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Great documentary about China
10 October 2016
Two experienced foreign travelers in China take a motorcycle tour of the South and forego all the introductory time-wasting footage. Instead, they provide interesting views on rarely-seen areas and cultural features, edited smartly into 20-something minute segments. It's the best Chinese travelogue I've seen. There was a lot of high quality production during and post-production afterwards as well, including voice-overs done in the producer's Beijing studio. I've seen a docu from the 90's of an American going from Beijing to Urumqi solo on a big BMW, seen a couple of brothers go from Shanghai around the country, including Tibet and seen a man/woman couple 2 up do the same thing, and the ADV China docu is really the best of all those because of how it focuses on the cultural distinctions and events more than the bikes, natural disasters, etc.
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The Treatment (2001)
Cultural Differences Threaten to Break Up a Chinese Family
12 September 2007
Chinese immigrants struggle to hold onto their American dream after the husband's father (Xu Zhu) comes for a visit from mainland China and gives a simple Chinese Medicine therapy called Gua Sha to his grandson.

Da Tong (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is the father who is trying to integrate his Chinese cultural beliefs into his daily American reality, especially when dealing with his boss (Hollis Huston) and best friend, who is too quick to believe the worst about Da Tong's treatment of his son, Dennis. Da Tong's failures show his confusion about the differences between his original Chinese culture and his new American home. Even within his family there is conflict because Grandfather can't speak English and is excluded from many conversations because Mother (Wenli Jiang) wants only English spoken in her home for the benefit of her American born son. Da Tong and his wife are very well educated and understand that their child's best chances for success in America, and for him not to experience the same troubles they've had during the past 8 years, are to speak without an accent. They even go so far as to insist the boy use a fork and knife instead of chopsticks, even when it's obvious they are still eating Chinese style food, served in the normal way: communal dishes for the food and smaller, individual rice bowls for each person. Mother seems a bit inflexible in her insistence on being as American as possible, while Da Tong's cultural leanings are just as strongly Chinese, although not by conscious choice.

Da Tong's love for his son is tested severely when Da Tong tries to balance it against respect for his boss. When Da Tong's son hits his boss' son, Da Tong insists on an apology that seems unnecessary and makes Da Tong look stubborn and uncaring. Da Tong gives his boy a light rap on the head when he refuses to apologize and the boy cries to his mother that the reason he hit his playmate was that the other boy called Da Tong stupid, one of many examples of doing the wrong thing to protect your family.

The conflict arising from doing the wrong thing out of love or respect for one's family or closest friends continues throughout the movie, and every way Da Tong turns, he finds failure and encounters both obvious and subtle forms of anti-Chinese racism. Even Chinese folklore about the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong, that Da Tong incorporates into a video game he designed is used to provoke his pride when he's vulnerable and fearing for the loss of his son. Da Tong is misunderstood by everyone, family, friend, and foe, even though he has only the best intentions, and he carries the responsibility quite heavily, making one wrong turn after another.

Gua Sha (The Treatment) shows how a person's cultural beliefs are so deeply set within oneself that it is usually impossible to examine why you do most anything, from how you dress and talk to whom you love and respect and how you show it. The invisible nature of one's cultural beliefs also makes it difficult to impossible to explain yourself to others when questioned. Da Tong experiences an excruciatingly painful and difficult struggle while trying to protect his son, an ordeal that forces him to examine the validity of some of the most vital things he thought he knew about his identity, his Chinese culture, and the new American world he'd chosen as his home.

The movie showed me how normal it is for people to look for ways that their culture is superior to others' and how the misunderstandings arising from different cultural perspectives can seem very large, but can be nullified with simple, 2-sided explanations when people are willing to listen.

It appears this film is not readily available in the USA, but it's the best I've seen at highlighting the differences between American and Chinese culture. Parts of the movie's dialog are only in Chinese and I've yet to find a DVD with English subtitles, although it's easy to get the gist of what's going on during those short passages. The credits are a combination of Chinese and English, holding true to the integration of both worlds. I've noticed some important roles are not credited here on IMDb, such as Judge Horowitz, who was played by Alexander Barton.
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Animalicious (1999 TV Movie)
comical look at animals who got the upper hand against people
2 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a documentary and there's not really much suspense. There's not really any way to describe the film in detail without giving away what happened.

I saw this film in April 1999, and this is all from memory, but I'll do my best. This comical documentary shows the results of when people and animals crossed paths, and the animals, at least temporarily, got the best of the situation. The filming and editing was fairly straight on, with a feel reminiscent of Michael Moore because of the strangeness, but without the narration.

A crazy squirrel terrorizes a neighborhood for several weeks, attacking a few different people. A turkey poacher receives his just rewards when the tables are turned by his quarry in a most unusual and damaging way. The saddest portion of the movie involves a run away boa constrictor and the neighbor's poodle. The strangest story concerns one of the unluckiest women in the world, who is on a first-name basis with everyone at the local emergency room and could easily be the subject of her own documentary, and how she receives a blow to the head under the most unlikely of circumstances that makes one wonder what she may have done in previous lifetimes to suffer such "coincidences". There are a couple of other stories I can't recall.

Overall, I thought it was funny and entertaining, as well as off-beat. It is definitely not a cuddly film, so be careful. Not a date movie. LOL!
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Uneven western that is difficult to recommend
3 October 2001
My commentary refers to minor elements of the plot of the film in question, revealing, to an inconsequential extent, some of the events of the movie. Some may interpret this as a SPOILER, but I am very careful not to expose anything specific crucial.

Similar to "Paint Your Wagon" (1969) in it's use of a comedic western as a vehicle for social commentary, "There Was a Crooked Man" has a comic tone at times, but has difficulty being consistently one kind of movie: Is it a satire? Is it a comedy? Is it a bawdy western with a serious disguise? Is it a social commentary about the penal system? Is it an arc for Fonda's upright and uptight sheriff to find disillusionment?

Kirk Douglas portrays a robber who will sacrifice anyone and anything to get the loot and come out on top, while Henry Fonda is a town sheriff who seems the exact opposite of Douglas, and who specializes in moral correctness. While attempting to practice what he preaches, kindness before cruelty, Fonda is shot apprehending a drunken Warren Oates. The town quickly and easily gives up hope in Fonda's ability to do his job, leading Fonda to volunteer as warden for the prison where both Douglas and Oates are incarcerated.

Fonda begins a crusade to uplift the inmates of this desolate Arizona penal colony by abolishing obligatory hard labor and restricting cruel punishments upon the men. It seems the only way to earn Fonda's enmity as warden is to draw lascivious pictures of scantily clad women, as all other crimes are forgivable and reformable in Fonda' eyes.

While Fonda is trying to teach the prisoners self-respect, Douglas is luring them into his aid with promises of sharing the money he stole in the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to the prison. Those he can't persuade he tricks into helping him by various plots and devices, all the while Fonda thinks Douglas should become the prisoners' leader and help give them hope by improving their living conditions. Burgess Meredith frequently steals the spotlight as a former flashy train robber that has been transformed by years in prison into a tired, gritty, petty old man who does nothing for free.

The problem with this movie is not the excellent acting, but the tone and the Mickey Mouse musical score. It deals with murder and betrayal carelessly, it refers to revenge and cruelty with humor, and it moves back and forth from serious to light-hearted scenes so quickly and easily that it becomes difficult to maintain any clear perspective. In the middle of a murderous rampage an (apparently) hilarious food fight ensues while a buxom visitor to the prison is gradually, but incompletely, disrobed.

Unlike other satires released that year such as "Catch-22" (1970) or "M.A.S.H." (1970), "There Was a Crooked Man" doesn't succeed in delivering a message, but only appears to chronicle an improbable series of events that have no meaning outside of itself, all the while the most irritating and thematically contrary music imaginable scores nearly every scene.

Despite good acting and some laughs, it's a tough film to recommend. If there was a DVD version that allowed you to keep the dialog and eradicate the music, this would be a totally different, and much improved, movie.
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Aphrodite (1982)
Silliness of this magnitude deserves commentary
26 September 2001
SPOILERS: The event that began World War I is mentioned here. If the movie Titanic was spoiled for people who knew the ship sunk, then my review has similar "spoilers" that are also known as basic facts of world history from the 20th century.

Set on an undisclosed European isle in the summer of 1914, this movie is part costume drama and part soft porn, with some espionage and political intrigue mixed in for good measure.

For those who've read the first book in Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd series, "World's End", this will seem like old times with it's yacht cruises, painters, political discussion, and the dropping of names of many highly placed European personages, and the mentioning of the most prominent munitions manufacturers of the period, including Count Basil Zaharoff.

There is almost enough dialog, sometimes political and sometimes philosophical, to fill in the spaces between the nudity and sex, some of which is erotic, and some of which is absurd. For fans of Valerie Kaprisky, you may be disappointed after the first 10 minutes of the movie.

The film ends with the news of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand and its importance to the main character of the film, a munitions manufacturer, which is shown next to the declaration of love by the other main characters, perhaps in some sort of suggested dichotomy of love and war within all men. But truly, it's the charm of this film that it hints at such concepts interspersed with ridiculous love scenes, and does so without any apparent shame.
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Billy Budd (1962)
Wonderful story of the sea, and a great companion to Melville's original
3 September 2001
If you've read the Melville story, this film will be a delightful surprise, especially in contrast to what usually happens to film adaptations of literature. For those of you who've never heard of Herman Melville, it's no matter. This film can stand on its own without reference or support from its original source.

A cheerful, innocent young man with wide eyes and blonde hair is conscripted from his commercial schooner to serve aboard an English Royal Merchant ship, which is akin to being Shang-Hai'd, but without the knock to the head. Everyone on both his old and new ship loves Billy Budd, an affable, competent young seaman who can fathom no sinister purpose in man nor beast, until he meets the master-at-arms of his new vessel.

I don't want to give away any more of the story, so give this lovely film a try if the premise interests you.
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Ulzana's Raid (1972)
A nearly perfect western you shouldn't miss
29 August 2001
A small group of Apaches has just stolen some horses and left the reservation. Their number and immediate intentions are unclear to the commander of the nearest US Calvary outpost, but his youngest Lieutenant wishes to give them the benefit of the doubt according to his Christian philosophy.

The Calvary's scout is a grizzled, weather-beaten man played to perfection by Burt Lancaster. He knows exactly what the Apaches intentions are, and seems flabbergasted by the commander of the base for whom he serves. Nevertheless, he follows his orders all the while never missing a chance to foretell what will be the result of the Commander's delays.

The premise of this movie does follow the most cynical views that one people may hold for another, and there's no point in arguing their accuracy here. Different from many other films about Indian uprisings, at least this one attempts to explain the motives of the Apaches. To appreciate any film the premise must be "swallowed", but there are many who will not be able to keep it down long enough to enjoy the excellent writing, wonderful performances, and "not a frame viewed without purpose" editing and directing. I recommend this film completely and consider it an 8 out of 10, which I give to very few films.

Upon the first viewing this has become one of my favorite, if not my very favorite, western of all time. Not for the squeamish due to extreme violence to both people and animals.
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One man is free and the other wants to be just like him, but can he hack it?
28 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** In this funny little world in which we all live everyone chooses to what extent they will react, conform, or resist. "Your Three Minutes Are Up" shows us two very different characters: there is Charlie, who tends to conform to society's pressure and the pressure put upon him by his job, his fiancé, and his friends; and there is Mike, who resists everything displeasing to him such as his job, romantic commitments, and bill collectors. "Your Three Minutes Are Up" shows us what happens when these two men are placed together and how the more submissive of the two attempts to imitate the other.

Ron Leibman is Mike, an easy going ladies man who is bright enough to make the most out of modest scams whenever they present themselves, but without the forethought or concern to plan for the future, which may or may not be a character flaw. Beau Bridges plays Charlie, who is nearly the exact opposite as a man whose only thought of the future involve the bills he must pay, the woman he must marry, and the job he must keep. He appears to envy Mike's carefree attitudes and romantic success, but can he resist a lifetime of conforming long enough to have a good time on this movie's road trip?

The beginning of the film shows Mike losing hold of his financial grip as his car is repo'd, his unemployment insurance is cancelled because he went to an interview in a bath robe (as described by his benefits case worker, not actually shown), and his money has run out. He calls an ex-coworker with whom he has nothing in common, but who has a car, and persuades him to go for a ride that turns into a weekend road trip.

Charlie is the kind of guy who can't say 'no' to anyone unless it's because someone else has told him to do so. Allured by Mike's tall tales of romance and good times and the chance to breathe free from his burdens for even a minute, Charlie acquiesces, and off they go. Their first stop is something that the younger viewers might not remember--a green stamp redemption center where Mike makes a stand against a stubborn clerk who insists that six twelfths is not the same as one half. It's just another in a long series of petty scams for Mike, strictly small time for him, but it's like a magic potion for Charlie to do something against the rules. Only such a strict conformist as Charlie could get so much pleasure from copping a toaster oven.

So it goes for Mike and Charlie during their little road trip. Mike shows Charlie how to get by on the simplest grift, but as Charlie's inhibitions to obeying the law, the rules, and all the signposts along society's streets are released, he seems to have an extreme reaction to his newfound freedom. Mike knows how to play the angle just right and squeeze every ounce of cash from each opportunity, but Charlie can't understand the subtleties of the game. For him it's either blind obedience or, eventually, blind aggression.

In addition to being the title, "Your Three Minutes Are Up" is a line from within the film that comes to symbolize Charlie's need to be told what to do and when to do it. When his three minutes of freedom are up and he has to choose what path to take, his true character is revealed.

Ron Leibman is fantastic in this movie as a fast-talking scam artist who can lie, flatter, or rebuke with eloquence. Not available through normal channels on VHS, but several specialty shops have it for sale. Otherwise, watch the late night listings and set your VCR. This is one of the best movies from its period.
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Hitchers make strange bedfellows
28 August 2001
Essentially a simple story of a young man and a young woman who make a chance meeting on the beach and are heading in the same direction, so they decide to thumb it together. While their mutual attraction grows by hormones and without the unnecessary element of romance so foreign to most young lovers, they are exposed to a series of characters who give them rides and who indoctrinate them to the dangers and wonders of life on the road. Bruce Dern and Michael Conrad are standouts as two of the drivers who move them along the highway.

There is some coming of age for both youngsters, mixed with heartbreak born from confusion and jealousy, but ultimately harmless. Again, it's really a simple, enjoyable story about a couple of hitchers.

The film treats with some of the hippie concepts from the early 70's of free love and free rides and tends to show that, as the Steely Dan song goes, "Only a fool would say that."
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If you like Poe, you'll love this!
27 August 2001
I recorded this off the air and have watched the entire biography, but I'm only commenting here on the adaptation of the classic Poe short story, "The Cask of Amontillado" with John Heard and Rene Auberjonois.

This story has been perfectly adapted according to its original stature and not made up to be something more as many of Poe's stories have been, sometimes successfully, other times not quite so well done. It's tough to stretch a little short story into a feature length film, which is not attempted here. The costumes are excellent, which is an important element in the story, and the performances are wonderful. You won't be disappointed.

I recommend this lovely video, although it will be tough to find, so watch your local listings.
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I Love You (1986)
What more does a man need?
16 August 2001
Christopher Lambert's life seems a bit empty. His job with a travel agency in a mall and a succession of meaningless sexual trysts are unsatisfying and quite boring. In search of a thrill he even begins driving his motorcycle with wild abandon. Nothing seems to help until...

Until Christopher finds the one thing that every man needs: complete and utter devotion and acceptance from a woman who will never speak any words that are unwelcome.

It's a silly plot for a funny, offbeat movie, the kind you should watch with a lover for the most enjoyment. If you see it alone, it will just seem stupid, but with your girlfriend or boyfriend you'll have a great time with it.
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