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Temple Grandin (2010)
Interesting subject but not interesting movie
The movie played like typical made-for-TV Lifetime-network fare. It jogged along disappointingly with a staccato linearity like an autistic child tapping his foot. As an adult Aspergers myself, I could relate quite well to the character, as I can relate to the real Temple that inspired the movie. In general, Danes played the part fairly convincingly, and I have a great deal of admiration for her, for her willingness to do it without the phony sensitivity that so often rears its ugly head. She was more convincing than Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man", but fell short of the stellar portrayal by Vincent Gallo in "Buffalo 66", whom I suspect is an Aspergers in real life. One important message that the picture understood and conveyed is that the high-function autistic is typically quite content with her own life, and would be unwilling to be "cured" in order to be like other people.
Black Hula (1988)
My all-time favorite short
Seeing this video was a life altering experience. My 9-year old daughter was watching MTV one day, and I walked through the room when Liquid Television was on. I couldn't take my eyes off it, and suddenly realized that there was a new generation out there that was making just unbelievable material. (Aeon Flux was also introduced in Liquid TV.) This little film stuck in my mind all those years, and two decades later, I still remembered it and googled it and dug it out on YouTube, where it can be seen in its entirety.
When older people tell me that the younger generation is just a bunch of uncreative layabouts, I refer them to Black Hula to see just what people are now capable of doing, if you put tools in their hands.
No Man's Land (2001)
Very easy way out.
(SPOILER) I hate movies in which the solution is so obvious to any member of the audience, but the whole thing plods on as it is a difficult problem, and even remains unresolved at the end. All one had to do was slide his hand under the guys body, locate the mine, and put his hand over the plunger so it doesn't detonate. It might be necessary to remove a couple of those small rocks. Then the body could get up and walk away while the plunger was held down, and the mine could then be jammed into the framework of the structure in such a way that would hold the plunger down. Tie a long cord to the mine, get a safe distance away, and jerk it out of the tight spot, allowing it to detonate harmlessly. It took me about two minutes to figure that out, and it embarrasses me that it took that long except that I was distracted by the other inanities of the film, which were numerous, including the keystone cops failure to secure other weapons lying around. Yet the whole picture revolves around everybody, including a famous German mine disposal expert, being baffled by this simple conundrum. Furthermore, there is no way on earth that the last guy to leave the scene would have done so, with a living person simply abandoned to his fate. Sorry, just a horribly, horribly contrived movie.
Catch a Fire (2006)
Worth a look
As I started watching this movie, I thought Apartheid movies are like Holocaust movies---they are all the same theme repeated over and over again with minor variations. But something about this unfolding picture made me resist the eject button. One factor was, I think, that the Tim Robbins character was magnetically unpredictable. It was hard to predict what kind of a person he would ultimately turn out to be. Secondly, and maybe I missed something at the outset or went in with imperfect knowledge of the circumstances of the film, but only quite late in the picture did I realize that this was a biographical flashback of a national hero. That was refreshing to me. Heroic biopics generally seem to be trying too hard to lionize their subject. And finally, from all aspects of cinematography that a casual user like me can address, the picture was not that badly done. So, if you haven't seen many Apartheid-themed movies and would like to see a decent one, this would be a respectable choice. As a political aside, I found myself hoping that at least a few Americans would watch this picture and say "Hey, that's what we do to suspected terrorists, too!", and consider whether right and wrong are not all that easy to distinguish.
Really is different
This picture really does succeed in presenting the audience a refreshingly new look at the way movies can be done---and should be. At first I suspected that I was going to be taken on another of those adventures by erudite big-city film people intent on showing country people at their lowest level of dignity, and at best, worthy only of comic relief. Pleasantly, it was neither that, nor a transparent effort to do the opposite. At times, it seemed a little bit glib and over-southern, but such tendencies seemed magnified by their relative rarity. Perhaps the best way I can bring my impressions into focus is by saying that the director's technique (but not subject treatment) kept bringing to mind James Agee and Walker Evans' "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men".
The Forgotten (2004)
What happened to everybody?
The thing that made this movie unsatisfying was the huge gaps in the plot that were left unaddressed by either of the main characters or by the screenwriter. The principle players were a very handsome man and a very attractive woman, who meet each other under the circumstances of having lost a child, a fact that somehow seems to be erased from the memories of almost everybody. With superhuman dedication, they resolve to find their own children, but it never occurs to them to seek out the parents of the other four children were also killed in a plane crash. Not even with the objective of sorting out clues as their own mystery, and even less out of concern for the parents, whether grieving or forgetful. And then at the end the lovely couple meets again, everything seemingly back in its rightful place. But wait a minute: Doesn't she have a husband? Who has now presumably been relieved of the forgetfulness which seemed to be the focus of their estrangement? The movie just ended, with most of the cast simply written out of the script and the protagonists grinning in a vacuum. Which is unfortunate, because this picture had a good and believable cast, and the parts were played quite respectably.
The Jacket (2005)
Don't let the story line scare you away.
Not just one of many movies, but perhaps the best to make a logical inconsistency slip through the cracks. "Jacket" refuses to make the expected analytical links that clumsily try to make sense of time travel, and lets the viewer roll with the punch. You can let yourself be jarred every once in a while by the cosmological questions that must of necessity come to mind. But its easy to let yourself return to a genuine sense of caring about the characters, who are consistently crafted by fine talent. For the most part, the cast seems to be doing what it does best. The overcritical eye can cut this picture to pieces. But even an intelligent viewer can nod his head with approval as the credits begin to roll. The picture ends at the right point, in the right way. Or at least, in a way that works. Just stop asking yourself why and how it works.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
A nice fit
I consider comedies with trepidation, because they are so overwhelmingly likely to belong at one end or the other of the spectrum: Either not very funny at all, or so silly as to be embarrassing. Like "Office Space", this film fits neatly into the middle of the spectrum. No pratfalls, no pies in the face, but genuinely an amusing film. I was, however, disappointed with Catherine Keener. I've long considered her among my favorite actors, but maybe she is getting lazy or spoiled. She just doesn't have the sizzle that I had gotten used to. But then, who does, ten or twenty pictures into their career? I had trouble with character believability in this movie, too. The ending musical scenes were formulaic, and one of the worst examples I've ever seen of that formula.
Dead Easy (2004)
Best of an average night on cable
I watched this movie in three stages. First, about 15 minutes in, I asked my wife "Why do I not care in the slightest if any of these boring people live or die?" But then, there were a few plot events that actually held me on the sofa, with only minimum trips to the refrigerator. Finally, toward the end, I could begin to see the plot beginning to melt down into one of those days at the track that is only possible if a 100-1 shot wins ever race. I stopped caring whodunit, or why, or how. It was refreshing, though, amid all the Hollywood junk, to see the lifestyles of the South African rich and famous, instead of their equally boring (and equally imaginary) American counterparts. Probably the first South African film I had seen since "The Gods Must Be Crazy"---and somewhat refreshing for that fact alone. I'm always astonished that such a small talent pool can make a picture even this good, when all the king's horses in Hollywood can so rarely put one together.
As I watched this picture, I started asking myself, What is this disease we have that makes us stay to the bitter end to see what a creator of fiction decides to impose upon us as his choice of a myriad of endings? If the work is at all plausible, then perhaps something can be learned of the human condition from seeing a plausible ending. But "Trust" is simply implausible. As credible as following the story line of a comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, or Beetle Bailey. The characters in this film were totally unrealistic composites of . . . something. Add in the absurd scenarios, that might have been there for comic relief, but failed. The people standing on the sidewalk like Soviet housewives in line to buy bread, all holding super-lightweight tiny-screened TVs to be repaired. Matt's father, helping a woman start her car, who concludes "it sounds like the battery", when it is obvious to even a technoramus that the battery is the one part of the car that demonstrably does function well. Maria, who at the start of the movie is highly fashion-conscious. but later we learn that the eyeglasses she had chosen for herself are 1948 style. Yet, without their thick lenses, she sees everything clearly without squinting. If the viewer cannot possibly take seriously any of the anecdotal elements of these cardboard characters, how can one possibly care enough about the final outcome to invest another hour waiting to see what it is?
I happened to see "Trust" on IFC, back-to-back with "Our Song". The latter is a great work of cinematic art, in which I really cared about the genuine characters and their fates. But in "Trust", I was sort of hoping they would jump into a volcano together, and had no interest in sticking around to see if they did.
Morvern Callar (2002)
Sadistic audio mixing.
It was probably just my DVD---but I would not recommend that anyone try to watch this picture on a DVD.
I had to turn up the volume on my TV to the highest possible level, in order to hear about 80 percent of the dialog. Some of the talking still remained sub-audible. If you're from Scotland, you might have a chance, albeit a slim one.
Peoples voices were drowned out by nearly all ambient sounds, including unwrapping a package, footsteps, even puffing on a cigarette.
With the volume turned up to a level at which voices can be heard, I can guarantee that at least one of your neighbors will phone the police when the scene changes to a loud environment, such as a disco. And that you will injure yourself diving for the remote to turn it back down.
There is art and there is art, even in the field of audio mixing. But this effort, in a time of war, would meet international criteria to be classified as an atrocity.
After about a half hour, I gave up, having seen nothing else redeeming in the picture, either.
Buffalo '66 (1998)
Gallo may be an Aspie
Viewers who characterized Gallo's "Billy Brown" as an improbable personality may wish to use their search engine and check out "Asperger's Syndrome". As an Aspie myself, I saw many indicators in this film that Billy has this disorder, which in those times was probably mis-diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder. Upon reading IMDb's biog of Gallo, I see even more clues that Gallo (portraying his own life in this film) might be an Aspie.
Asperger's is a poorly understood condition, because most people who have it exhibit only some, but not all of its typical characteristics. In Billy's case, repeating the "spanning time" theme over and over again (called "perseveration") is classic. Another common personality trait is to have a strong desire to be involved in a romantic relationship, but nearly always failing because of a poor capacity to understand how to make a relationship work. Aspies very often bond strongly with a few individuals, but otherwise feel very uncomfortable in any social situation. They need everything spelled out in detail, and lack the ability to read body language or catch subtleties or nuances, so attempts to be sociable generally crash.
So, before dismissing "Buffalo '66" on the basis that "How could anybody really be like that", Asperger's Syndrome ought to be your bedtime reading.
Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965)
In a class by itself
I don't think I've ever seen a movie that so faithfully captured the sense of place. I spent many months in the mid-60's in Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe, and when I recently saw this film, it brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes. The scene in the parents' house, when the family was faced with the arrival of the unexpected stranger, is documentary in its portrayal of how a household would look in those times, complete to the smallest details of housekeeping and behavior. It is light-hearted without being slapstick, and it is poignant without being corny. Every character is right on the mark. On my very very short list of the greatest movies ever. In short, it is perfect. See this film, and take the whole family.
White Oleander (2002)
Stay with it
This picture actually becomes quite watchable, if you can make it into the foster homes. It starts out with one of those dreadful narratives, usually a killer and in this case, even worse. Throughout the entire movie, you have to keep on enduring Michelle Pfeiffer, who is way too heroic---a superhuman character which is what makes Charles Bronson movies so unswallowable. But, those two deficiencies aside, the remainder of the film is quite decently done and tells a legitimate story.
L'emploi du temps (2001)
Give it a chance
A short way into this film, we thought it moved along like some parts of Solaris that had been cut out in the intrest of brevity. But, I pointed out to my wife that the last two films we had seen were 28 Days Later and Boondicks Saints, so we at least ought to stick with a pitcure that at least had some redeeming qualities. So we did, right to the end, which came 20 minutes later than promised on the rental box. I was somewhat disturbed by the end, which I will not spoil, but felt it might have been tacked on as one of those alternative endings for people who didn't like the original cut.
28 Days Later... (2002)
SPOILERS, as if the director didn't already spoil it. If this picture ran on MST3K, the Robots would have been left speechless. Not since Ed Wood's days have I seen a picture that lined up so many improbably events. A virus that can completely take over a huyman body in 10 seconds. Jet planes arriving from somewhere that radio signals cannot be transmitted from. An emergency sheet-sewing job on a hand-operated machine that turned out absolutely perfect uniform block-letters. Red dresses belonging to the lady of the house, that perfectly fit two women whose height differential was at least a foot. Wait---driving into a TUNNEL in a land where any dark place is certain to be full of infected? And keep on going in spite of obstacles highly likely to disable the car? And replacing the wheel in dire peril, instead of driving out on the flat? Come on! The hospital scene, where Jim wakes up (after a month in a coma, with full body strength!) Fully lit corridors, in the interior of a large building, where no exterior light could have penetrated, with no electrical power. These are just a few inconsistencies that occurred to me the next day.
Not that bad--or good (spoilers)
Not nearly as bad as half the viewers said---Not nearly as good as the others said. This film is nicely done in all visual respects. It's a good watch. Just don't be too picky about the plot development. Sure, there has to be a certain amount of coincidence to make a move work. But this has way too much. The kid who is a link between the cop and the teacher. The friend stumbled across in a remote village. The milk truck. The chopper left idling by an absent pilot, just waiting for a school teacher who has taken helicopter flying lessons---in a foreign country. Come on! Still, rent it and sit back and enjoy it, and don't worry about how many times the cop has to slip a tape recorder into the pocket of the suspect. And never mind that a human switchboard operator ringing an extension might not let it ring forever.
Double Happiness (1994)
It's just Sandra
This picture is really just Sandra Oh. If you fall in love with her (as I did, even in her other pics), the film is a delight. Otherwise, there isn't much there. But Sandra Oh has that wonderful inexplicable quality of making you just want to be there with her, and watching this movie is rather like watching a bad film with Sandra sitting on the sofa next to you, quipping like the bots on MST3K.
This is the film for you if you are in one of the two following categories: 1--Tired of slasher films because there are too many bloodless gaps, 2--You raise pit-bulls and train them to attack children. Even if you're one of the above, you will probably be weary after about the 50-th scene of a blazing body flying through the air in slow-motion. I'm sure I saw several scenes repeated---even John Woo got tired of shooting this stuff.
Living Out Loud (1998)
Holly does it!
The down-side of this picture is that Judy is a totally unlikely character. And, that Danny deVito plays, well, Danny deVito. Same guy that sold Aluminum siding. But Holly Hunter is absolutely right on. Every nuance of body language, facial expression, line inflection, everything, just about perfect. If you love good acting--playing the part of a warm but imperfect human being (albeit unlikely one)---this is Holly at her best.
French in Action (1987)
Still running on CPB
This series (complete with the delectable M.) is still running (as of late 2002) on the Annenberg/CPB network. I believe in most markets this service airs on Cable, under one of your Local Access channels.
It's on at 8-am, 4-pm and 8-pm (Eastern) Fridays only.
A cinematic Wonderland.
Contrary to the comment that it is "not worth a second look", this film demands a second look. You will miss too much of relevance the first time through. If you view it on cable, be sure your VCR is running. In short, this is indeed a cinematic wonderland. A few devices didn't work well, but in general, it is worth watching just for the poignant acting and a camera style that perfectly fits the general chaotic nature of the subject matter.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Just not a good film (poss. spoiler)
I wanted to say pretty much what marija-trost said. Thanks for putting it so well. I cannot remember ever being so disapppointed by a film that was recommended by someone I respected the opinions of. It was just plain old Hollywood playing follow-the-dots. I cannot imagine this picture bearing any more than the slightest veneer of similarity to the actual life of Nash. It was "Love Story" in a Princeton setting. Compopunded by the fact that there was absolutely no effort to even pay lip service to the concept of Character Development. Who was this guy? I understand why there was no character development of Parcher! Maybe they thought Anybody's character development would be a spoiler, since some characters didn't have any. Pretty weak excuse, though, for bad film making.
Different for Girls (1996)
Aside from any psycho-analytical considerations (in which I have no competence), this film really worked for me. I typically give a wide berth to pictures of this ilk, but I was really captivated by the sense that these characters were really living the circumstances in which they found themselves. I'm not going to blather on about how relevant blah blah, but the fact is that Nobody is immune from the possibility that an experience like this might present itself in real life, and it is thought-provoking to reflect on how it might affect ME. This is a complex subject, uncomfortable to many, but explored here in a way that was good sociology, good psychology, and damned fine cinema. Whatever your hang-ups are (or aren't), enjoy this film.
The Last Wave (1977)
Ahead of its time
I came away thinking that this was a 1997 film, produced 20 years ahead of its time. Very few films can say that, but The Last Wave really did leave one with the sense that an alien who had seen the future revealed (in a dream?) to the director how films would be shot 20 years in the future. That doesn't make it a "good" picture, when seen in the present---it just makes it remarkably fresh for an oldie. I loved the willingness of the director to tolerate silence, and to let scenes go, actionless, without screaming CUT all the time. At times, made me think of Anouk Aimee's wonderful 22-second "look" when Trintignant first held her hand.