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Gone Girl (2014)
5/10
See it for the cat
26 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film starts out as almost a modern-day film noir, and a good one, but about halfway through the mystery is revealed, and after that it tries too hard to be a horror comedy. It is weighed down by an uninteresting and unnecessary subplot which culminates in a graphic and bloody murder scene, and the film's conclusion is implausible. It might have been a terrific film if they had just held steady to the main storyline.

A patient is released from the hospital still covered with dried blood, and there cannot be any doctor that would sign a discharge order for a patient in that condition. The dialog towards the end is a mess, with the worst line being "That's marriage." The primary villain is given a pass on everything. I'm not against having a story end with the bad guys winning, but it has to be believable. And I didn't find this believable. I suspect it has an "incomplete" feeling because they are leaving room for a sequel if this becomes a big hit.

Ben Affleck's acting has steadily improved over the years and I was impressed with his timing and delivery. Rosamund Pike gives it her all and pulls it off. Individually they both give strong performances, but I didn't detect any real chemistry between them. Even the flashbacks of when they were "in love" are not convincing. The supporting cast adds a lot of value, and even though Tyler Perry doesn't seem committed to his role and was probably miscast, he did deliver the line that got the only real laugh out of the audience.

I have to say that the recording and editing of the dialog failed at many moments; even key lines of dialog were often just barely audible, and quite a few times we had to ask each other, "what did they say?" The background music and sound effects are well done, so it seems odd they would fail at recording the actual dialog. They're also trying to make some kind of statement about the media and the whole celebrity culture, but those scenes seem like filler.

The real star of the show is the hefty orange cat that appears periodically and takes all the bizarre shenanigans in stride, even sitting serenely while 10 police cars are outside with their sirens wailing... must be a deaf cat.
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7/10
Docudrama held up by strong performances
22 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Matthew McConaughey's strong, vivid characterization supports this film and keeps the interest going, even when the story can't always maintain interest. It's sort of a "one man against the system" tale, and so in that sense the main character, Ron Woodroof, was a type of hero, though also a flawed one (continuing to smoke, drink and abuse drugs even against his doctors' advice). McConaughey's acting is totally convincing and realistic and he deserved his Oscar for it. Jared Leto also won an Oscar, but for most of his scenes I kept wondering why, as it was a minor character without much interest, just part of the background, but later in the film his performance began to stand out. Jennifer Garner is decent as the doctor with strong principles (except for the fact that she almost dates one of her patients). Good points are made about the FDA and its too-cozy relationship with Big Pharma, a huge problem which still persists to this day. Worth watching for McCanoughey's performance.
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What's My Line? (1950–1967)
8/10
Time capsule of 1950s and 1960s New York culture
6 December 2013
This is a great record of who was famous in the 1950s and 1960s in America, particularly in New York, as many big-name stars and other famous people (i.e. Eleanor Roosevelt) made appearances as the "Mystery Guest" at the end of each episode. The other contestants were ordinary people with unusual jobs.

What really makes this show watchable is the elegant, witty banter between the panelists, the host, and often the contestants. It's like being at a sophisticated New York cocktail party of the 1950s (I can only assume, since it was before I was born). The conversations and comments are really the point of the show more than the game is.

Once the series was canceled by CBS in 1967 and produced as a syndicated show instead from 1968 to 1975, I think it went down a little in quality though it was still fun to see the Mystery Guest. Hopefully all the episodes of this series are preserved well as it is a good record of a couple of decades of American culture, at least from a New York standpoint.
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Gravity (2013)
7/10
"Marooned" meets "Cast Away"
6 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
*** Caution: this contains spoilers. ***

I did not see the 3-D version of this; we saw it in a regular theater, so I can't comment on the 3-D aspect.

I will offer one caution for those who are prone to motion sickness: there are almost no static shots in the entire film. The entire scene is usually rotating, and on multiple axes, though rotating slowly, nothing is ever still, not even the background; if you suffer from motion sickness easily, this may be a film to skip.

This film reminds me of some films involving space travel, particularly the spacewalking scene in "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), "Marooned" (1969), and "Apollo 13" (1995), all of which depict a crisis situation in outer space.

It also reminds me of single-person survival story films such as "The Naked Prey" (1966), "And I Alone Survived" (1978), "Cast Away" (2000), "127 Hours" (2010) and the book "Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea." Each one depicts a person dealing with an unexpected life-and-death situation using their own wits.

"Gravity" beats them all in the visual depiction of spacewalking and the views of Earth from space. The special effects are realistic and convincing. The shot that included the aurora borealis was stunning. Expect this film to be nominated for awards in cinematography, editing and visual effects - all well-deserved.

Where it lost points with me was with the scenario and script, and the overall believability.

*** Spoiler warning again. Spoilers follow. ****

There isn't much expository information of why they are up there in the first place. Yes, to fix the Hubble telescope or whatever it was. But they seem to work carelessly and the character played by George Clooney seems to be like a 5-year-old on vacation, joking and wasting fuel by flying around aimlessly. I would expect astronauts in space to be more serious about their work - certainly during rest periods they can laugh and joke around, but at work I would expect them to be far more serious considering those conditions.

Even when a crisis happens, Clooney's character never really quits the jokes and even flirtations in the face of life-threatening conditions. I would expect a professional astronaut to be more serious, especially during a crisis period. Oh come on man, you're in grave danger and you're still flirting and joking?

The scenario that creates the crisis is a little hard to buy, but accepting it on face value, it's plausible. What I found hard to believe is that it didn't immediately become an international emergency; even though radio contact with Houston was lost there were apparently no other attempts to re-establish communication. It seemed like the world didn't care what happened to the astronauts and they were truly on their own. I remember the Apollo 13 crisis when it actually happened, and the world was worried and many people praying for their safe return. I found it hard to believe that there was little to no attempt at communication from the ground.

I also found it hard to believe that Sandra Bullock's character actually could survive such a series of mishaps and disasters. Any one of them could have easily resulted in the character's death, yet she escapes them all, without even much damage to her hair and makeup. I'm happy for the character she made it through all that but it still seems incredibly far-fetched.

The reappearance of George Clooney's character dropped the believability factor down to zero. It didn't even help to realize that it was just a dream sequence. How would he be able to tell her what to do with the landing thrusters in a dream? What would have been more believable would be if he were to get into radio contact with her again, even just for a minute or two, to tell her what to do about the landing thrusters. That I could have bought as just a lucky break for her. The dream sequence seemed like a gimmick.

The re-entry into the atmosphere and the convenient water landing (and her unlikely escape from the flooded craft) rather than a rough landing on land, with her final ability to just walk away from the whole thing also strained credibility. But hey, when it's your day it's your day.

I did like Sandra Bullock's work throughout the film and her feeling of being happy to be back on solid ground again was palpable. And Clooney did the best he could with the poorly-written role. Two Oscar-winning, A-list actors did the best they could do given a flawed story and script. The cinematography and special effects, though, are the real star of this film.
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Entertaining and educational
14 October 2011
This film was shown widely in classrooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s, usually at the middle-school level, and usually by English or Social Studies teachers. I saw it several times, shown by several teachers. I don't know if it's still in use today in classrooms, but it seems to be largely a forgotten film. It's entertaining all the way through (except the interviews with the scientists does drag a tiny bit, in comparison to the other segments) and inspires you to think and wonder about the processes of creativity, imagination, invention and discovery. In today's world, where it seems like an entire generation has been lost to video games where all you do is go around and kill people, this film may seem like an anachronism. But it should still be shown in classrooms as it may inspire some students to think boldly and create something valuable or memorable during their lifetimes. I would encourage anyone, of any age, who has not seen this to get it and watch it at least once. It's a compact, short film, less than 30 minutes so there is really no excuse for anyone not to watch it.
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Mary Poppins (1964)
10/10
Walt Disney's masterwork
8 February 2010
This is the best film that the Disney studios has produced. It works for both children and adults. Walt Disney put everything he knew about film-making into it, and the film has it all: relevant story and serious themes, humor, a witty script, a superb cast and performances, a knockout score with some truly unforgettable songs, impressive special effects, animated sequences, even a terrific dance number. It's a gigantic movie and probably best viewed in 2 sittings. Yes, it's a little on the long side and may wear out young children if presented at one sitting. Too often thought of as just a "children's film," it appeals to adults just as much. It really should have just as much prestige and status as "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Sound of Music" but too often is forgotten as one of the great family films.
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Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–1975)
10/10
The best TV drama series, ever, period.
20 December 2009
No other television drama made in any country has equaled or surpassed this one in quality from the beginning to the end of the series. Interesting and relevant themes, historical background, outstanding writing, plots, characters, sets, direction, acting, photography, editing - every aspect is executed brilliantly and and so well that you don't even notice them. And yet it's more than just the sum of those elements - it's a complete package that is compelling and unforgettable. What else can you say? This is a milestone in television production. If you haven't seen it, you're missing a major event in television history. Get the entire series, and watch all 68 episodes, in order. You will never forget this show.
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El Norte (1983)
10/10
Best film so far about immigration
11 April 2009
This is a milestone and arguably the best film made during the 1980s. Ranks right alongside the great social-realism films "Ladri di biciclette," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "Salt of the Earth." Relevant when it was released and now even more relevant 25 years after its initial release. Top-notch script, photography, editing, and superb acting. But the story and issues are the most important aspects. It's now available on a Criterion DVD with 2 discs, one with the film and one with extras including a "making-of" program and a printed booklet. What are you doing spending any more time reading this. Go get this film and watch it today. This is a landmark achievement.
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Soy Cuba (1964)
10/10
Simply the greatest achievement in cinematography, period.
20 November 2007
Just go get it and watch it, without delay. That's all I can say. Any serious video store should carry this, and if they don't, ask them to order it. Netflix does carry it. This is the peak of the art of cinematography. Nothing before or since compares to it, even with all the high-tech computerized wizardry available today. A landmark, and essential viewing for anyone interested in the visual art of cinema. The stories are interesting and I did not find it preachy or propagandistic at all. They are demonstrating what life in Cuba was like under Batista, and why the Communist revolution was necessary and appropriate there. But that's not really why this film is still remembered, it is remembered for its lyrical beauty and amazing technique.
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8/10
Good film but too long. Sound quality problems.
14 July 2007
Well-done shootout Western that stays on plot almost the whole way through. I did find it to be an endurance test to sit through all of it in one sitting. The entire section with the army at the river could be removed completely and that would make the film better. Only a tiny bit of dialog would have to be replaced somewhere else. Other than the excessive length, this was a good film, with plenty of action and terrific acting. Eli Wallach is the true star of this film, not Clint Eastwood. Wallach is in almost every scene and is brilliant all the way through. The music is good, but for some reason there were major sound problems on the DVD I rented. It was not the Collector's edition that came out in 2005 - it was a single disc that had the movie only, from MGM-UA Home Video. Some of the music had a tinny, low-fidelity, transistor-radio quality. There was also a lack of sync between the soundtrack and the video for the entire movie. The actors' lips were not in sync with the words on the soundtrack. Better rent the Collector's edition instead.
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Psycho (1960)
10/10
The craft of film-making brought to perfection
13 July 2007
There is no finer example of the craft of film-making than "Psycho." Every aspect of the production is brilliantly executed, and contributes to the film as a whole, rather than detracting from the whole. The script laden with double meanings, the note-perfect acting, the astonishing camera work and editing, the background music, the sleazy, run-down atmosphere - it all coalesces into one unforgettable excursion through the prurient, dishonest, anxiety-ridden substratum that lies just an inch beneath the supposedly placid, polite surface of American society. Hitchcock masterfully manipulates not only the audience's emotional states but its train of thought as well. The viewer is kept in a subtle state of confusion and bewilderment as to what is actually happening, what is going to happen, and what the characters' true motivations are - while at the same time the story is propelled forward at a brisk and steady pace. Even though I have seen this film all the way through 6 or 7 times, I always find myself irresistibly drawn into it all over again whenever it is shown. This is one of the true masterpieces of cinema, in that it exemplifies masterful film-making in all the disciplines required to produce a great film.
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Fargo (1996)
5/10
Declines in quality on repeat viewing
2 December 2006
Completely honest viewpoint... I first saw this film in a theater during its initial theatrical run in 1996. A friend picked it out, as I had never heard of it until then. We sat through it, then on the way out, I said to him, "Well, that was weird." He looked at me and laughed, saying, "I was just going to say that." We then promptly forgot about it and started talking about someone else. It seemed like it would have done well as an extended episode of some bizarre TV series along the lines of "Twin Peaks," etc. Something that you would watch once, and then next week, something different would happen with the same characters. But as a self-contained film, well, it's not enough of a story, not enough of a film. The months later, it was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. On hearing that, I thought, "Wow, Hollywood really liked it." I have to admit I was rooting for Brenda Blethyn to win the Oscar for "Secrets and Lies" as I thought hers was the best performance of the year. So I was let down when Frances McDormand won, not that her performance wasn't award-worthy, just that the wrong person won that year. Thinking I had missed something profound about "Fargo," I rented the DVD when it came out, I think in 2003. This time I could hardly stomach the violence in it. I wisely turned it off before one particularly gruesome scene happened. I don't see any point in sitting through it again. I was ready to write off the Coen brothers as filmmakers, until I rented "The Man Who Wasn't There," which was brilliant. Sorry, but that's just my honest opinion about "Fargo."
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10/10
Masterful and influential epic film - and boring to those with inactive minds
27 November 2006
Sadly it appears that younger generations of filmgoers don't appreciate this film. Having been raised on frenetic, action-packed "science fiction" films like the Star Wars and Matrix series, and having spent too much time immersed in the chaotic frenzy of video games, they finally sit down to "2001" and are bored and frustrated by it. Well, naturally, if you're used to films in which every three seconds there is a crash, a special effect, a sex joke, an explosion or a killing - then you attempt to watch a slow, ponderous film like "2001" you're going to get bored. For those people, this is an education in what cinema can be. Science fiction doesn't have to be horror, comedy or martial arts. It can be literature and philosophy. "2001" dares to ask meaningful questions of the viewer, for example, "What is mankind's place and purpose in the universe?" And it doesn't provide all the answers. It challenges the viewer to come up with his/her own answers. Other issues, such as man vs. machines of man's invention, and the possibility of higher "intelligence" than man existing, are also also addressed but not given pat or preachy answers. The ambiguity is part of the appeal of this film, in addition to the spectacular visuals. The slow pace and long scenes give the viewer a chance to digest and contemplate what he/she has just seen and heard, while the film is still in progress. The long scene of the spacewalk with the only sound being the astronaut's breathing is intended to make the viewer a little uncomfortable. The extended special effects sequence near the end is almost like taking a hallucinogenic drug, but without the need to actually take one. This film, like other wide-screen epics (Lawrence of Arabia et. al.) really needs to be seen in a theater with a large screen and good sound system, or at least on a large, high-quality video screen with good sound. I was lucky to get to see it at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood in 1973, and it was shown with an intermission - and the soundtrack included an "overture" which was played before the curtain even went up, and also at the end of the intermission, to help set the mood. Of course the cinematography is masterful - space travel never looked this elegant or beautiful, in any other film save possibly "Apollo 13." Beyond that, it is the intellectual challenge that the film presents to the viewer that makes this film so memorable.
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2/10
The Big Disappointment
6 November 2006
So I fell for all the hype, and finally rented this. Turns out it's an unimaginative storyline (lifted from any number of third-rate gangster flicks) peopled with one-dimensional cartoon characters and bogged down with a profanity-laden script that doesn't even offer one memorable line. If this is what passes for a "great film" in the current Hollywood climate, that only goes to demonstrate how far Hollywood has fallen from the glory years of the 1940s through 1970s.

Jeff Bridges spends the entire movie doing his best Tommy Chong impersonation, John Goodman wastes his affable and agreeable screen presence on a Vietnam vet still fighting the war in his mind, and the rest of the characters are shabbily-conceived caricatures. The filmmakers desperately tried to make this "hip" by introducing a steady parade of John Waters-esquire "oddballs" but the ones in this film are like prefabricated oddballs they picked up on the clearance rack at Oddball-Mart, and have none of the quaint charm and humanity of Waters' characters.

The inevitable plot twists and attempts at "black humor" are so predictable you can almost draw a schematic of the film while you're watching it. When one of the characters smashes up a shiny brand-new car, you can see the "joke" coming a mile away. Sorry, but I couldn't find anything in this film with any originality or even any entertainment value. If you're unfamiliar with the Coen brothers' films - trust me on this point: the only good film they ever made was "The Man Who Wasn't There." Rent that one and forget the rest.
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6/10
Masterful technique ruined by poorly conceived story
17 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Film school students should be required to watch this. It's an encyclopedia of concise, efficient storytelling methods. A distraught man rolls over on his bed - and those five seconds tell you everything you need to know - other filmmakers would take a five-minute scene to get the same message across. After watching this film, most Hollywood-made films seem excessively loaded down with words. The mantra in film schools is always "show, don't tell," but they rarely practice what they preach. Usually they end up having a character say out loud a main plot point. Robert Bresson is the master of "show, don't tell," and any aspiring filmmaker should be required to watch this and some of his other films.

My complaint about this film is that the story is contrived and unrealistic. It focuses almost entirely on cruelty, crime and suffering, at the expense of anything else. This film depicts human life as constant misery, even for the "successful people." It ignores the other side of life - that good things can and do happen, sometimes at the least expected time. Film critics like to claim that Bresson never manipulates the viewer's emotions, but that's baloney. As you sit there and watch one awful thing after another happen on the screen, how can you feel anything other than bummed out and depressed?

The end result is a warped view of human life on Earth, which is presented to the viewer without editorializing, and the viewer is supposed to draw his/her own conclusions. But the evidence presented is so heavily biased towards misery that the conclusion is embedded within the evidence. Discount the story and watch this film only for its style and technique.
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Adaptation. (2002)
A Waste of Two Hours
23 September 2003
Very disappointing... the Oscar nominations that this film received led me to believe it was worth renting, but I found myself laboring to finish watching the whole thing. Not much of a story here, no real point to it in my opinion.

Supposedly it's about screenwriting, but it hardly touches on the subject of

screenwriting at all except for one scene in a lecture hall. If this movie shows how screenwriting is actually done in Hollywood these days, then it's no

surprise that Hollywood screenwriting is a lost art form. The f-word is sprinkled all over the screenplay of this movie, to fill in when they couldn't come up with any real dialogue. Nicolas Cage overacts throughout - Cage did the whole

whining-loser act to perfection in "Leaving Las Vegas," so can't he let that whole persona go now? Meryl Streep took a big step down by accepting a role in this - Streep must have needed to build an addition to her house, otherwise why

would she have bothered to sign on to this. The only character with any

potential interest or originality is the orchid hunter in the Florida swamps, played by Chris Cooper, and he acts it well, but that character isn't fleshed out or given enough screen time. Instead we have to endure more scenes of Cage's

muttering and whining in voice-over. There is a lot of pseudo-philosophical

gobbledygook about people feeling passion and about organisms adapting to

the world; there are too many shots of printed words on the screen as those

same words are being spoken; and the editing of this film jarringly jumps back and forth in time with no real point to the jumps. I thought that style of editing was finally proven a failure by "The Last Emperor," wasn't it? At one point in "Adaptation" Nicolas Cage's character makes a comment like "I'm just glad to

have this over with and move on to something else" or words to that effect. This made me laugh out loud because, that was my own feeling exactly at that

moment. I'm curious as to why so many people seem to find this film "gripping" or "fascinating" - people must have very low standards of what is fascinating these days. If you want to see a movie which takes place in the Florida swamps, rent "The Yearling" with Gregory Peck instead, or if you want to get in touch with nature and see how people or plants adapt to the world, just take a walk in the park or a zoo or a botanical garden for a couple hours, or if you want to feel passionate about something, go out and help someone who needs help,

instead of sitting in your living room watching these sad-sacks wallow in their own muck. What have you gained by watching this stuff?
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