew expect this film would ever take off, or where they simply desperate for money or fame? CB Hustlers, sad to say, is a waste of one's time. You'll never get your 85 minutes back. The only way to revive such a film would be to send it up to the Satellite of Love for Joel and the robots to watch.
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8/10
A Monumental Endeavor, Frozen in History
28 October 2013
"The Great White South" can be an entertaining account of the Terra Nova Expedition, from Lyttelton, NZ to Antarctica. Watch with a mind's eye that can help you step backward in time, to the thinking of 1910.

When watching how the story is pieced together, at first I was a little bothered by the light slap-stick splashed between the scenes that were shown. One bit of information about a certain cat was truly void of political-correctness, which made me bristle. But after a few viewings of the movie I came to actually appreciate the humor, partly by understanding the reason for its use. The cinematography and story-telling shared by Herbert Ponting was based on turn-of-the-19th-century knowledge and thinking - a far cry from where society is today. Keeping this in mind helps one enjoy this piece of cinematic achievement more.

I was fooled upon first glance that Mr. Ponting might have joined the actual South Pole expedition as they actually set out in November, 1911, to undertake the quest for the frozen goal. There were still images taken at the Pole, not by Mr. Ponting, but by Lt. Henry Bowers, one of the four men selected.

The quips actually became comic relief as the story turns quite chilly, with some plot revelations as the four explorers trudge hundreds of miles, over a two-month period. Allow yourself to step out of your own comfortable shoes and into those of these comrades, and you'll appreciate the story much better. It's a slice of significant world history, in which Mr. Ponting was able to capture, during the journey.

It's amazing to learn the back stories of the major characters and how events converged with the trek for the South Pole, and why it also took more than a decade for this film to be completed. Cast out what would be today's poor choice of mingling with wildlife (and otherwise meddling with it) and revel in some enjoyable photography, story-telling and cinematography of its time.

One footnote: I watched the BFI-restored film, complete with restored colorizing and tinting (first done by Mr. Ponting himself). Oranges, blues, and odd shades of red seem meant to add a sense of time of day in some scenes, or the color of sea water. It didn't disturb me to see this when realizing that the color was as the filmmaker intended. The soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner (Soleilmoon Recordings - 2011) was a welcome and haunting treat, which rejected the customary organ music one expects with silent films while adding depth to the visuals.
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Lamhe (1991)
9/10
Long-Winded Yarn, Yet I Loved It.
17 October 2013
I understand that the subject matter of LAMHE was controversial, and I understand why. Yet it's a watchable film that deals with confronting matters of the heart. It's a very Bollywood film with plenty of color and music/dancing within the first 10 minutes, but it's got twists and turns worthy of Tour de France.

Shockingly there's not one kiss exchanged in this - maybe I never noticed when watching other films from India that it might be a cultural no-no - but it doesn't detract from a well- played story with some pretty heavy drama. At least five times, my jaw dropped as a plot twist quickly redefined the film. Save for one, they were moments that I didn't see coming, but I guess were necessary to keep a film running for over three hours.

Sridevi did a great job to express the feelings while in character. And you could almost fall in love with her yourself, with the smile and those huge doe-like eyes. I can get a little frustrated with how some of the characters try manipulating others, but the subject matter of love begs for some people to question that love. I'm trying to be as vague as possible so as not to spoil this. If you have a chance to watch LAMHE, avoid reading spoilers, they will really destroy your watching experience.
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Glory (1989)
9/10
Denzel Washington's defining role.
3 July 2013
I give the film almost a perfect score for its story-telling, cinematography, and entertainment value, 24 years since its premier. It's not at all dated - some period films show their age just by the hair styles worn of the times, or the music score (like WITNESS [1985] which has some unfortunate electronic music moments), but GLORY holds up quite well, and has become one of those Civil War "must-see" dramas.

But I want to focus some on the performance of Denzel Washington. "Trip," his character, was built to fight everyone, because he refused to become a victim in any form or fashion. He enlisted as a hard-shelled bully and took his anger out on anyone who disagreed with him. Even his attire symbolized his defiance, with his cap cocked off-center, and wearing a color separate from most others in some scenes.

Two moments in this film anchored Mr. Washington's status as a solid method actor. Most film-goers shed tears when watching as he was disciplined over something he needed, by watching Trip's reaction to his punishment. The camera unflinchingly crawled in, which was as powerful a moment as I can remember any actor's portrayal, and it still arguably one of the best scenes that an actor has evoked. I honestly think that this one scene sealed his Academy Award of best supporting actor.

The other moment was when Trip was compelled to say some words the night before a battle. Never one to speak from his heart as it made him too vulnerable, he said little and yet his final thoughts spoke volumes: "We men, ain't we?" I think most people invested their hopes on Trip, and Mr. Washington delivered better than any actor could, transforming him from an enlisted thug to a soldier I would march with. I'm sure he drew on things he experienced in school, because I remember people like Trip. They focus on one person that they would bully on a daily basis, and "Searles" (Andre Braugher) was his victim. Those two were paired perfectly. I only thought that some moments were a little over-acted, which deserved a deduction.

The film had many night scenes, and the VHS and DVD transfers I've seen always looked muddy with poor blacks and color rendition, which has done an injustice to the outstanding cinematography. GLORY has been released as a 4K master disc, and it's incredible. The price point is nice as well, especially if you find one used.
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Lonesome (1928)
10/10
A Masterpiece of its Time
29 April 2013
Wonderfully-paced, great camera movements, excellent location photography. When you compare this with other films of its era, you'll see how well Lonesome was developed. Being visual, I'm always interested in camera placement and movement. While other films of its time showed static camera shots, Lonesome always wanted to keep the camera moving. The pace rarely lets up, soon after the male protagonist Jim, wakes up.

The version I refer to is the Eastman House-restored film. It's presented in a pristine, high- definition film transfer from original film stock, a nitrate print apparently from France. What a treat to watch life from the early 20th century, and the way it seems, the storyline could be presented today, in modern New York City.

This version has music and plenty of sound effects, but it's still one of the last silent films of the era. It's a fun treat, watching the facial expressions as the performers have to sell their emotions without voices. It must have been a trend-setting piece of filmmaking in its time. I only wish the pace on some of the films made today had as much entertainment packed inside.

Packed within the Eastman House print are several scenes with actual dialog between the two, and there's also a bit of color-tinted B/W to boot somewhere in the film. It's worth it for true film buffs to find the restored version. There's no heavy storyline here, just a guy finding it hard to meet a woman he finds attractive. The film really gives me another reason to smile.
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10/10
Strong Characters, Strong Film.
26 April 2013
While Ox-Bow is a Western, it could very well be played out in any setting, and the story line is timeless. The frustration mounts as evidence builds against those accused of murder. It's that frustration of not being able to stop a group of people who are frustrated that the law doesn't do enough, and of having to choose sides when facing being shunned by a mob, convinced that what they're doing is right.

Over sixty years since this film premiered, the crux of the theme plays out in current events. People feel so angry with the state of current affairs that they don't even want to hear arguments to let justice take its course; they think justice these days is weak, and want things done swiftly. Upon hearing a portion of evidence, they feel that the accused must be guilty, and ignore compelling arguments to dig deeper, in order to seek the whole truth.

I planned to name-drop, but the cast was effective from top to bottom, who portrayed their characters' strengths or weaknesses rather well.

The close-up scene with Henry Fonda strikes a chord that resonates today. Fonda's position with Harry Morgan was a brilliant decision which adds to an emotional climax. Some might call it a bit heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it.
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5/10
There's Enough Missing to Hurt.
19 April 2013
A fair amount of footage and sound has apparently been lost, and I felt cheated after watching the film in its most restored state. The most glaring omission is that there was nothing about Gettysburg or probably the most famous speech that any president has ever made, especially with regards that the address was only two minutes long.

Another bone of contention was that any African Americans in any semblance of prominence were actually actors with black face. While understanding it was a thing to do in that era, the scenes still left me shaking my head.

There were nice moments, including Robert E. Lee in his tent. But enough drab moments suggest to me that D.W. Griffith's heart wasn't truly in the production of his film.
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10/10
Sergio's Masterpiece Still Influences Films and Filmmakers Today.
6 September 2012
Watch films and TV shows to this day and you'll see how deeply influential that "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" has been. Sergio Leone's masterpiece, to be sure. Just as influential, is the musical score by Ennio Morricone. Yet it's so interesting to note how Leone's style was greatly influenced by the work of John Ford.

GBU is an essential film, and anyone reading this understands it. How many people, who don't like westerns, recognize that high-pitched wail that plays at the beginning and very end of the film? It's amazing that the film is 161 minutes long in its original theatrical release, but so many people are so satisfied with it from beginning to end.

Most people generally root for that scoundrel, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez - known as the rat! What I enjoyed was that Blondie was never *too* Good, while Angel Eyes was so good at being oh, so bad. Tuco, being the Ugly? You understand why he resorted to his ways as his character developed, and you tend to actually root for him. But you still never want to turn your back on him.

One of my favorite intimate scenes was Blondie, taking a pause from a pursuit, crossing paths with the soldier. Not one word is said, but the moment between them is truly touching. The only person we truly don't get too close to, is Angel Eyes, but you simply don't feel cheated by that.

The cinematography is exquisite. Whether it was the DP, Tonino Delli Colli, or the vision of Sergio's direction, you find a depth to the film like never seen before. The deep focus, using wide angle lenses to maintain focus from, say, a shoe in the foreground to people yards away, to the truly extreme closeups of only shifting eyes, is cinematic genius.

There is not one actor that's off in this film. And the writing - three men pursuing a hidden treasure, through the back yard of the Civil War - is outstanding work, with just enough comic relief to give you a chance to relax from the countless number of climaxes throughout.

"The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," is the benchmark of not only westerns, but of filmmaking in general. This film, released in 1966, stands at #5 of the top 250 films, which says volumes, especially with over a quarter million votes. And GBU only won one award?
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Fingerprints (2006)
Gets Five of My Ten Fingerprints
29 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I was immediately put off by the opening titles which looked like something done on a cheap home computer. Shortly thereafter, the film starts with a flashback to 1957, and yet the train shown heading towards the school bus is clearly modern - it could have been filmed without showing the actual design of the locomotive. And then the acting begins. The main character Melanie (Leah Pipes) is reunited with her father, who acts like ... an actor selling himself as a doting father. But through all the early put-offs, I watched the whole film.

If this had a $1M budget, much of the money must have gone to the most well-known actors, cos it just seemed like the film needed more money for better production. When you lose viewers' ability to believe in what you're showing, it can be an uphill struggle to win back the audience. And, it didn't need so much special effects, but perhaps better cinematography and lighting. The little girl that Melanie routinely encounters could have been filmed with some kind of eerie lighting based on the fact that she's been dead (not spoilers, part of the film plot). Yet we're left guessing whether Melanie actually knows she IS dead in the first third of the movie.

The story is simply hurt by some less-than-good film-making. The plot itself kept me curious enough to keep watching the next scene, even after the death of one character, whose acting made me roll my eyes. Melanie and her sister are better than most... their mother made me want to strangle her myself, so she is effective as a rude mother - until she simply goes overboard with her actions later in the film.

Yet for the film's underachievement, it still has some moments in which my neck hair stood up. The screenwriter hurt a promising story just enough to call it average, yet still watchable and entertaining enough, and even though I actually didn't mind the core reasons why things happened, I groaned at the very end of the film, which made me want to throw buttered popcorn at my HDTV. I'm just glad I didn't have any at the time.
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Even Clooney Couldn't Save This From Sinking
29 August 2011
I just didn't care for this film, at all. The acting seemed arid, while the screen writing was absolutely waterlogged. While based on true events, someone should have known that this was an accident to produce in such a way. The moment the meteorologist exclaims that he's witnessing "*the perfect storm!*" really showed how flawed the direction took such a powerful story. And by the time the townsfolk mourned those lost at sea, I almost gagged at how I felt like the audience was being manipulated to somehow feel like we witnessed a tragedy and had to feel for the characters. It was tragic to add that heart string scene in the first place.

George Clooney had been ringing the bell with some quality performances but he sure hit a thud with this one. I had high hopes that Perfect Storm would be all right because Clooney was in it - I had been anti-Clooney for a long time but by the time I saw "O Brother Where Art Thou?" (2000), I started looking seriously at his films before and since. I figured it would have been entertaining. I mean, Clooney's pretty darn good; look at what he's done: Syriana, the Ocean's trilogy, Michael Clayton, Fantastic Mr Fox, Spy Kids 3-D (kidding about that one). I apologize for passing judgment before. Even he couldn't save this film from stinking and sinking. I felt like the director tried to manipulate my emotions and I simply didn't care a hill of beans by the time the perfect storm struck. The film couldn't have ended soon enough.
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Just Not the Same Laughs as I Felt Before
18 August 2011
I wish I could put ten stars in my rating of this wonderful film. However I feel I'd be doing the ratings and readers an injustice, by doing so.

I was a kid when I saw, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," in the early 1970's. It became my favorite comedy film of all time, then. I laughed so very hard that my gut hurt the rest of the day. Whenever I heard that the film would be shown on TV, I'd try to clear everything from my childhood schedule to watch it.

I watched it just now, and the same laughs simply weren't there anymore. I simply grew up. I'm not panning this film, but it's impossible to ignore the era from where the film was produced. There are some scenes with African Americans present, in which the slapstick is made with reference to race. It put a damper on my enthusiasm, even while I understand that any film becomes a bit of an historical reference to mirror its era.

With regard to the climax of the film, I found myself forcing some laughs, as though I felt compelled to show that the scenes were still funny. At that moment, watching the scene at the abandoned building, I couldn't help but think about the children of today. And a sadness crept over me for a moment. Mad World is slowly withering, because the youngsters of today have no idea who Buster Keaton was, or Buddy Hackett, or perhaps all of those wonderful stars that made cameo appearances throughout the film. As a kid, I could instantly identify with almost every star that appeared, from Jimmy Durante in the opening scene, to Joe E. Brown, the official screaming in the crowd near the end of the film. That made it so much easier to be in the moment as each cameo popped up. I felt great about knowing them, which added to my enjoyment.

Today, what kids recognize Uncle Milty? Don Knotts? Jack Benny or the Three Stooges? Even the clean slapstick is a thing of the past, just like films that are rated G, like this one. But it was still nice to see those actors pop in for their cameos, because their memories still live on, for now.
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Just Not the Same Laughs as I Felt Before
15 August 2011
I wish I could put ten stars in my rating of this wonderful film. However I feel I'd be doing the ratings and readers an injustice, by doing so.

I was a kid when I saw, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," in the early 1970's. It became my favorite comedy film of all time, then. I laughed so very hard that my gut hurt the rest of the day. Whenever I heard that the film would be shown on TV, I'd try to clear everything from my childhood schedule to watch it.

I watched it just now, and the same laughs simply weren't there anymore. I simply grew up. I'm not panning this film, but it's impossible to ignore the era from where the film was produced. There are some scenes with African Americans present, in which the slapstick is made with reference to race. It put a damper on my enthusiasm, even while I understand that any film becomes a bit of an historical reference to mirror its era.

With regard to the climax of the film, I found myself forcing some laughs, as though I felt compelled to show that the scenes were still funny. At that moment, watching the scene at the abandoned building, I couldn't help but think about the children of today. And a sadness crept over me for a moment. Mad World is slowly withering, because the youngsters of today have no idea who Buster Keaton was, or Buddy Hackett, or perhaps all of those wonderful stars that made cameo appearances throughout the film. As a kid, I could instantly identify with almost every star that appeared, from Jimmy Durante in the opening scene, to Joe E. Brown, the official screaming in the crowd near the end of the film. That made it so much easier to be in the moment as each cameo popped up. I felt great about knowing them, which added to my enjoyment.

Today, what kids recognize Uncle Milty? Don Knotts? Jack Benny or the Three Stooges? Even the clean slapstick is a thing of the past, just like films that are rated G, like this one. But it was still nice to see those actors pop in for their cameos, because their memories still live on, for now.
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