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great story, but suffers from technical problems
25 November 2015
I don't know why IMDb says this film is still in production. The film is finished, and it has screened at the DOCUTAH festival and for some audiences in Kansas City. Earlier this week, I attended a free screening in KC, sponsored by the non-profit organization shown in the film.

The story is great, and the way the multiple stories are woven together is very effective. The music and sound are also very good, especially for a low budget documentary. Where the film suffers is in the picture. Most of it was shot hand-held without any sort of camera stabilizer, so it has the nauseating look of a smart phone video. That's made a thousand times worse when blown up onto a big screen. The focus is all over the place, too, but almost never on the person who's talking. I think the filmmaker was really going for the popular "shallow depth of field" look, but didn't have the skill or equipment to pull focus expertly. There are also way too many dizzying hand-held whip pans. The end result is hard to watch, which is very sad because the topic and the stories are all very important.

The film follows six people who have bipolar disorder, each who has been affected in a different way and copes in a different way. Some have gotten better with medical care, and some have not. In a poignant and unfortunate twist, one of the characters who seems to be coping very well during the film died before the film was released. The story discusses the highs and lows of suffering from bipolar disorder, as well as some of the medical background on the disease itself, making the point that really it is a spectrum of disorders, and not just one single thing.

I'd recommend the film for people affected by the disease or curious about it. I hope the filmmaker continues to make more films, because I'm sure he learned a lot from this one and will improve his technical skills. He certainly has a good sense of putting a compelling story together, and that's rare in amateur filmmakers.
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2nd best Navajo-language film I've seen
1 February 2015
A flying saucer crashes near the home of an old man on the Navajo reservation. The man is abducted by federal agents. His grandson Lyle is a recently-returned US Army veteran, who goes on a quest to find him. In the course of his search, Lyle encounters a government conspiracy, supernatural forces, a wacko federal bureaucrat and his bumbling henchmen, friends and family who won't or can't help, and an ancient secret society.

This independent film has great cinematography, sub-par writing, and mediocre directing. But there aren't very many films with this much dialogue in the Navajo language, so it's got that going for it. It could've been a better film given some more work on the script, but as it is there are a lot of characters and plot elements that are just too far-fetched to believe, and unfortunately too much overacting.

IMDb categorizes the film as sci-fi, but it's not. There's really nothing sci-fi about this, and it's better thought of as a drama or action film. Maybe that's a marketing thing.

I loved seeing the Navajo Nation as the setting for a feature film, and appreciated seeing so many Navajos playing Navajo roles. And it was a gutsy move to have a good chunk of the dialogue in Navajo. In fact, I think the only film I've seen with more Navajo dialogue was the dubbed version of Star Wars that came out a couple years ago.
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good summary of the history of kung fu films, but should've had a different narrator
17 January 2010
As a fan of kung fu movies, I enjoyed this trip through the ages of kung fu movies. Yeah, the title would have you believe the documentary is about action films in general, but it's not. It would have you believe it's about martial arts films in general, but - as before - it's not. They're really just focused on the kung fu movies that came out of Hong Kong, and other films influenced from those.

The film is "hosted" by Samuel L. Jackson, but I sure don't know why. He doesn't have the credentials to lend anything to the narration. And his taped narrative segments were awkward, read from a teleprompter, and distractingly shot by someone with an infatuation with gratuitous camera movement. The production company could've saved a lot of money by hiring a film historian to just narrate from a static angle or all in voice-over.

This film was a gift from a friend who found it in the bargain bin at the video store for $3, so I guess it's worth that. But don't pay $20 for it. I'll give it a 4 out of 10.
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how does someone get paid to make a film with so little substance?
5 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a big aficionado of ballet, and an even bigger fan of film. I especially love documentary film. So as far as I can tell, I'm totally in the target audience sweet spot for this film. And I really wanted to love this film, which - if you haven't figured out by now - is a very intimate look at part of one season of the Paris Opera.

But the film left me cold. Not only that, but it left me bored. And it left me wondering how any film director can get funding to make a film that takes such little effort and creativity.

This film is done without narration. Not only that, but it's done without any semblance of a narrative thread. From what my date and I could tell, the film makers shot footage of various events happening within the ballet - rehearsals, lessons, meetings, lunch, painting - over the course of several months. Then, they randomly selected scenes from all they shot and just pasted them together into a film. There's no sense of continuity, no sense of a story.

There are so many interesting topics that a long documentary film like this could try to address. How does being a top dancer affect your body over time? What do these dancers do when they're not rehearsing? Do they have families? Hobbies? How does a choreographer that only speaks English get a job here when some of the dancers don't understand English? The film doesn't try to answer any of these. Instead it focuses only on what's right in front of your face right now. There is setup after setup, without any payoff. There's a scene showing a difficult meeting regarding retirement benefits for the dancers, due to union negotiations going on. And then the topic is completely dropped, without another word about the union mentioned for the rest of the film. There's a scene where a dancer is complaining that she's being asked to do too many performances and she can't keep up because she's not 25 anymore. And then we never hear about it again.

By the end of the film, I was just wondering how the director chose which scenes to put in and which to leave on the editing room floor. And there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, from the viewer's perspective. That's why I think the director just selected scenes at random. Maybe putting together a film like this takes some really advanced skill. But to me, it looked like any film student with a decent camera and a lot of time could have made this film.
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respectful homage and funny behind-the-scenes look at an actor losing his best role
3 December 2009
I was lucky enough to stumble into this film as part of the Denver Film Festival in November 2009. It was amazingly good.

The film, set in 1953, tells the story of the actor hired to play the eighth samurai in Kurasawa's next great film. Unfortunately for the actor, the Director (never referred to by name, but we all know who he is) has a dream and decides his film needs to be "The Seven Samurai" instead of "The Eighth Samurai." This is apparently the end of the actor's career, and the story takes us through the period of turmoil around the delivery, denial, and finally acceptance of the bad news.

The filmmakers did an amazing job imitating Kurasawa's style, including lighting, shot selection, acting, pace, and editing. It was clear that someone has studied the master very well. Unfortunately, I think the painstaking accuracy of the homage was lost on probably 90% of the audience. That may be one of the flaws of the film. Unless you're a real film buff and a fan of Kurasawa, you probably won't really appreciate "The 8th Samurai" for all it's worth. But if you know your samurai movies, you owe it to yourself to find a way to watch this film.
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Helvetica (2007)
the movie sucked me in
2 November 2009
I was surprised that I liked this movie so much. I turned it on just to keep me company while I washed dishes and folded laundry. But then as I learned about the unusual history of the Helvetica typeface, I started to pay attention. And then the interviews with the eccentric designers and artists really pulled me into the film, and I had to watch the rest.

"Helvetica" tells the whole history of the font. I enjoyed learned what fonts had come before, what problems they were trying to solve by making this one, and so on. And then, as the history comes up to the modern day, the film examines the haters, the lovers, and some of the people who try to do things with it that the typographers never intended.

As someone who's not into typefaces or visual design, I never imagined a typeface could say so much.
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Rashomon (1950)
OK movie, but not great
21 September 2009
I had the pleasure of seeing the newly (from 2008) restored version of this film on the big screen recently. It's hard to believe it's 59 years old, and I can imagine the original must be in bad shape.

The restored version definitely looks good, but I was disappointed with the sound. I know they have the modern tools to make something like this sound better. It needs lots more noise reduction in some scenes, and some good use of multiband compression. For the layperson, that means the loud parts are too loud compared to the quiet parts. Unfortunately, in the theater I saw this, the quiet parts sounded just fine which meant that the loud parts - the wife's wailing, the baby's crying, etc. - were just earsplitting and painful.

As for the story, it was very innovative at the time. As far as I know, no film before this used the storytelling technique of multiple unreliable narrators. The acting and directing is pretty good, not surprising, though the style is dated nowadays and some of the performances feel more like they should be on stage instead of on camera.

I'll give this a 6/10. Knowing what Kurosawa and Mifune were later capable of, this is not even close to their best. But it's got historical significance and is a film every film lover should see at least once. But I don't feel compelled to go see it again.
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great documentary that covers a lot of ground and ends on a positive note
16 June 2009
I watched this documentary as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, and thought it was great. The film covers a lot of topics related to the gang of South Central Los Angeles, from their earliest history to the socio-economic causes to the effect it has on real families. And it ends with a sense of hope that the people of that community can in fact put an end to the cycle.

It would be easy to do a documentary on this topic that reeks of white guilt or points fingers or cozies up to the gang members. But instead, this film takes a very neutral viewpoint. That's part of what makes it great. Plus, it's very well done technically. The soundtrack is outstanding, the narration is good, and the audio is unusually good for a documentary.

I give it an 8/10.
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23 November 2008
I got to see this film at the Denver Film Festival last night. I had high hopes, but was pretty disappointed. Obviously, the film has some top notch actors, and that's about the only reason I'm giving the film a 4/10 instead of a 2/10. The story is mess, and just plain boring. I noticed that about midway through the film, a lot of people in my section of the theater started simultaneously looking at their watches and cell phones, to get an idea of how much longer we'd have to endure this.

The main story is decent enough, though it's totally plain jane. Hoffman's character is painfully awkward. Thompson's character is painfully awkward. So we know they're gonna hook up eventually, with a few missteps along the way. And with actors like these that's fun to watch even with a bad script.

But there's a second storyline (a "B story" as it's known in screen writing) about Thompson's mother that's a total waste. The writer had a great opportunity to make some really great scenes, but he left every one of them on the floor. There's a misunderstanding that should've been milked for huge comic relief, and instead it just sort of sputters out.

When I see a film that turns out like this, it makes me wonder what went wrong. Should the writer have spent another few months tightening the script? Or was the script solid but the actors and/or studio insisted on changes during shooting? Or was something lost in editing? I'll never know, but there's definitely something missing here. What should have been a good film ended up mediocre on the big screen.
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great documentary about high school students competing for scholarships to culinary college
22 November 2008
My wife and I saw "Pressure Cooker" last night at the Starz Denver International Film Festival. At first, I was afraid I was going to hate it, due to the shaky camera work. But as the story unfolded, I was drawn in. And by the end of it, I was crying with the rest of the audience.

This was the director's first documentary film, and thanks to some interesting characters and excellent editing, she's put together something fantastic.

The film follows the lives of a strict but loving teacher of culinary arts in an inner city high school in Philadelphia, and a half dozen of her students. In an area where most kids don't have a lot of opportunities, these kids are learning to be professional cooks and competing for a few scholarships to big name culinary schools around the US. Their stories are all interesting and varied, and by the end you get a real sense that the students and the teacher have quite a bond. And of course you're rooting for them all to get scholarships.

The story telling is awesome, the sound was surprisingly good, and the editing was top notch. My only complaint - and the only thing keeping me from giving this a 10/10 rating - was that the filmmaker didn't bother using any steadicam. Nearly all the shots are hand held. On a TV you probably wouldn't notice, but on a big screen it's a little distracting.
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Æon Flux (2005)
thank you William Gibson
21 March 2008
I remember seeing the ads for this film when it came out in theaters, but I never saw it. Thanks to Netflix, I just finally watched it this morning. I should point out that I never saw the animated version, and so I'm left to judge this film only on its own merits, not as a comparison to the MTV thing that preceded it.

The movie was better than I expected, and quite enjoyable. Obviously, they have an advantage in getting people's attention due to Theron's looks and costumes, and the fantastic (I mean that literally) stunt sequences. But I found myself drawn into the story line, too. It had a very cyberpunk feel to it, and now that I've digested the film a bit, I think one reason I liked it is that it looked a lot like how I imagined early William Gibson novels to look. I guess that makes sense, given that the original MTV Aeon Flux came out when cyberpunk was still cool.

But I'm always a sucker for the "society and Earth has melted down, and all that's left is this little bubble" type of sci-fi story. Maybe it goes back to my love of Logan's Run as a child.

The visuals were great, the music was good, and the acting was way better than any sci-fi movie I've seen in the past couple years. Speaking of acting, I had a suspicion after watching the first hour of the film that the cast were mainly British actors with American accents. A check through IMDb proved me right. Even though everyone sounded like they could have grown up in St. Louis, all the 6 or 7 top billed actors were born outside the US except Frances McDormand - 1 from New Zealand, 1 from South Africa, and the rest from the UK.

Anyhow, I'm rating the film 7 out 10. It's well constructed, beautiful, and very entertaining.
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not as bad as I expected
21 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I got Star Trek: Nemesis from Netflix, since I never saw it when it was (briefly) in the theater. After reading the reviews on IMDb, I was afraid it was going to be just terrible. But I thought it was fine. Not Academy Award material, but on par with being a movie from a TV show.

I was never a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it was nice to see "the old gang" here in this final film from that cast. There are plenty of gratuitously hokey moments, with dialogue between characters that's so cliché that it makes you groan. But the acting is good enough, the plot is good enough, and the effects are just fine.

The villain was on par with any other favorite movie bad guy. Powerful, charismatic, and evil. It made think of Darth Vader: "I am your father, (Jean) Luc. Or maybe I'm more like your brother. Whatever! Now die!"
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great acting, good film
24 December 2007
I saw this film on Christmas eve day, and was surprised there were so few people in the theater. Chicks dig Clooney, of course. But this movie takes a lot of mental engagement by the viewer. Clooney, Wilkinson, and Pollack give outstanding performances in this one. And Swinton's great, too. The story is believable and intricate, and has a couple really good plot twists. Even the final major scene left me wondering right up to the very end.

The story line in this film is actually a number of different threads, somewhat interwoven, all helping to show different aspects of Michael Clayton. It really works well, I think. As another reviewer pointed out, the film really is about the character. Yeah, there's a dramatic mystery, but we really get a 360 degree view of Clooney's Clayton, more than most similar films.

Finally, I disagree with those reviewers who wrote about the impenetrable legal dialog. The legal stuff doesn't really get in the way at all. I'm not a big fan of legal dramas, so I don't know the lingo, but I didn't feel that any of the story was over my head.
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this explains a lot
14 January 2007
I once watched a documentary on TV about chili. One scene had a couple old Texans sitting around talking about what makes good chili (or chile, if you're close to the border). One guy mentioned how he'd seen people in the big city make chili out of lima beans, and the other guy replied, "I believe I'd kill a man who put lima beans in my chili." That, more than anything else I've heard, sums up how Texans are serious about chili.

"Barbecue: A Texas Love Story" does the same thing for barbecue. It doesn't purport to explain the whole story of where this style of cooking comes from, or how it differs across the world. For that, you can turn to Steve Raichlen's seminal works on the subject. No, this film, more than any I've seen, shows Texans who like to cook and Texans who like to eat, as well as a few Texans who like to philosophize.

The filmmakers visited several locations all around the state and interviewed a good cross section of barbecue fans. They explain what makes Texas barbecue unique, how it's part of the culture, and why people take it so seriously. This film mixes together famous personalities with regular old people, and shows that - in Texas - barbecue cuts across ethnic lines, racial lines, and economic lines.

As a film, this work suffers slightly from a lack of tight focus. Like a good visit to a barbecue cook-off, the movie samples a little bit of everything but lacks a greater sense of direction. Technically, it's pretty good, though not perfect. But it's got an outstanding soundtrack.

Overall, I'm glad I own this DVD. And I guess the best testimonial - it made me really hungry for pork ribs, beef brisket, and sausage.
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Consent (2004)
awesome short film
17 December 2006
It's funny, well written, nicely acted, and thought-provoking. This comedy short pokes fun at the difficulty of sexual relations in the current era of litigation. In college, I was forced to attend a lecture about consensual sex, and I can guess the writer of this film went to a very similar lecture.

I loved how the main characters didn't even think twice about the lawyers being in the girl's bedroom. I guess that's how college sex is these days.

I wish I'd made this short film. I was pleasantly surprised to see this director did "Thank You For Smoking" which I saw in theaters when it came out.
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great film - impressive screen writing and acting
26 November 2006
Going into this film, I understood the premise pretty well from the trailers I'd seen. And I'd heard someone say this was Will Ferrell's first totally serious role. What I wasn't expecting was what a great screenplay this film has.

Ferrell does have a more serious role than many of his past films, but it's also very comedic. Before seeing it, I imagined this being Farrell's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but it isn't. That said, he does a great job as leading man and makes us really believe in his somewhat fantastic character.

The rest of the cast is a brilliant collection of stars. After leaving the theater, I was wondering how the filmmakers were able to get Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman to both play supporting roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal does an admirable job as Farrell's character's love interest and life changer, though her role doesn't require the depth that Thompson's does.

Finally, the most delightful part of this film is the awesome writing. Zach Helm's screenplay has just enough circularity - it's a story about a story - to make it intellectually appealing without getting bogged down. I'm not sure the Academy would ever give awards to a film with Will Farrell, but I think "Stranger Than Fiction" deserves the Best Screenplay Oscar more than any other film I've seen this year.
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The Host (2006)
yuck, in more ways than one
23 November 2006
I saw this film at the Denver Film Festival, since my wife thought the description sounded like something I'd like. I'm still a little baffled by the whole thing. It's very schlocky, and I'm not sure if this is what passes for "horror" these days. I was impressed by how many different moods this film goes through, but it was bad in the "so bad it's good" kind of way. Bad like hokey Hong Kong action movies of the 80's were bad - ridiculous plots and silly characters. But I love many of those bad HK action movies, so why didn't I like this more? I wish I could say. It just didn't resonate with me, I guess. None of the actors had the charisma of a Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat, and so nothing really held the picture together for me. I wouldn't see it again.
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Casino Royale (2006)
best Bond movie in decades
23 November 2006
If you knew my wife, you would understand why this is the most telling review of this film: When we walked out of the theater, she turned to me and said, "I want to own this one!" What you probably don't know is that I'd spent the preceding 2 or 3 weeks trying to explain to her that not all Bond movies are a string of crappy sexist jokes and goofy gadgets. I'm glad this film supported my point, because if it had featured an invisible car, a one-liner about James being a "cunning linguist", or a character named Pussy, she might never have believed my point that there is really nothing fundamentally flawed about the franchise.

Anyhow, long story short: This is the first Bond movie in about 20 years where I've left the theater wanting to see it again.
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The Goal (2005)
nice idea, poorly realized
20 September 2006
This film has a great premise, but suffers from a rambling story. It's a drama about a young man who loses the ability to walk, but through willpower and the support of his family learns the sport of wheelchair rugby. It's the kind of story that appeals to everyone, but sadly the film falls short.

The script is unfocused and cries out for a more critical edit. There are characters with no purpose, a bizarrely unfocused third act, and unrealistic dialogue.

The acting varies from mediocre to good, with a great effort by the lead and outstanding performances by a couple of the supporting actors. But the director didn't seem able to demonstrate the cast's true potential in the final product.

The audio was a bit amateurish at times, and the music was laughably overwrought. The film has something of the feel of an "after school special" TV show, and is probably best suited for a young audience. But in my opinion, it doesn't stand up to other "grown up" dramas on the indie festival circuit.

All that said, I give Darla Rae bonus points and a big congratulations for her first feature film!
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17 November 2005
I just saw this film at the Starz Denver International Film Festival 2005. It was the most boring film I've seen in a while, and I even like slow paced movies. My wife fell asleep a couple times during the show, as did the friend sitting on the other side of me.

I have a feeling this film would mean a lot more to someone who understood the implications of the Japanese cultural references, like the various traditional festivals and holidays. The credits said this film was based on a book, and I suspect the movie makes more sense if you read the book first.

About 3/4 of the way through this film, I realized it's truly a film about nothing. And I don't mean that in the same way that "Seinfeld" was proud to be a TV show about nothing. This film, referred to by the English language title "Buried Forest", really had no plot I could discern. It just had a vague theme - dreams and stories.

I could imagine worse films and worse ways to spend a couple hours and ten bucks, but not many. So I'm giving this film 3/10.
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brilliant film
24 April 2004
I've seen this film twice now. I had to! The first time totally blew me away and I was speechless for about an hour afterwards. I had to see it a second time to pick up on more of the little details, and try to appreciate it from more of a technical angle. Winslet and Carrey are at the top of their game. The editing and sound was awesome. Wilkinson did his usual stand-up job. And Dunst dances around in her underwear, just like every movie she's in. If you have a hard time piecing together the whole chain of events in this film, go see it again and watch Clementine's hair color. That's the main visual clue they used to make the non-linear storytelling easier to figure out.

I'm hoping that a DVD version comes out with a special feature where you can watch the story in chronological. I have a feeling it was filmed in chronological order (watch the length of the roots of Clementine's hair if you don't believe me) and then cut up for the theatrical version.
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Hornblower: Duty (2003 TV Movie)
great made-for-TV movie
27 February 2004
I Video'd this and the other new Hornblower movie ("Loyalty") when they were shown on A&E in December 2003, but it wasn't until mid-February that I finally watched them. And then the following weekend, I finally saw the "Master and Commander" movie. It's too bad I watched the Hornblower movies first, because they really ruined "Master and Commander" for me. The acting is so much better in the Hornblower stories. In fact, I think about the only thing "Master and Commander" had over "Loyalty" and "Duty" were sound effects and lack of commercials. What I didn't realize is that these were just the latest (last?) two in a long series of Hornblower made-for-TV movies. Now I want to watch the whole series!
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Coyote Waits (2003 TV Movie)
OK movie, could be better
24 November 2003
My wife and I TiVo'd this and watched it yesterday. I'd been looking forward to seeing it since I first saw it advertised a month ago. I had no idea there was another made-for-TV movie using the same actors, and thought this was the first. I'm glad to hear it won't be the last.

Not having read the book, I thought this was a decent film, though it could have been better. While it's nice they cast real natives in the major roles, I thought it was pretty strange that not a single person looked Navajo. Given the huge number of people in this country with Navajo ancestry, I'm surprised Redford couldn't find one or two he thought could act well enough to carry a made-for-TV movie. And half the scenes didn't look to me like they were shot anywhere near the Navajo Nation, though I admit it's a big place that no one could know all of. Finally, too many of the characters came across as stereotypes. I've only read one Hillerman novel, so I don't know if that's due to the original novel or the screenplay or the directing.

All that said, it was a decent couple hours of entertainment, and I'll watch upcoming episodes, though I'm definitely not rushing out to buy the DVD.
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better than the last one
5 November 2003
As you probably guessed from reading the other reviews, The Matrix Revolutions is better than the last Matrix film, but not as good as the first. This one was more of a sci-fi movie than a kung fu movie, and I'm glad. It had more than its fair share of pseudo-intellectual philosophical babble, like the last one, and the expected clumsy religious overtones. But it was also a fun flick. I gave it a 6 out of 10.
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We were really hoping for better
10 September 2001
We bought this movie on videotape from the Naturally Native website and we both really, really wanted to like it. It's definitely a milestone film for the industry for a number of reasons. But unfortunately, it's something of a stinker.

The main problem with the film is how much it suffers from bad writing. The dialogue is often choppy and cliche. And the writer tries to somehow work in every single issue confronting modern Native Americans, which is just overkill.

Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anyone exercising good control over the writer, who also co-directed and starred in the film. There were a number of scenes left in that should have been cut, as they don't have anything to do with the plot or development of characters.

You can tell the actors really gave it their all, but I wondered how they didn't break out laughing at some of the terrible dialogue and implausible scenes they were given.

On the other hand, the basic plot of the film is very sound and good. I hope that in another 5 years someone comes along and remakes the film, with an edited script and a little more preparation. There are a few really touching or funny scenes. Some (though unfortunately not most) of the acting was really, really good. And it's always good to see contemporary native topics addressed in film.
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