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Holes (contains spoilers)
15 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
(1) When Kitty drops the crystals out of the helicopter, they will eventually end up in the water. How come nothing happens?

(2) Why is Lex completely oblivious / unconcerned about the potential shuttle catastrophe? Granted, it wasn't critical to that phase of his plan, but one suspects for continuity he would have at least known about it.

(3) Was the bank robber connected with Lex or not? This is never clarified.

(4) How is Superman able to return to the island / continent without suffering any effects from the kryptonite?

(5) Why is Jason's supposed super-power(s) limited to exactly one incident (the piano)? Why can't he help his "parents" get out of the sinking pantry?

(6) What happens to Lois and Richard? Do they stay together? Does Richard find out about Jason?

(7) When we first go to the Kent farm, there is a truck pulling away from the house and someone says "Goodbye, Martha." Since's Martha's husband is dead, who is driving the truck?

(8) How in the world is Lois able to SURVIVE getting knocked around in the plane, let alone emerge looking like she just stepped out of a beauty parlor? Did Kate Bosworth have this in her contract or something?
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A curiosity and very little else
28 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I've read just about every major book about the Manhattan Project. Most people know what it was, but few people understand the depth and breadth of the project. Its scope was immeasurably massive -- rivaled in US history perhaps only by the space program of the 1960's.

There were -- literally -- MILLIONS of people involved from all walks of life at numerous sites (most clandestine) around the country, each involved in a specific and different aspect of the project that they couldn't talk about to the person sitting in the cubicle next to them, much less their family. The logistics are overwhelming, particularly given the considerations of wartime communication, security and transportation in the 1940's.

As an example -- my colleague's father was a carpenter who worked for one of the companies that had a contract with the federal government for the Manhattan Project. His job was to supervise a crew of about 30 other carpenters, who were responsible for manufacturing forms for the pouring of concrete for the massive research installations at Hanford, Washington. That's "all" he did, six days a week for nearly two years. These carpenters needed food, housing, sanitary facilities, hospitals and materials just as much as did Oppenheimer and his crowd at the top of the pyramid. Just think about it! That being said, it's simply impossible to do the subject justice in a 2-hour movie. In defense of Joffe, however, I would say that they had an impossible task, particularly since he chose to have a diverse screenplay with multiple plots, multiple angles, and multiple characters. What, exactly, was he thinking, and how could he be so arrogant to think that this would work? That's Hollywood, I guess.

FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY has so many flaws that it would take a book to list them all. Horrible casting. Dreadful (and politically-motivated) writing. Bad science. The portrayals of Groves and Oppie are particularly inaccurate and downright galling. Notwithstanding the screenplay's all-too-obvious agenda, it is STILL incredibly bland and sloppy.

These flaws have been listed elsewhere on IMDb, but I was particularly struck by the fact that the scientists had so much time on their hands -- softball, horseback riding, parties, semi-formal dinners, ballet, etc., not to mention romance, and of course circulating political petitions. According to FM&LB, if these great brains had gotten off their duffs and actually spent some time in the lab instead of seducing Laura Dern, we might have won the war before D-Day.

One final gripe -- FM&LB mentions that "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" were the code names of the two atomic bombs, but it doesn't mention that these names were a semi-good-natured jab at Groves ("Fat Man", for heavy stature) and Oppenheimer ("Little Boy," for his slight stature). Another reason Paul Newman should not have been in this movie...
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High Fidelity (2000)
Better Off Dead -- 15 Years Later
3 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
***Some cryptic spoilers possibly ahead*** In many ways, this is the sequel to BETTER OFF DEAD (1985). Rob / Lane is 15 years older, has a job, but still struggling with relationships. The movies are strikingly similar -- music plays a key role in both; Cusack's character is dumped at the beginning; he finds true love at the end (albeit in BOD with a different person); there's a hodgepodge of bizarre supporting characters that move in and out of the story with, in the end, Rob / Lane and his "true love" being the only ones that are anything close to "normal." There are differences, also, of course -- Rob speaks directly to the audience throughout, something Lane never does. For that reason, HF is a heavier film -- more drama, more "black" comedy, versus BOD with its lighter comedy bordering on slapstick at times, and dramatic elements which are present primarily in the background. Then there's the constant profanity, again perhaps inevitable, but an obvious difference.

Even without making the comparison (unfortunately, for me every Cusack role ends up being inevitably compared to BOD), HF is still rather rough around the edges. Granted, it will have meaning to many, but I found myself halfway through being grateful that I got married young and don't have to worry about all this serial dating / relationship nonsense. Cusack is about my age, so I look at his roles as portraying people my age. I got married at 22 and have never regretted it; the idea of cohabitation with multiple partners without any sense of security of stability is therefore entirely foreign to me. Again, it probably means something to other people in my age group, but I'm personally glad I "missed out" on all that.

My other criticism, alluded to earlier, is that this really isn't a comedy. I don't think I laughed once. On the DVD, I watched the trailer after seeing the movie and laughed out loud. The trailer is a thousand times funnier than the movie itself (and, in fact, contains several scenes that aren't in the final cut, while misrepresenting other scenes). The movie really isn't that funny -- some black comedy, some irony, some clever twists and dialog, but it's really a "heavy" film about struggling in relationships, work, friends, parents and overall identity for twenty- and thirty-somethings.
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Family Plot (1976)
Better than Expected
19 July 2005
Having seen "Torn Curtain" about a year ago, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about seeing another of Hitchcock's "late" works (indeed, his final film). "TC" was absolutely abysmal, as reflected in my comments there, so I had no great expectations for "Family Plot." I was pleasantly surprised, however. Although true Hitchcock buffs may not rank "FP" alongside the "classics" like "Psycho" and "NxNW," "FP" is an evenly-paced film with strong central characters, an interesting supporting cast, good acting, humor, innuendo, mystery and, of course, suspense. A good all-around film by the master in his final effort. It won't leave your palms sweating and your blood running cold, and there are a couple of flaws that a younger Hitch might have caught (I, for one, wonder how Blanche's car got fixed so quickly -- hard to believe it wasn't totaled in the first place).

Nonetheless, Family Plot will hold your attention and keep you guessing until the very end. I'm glad I took the time to seek it out and watch it.
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Overlong, overwrought, and over finally
15 July 2005
I looked forward to seeing GODS AND GENERALS as I had recently read and enjoyed Shaara's book of the same title. I was greatly disappointed that the film was not true to the book's format or balance. The book is a series of chronological vignettes of four Civil War commanders -- two Federal, two Confederate -- Lee, Jackson, Chamberlain and Hancock. Moving from one character to another (with occasional overlap), Shaara has ample time to develop each character and narrate the War's impact on each (social, spiritual, psychological, professional, family, etc.). This is also a very balanced approach, at roughly 50% union and 50% rebel.

In the movie, to begin with, Hancock completely disappears, leaving Chamberlain as the sole and primary union representative. Chamberlain has always been of interest to me as I once lived in the state of Maine, so there was still hope. Unfortunately, Chamberlain's role is rather meager, and with few memorable scenes or lines.

Insteads, the film focuses at least 75% of the time on Stonewall Jackson, with a few cameos of Robert E. Lee and an appearance or two by Chamberlain. Nothing wrong with that -- Stonewall is a near-mythical figure in American history, and well-deserving of the attention. But that's not what GODS AND GENERALS (the book) was about. In other words, if you want to do a biopic of Stonewall, go for it, but don't call it GODS AND GENERALS.

With nearly the entire movie being told from the Confederate perspective, the propaganda is inevitable. Certainly the rebs have the right to rally their troops in the name of "fending off an invasion," as convoluted as that sounds historically (i.e. maintaining their "freedom" so they can keep the institution of slavery). However, the North is never given the on-screen opportunity to clearly define its mission -- Is it to preserve the union? Free the slaves? Cash in on the Southern economy? Certainly, the South fought valiantly, and given equal numbers and resources they would have certainly prevailed (they already had the better field commanders). It's worth honoring that, but not at the expense of the truth.

That the film is ridiculously long is readily apparent. Countless scenes could have been shortened or omitted. And since the characters of Lee and Chamberlain aren't really developed, anyway, those scenes could have been completely left out and the movie renamed STONEWALL.

Watching the DVD, I had hopes that perhaps the experience could be salvaged by the "extras" on the disc. Alas, I was disappointed there, also. In one feature we have Donzaleigh Abernathy (an African-American) insisting that the CW was about "freeing the slaves," with Ronald Maxwell countering that, well, it wasn't, really, but, well, sorta, kinda, and then offering the brilliant historical insight that "had it not been for slavery, we would not have had the Civil War." Thanks for clearing that up, Ron. I had always thought we slaughtered thousands of our countrymen because of candy bars or something.

The only extra feature worth my time was the 14-minute biography of Stonewall Jackson. Unfortunately, this, too was marred by the completely inexplicable and inexcusable shaking camera during the various interviews. Good grief. Ted Turner spent $60 million and he couldn't get a tripod? Really a disappointment and really not worth seeing, once or again. Had they at least followed the format of the book, they could have done something good if not great.
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1776 (1972)
One Complaint
15 June 2004
The characters are well-developed, the music is lively, and, for all the humor and artistic license, the script is surprisingly accurate in at least the broader details, with parts of the dialogue drawn from actual quotes by the historic individuals. The writers and producers seem to have the general chronology and key events of the Declaration correct.

Even Adams' and Jefferson's rather overt (for 1972) discussion on sexual prowess is palatable. My complaint is really one of irony: I find it odd that the characters feel free to take the Lord's name in vain (Adams' repeated "Good God!" and McNair's equally repetitive "Sweet Jesus!"), yet when actually *referring* to God, they use synonyms ("The Supreme Being" "The Almighty" "Divine Providence").

I suppose it's debatable whether this is the way the Founders actually talked; they probably did. Nonetheless, it was this profanity which jarred an otherwise fairly enjoyable film. Not only was it all totally unnecesaary, but it will keep me from showing it to my kids, where it would have served as a light and reasonably entertaining introduction to that period of history.

Apart from that, it's a good film; not great, but good to have on in the background and to watch in spurts throughout.
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Nothing New Here
15 June 2004
I had low expectations for this movie, and they were fulfilled. I have read the book (the diary), read the play, seen the play, performed in the play, BEEN TO THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE IN AMSTERDAM -- and, in three hours, the movie added nothing. It's not a bad film, and some would probably enjoy it, but it is far too long to maintain any level of energy, and far too short to do justice to the book or the original play. Add to that the fact that Anne's concluding entries in her diary (as presented in the movie) are totally fabricated, and it's all the more disappointing.

For those who haven't done any of the above, the movie might be worthwhile. I felt it was a waste of three hours. Now that I've seen it, I won't have to see it again.

DIARY was awarded three OSCARS -- one for Shelly Winters' performance, one for art direction, and one for cinematography (B&W). I wasn't overly impressed with Winters' hammy performance, and I'm not entirely convinced she stood out any more than any of the other "supporting" actors (i.e. everyone other than Anne / Millie Perkins). While the art direction was excellent, I can't say that the cinematography was all that impressive, either, although Mellor probably got the nod over the other nominees because he worked successfully on a very restrictive site.

Sometimes I encourage people to see the movie before or after they read the book because the film will add something to the experience of reading it. Not in this case. Then again, how can you possibly hope to add anything to the impact of Anne Frank's diary?
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In Cold Blood (1967)
Couldn't watch the murder scene
15 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(Possible spoilers)

IN COLD BLOOD, both in print and on screen, succeeds in capturing the brutality of murder because it takes time to develop the character, humanity and innocence of the victims, not to mention the pain and anguish suffered by those who are left behind. Thus, it's several degrees removed from a typical murder movie or "slasher" film because you are able to form some type of identity and sympathy with the victims.

Nearly ten years ago, I had a friend who was senselessly murdered at the age of 41, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters. The assailants (there were 4 of them) had thought that he would be carrying a large amount of cash (i.e. thousands), but they only made off with a few hundred dollars. While watching IN COLD BLOOD, I was at first relieved that the actual murders weren't depicted. Then, when they appeared later in the movie as Perry was recreating them for the police, I simply couldn't watch and hit the FF button until they returned to the police car.

Maybe someday I'll go back and watch it, but it was far too real and senselessly brutal for me to endure, not to mention rather "close to home" for me personally. Ironically, it's this realism that makes IN COLD BLOOD stand out as an excellent piece of filmmaking.
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Pearl Harbor (2001)
Better than I expected
11 February 2004
This movie is NOT a documentary, nor is it FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. The first hour is bogged down with a rather contrived love story that is almost unbearable. Nonetheless, the final 2/3 of PEARL HARBOR redeems the picture. The love triangle is ultimately resolved somewhat plausibly, with the final scenes actually being rather touching. While obvious liberties were taken with historical accounts for various reasons, the integrity of the film remains intact -- the attack scenes and the American response to Pearl Harbor is authentic in principle, as is the portrayal of FDR and his leadership. The cinematography, including the action scenes, are outstanding and believable, as one would expect for the budget of this picture. Finally, devoting the final hour of the film to the Doolittle raid is a rather satisfying resolution, as it allows the story to come something close to full circle. PEARL HARBOR was rapped in part because of the subpar acting, and there the critics have a point -- Ben Affleck still can't act his way out of a paper bag, but he is fairly well-cast as the stoic, confident fighter pilot. Alec Baldwin is a surprise as Jimmy Doolittle (a rather ironic casting given Baldwin's politics, but he is actually a highlight of the film). The supporting cast is adequate, not sensational, which makes the "slow" scenes a little tedious, but all told a film worth seeing.
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Torn Curtain (1966)
Asleep at the Hitch
22 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
***semi-spoilers included / nothing too serious***

This movie is awful. It's not Alfred Hitchcock; it's not even somebody trying to be Alfred Hitchcock. For a director known for his tight plots, attention to detail, brilliant and innovative camera angles, unending suspense and getting the most from his actors, TORN CURTAIN fails on all fronts. The pace is so sluggish and uneven that it makes Stanley Kubrick look exciting. The plot is simply ludicrous, with far too many untenable points and downright errors and gaps to list here [Flick a lighter in a house full of natural gas? I doubt it. Leave the party after only one dance and not attract suspicion? Unlikely!]. Hitch and/or his screenwriter(s) simply did not know how to -- or didn't make the effort to try to -- construct a plausible scenario of international intrigue.

The cinematography is average at best, bad at worst. The short shot of Prof. Armstrong (Newman) falling down the stairs is almost cartoonish. The fight scene is thoroughly contrived and so bad it is almost unwatchable.

As for suspense, there is some, but it, like the plot, is uneven to the point where it loses its impact. Most of the suspensful points -- such as Armstrong's and, later, Sherman's (Andrews') motives -- are resolved quickly, and early in the film. TORN CURTAIN lacks the ongoing intensity and emotional absorption of nearly all of Hitch's other films.

Finally, the acting, which is downright dreadful. In addition to Hitch's name above the title, I looked forward to seeing Paul Newman and Julie Andrews perform together during their early years. They try, but even these two great actors cannot redeem this picture. Their performances are uninspiring to the point where they show little interest or emotional attachment to the events around them. Paul Newman doesn't seem convinced that he himself is a brilliant scientist, so how could he convince the East Germans? Julie Andrews fares a little better, but is still annoying in this role that, some say, she didn't really want. The supporting cast, unfortunately, is far worse, made up of wooden characters who are entirely stereotyped and performed by either very bad actors or, at best, actors who Hitch made no effort to inspire. The only brief glimpses of humanity are in Dr. Koska's daughter and the farmer / PI agent neither of whom, unfortunately, appear on screen long enough to redeem this amateurish production.

Was Hitch lazy, inept, or distracted in his later years? Did he need more help? He was 66 at the time. Was it a bad time for him to start new collaborations? TORN CURTAIN raises some questions. In fairness, I have not seen his final three films, but having just seen the film which preceeded them, I am not exactly in a mad rush to check them off my list.
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The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001 TV Movie)
Curiosity Piece
25 November 2003
Cinemagraphically, this movie is absolutely dreadful. I've seen better sets and make-up in junior high productions. Particularly laughable is the national TV news anchor who appears to be reporting from a secretary's desk in the basement of the CBS building. The acting is marginal at best, with some good performances in places but overall simply average, and marred further by the fact that almost none of the actors bear any physical resemblance to the people they are playing.

Despite the fact that he lent his name to this (as "Executive Producer"), the film bears no Oliver Stone trademarks. Say what you will about Stone's political / social agenda, he knows how to make movies. I'm surprised he would allow himself to be associated with such an amateurish TV movie that bears none of his imprint (slick editing; flashbacks; tight plot).

Apart from accuracy (which I'll get to in a minute), the film is also marred by pointless dialogue and scenes. No self-respecting doctor would beg off emergency surgery simply because of political differences; anyone who even entertained that thought should lose his license. Likewise, there's no way they would have allowed such blatant contamination in the operating room (the secret service agent with the *machine gun* in the OR had me in stitches -- what's he going to DO with the gun, anyway? -- never mind the constant traffic in and out by government agents and officials).

I was 11 when Reagan was shot and I remember it vividly. I even have the TIME magazine from that week, not to mention a number of books on Reagan. So I'm fairly well qualified to speak to the film's accuracy. Funnily enough, allowing for some dramatic license, it's actually not that far-fetched. We don't know what went on behind the scenes at the White House or at the Hospital. It's doubtful that Haig was as aggressive as depicted, and the missile attack is entirely overwrought. The press was not as belligerent as depicted, and nobody insisted on taking a minicam up to the recovery room to verify that the president was still alive; nor did Nancy force him to sign anything or Deaver insist on taking pictures. What we do know is this:

  • There was a great deal of chaos and confusion within the government, including retrieving the VP from his trip in Texas.

  • Haig did appear on national TV and try to convince the world (not all that successfully) that he was "in control" at the White House pending the VP's return.

  • There was confusing information coming out of the Hospital, including Brady's reported death and other items not even mentioned in the movie (Lyn Nofziger reported that Reagan was having "open-heart surgery" as opposed to "open-chest surgery" -- a big difference!)

  • Jack Paar (the secret service chief who pushed Reagan into the car) did, in fact, save Reagan's life by taking him to the Hospital; and Reagan was a lot closer to death than people (outside the Hospital) realized at the time, due to many of the factors mentioned in the movie.

  • The opening scenes that depict Reagan meeting with his staff are also fairly accurate (although the cartoonish depiction of William Casey is rather offensive; his debilitating strokes did not occur until later in the administration). Reagan, as he (Crenna) says, was not interested in the details. This is, IMHO, to his credit as a leader and as a president, although others would differ. It was, if nothing else, a sharp contrast to the Carter years, a reference Reagan makes in the movie.

To my knowledge, there's never been any assertion of "conspiracy" in the Reagan shooting as there is with JFK. It's pretty obvious what happened, and that Hinckley acted alone. Lacking such a premise, the filmakers can only compensate by ratcheting up the drama, in which they stretch the truth, but not to the breaking point. Thus, it's an interesting movie to watch if you accept all this, but hardly something for the historical record.

Finally, I wonder if Ronald Reagan and Richard Crenna knew each other when they were together in Hollywood in the 1960's. I'd be interested to know the answer to this. Sadly, I can't ask either of them, but maybe Nancy knows...
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Cure for Insomnia
8 September 2003
As I am somewhat of a student of WWII and have read extensively on the French situation in particularly, I was looking forward to seeing this "first-person" documentary about French life during the occupation. While Ophuls' effort is certainly well-intentioned and admirable, my conclusion is that THE SORRY & THE PITY doesn't really add anything useful to the discussion.

Anyone who knows anything about this period of history knows that some of the French fought in the resistance, some were collaborators, and some endeavored to remain ambivalent. Representatives of these three groups -- as well as some foreigners -- are interviewed, and each one is proficient in offering an explanation for the position that he or she took.

Ophuls does the best he can with the material and tries to keep it as fast-moving as possible, and the interspersing of newsreel footage helps in breaking it up. The problem is, as another in this forum pointed out, that you need to have a fairly good knowledge of the historical background in order to comprehend and evaluate the various interviews. However, if you *have* such an understanding, you don't really learn anything new by watching this movie.

Another wrinkle, as Sir Anthony Eden points out towards the end of the film, is that we can't expect to understand the invasion, occupation, or aftermath unless we were French and living there at the time. Ironically, this comment made within the film can be extended to the film itself and, furthermore, if one HAD experienced all of that first-hand, there would be very little need to watch the movie anyway.

It is always worthwhile to hear first-person accounts (i.e. "primary sources") about a period in history, but it's hard to justify four hours worth. THE SORRY & THE PITY could perhaps have been condensed to roughly two hours. Alternatively, if you can read fast the subtitles enough, press the "x2" button on your VCR remote, and you'll get through it in half the time...if you want to watch it in the first place.
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20 August 2003
Having been in broadcasting for a few years during the era depicted in BROADCAST NEWS, I found the re-enactments of broadcast drama and production authentic and enjoyable. Beyond that, however, the movie is simply a mid-afternoon soap opera played out to a predictable conclusion. Like UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL, the broadcast / production scenes are authentic, and the rest is a girl-meets-boy (or boyS) melodrama that slowly unfolds into . . . nothing, really. To its credit, BROADCAST NEWS does manage to avoid the editorializing (about prisoner rights, etc.) that is found in UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. The one flaw in BROADCAST NEWS is that Jane would have never chastised Tom for his "camera tricks" in the interview -- what he did was genuine; it was not unethical; and it was not even deliberately devious.

I wouldn't say that the ending stinks, but it is flat and predictable. It is also abrupt. I think Brooks could have done better. Then again, the conclusion to TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (which I rank as perhaps the worst movie ever made) isn't anything surprising, either.

William Hurt and his character are excellent; the other leads are drab and rather unlikeable. The supporting cast is great, however, and Jack Nicholson is absolutely outstanding in his small but crucial role. It's almost a shame Jack couldn't have a larger part.
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Hart's War (2002)
Not bad
11 August 2003
This film is absorbing because you are kept guessing until the very end. Hart, the lead character, isn't exactly an angel; and the Nazi Kommandant conjures up a measure of sympathy, with other motives of characters such as Col. MacNamara (Willis) truly unclear until the end.

Thus, it's enough to keep you watching, although I wish I'd read the book first. Also, it's not an "action" film in the Schwarzenegger sense, but it is fast-paced and holds your attention, as the plot keeps twisting and turning.

Contrary to what others thought, I found HART'S WAR to be reasonably historically accurate. It's frequently pointed out that by late 1944 / early 1945, the Germans were reeling, desperate and disorganized, while HART'S WAR portrays them firmly in control. This is a fair criticism, but I would respond as follows:

1. HART'S WAR coincides with the Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge), which was the last major German offensive of the war and which came perilously close to succeeding. Puffed up from that near-victory, not knowing (as we know today) that this was the last gasp of a dying reich and not a turning point towards victory, and now holding hundreds if not thousands of Allied POW's to boot, it's no surprise that the Germans are still confident of victory.

2. Also, HART'S WAR takes place in a short period of time (I would guess 2-3 weeks between Hart's capture and the end of the trial, which itself is only a week). The story does not drag into the spring of '45, at which point the Germans knew they were losing.

3. The Nazi Kommandant epitomizes this German confidence, yet because he was educated in the US, he has at least a measure of sympathy for his American prisoners and treats them with an equal measure of military courtesy, with a few exceptions. Other Kommandants during this time may not have been as "humane," but, because of his background, Visser's lack of brutality (again, with exceptions) is understandable.

Bruce Willis is clearly a supporting actor in this film, but I felt he had a strong and important role and was, arguably, the CENTRAL character while Colin Farrell is the LEADING character. However, Willis gets top billing for one simple reason -- TO SELL TICKETS. It worked for me, at least.
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Dunkirk (1958)
Abrupt Ending
11 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Leonard Maltin said that DUNKIRK relied too heavily on newsreel footage. In fact, the only newsreels appear early in the film as means of introduction. It's possible (probable) that Leslie Norman edited live-action snippets from newsreels into the movie, but, if so, there's very little of this and it fits with the rest of the action. Thus, an unfair criticism.

DUNKIRK is a good film, and the producers were successful in making the movie suitably suspenseful, even though most people knows how it ended up historically. By all accounts, it is historically accurate. My criticism is one of pace -- DUNKIRK seems to drag for its first 100 minutes or so, with a particularly long span of film devoted to the meanderings of Cpl. Bins' squad as they beat the Belgian bushes in confusion. In fact, the focus on Bins & Co. is almost entirely uninterrupted by other action in other settings, making it seem even longer.

The actual evacuation, then, is crammed into the final 30 minutes, and, in fact, very little of it is actually depicted. Since this was the main point of the story, it seems odd that the producers would devote 75% of the film to what is essentially introduction and very little to the main action. As an example (no, this is not a spoiler) -- the Heron's motor quits in the middle of the channel, and the boat begins drifting towards Nazi-held Calais. Yet, within seconds -- IN THE SAME SCENE -- a Royal Navy destroyer appears out of nowhere to rescue them. At least one or two cuts to other action would have enhanced the impact of the rescue (which, BTW, is not actually shown, either).

Nonetheless, an above-average and accurate WWII film that's worth seeing at least once.
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Surprisingly Impressive
22 June 2003
I can't say that the prospect of seeing a movie about a divorce and child custody battle was all that exciting for me, Academy Awards notwithstanding. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find that KRAMER vs. KRAMER is a fairly impressive picture. Above all, the acting by all the principal characters is outstanding, and the writers & director were successful in preventing the film from degenerating into just another early-afternoon soap opera. The well-crafted and surprising (and, in all fairness, rather unrealistic) conclusion made the story ultimately palatable.

As a man watching the movie I tried to be objective, but within the first 30 minutes my allegiences were squarely with Ted (Dustin). Upon realizing his abandonment and understanding his predicament, he immediately reconfigures his priorities to care for his son, even to the point where it costs him his job (which, we are led to believe, was the totality of his existence). Then Joanna (Meryl) has the audacity to return from wherever, spout the nauseautingly familiar mid-70's feminist tripe about "finding herself" and getting away from an "oppressive" home life, and THEN ask for her kid back. Not exactly a character that would generate any sympathy in my view. In fact (again, straining to be objective), it seems to me that the entire picture is oriented to make Ted (not Joanna) the object of sympathy. I wonder if other people had the same impression.

From a legal perspective, KRAMER vs. KRAMER doesn't cover the divorce itself -- it just sort of happens within a year or so; no mention of how it happened. The courtroom battle of course relates to the custody issue and, contrary to some, I found this element of the movie rather weak. Ted's counsel could have made a stronger case, and Joanna's case was (in my not entirely unprejudiced view) rather flimsy. However, the overall outcome probably wouldn't have been any different in the real world, and so perhaps the producers chose not to devote an overwhelming amount of time to this sequence so that it wouldn't become the "centerpiece" of the film.

In summary, a film I was surprised to find enjoyable and, based on the competition (and I'm not a big APOCALYPSE fan), a worthy Best Picture winner for 1979.
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Odd Parallel to "Strangelove"
21 April 2003
TO BE OR NOT TO BE is a fast-paced comedy / drama with an extremely entertaining script and some very clever plot twists. Carole is amazing in what was tragically her last role; Jack a little less stunning but still very good; and the supporting cast is outstanding.

While just about everyone appreciates the humor, many find it difficult to reconcile a film made in the context of 1942 which pokes fun at the Nazis (then a very real threat to the free world), the plight of the poles, and makes light of concentration camps. These are fair objections -- I find it hard to believe that someone could have watched this movie in 1942 and found it amusing. Combined with Carole's tragic death just shortly before its release, and it's easy to understand why TO BE OR NOT TO BE flopped.

As an aside, I will point out that the term "concentration camp" was not nearly as odious in 1942 as we understand it today. While the US knew that such camps existed, the general understanding was that they were internment camps for political dissidents, not extermination camps -- and certainly not on the scale of over 6 million murdered. Thus, while the concentration camp references are the singularly most tasteless element of TO BE OR NOT TO BE when we watch it today, it would have been less so in 1942.

My primary observation was that this film is an interesting parallel to DR. STRANGELOVE -- both are set *and released* during war (World War II and the Cold War, respectively), both are irreverent, both attempt to be humorous with elements of drama. I've never been a big fan of STRANGELOVE because I can't reconcile making light of global nuclear destruction at a time when it was considered very likely. Oddly enough, I didn't have the same problem with TO BE OR NOT TO BE. I can only conclude that (1) I prefer Jack Benny's version of humor to Stanley Kubricks's and (2) I can appreciate irreverence at the expense of the Nazis as opposed to mocking the western governments (primarily the Americans) and their (depicted) haphazard response to a nuclear threat.

I may be off the mark on this, but they were my initial thoughts, and I think it makes an interesting comparison if nothing else.
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Pat and Mike (1952)
A Miscast Star in a Poor Script
16 April 2003
PAT AND MIKE is a disappointment largely because Katharine Hepburn is so dreadfully miscast as the female super-athlete. While she has always looked younger than her age, there's no getting around the fact that she was in her mid-forties when this was made. She is simply too thin and frail to have the bearing or appearance of a super-athlete, not to mention the fact that it runs entirely contrary to her personality. On top of that, she really seems to lack enthusiasm for the role on the screen.

Spencer, OTOH, who could play just about any role with success, is at least adequate in his part. Aldo Ray is perfect as the boxer. It's interesting to see real athletes like Didrickson and Budge in "action" (so to speak), but the remaining supporting cast is really insignificant apart from a few short scenes.

Finally, the script is strewn with cliches and drags from one scene to another until coming to an abrupt and rather inconclusive ending. Clearly, the producers were banking on the star power to attract the gate, and didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the screenplay.
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Love Story (1970)
One positive thought...
28 March 2003
I agree with most of the negative comments already posted about LOVE STORY. The acting by the two leads is dreadful (McGraw got better; O'Neal never could act). The storyline is trite and predictable, to say the least. Above all, the two leads are so totally unlikeable and unsympathetic. We're supposed to feel sorry for Oliver while he's crusing around Boston in an expensive European hot rod? (here's a clue: sell the damn car and you won't need a scholarship to law school!) Jenny isn't any better, but her excessive and gratuitious profanity makes her totally repulsive on top of her arrogance, nastiness and self-absorption. Sorry -- it's just hard to get into a romance when you absolutely despise the couple.

I will say, however, that I thought the cinematography was pretty good. The hockey scenes at the beginning are very well done in particular, and the scene at the end where Oliver III and Oliver IV face each other through a revolving door (as one leaves and the other enters) is a very powerful shot. Indeed, it's the cinematography that makes Oliver and Jenny seem even remotely human and likable.

I found this to be an interesting contrast to a film from the same era -- Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), which has a large number of similarities (relationships; illness; success / failure; death; parents). The contrast is that the story in "Drum" is outstanding, while the cinematography is absolutely dreadful. LOVE STORY is the direct opposite. I found this to be an interesting comparison, at least.
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See "Casablanca" First
24 September 2002
My first and foremost thought about this movie is that you MUST see "Casablanca" (1942) first, for two reasons:

First, "Play it Again, Sam" contains not only archival footage from the 1942 classic, but numerous dialogic and other references which would be lost on someone who hasn't seen "Casablanca."

Second, and more important, is that the surprise ending of "Casablanca" is revealed in the *very first scene* of "Play it again, Sam."

Beyond that, "Play it again, Sam" is probably second only to "Annie Hall" among the Woody Allen / Diane Keaton films. Woody fans will enjoy the neurotic, psychosexual ramblings of the central character, which are typical of his movies, as well as the numerous elements of physical comedy, which are not as common in Woody Allen films. And watch for the scene in the art gallery -- it's a classic!
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My Fair Lady (1964)
Better-than-Average Musical
18 September 2002
The problem with most musicals is that most if not all of the numbers are longer than they need to be and become tedious. OLIVER! immediately comes to mind as a prime example. MY FAIR LADY succeeds as a musical because the numbers are shorter, interspersed (i.e. interrupted) with dialogue, and on a few occasions reprised either on their own, or in an alternative version, or as a part of another number. Because the numbers are shorter, they are better integrated with the plot and are as much a part of the story as the dialogue itself, another aspect that sets MFL apart from most other musicals. This also means that there is a larger quantity of musical numbers in MFL, and that they are of great variety -- from the "stuffy" Ascot number to Higgins' musical soliloquies about male superiority.

I saw MFL on stage nearly 20 years ago, but I didn't see the film until recently. I was surprised how well I remembered nearly all the numbers; they really stick with you. In short, an excellent piece of work by Lerner and Loewes!

It doesn't end there, however. This was essentially Cukor's last great film, and the direction and cinematography is flawless. Harrison and Hepburn are obviously outstanding (why Audrey didn't at least get a nomination for her performance is beyond me), and they are supported by a colorful group of characters who are also played to perfection. The intense, rapid-fire dialogue keeps the picture moving.

Despite the billing, Harrison is really the leading player, as the film is driven by his character's boundless energy and arrogance (Hepburn is really the "central" character). Thus, MFL is a fast-paced, energetic adaptation of Shaw's work with an excellent soundtrack. It might, in fact, be suitable for all ages were it not for some mild language and light sexual innuendoes. In addition, Higgins' rantings, which we can laugh at as adults, could be taken too seriously by impressionable pre-teens, so this is really not a picture for young children. Otherwise, however, an excellent movie.
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Monterey Pop (1968)
Interesting Cultural Piece
20 August 2002
The performance quality of the music and, in fact, the overall production, is rather poor. However, Monterey Pop is worth watching at least once simply as a window into the culture of the mid- to late-1960's. In a way, the Monterey Pop festival represented the last pure gasp of "Sixties" love and harmony, coming as it did before things went haywire in 1968 & 1969. While Woodstock was more of a rampage of frustration, Monterey is more representative of how those who were there want "the Sixties" remembered.

Thus, the most interesting elements of the movie are the interviews with performers and attenders, behind-the-scenes footage, and random shots of the crowd before, during and after performances. It's all the more interesting for viewers who are in their 20's and early 30's today, watching what is essentially their parents' generation when THEY were in their 20's and early 30's.

Coincidentally, I just finished the autobiography of the late John Phillips ("Papa John") which devotes a full chapter to his involvement with Monterey Pop. Definitely an interesting companion read if you're planning on watching the movie. One anecdote worth repeating is that Scott Mackenzie's rendition of "San Francisco" which runs at the beginning of the film was the studio version, not the live version, which Mackenzie flubbed mercilessly on stage at Monterey.
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Too Many Characters
20 August 2002
Warning: Spoilers
*** mild spoilers ahead ***

The premise of this movie is solid, and the plot is believable. Unfortunately, for the first-time viewer at least, the movie is bogged down by a morass of characters who are rather indistinctive. Never mind that it's complicated enough to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys" -- it's all the more difficult because many of the characters run together. While each character plays a key role (as we discover by the end), not enough effort is made to develop each of the characters, so we can't really comprehend their importance to the plot.

The is even some vagarity among the leading characters -- e.g. who IS the lead? Kirk Douglas (Casey) is virtually invisible in the last half of the movie, as it evolves into a showdown between Lyman and Scott. Yet Lyman has only one key scene sequence in the first half of the movie.

The pace of the movie is also rather uneven. The scenes featuring Ava Gardner are particularly tedious. Then the plot speeds up to a breakneck pace, and it's hard to keep up.

From a political scientist / historian point of view, Seven Days in May is interesting because it highlights the danger of military commanders who don't bow to civilian authority, the importance of having a strong and forceful leader in the White House who will defend the constitution before his own personal or political agenda, and the clarification of values in that loyalty alone should not always dictate important decisions or lead to dangerous assumptions. Even though the "Cold War" setting of the movie is rather dated, these values (and others that I probably missed) are still relevant today.

It might have been an interesting twist if the only way for the President to quash the military rebellion (and thus, defend the constitution) would have been for him to *reverse* himself on the treaty . . . again, demonstrating principle over politics.

Another interesting note is the contrast of the "dovish" president and "hawkish" Gen. Scott. While Scott clearly goes too far in the pursuit of his agenda (and, in fact, should not have been allowed to become a highly visible critic of the administration), it's more than a little ironic that his principles of a strong national defense and refusal to negotiate / compromise with the Soviet Union would be what would win the Cold War some 25 years later, when they were implemented by an actor-turned-politician named Ronald Reagan. You can debate the politics of this all you want, but it can't be argued that the Soviets were brought down by a show of American strength, not by negotiation. So, in at least that respect, General Scott was right! His mistake, however, was choosing to advance his agenda militarily and not politically by running for office himself.
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Spielberg at a Crossroads
13 August 2002
Warning: Spoilers
***Spoilers ahead***

This is a forgotten Spielberg movie, and with good reason. While the cinematography is outstanding, as you would expect, the plot is directionless, the characters are unsympathetic, the history and setting is grossly distorted and the multiple serial-endings are downright aggravating.

While the first 75% or so of the movie is moderately enjoyable, the scenes following the American bombing of the internment camp (when Jim is up on the roof screaming at the planes) are interminable. There is one build-up after another to a huge emotional crescendo that . . . never . . . happens. The most meaningful of those moments comes, of course, at the very end when Jim is reunited with his parents, but by then the emotion has worn so thin that the impact (or potential impact) of that scene is totally lost.

Beyond that, Jim's frenetic ramblings and meanderings throughout the movie are inexplicable. They can't be attributed to mental illness or shell-shock wrought by his circumstances, because they begin very early in the movie (such as when he starts nattering about contract bridge after Frank has rescued him). This makes Jim a very unsympathetic character, and we end up not caring if he lives or dies by the end of the movie, much less whether or not he sees his parents again.

While I have many other beefs with this movie, most of the comments have been made elsehwere so I won't repeat them. However, I will add that I was particularly irritated by the Basie (John Malkovich) character, which is a direct plagiarization of William Holden's character in "Stalag 17" or "the King" in "King Rat" -- two vastly superior movies, I might add, about similar subject matter that "Empire of the Sun" doesn't deserve to be mentioned with (although I just did).

So, what happened here? My only conclusion is that Spielberg made this movie at the crossroads of his career -- from making outstanding action / adventure / fantasy movies that were oriented towards a younger audience, to making outstanding fact-based movies oriented towards an "adult" (if you will) audience. "The Color Purple", two years earlier, was part of this transition (and was a slightly, though not much, better movie); "The Last Crusade" (an excellent movie) was another part of it. In "Empire of the Sun," Spielberg seems to have tried to accomplish both -- an adventure of a child set against the background of the Sino-Japanese conflict in WWII -- and he ends up accomplishing neither.
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Excellent Movie
7 January 2002
This is an outstanding movie. Unfortunately, it is not available in a widescreen or letterbox format. Usually, this doesn't bother me, but the pan-and-scan technique in the movie is absolutely dreadful, at numerous times a very noticeable and annoying distraction from an otherwise exceptional film. There are far too many scenes that simply don't work in a TV-screen format. Perhaps someday it will be available in letterbox. Nonetheless, a film very much worth seeing.
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