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5/10
From what I remember.......
24 October 2006
I stumbled back on this movie when I was writing a negative review on Netflix of the movie You Can Count On Me, ragging about how ham-fisted Mark Ruffalo's acting was in that feature. I then remembered the first movie I saw him in, which was this one, and I wandered by to get some more info.

From what I remember, this is a somewhat entertaining film of one man's fight against mediocrity. It's just as instructive to see how his own pretentiousness is his downfall as is understanding his commentary on popular culture. One of those films that doesn't come together, but its energy and desire to tell the story are so strong that you must respect the intent and the effort, which makes it worth watching repeatedly.
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3/10
Great talent, hack script
1 October 2006
This movie is only notable today for the careers that it launched. It may have been acceptable TV movie-of-the-week style fodder for its day, but its subject matter, shallow characters, insipid situations and pat conclusions make it interesting only as an historical curiosity.

Glenn Ford is a superb actor, and actually makes a pretty decent character out of the little he is given. Sidney Poitier shows some of the poise and confidence that would mark his signature style.

It's funny to see the first role of Jamie 'Corporal Max Klinger' Farr, who is unrecognizable. I had to listen to the DVD commentary before I realized he was in the film, as he is not credited as Jamie Farr, but rather as his real name of Jameel Farah.
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King Kong (2005)
3/10
King Long, or Peter Jackson's "Look How Much Money They Gave Me To Spend!"
15 December 2005
In the "Lord of The Rings" Peter Jackson was working with lots of source material and had a huge, rabid fan base that insisted on seeing as much of the content of the books as possible. It made sense for those films to be very long so as to include as much of Tolkien's ideas as possible. In "King Kong", his source material was a single, 100 minute film, a legend of special effects in its time and a surprisingly taut and well paced suspense thriller. Jackson adds far too much water to this broth to stretch it out into a 21st century epic that, unlike the original, has no real surprises. We've all seen CGI special effects before, just not to this absurd degree. After the 1 millionth large crawly thing attacks the landing party for the 1000th time, I had had enough. You could have edited an hour out of this movie, and no one would have noticed.

Note to Jackson: The movie you made is called "King Kong", not "Our Trip to Skull Island and all the Wondrous and Fearful Adventures We Had There and What Happened After We Came Back with a Big Ape in Tow". In the future, keep focus on what the movie is about, not about how much stuff you can stuff onto the screen.
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4/10
Too clever by half
9 December 2005
In the context of a murder-mystery, Robert Downey Jr.'s character seems more suited to the role of murder suspect than detective seeking to solve a crime. Downey's dilettante characters played well when he was under 30; now over 40, to say that he appears strained in this same type of role is an understatement. Has he gotten over "The Pickup Artist" yet?

The hyper-kinetic script is wearying, and after the midpoint of the film I stopped caring who killed who and why. I stuck around to see Michelle Monaghan naked (worth most of the price of the movie ticket) and to see Val Kilmer in his usual very strong, well-controlled style.
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4/10
Dynamite cast in a very poorly crafted script
28 October 2001
LeeLee Sobieski is the Meryl Streep to be of her generation. All of us who call themselves fans of hers are anxiously waiting for the breakout role that will catapult her to the A-list stardom her talent deserves.

Sadly, we will have to keep waiting.

My First Mister is a very well meaning first time feature from Christine Lahti. The material she has chosen would make for an interesting ABC Afterschool Special movie, but the quality of the writing certainly demands less talent than Albert Brooks and LeeLee Sobieski, who strain to reduce the amount of schmaltz and syrup written for them and flesh out well-rounded characters.

I think the story is a very good one, and some judicious re-writing would have made a world of difference. For example, little time is spent in exposition for the character of Randall, who though portrayed as boring and staid, has a rather deep inner life with regret over his marriage breakup and a secret he keeps hidden from everyone, and more situations could have been written to introduce his character. The movie centers around Jennifer, and Randall's introduction seems done only as a device to add plot to Jennifer's character study.

If you have a teenage daughter, it might be a good idea to see this movie with her. I know lots of girls from high school and college who could have used a hero like Jennifer, who in the end lets go of her gothic pretensions and finds real love. LeeLee Sobieski does better than any other actress could have with this script, and Albert Brooks is always a wizard with the spoken word.

It's not necessary to see this film in the theatre, but I do suggest it on video.
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9/10
It's not what I found, but what I didn't find that blew me away.
28 October 2001
This documentary presents the story of the rise and fall of Fred Leuchter, an apparently self-taught engineer specializing in the repair and fabrication of instruments of capital punishment. His choice to develop evidence to deny the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz, Poland causes a descent into villainy and subsequent ostracism from his clients and his wife.

Several of Leuchter's detractors are interviewed in the film and vilify him as an anti-Semite and a perpetrator of a cruel hoax. His supporters portray him as the second coming of Christ and a man worthy of equal footing with George Washington. If Leuchter actually was aware of his place in the events that led to his downfall, then one could assume he falls somewhere between the two extremes. But this film amply demonstrates that in many ways, Fred in a class by himself.

This little man from Massachusetts grew up around the prison where his father worked, and he saw the daily life of both inmates and guards. He came to see both groups as his friends, and later in his life he chose to research ways to make execution equipment safer and more humane, not only for the inmates being executed, but also for the guards that have to deal with the psychologically disturbing business of execution.

Over time, he became prominent in his field, and was recognized as perhaps the only expert in the United States on repairing and building execution devices. It was this expertise that drew the attention of holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, who was on trial in Canada for publishing a document entitled "Did Six Million Really Die?", which the government of Canada argued was published with deliberate lies about Nazi execution of Jews. Leuchter was approached as an expert on execution and was asked to journey to Auschwitz to develop evidence to disprove that the crematories at that most infamous of concentration camps was used as execution chambers.

It is here that the mystery of Fred Leuchter begins. In the film, a holocaust denier relates a conversation he had with Leuchter in which he had asked Fred about his illegal and highly distasteful excavations at Auschwitz. Leuchter replied, "It wasn't what I found, but what I didn't find that blew me away." It is this statement that rings in my head when I try to examine Fred Leuchter's actions. Why didn't he think about what was being asked of him? Why didn't he see this inquiry in the larger scale of the history of the Second World War, and indeed in the history of civilization? Since he was so deliberate and so thoughtful in his research in to execution equipment, why did he not research the subject of the gas chambers at Auschwitz more thoroughly? Journalist Van Pelt explains that all he had to do was examine the archives at the camp to discover a wealth of information that the Nazis put together about the subject of the "gassing basements". Leuchter obviously understood nothing about the subject of chemistry (an absolutely necessary discipline to begin addressing the presence of cyanide on the bricks of the camp), and yet he took the job of disproving the existence of gas chambers. Why?

This is the area where Errol Morris' skill as a documentarian really shines. He shows Fred lurching around at various white supremacist meetings to discuss the findings of his report, apparently unaware of agenda he was sent to justify. As a thoughtful and deliberate man, he came to the conclusion that the chambers at Auschwitz could not have been used as execution chambers, but obviously uses his own narrow view point to reach that conclusion, since (in his opinion) if he had designed such a device for mass execution he would not have built it that way. He doesn't understand that he was pushed to present a certain result, and that the individuals that wanted justification for their viewpoints were not to be trusted. Morris lets us see all the swirling action around Leuchter, and demonstrates that Leuchter himself was unable or unwilling to see his place in the madness surrounding the trial, as well as demonstrating that Fred couldn't fully understand why state governments were suddenly unwilling to deal with him, killing his business as an execution engineer.

Leuchter's detractors took pains to ruin his life which, in a country that thrives on free speech and the open expression of ideas, is as shameful an act as Leuchter's own foolish holocaust denial. But an interviewee stated eloquently in the film that Fred had the chance to retract his statements. Fred at any time could have limited his involvement with the project. He should have conducted his investigation in the full light of day rather than slinking around a vitally important historical site, chopping up pieces of what many consider a holy shine to the lives of those callously murdered there. He could have done many things that any rational and considerate person should have done.

But he didn't.

Morris' film is one of the best examinations of a person's life committed to film. Highly recommended.
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8/10
Ground breaking visuals, dynamite original music.
20 October 2001
This video was my first introduction to the Residents, and I couldn't stop playing it for the past three days. The visuals are dynamite and more inventive and technically complex than any I have ever seen on the big screen or small.

The DVD loses points, however, for the pointless addition of new music. The original Residents music is unlike anything else you've ever heard, and will really tweak your brain in the best possible way. The new music however is uniformly uninteresting and in most cases is rather bad in comparison to some of the classic tracks. Also, the uncompleted Vileness Fats video feels VERY incomplete, and I could only fathom the plot of the story from extensive reading of the notes on the disc.

Speaking of notes on the disc, this DVD features lots of cool easter eggs that will probably appeal to long-time fans of the Residents. Hint: look for icons on the notes pages that shouldn't be there.

From a technical standpoint, the disc is one of the best DVD transfers available. There is virtually no observable pixelization, and only a little edginess in strong contrast points.

Kudos for a top notch presentation. This disc really deserves your attention.
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Over-Rated
6 March 2001
Not a bad story, the action at times was great, but something that bothered me (and please be patient while I try to explain this) was the inconsistency of the super human actions of the characters in the movie. In the first action sequence, the two fighting characters are flitting over roof tops as if gravity is lower in this universe. In the same sequence, one character is bounding between two walls to climb them, indicating she is super-humanly strong to do so. If she is lighter than normal, why wouldn't she just do a standing jump to get where she wants to go?

If the sequences were played such that the characters were very strong and very acrobatic and were so powerful that they could jump very high, I think the action would have satisfied more hardcore martial arts fans and impressed the more plot oriented viewers. In that light, the characters should not have simply floated between roof tops, but should have jumped high in the air in wide arcs. The lighter-than-gravity concept best demonstrated by the bamboo sequence could not be played realistically, because it required sustained action by the characters that they could not pull off because, in fact, they are not lighter and were supported by wires. It limited their movements and distorted their actions, which would not have happened if, say, the movie were animated and the artists could actually make the characters move correctly in a light gravity environment.

Really weird and nit-picky I know, but that's how I see it.
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Before it was pop...
6 March 2001
An excellent picture of what the punk/new wave scene was before the sound got co-opted by the mainstream. The Devo live performance really rocks, and you get to see many smaller artists that got overlooked when this genre took over the top 40. It really shows you how much fun and interesting music can be when it isn't being pushed by big labels and a band's sound can be created naturally without pressure to meet a certain standard. Last I saw it aired on the Sundance Channel.
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