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Some style; little substance
2 November 2006
I wouldn't pan this quite as much as gunnarvl, but he's right about the plot, which is insubstantial to a ridiculous degree. There's a bit of suspense, and occasional connections from one scene to another, but mostly it's scenes ,dialog, and characters that never develop much individually or collectively.

The only things that kept me watching to the end were the anticipation of some improvement in the plot (didn't happen), and the realistic settings. I wondered where they were able to film what seemed to be 1930's era buildings and streets; I see now it was made in East Germany before 1982. Probably wasn't hard to find places that hadn't changed much since the 30s.

I usually like movies that are subtle or ambiguous, or both, but this one carried those characteristics so far I was longing for a chase, a shootout, some sex, anything.

Hitchcock or somebody said films are life without the boring bits. This movie was life without the exciting bits.
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Walker (1987)
19 July 2006
Visionary movie-making. I will not write any spoiler, so I can't describe the brilliant way Cox expresses his story with some mind-bending visual and verbal devices. Some might dismiss it as trickery, but I think of it as magical realism.

William Walker was a real person and his "liberation" of Nicaragua did take place, roughly as shown in this movie. Cox and Wurlitzer took some major liberties with historic details- perhaps for narrative pace, budget reasons, or whatever. I read quite a lot about Walker and Nicaragua after seeing this movie and there's no distortion for ideological reasons.

If you value originality, subtlety, honesty and an occasional slap in the face, see this movie. I envy first-time viewers.
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Very Underrated
2 July 2006
I'd rate this below Young Frankenstein, but above any other Gene Wilder comedy.

The cast is terrific, especially GW, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise and Leo McKern. Also, Marty Wilder has many good bits, and Roy Kinnear and John LeMeseuier add a lot.

The costumes, settings and musical styles are all done quite well.

But the main thing is laughs. Ther are plenty: the quick little quip, or malaprop, the long build-up joke, the unexpected twist gag, sight gags, satire. Some don't work too well but the overall percentage is very high.

Don't miss it if you can!
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I'd give it an 11
6 June 2006
Almost perfect! The finish isn't up to the rest of the movie, but the absolutely hilarious beginning and middle make it one of the funniest movies ever.

Here are Stan and Ollie at their peak. Many of their trademark gags and takes appear, easily woven into the story, perfectly timed and crafted with comic panache.

The plot- henpecked husbands sneaking off for revelry- is now rather obsolete, but that doesn't diminish the clever narrative movement. Putting Charley Chase into a small role enhanced it, and the wives were very well played.

I don't rate many movies a 10, but one that gives pleasure over and over and over deserves it.
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Slither (1973)
Uneven, but still a winner.
28 February 2006
One could find fault with elements of this movie, particularly pacing and continuity; but the laughs and the ambiguous, fascinating characters make it great fun.

Until the very end, we're never sure if anybody is who they seem to be. The quest for loot is fascinating, because it's not for a fortune, just a nice chunk of change that when split probably wouldn't amount to a year's wages at an average job. So the interest focuses on the people, their semi-silly adventure, and their uncertain relationships.

One reviewer didn't like it because it wasn't tightly plotted, and he's right-- it's more realistic/absurd than that. Same reviewer also didn't find it funny, which is dead wrong. Some of the comic bits are a little shaggy dog, or sometimes crude, but most people should get a lot of laughs from it.

Great cast, great acting, good enough dialog and "plot" add up to an under-appreciated (and, I suppose,under-seen) little gem.
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Noble and exciting
10 February 2006
I have enjoyed seeing this movie more than twice because:

It's true. It includes humor and absurdity along with fighting the good fight. It doesn't flinch from the ugly. Great music. Fine acting. Well crafted in creating the historic atmosphere. Dense with character. Entertaining pace.

The first time I saw it I was a little bothered by the way it seemed to just "walk along" -then he did this then they did that then this happened- like a diary. But I later came to like that style, maybe because war, like life, is "just one damned thing after another".

I'd love to read the memoir it's based on, but the last time I looked it hadn't been translated into English.

I wonder if Verhoeven ever looks back and wishes he could have/would have made more like this instead of Showgirls, Robocop, and such.
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Diabolique (1955)
It does what a horror movie should do
10 February 2006
Scare the crap out of you!

I don't hand out many 10s. Some movies don't really require much thought or analysis. In the end all that matters is what happened to you when you first saw it.

I remember when I first saw this. Nothing scary at first, but the nastiness of the place and the people is effortlessly shown. And then the bad stuff starts to happen.

Ugliness...shock...suspense...shock...mystery...eeriness...awful shock.

I remember, though it must have been forty years ago, the climactic scenes with my neck hairs standing up, sweat on my face, clutching the theater armrests like I was in danger of falling, and finally realizing I was weeping- not tears of sadness, tears of helpless terror.

I envy anyone seeing this for the first time.
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The Shining (1980)
Good movie/bad script
10 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Can't imagine why Kubrick picked Diane Johnson to write this. She butchered one of King's nastiest tales. I understand that Kubrick always collaborates on scripts, so I can only guess who gets blamed for what.

Spoilers: The scariest scene in the book is when Jack goes to the "forbidden" room where Danny may have been attacked. He sees a few drops of water in the tub, smells something like body powder, feels uncomfortable, but concludes there's nothing amiss in the room. On the way out, passing the bathroom door he sees the shower curtain closed; he thought he left it open. Is there a shadow behind the curtain? No Jack, don't let your imagination carry you away. He turns to leave-- and hears the sound of shower curtain rings sliding on the rod. Eeeeeyi!

In the movie, a distorted version that substitutes explicit gruesomeness for the excruciating auditory shock.

Another classic scene in the book is the menacing of Danny by the topiary animals near a playground. Totally left out of the movie. (A made for TV version of The Shining was pretty poor but this scene was included and was very scary).

Another great scene from the book that was left out involved Jack trying to get a Snow Cat running to go for help when Wendy and he realize that real danger exists in the hotel (this is when he's still somewhat sane). It was all interior monologue, so hard to script and film, but an actor of Nicholson's caliber could have done it. In the book, it poignantly expressed the conflicts in Jack that destroyed him and almost destroyed his wife and child.

There quite a few other things about the script that I thought were wrong, while allowing for the necessary compression of a long book into a movie

Kubrick never made a bad movie; his craftsmanship partly compensated for the lousy script, but this could have been so much better.
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25 November 2005
From a great writer and a great filmmaker comes a tale incredible sobering and fascinating.

It may not have been the first sci-fi movie without ray guns monsters or dauntless heroes, but it's combination of meticulous realism, stunning beauty, and cold cosmic viewpoint (with just enough human sympathy at the end) make it as historically significant as Birth of a Nation or Citizen Kane.

The brutal vastness of pre-human earth; the brilliant selection of music; the rigorous depiction of astronautics as bureaucratic and astronauts as smart drones; the range of emotions flickering on Keir Dullea's stony face; the death of (a) man and the birth of the star-child.

Could HAL stand for GOD, the not completely intelligent designer?
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13 March 2005
There are faults in this movie, but it's well worth watching just for the fine cast and often great dialogue. The villains are hilarious and also scary. Jennifer Jones and her husband are priceless.

The penultimate scene when the motley group is being interrogated and appraised by a petty official in Africa have great ensemble acting.

I haven't read the novel, but I suspect Houston and Capote used it as a point of departure and maybe never quite got on the same page, resulting in a somewhat awkward pace.

But the save is in the characters and their voices. My favorite: Peter Lorre, in a defensive tone of voice when someone questions his identity--" There's lots of Germans from Chile named O'Hara"
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Aliens (1986)
Really not much point
13 March 2005
Alien was a classic; this sequel is flashy junk.

In Alien we saw ordinary people dealing with something unimaginable. We were shown their cooperation and conflict. The drastic isolation was overpowering. The technological twists were plausible. The scenes of "discovering" the alien were fantastic but natural.

So, instead of a sequel that might involve some scientific inquiry or perhaps some narrative worthy of the cosmic ideas involved, we get: sweating warriors yelling at each other; a little girl survivor; Ripley grim and determined; hordes of monsters; a sneaky slimeball; lots of noise and Saturday afternoon serial "suspence"

This script is about as creative as a 13 year-old's fantasy. Actually I think a lot of 13 year-olds could have done better.

Unless a sequel really honors the original, it's just parasitic.
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Northfork (2003)
What on earth were they thinking?- Hollywood Edition
17 January 2005
First the easy part: this movie is pretentious crapola!

It put me in mind of "Magnolia". And then I thought "Wow-- somebody made a movie even dumber and more irritating than "Magnolia".

I know nothing about the Polish brothers, but this film seems to have been made by someone who learned a lot in film school but knows nothing about storytelling. The trite plot elements and sledgehammer symbolism are bad enough, but the dialogue is just pathetic.

Detailed comments would just be a laundry list of failure. The parts that are supposed to be funny or satirical are not; the "elegaic" parts are nice coffee table pictures with mediocre music; the "emotional" parts are simplistic.

The worst thing is that the movie shows no love at all for the characters, except for a little cornball dignity in the priest.

I still can't believe the respect some people have given this picture.
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Open Water (2003)
I had to say something good
8 January 2005
about a movie that is just a little above average.

I've been skimming IMDb comments and I couldn't believe the number of jackasses who criticized the credibility of the story. Most of them sound like they've never been in the ocean.

The film has several weaknesses, but the "plot" is not one. Of course the Dive Boat Foulup is unlikely, but it happens. If NASA or Alaska Airlines can screw up, why not a semi-regulated little resort business. The characters' early reactions and behavior were totally plausible; swimming to a distant boat in strong currents assures exhaustion. The expectation of their boat's imminent return is reasonable.

While the movie could have been better in many ways, I found it pretty absorbing, suspenseful, and worth 81 minutes and $3.

Sometimes fate can deal us an absurd event that becomes horrible; this movie was a good story-telling about such.
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Why review a nine year old film?
18 February 2004
Because Walter Mosley's stories are great and I was surprised that none of the other Easy Rawlins books have been filmed. A rich lode of ore , waiting to be mined.

AND, Don Cheadle. His acting as "Mouse" is stunning. In the 3 or 4 Easy Rawlins books that I've read, the character constructions of Easy, Mouse, and their relationship, is fascinating. I read Devil in a Blue Dress before I saw the movie and when I saw Mouse brought to life, I could barely wait for the credits to roll--"Who WAS that guy?"

Washington brings Easy to life too, and the recreation of Watts and L.A. in the late 40's/ early 50's is excellent (I was there).

The movie wasn't great, but way above ordinary, and I'd love to see a reprise with Washington and Cheadle.
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Magnolia (1999)
A plague of frogs on P.T. Barnum/Anderson
20 August 2003
I wouldn't hate Anderson so much if he didn't create occasional scenes of perfection- but they're embedded in silly assemblages trying to pass as plots. His characters are mostly immersed in agony and confusion, which is sometimes fairly realistic and empathetic, but the few scenes of solace or hope or awareness are weak- almost inconsequential.

His movies combine the worst features of Altman and Tarantino with almost none of the good ones.
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Enigma (2001)
Fine entertainment- well worth renting.
23 April 2003
Very well done story of code-breaking and romance. Based on a page-turner of the same title by Robert Harris, it's setting, personalities, tradecraft, and historical framework are almost totally factual.

Good acting (except for too many stereotypes in the minor characters), good settings and costumes and well paced. The atrocity cover-up which is the key to the mystery part of the story should have been emphasized more as a moral and political dilemma.

I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the script, since I hadn't noticed that Tom Stoppard wrote it.
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Unusual Team Split
6 March 2003
A&C spent virtually their entire stage, screen and TV career playing together- the best part of their comedy was the interplay of hustler and mark, sharpie and cluck, wiseguy and naif. Everything else was routine slapstick and cutesy mugging by Lou.

But here they were simply two characters in the same story. The only times they're on screen together, Lou's a ghost. So, no "Who's on First" or "Come on;get busy. Open up that coffin".

Surprise! It's still a good comedy. No classic, but a well-paced, smoothly made entertainment that delivers a good mix of gags. And Lou gets to torment Bud with ghostly tricks in several scenes.

I think kids would enjoy it, if they're not too prejudiced against old B&W films.
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NOT a masterpiece
26 August 2002
I went to this movie with high expectations and had them more than fulfilled for a little while. The settings, scenery, sound, actors, pace, transported me to ancient China. The mystery plot was enticing, the characters subtle and interesting- a little hint of politics and sociology- I loved where it was going.


The story continued, of course, with interesting twists, considerable suspense, and several beautiful scenes.

But if only the action scenes had been, if not realistic, at least slightly plausible; then I think this film would have been an all-time great.
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Gladiator (2000)
26 August 2002
A phony "superman" movie. Big budget,impressive effects and re-creations only serve to create some entertainment value. But the simple characters, predictable plot, and totally implausible action scenes put it in the comic book category (apologies to the modern, literate comic books).

See Titus instead; a real movie with a real story and real characters, realized with the unreal magic of which films are capable.
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The Third Man (1949)
26 August 2002
I envy anyone seeing this for the first time; I was young when I first saw it and was quite entertained, but couldn't get the most out of it.

Now I've watched it many times and realize the masterful integration of plot, setting, characters, sound, scene, pace, etc. that make it a great flick.

The Criterion DVD is very nice (should be, at that price), especially the original Graham Greene story and his comments.
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Double Your Pleasure
12 May 2002
Along with trying to keep up with the characters and the events, I was trying to choose between the two women. Then when they made love, I realized-- I wanted them both!

And later I decided this movie was simply two different stories, each equally true/untrue. Looking at them as dream story and a real story, or as objective reality and a psychotic's reality is too facile for my taste.

First a scary but happy story of Betty goes to Hollywoodland, meets a new friend, plays girl detective, knocks 'em dead in her audition, gets laid, solves the mystery of the blue box (almost), then--

Love betrayed, empty apartment, no career, low-life friends, humiliation at the party, hallucinations, judgment day, etc. Interweave some of the side characters and plot, throw in some symbols and ambiguities, bake at 425 for 2 1/2 hrs.

I'd love to see Lynch collaborate with Umberto Eco.
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Excellent: well-paced, informative, filled with rare original clips.
7 October 2001
A very well made documentary about artists and entertainers under the Nazi occupation of France. Presents the entire spectrum from resisters to semi-fascists, mostly in popular entertainment- stage, song, film, etc. Along with the famous (Chevalier, Piaf), it covers many less known in America.

I saw only about the last 45 minutes of this on TV a few years ago, and wish I could get a tape or disc. Other documentaries and stories on collaboration/resistance and their nuances have been made, but I think this seemingly unknown film is one of the best. In addition to present day interviews and contextual material, it has many original film clips of performances during the Occupation, and almost all of them were new to me, and often fascinating.

The owners should put out a tape, or at least get it on TV some more.
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La scorta (1993)
An action/suspense story WITHOUT CLICHES.
24 February 2001
If you like cop vs. gangster movies, but are tired of the usual stuff, in which it seems the writer or director is trying desperately to both imitate and outdo some of the recent semi-hits, you should see this.

There is violence, suspense, possible betrayal- all the elements that make crime and crime-fighting fascinating, and yet there is never a sense of straining to create excitement. The characters, the events seem totally natural.

The atmosphere of the movie is often intimate, like some of the better war movies-- because the essence of the story is people being together in danger: the Mafia-fighting judge and his escort (bodyguards).

The film has a beginning and end, but its realism helps to naturally imply the past and future of the struggle in Sicily.
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