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Paper Bullets (1941)
Frank Capra, through the looking glass
5 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Nothing in this movie's title (um, either title), in the casting, in the script, or in the direction suggests this movie is about a criminal moll. The most accurate title for this would be 'Lady Gangster.' The audience for it? Who knows? My head hurt after trying to figure out who the protagonist was ...after trying to figure out where the plot was going ...and after trying to figure out why characters would do the insane things they do so naturally in this movie. And it has the perennial problem of most 'Chick Noirs': What is the genre? It's a girl's aspirational movie... It's a revenge picture... It's a political corruption movie... It's a melodrama... it's a romance... etc. It's all over the place.

Not one line in the movie suggests how Rita (the eventual main character) transforms from gullible sap to mob Queenpin. Psychology? That's for suckers, pal. The only way this movie might have worked is if they had cast a pushy, contemptible, low-class, gum-smacking harlot in the lead role. Rita's behavior as written in the script? Predatory! Desperate! Rita's behavior as performed by Joan Woodbury? Sweetness and sunlight. Woodbury's Rita is waaaay too intelligent and polite (and cheerful, and well-adjusted) to be anywhere near this scenario.

I'm with everyone else who asked more than once during this goofy movie, 'Wait... what did she just do?'. But I think I'm in the minority in that I began to find its utter incompetence more than a little funny, and sort of charming. Rita's sociopath/crimespree made me laugh out loud. It's completely out of left field. Just put on a wig, go out to your own street corner, and look for someone to hold up! Oh yeah, she's a criminal mastermind. Or when Rita's sister sings a cut-rate song in a nightclub; then sits down to some smoothy telling her "You'll never have to worry in life" ha ha ha.

No two scenes in this movie are headed to the same destination. But it's still more entertaining than the inept noirs D.O.A., and 'The Man who Cheated Himself.'

Obtuse, screwy, unintentionally funny. Jack LaRue looks quite a bit like Tony Shaloub.
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Slander (1957)
Drama in a test-tube
17 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It's 1957 and the moral ambiguity and artfulness of the Noir era has been almost completely eradicated in favor of Eisenhower-era conformity and blandness. The free-wheeling male identity of the post-war years is being neutered.

This movie has an interesting character or two, and presents an interesting dilemma or two, only to founder with a feeble 2nd act. Slandering someone, it turns out, is wrong because it might cause little Timmy to get hit by a car (huh ?!). Yeah... that's crap - a tiresome trope of the 50s that all conflicts must be tied to a desexualized, reproductive imperative, and be embodied in the wholesomeness of some squeaky-clean pipsqueak.

It feels like a Playhouse 90 production, but Van Johnson (frequently a miserable and/or cardboard actor) actually does a decent job, as does the actress playing his wife (Ann Blyth). They're both too good for the movie. Also good is Steve Cochrane as dashing scandal-hound Steve Manley. The resolution in which Mother Manley guns down her own son (in a brightly-lit drawing room - so un-Noir) for being too despicable is absurd. Viewers might have wanted more serious topics in movies indeed, as this producer posited, but heartfelt moral simplifications filmed cheaply just aren't nutritious enough. These events seem to be occurring in a Petri dish.

I continually get 'Slander' confused with 'Libel' (Dirk Bogarde).
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Master class
8 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The whole show here is Jeremy Brett who must've known these were just so-so mysteries and average TV fodder. He rises way above the proceedings by conceiving Holmes as a flawed, quick-tempered bully, with a clear dislike for the poor. And it's all the more interesting for it. Brett's camping it up a bit, but you can't look away. Imagine how you'd read any line he's given, and what expression you should wear to appear sincere; and in that same time, 3 or more motives/reactions/revelations have flashed across Brett's face like lightening. One of the expressions is always contempt or superiority.

But Moriarty is a crappy nemesis. Plot lines in which a noisy, lower class character barges in on someone always turn out to be Holmes in disguise. This ruse was also feeble when lifted for the Wild Wild West TV show.

As with the Poirot mysteries, the plots are total boilerplate, and nothing can be solved by a viewer. If you had to choose between viewing one of the two, it's a toss-up. Brett's Holmes is a far-more interesting piece of acting, and only one dullard is underfoot (Watson is provided so Holmes can appear brilliant and give voice to his mental processes). Suchet nails Poirot, but Poirot is such a 1-dimensional martinet that there's no payoff. The additional penalty for choosing the Poirot series is you have endure TWO dullards (Japp, Hastings) because Agatha Christie knew zip about character. 3 or 4 of her plot lines/solutions are stunners though.
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Intruders (I) (2011)
Spirit of the Beehive-Devils Backbone
28 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This movie cross-cuts between two households troubled by "Hollowface," a supernatural villain of no special interest, who wears out his welcome quite soon, with his continually undelivered menace. Hollowface is more indifferent about reaching his goal than Hamlet. Over and over we hear 2 things: "Hollowface wants the girl's face." and "Hollowface crept closer and closer and closer" The threat of any character losing their face is (unsurprisingly) hollow, and rapidly becomes this movie's uninteresting holding pattern. You can see in half an hour that this movie will not arrive at an adequate ending.

Who is the audience for this schmaltz? The sex scene suggests an adult audience, but an adult movie would not resemble the jejune, self-involved, immature musings of an unimaginative 12 year old girl; who doen't have an ending to her story. Not since Topsy Krets stalked Jim Kerry (The Number 23) will a junky movie leave you so bewildered about how funding was actually attained. This movie is a perfect example of why so few movies movies are made for adolescent girls.

Hollowface crept closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, and closer... insipid.
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Frantic (1988)
27 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I rented a different movie recently, and out popped this instead. I recalled the title from the 80s as being one of the most tedious slogs I had ever sat though. But here in 2012, 25 yrs later, you can view it with the added clarity that Polanski squandered his entire career.

Sure enough... I recalled it correctly. Frantic remains unadulterated boredom from start to finish. It isn't even redeemed by Polanski's technique as he offers none. It was clearly just a paycheck. He proceeds at a snail's pace, through an undisciplined, unstructured, unfocused morass; while Harrison Ford brings his deathly wooden acting along.

It takes some effort to make a movie this long, that doesn't have a single memorable scene. Who would admire, rent or even buy this movie? It's a pointless, never-ending tease of hyper-obvious movie clichés. It has nowhere to go, and takes it's sweet time getting there.

Long after I lost interest, there were still 17 DVD chapters left to endure! Excruciating.
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and certainly, not as a Viewer
4 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
40 minutes into this movie I'm thinking, "this dud has got to be over soon." I look down and check the running time and I am horrified to see that somehow it's 2 hours and 20 minutes long. 40 mins and I'm thinking omg, where is this obvious, interminable melodrama going? 40 mins in, and I'm thinking this might be a good time to settle on a genre. And I'm wondering, why on earth would DeHaviland take this degrading, 1-dimensional ethnic role?

Why do they tease this out so laboriously? How did so much star power sign on to this undeveloped, inept movie? It must be this padded and pointless, to provide each of 5 or 6 major egos their own moment; all of them are wildly unrelated to the general flow of Mitchum's "big conflict" storyline, which is of no dramatic interest. What is the point? The only possible angle I can imagine for this movie is that it was a women's movie about men; and that female viewers in 1955 might imagine this oddity spoke to them, about their situations.

Along with the unusually low quality of the script, a viewer will spend all his/her time picking the corn kernels out of the ham. And every frame of this looks like it was filmed on the cheap. Completely squandered, expensive cast.
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None too subtle
2 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'd rather watch an old, high-aiming movie than just about anything, especially one I haven't seen before. And Britain's Kitchen Sink school intrigues me quite a bit. If the entirety of Room at the Top was as good/modern/shocking as three or four of its best scenes, it would be a remarkable movie, but unfortunately, normative conventions of the era end up burying the more original moments. It's far less subtle than the uniformly great reviews led me to expect.

It adopts a controversy-seeking position with its characters, but it also underscores every point, so you don't miss the morality of the film's viewpoint.

I find Signoret to be miscast. She's looking pretty long in the tooth, and worldly, to be so impressionable and go to pieces over a man. I don't buy her character or her situation for a minute. She's a tough cookie.

I pull this DVD out now and again, when I doubt my mediocre opinion of it. And I'm always disappointed to see again that there's too much dross, and too many melodramatic flourishes. Room at the Top is corny.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
Incompetent as both story-telling and film-making
11 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Alien was a game changer when it came out. The reason you would want the director of that movie to resume after 30 years, is that he would being his extremely high standards to what has become a pretty bad franchise. Aggravatingly, all we see on every front (score, narrative, structure, imagination) is the lowest of low standards. Prometheus is not a game-changer. It's even worse than the lesser Alien movies, which makes it something like "Attack of the Laser Squids from Planet Terror!!!"

The two good entries in the Alien series did thoughtful things with the form (Alien, Aliens). The others had no idea what to do, so they just threw things at the screen (Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, AvP, Alien goes to the Suburbs). Having abandoned the high quality of his youth, Ridley Scott now embraces half-assed scripts like those later titles. Scott cashed in - all his effort for Prometheus went into becoming a showman; working the pre-release ballyhoo to generate a big payday. The short vids that were made to promote this suggested something unusual. Instead it's desperately 'usual.' It's his George Lucas self-destruct moment. This hackneyed dreck was not even worth filming.

The title spaceship is not interesting. The threat here is not interesting. It has the most laughable aging make-up I've seen in 50 years. The characters are a complete slate of bellicose dopes. And the climax is the usual "We don't have a climax so why don't we just film nine rotten clichés in a row?" I can't believe Scott thinks viewers waited 33 years for answers this feeble. Geiger's alien was elegant / thoughtful. For the first time, when a movie finally showed the alien, it was awesomely horrible and did not disappoint. Here we're back to stupid aliens from 1950s throwaway drive-in date movies. The alien gestation makes no sense anymore (as with Alien 3). A snake, apparently issuing from drops of black oil will attack you and kill you, and then you grow larger, gain superhuman powers and become aggressive (!) . If you ingest a drop of the black oil you will become the host of an alien that bursts out your head (!!!). If you make love to a human who is symptomatic, you will get knocked up with an alien squid. That alien squid will grow into a tentacled dumb thing that has nine mouths on the underside, which in turn gives birth to sharkhead (!!!!!). There is no reason to spend any more time describing the lousy, cut-rate path this horrible movie takes. Every answer it provides is a dumb one.

Having no good ideas on where to take the series, Ridley Scott steals ideas from the X Files movie, Species, Splice, AVP and Contact. It's big idea, seen in countless movies since 2001, is now being thoroughly exhausted on the laughable TV show, Ancient Aliens. A father/daughter shocker is lifted straight from an Angela Lansbury movie from 1948 (State of the Union). The horny and dumb level of the proceedings is like watching "Temptation Island" the gutter level reality show. And Laurence of Arabia is included for no reason whatsoever.

Prometheus does not summon up the quality of Alien in any way. Instead it reminds a viewer mostly of two rotten pieces of low-grade schlock: Event Horizon (1997) and Super Nova (2000), movies that started by asking interesting questions, but then retreated into asinine developments, due to terrible writers looking for cop-outs.

Prometheus deserves to be as little known as those two clunkers. The test of whether this is a worthy product to associate with Scott's original alien film, lies in asking the question: On its own, could this movie have ever generated as much buzz/response as the original? The answer is a resounding No. This rotten, rotten movie will influence nothing. Put Scott out to pasture where he can graze on his greenbacks. The best thing you can say about this irritating, stupid movie is that it will be gone from theaters in 3 weeks.
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23 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The shift in this series from the early, fun but insubstantial trifles, to the more serious psychological explorations was not a bad idea. But while this is better than the atrocious Alfred Molina version, it is still completely uneven. The script is a scattershot affair that can never focus long enough to coherently run two scenes together. No motivation is developed,; all of that is jettisoned in favor of overt explanations. As with the Lumet version, the director loses interest in the middle bunch of the 12 interviews. The structure is just poor. Three or more characters just up and volunteer associations with the victim. The casting of a dwarfish, disfigured Ratchett is irritating and facile. At the 11th hour, Poirot improbably transforms into Jaggers; the truth-at-all-costs gadfly of Les Miserables. It's completely absurd. The positively asinine screed that Dragomiroff delivers bedside to her victim is a preposterous low-brow finger-wagging. I was embarrassed for the whole production at that point.

Poirot himself is NEVER interesting at any point in the series; in fact he's a barely developed irritant. His trademark ("little grey cells") are never actually seen being utilized (in either the books or the films), despite his endorsement of said. It's an undeveloped gimmick; and once again, a viewer can in no way solve this along with Poirot. So one watches the shows to wait around for the solutions. Suchet offering the best impersonation of the character is a mixed bag. There's not much to him. He is signified by at most 5 personality quirks. The character makes Dickens shallow pawns look like Hamlet. Among other bewildering decisions is having Poirot be OK with the killing of a woman in Istanbul over adultery. But Poirot is (outrageously) Catholic in this episode. Figure that combo out! At a certain point his morality is so poorly scripted, loud, and out of character that you just tune him out. Throughout the story, we are obviously not looking at Poirot's faith, but the faith of some resentfully pious director or writer, or both. It's an out of place hard-sell.

The appropriation of Patton's Oscar-nominated theme (an echoing, then fading fan fare) is likewise ill-advised.
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Little Ashes (2008)
A Punch in the Gut
7 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
During my first viewing of this movie, I was rolling my eyes, but it was not easy to shake off afterwards. And in fairness, it may be because the feelings presented are so tender, and the hurts so raw that I was made uncomfortable. The movie is meritorious just for exposing a trio that I had no idea were influencing each other. (Dali, deLorca, Bunuel)

This movie is almost to painful to watch as first Dali arrives at school, as a preening anxious fop and then as Delorca falls for Dali. You know it's going to end in pain and heartbreak. Even so, knowing as little about De Lorca that I do, I did not realize how much pain. If you know much about Dali's personal behavior, you already know he was a rather contemptible person. So when his despicable actions pile up in the story, it's being honest. The treachery of the insecure Bunuel is also not glossed over.

The direction is often very good, assembling a narrative of major scenes connected by little throwaway snippets that don't always take you from point A to point B; that suggest a richness of life and experience. There is good acting to see too, Pattison while getting a few things wrong, still manages to feel like a Spaniard, and the Irish guy playing Luis Bunuel does some interesting stuff.

I love any movie that suggests a rich, absurd vein runs throughout life. The movie manages to suggest beyond the gay love story, that Spain under Franco was a place where an urbane droll Spaniard could find a spot and ensconce himself; it may not be true but it's a nice place to occupy. I will have smart droll friends or I will have none.

Some standout moments include the opening where a fey but nonetheless strikingly beautiful young Dali is driven to University, and any scene underscored by the Spanish guitar music written for the film. Magda is that rare female role in a gay film that isn't wallpaper. She's very charming.

It reminds of Cabaret but the script is better. It makes me want to read about Garcia Lorca and go to Spain. Ultimately it has pants to say about art, but it says that very quickly. Try to sit through Modigliani, Klimt, Lust for Life, all of them equally trite on the subject, but with nothing else going on in those films.

Some of the poor reception of this film, is assuredly owed to neurotic hetero male reviewers who piled on, for making them consider that the love lives of homosexuals are worthy of consideration. That's all machismo-baggage. The worst moments are an amateurish montage of Dali in Paris. And while Robert Pattinson does a good job with the Dali character (who really was this confused, unbalanced jackass), he never quite finds his center. (Dali never did either.)

The movie is cast with pretty boys again, making the point that no one gay has ever been less than a male model (!?) I think what I really like about this movie is a touching, sensitive Spanish guitar score; that always strike the right tone (well, except for the cheery music under the end credits).
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Plenty (1985)
plenty full
6 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I have known this movie now for 30 years. Almost no one I know saw it back in 1985. The one person who did see it didn't understand it, though he tried. His feelings were neutral, but his bewildered description intrigued me. He didn't get what I've got out of it all these years. I find it meaningful in different ways in each phase of my life, Now I see a strong message of the futility of trying to recapture the past, the intensity of the past, or one's youth. There is also a tacit reading of the film that the world grows less interesting over one's life, until one is left in a bland holding pattern. Each frame of the movie stands as a testimony to how much better things used to be, when you were young and feeling things intensely.

The most generous thing you might feel about these character is confusion or ambivalence. You do not grow fond of them as the movie proceeds. Some of them are contemptible and/or dysfunctional. There is more to movies than liking the characters. This is a movie for thinking viewers, which were rare in 1985, and now all but gone.

The movie is never jejune or coddling as later Streep movies are (Julia and Julia, The Devil wears Prada - weak filmmaking) and that's a testimony to capability of director Fred Schepisi, who seems to only film thoughtful scripts. Schepisi is a criminally underrated director. Schepisi also did good work on A Cry in the Dark, and really excellent work on The Devils Playground. As with all his movies this one is beautifully lensed, and the aspect ratio is very elegant.

If anything is wrong with the movie it's that there's too much of the Charles Dance character (the bland, decent, diplomat husband) in it, especially in the last 45 minutes. He's not interesting, doesn't make a very good foil, and in some scenes seems to only exist as a device glue said scenes together.

This is hard to track down, but is far better movie than Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Out of Africa, where Streep played characters with more easily described dilemmas.
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A 4 star Groaner
22 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This got such uniform good reviews, I knew I had to see it fast, before the buzz turned it into an over-hyped beast. No such luck. It IS an over-hyped beast. I should have known better. All the reviews I skimmed suggested a boffo trick ending or reveal... and I hate those movies. The script is not clever. If I had walked out as I was inclined in the middle of the tiresome set-up, I'd have missed nothing.

The plot of this stinker involves slowly disclosing several nested narrative devices, and invokes higher and higher scales of society, until you know the ending will just HAVE to be the piece of full-scale idiocy that they came up with. But the writers offer not not a peep of explanation for why the sacrifice has to take the form of a clichéd, glacially slow, horror movie; which makes the movie convoluted, and the entire premise quite costly. Couldn't you just kill the 5 types in their homes, or better still in a way that introduce a new type of horror movie? But no, the writers paint themselves into a corner, thinking (as TV talent does) that sensation is even better than thought, and will save this overextended premise in the end. There has never been a movie that builds to a CGI monster that is worth a damn. The movie got some kudos for its references to previous movies (The Shining, Alien 3, The Ring), but it's also so dumb it just lazily rips most of them off: The Truman Show, And then there were None, Army of Darkness, Halloween 3, Cube, 13 ghosts, Rosemary's Baby, Hellraiser, etc. No matter how you mash 20 old movies together, it will not produce "new.

The movie poster (a house exterior turned into a rubik's cube) rips off the poster for Deathtrap; another bit of drivel - with a terrible, terrible twist ending - that received scads of undeserved rave reviews.

If you've exhausted yourself today sitting at home watching vapid TV, and you need a break, Cabin in the Woods will take your tired thoughtless mind even dumber places. But there is zero purpose in seeing it. This movie will be forgotten in 5 years (see also: Identity).
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Quite Terrible
26 January 2012
Nice DVD box artwork, yes? And I think Aldrich has an intriguing personal story. I have a good amount of respect for Aldrich's Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, and I think Kiss Me Deadly is more intriguing then good. The Big Knife however is dreadful. So Aldrich has a spotty record.

So how's The Grissom Gang? Feeble, amateurish, plodding, clichéd. The un-cast-able talents of Kim Darby are seen here. She's kidnapped before the credits (with a cheesy overdesigned typeface) are even over, and then the movie enters a holding pattern, before coming to a complete standstill. Some people hit the '70s and thrived. Others hit the '70s and it was all over.

I picked this up this for $1.98 based on my esteem for Aldrich. There's still no way around it- it's terrible.
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More than a little irritating
22 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Pious, patriotic parable has seen its day, and watched it recede. Probably because the 'parable' format is most effective in narratives short enough to be consumed from a church pew. The writers are really not sure what to fill this 2 hr long story with. The protag is an insufferable bumpkin, and the script is a dumbed down affair aimed straight at the most thick-headed, rural individuals in a 1941 audience. (The phrase "Consarn-it!" is uttered about 30 times) Ultimately the match-up of the title arrives too late - it's much too long a movie - after the script fails to make Jabez deserving of this much interest, consideration or defense. And one scarcely needs a parable to understand why being such an insensitive clod is not the path forward. Jabez is cardboard, as are his dilemmas. The characterization throughout is shallow. The script underscores the same moral point again, and again, and again. It's extremely easy to turn off. I need far less repetition, jingoism and preachiness in a movie.

Behind the camera, there are some visual surprises that are still effective, but generally this is a harangue burdened by "good" characters who are more tiresome and off-putting than the bad ones. There are so many dated assumptions about the audience's views and values here. History has not been kind...
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Restoration (1995)
Straight down the middle
22 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"By the books" mid-90s historical epic, that like others of the era (Dangerous Beauty, Emma, Cousin Bette...) now feels slight and superficial; even corny at parts. The story is elaborate, but played mostly for sentiment. No villain, no chase, or explosions. But the piece of history covered is interesting in and of itself. And no movie about friendship is completely worthless.

Prior to 2001, movie-makers scoured the storybooks for the right material to squeeze emotion out of you; and they frequently felt the need to time travel to do so (Titanic). This ruse now feels rather stretched, insufficient and manufactured.

Not a complete waste of time, but reaction will depend on the viewer. There are some elaborate sets. Meg Ryan here is not making a good enough effort, or she knows that she shouldn't have taken the part. Hugh Grant's early stammering is on display.
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Here's what it looks like when a movie dies on screen
17 December 2011
I laughed once or twice when I saw the first ten mins of this, then had an obligation to attend to. Never saw the rest. But I picked it up on clearance last night for just a buck (!), and I can only say; even a dollar, was waaaaaaay too much to pay for this turd.

The entire "Watch how funny we make this next extremely unfunny scene!" thing is way dead. Every single gag feels like it was written down once and never improved; in the hope that the now-thoroughly irritating combo of the Apatow Barn of blunderers, and SNL 2nd raters would really push it over the top.

They don't. This is lifeless. It's a movie where comedy goes to die. As with all Sandler, Carrey, Apatow movies, the half-written humor is blended with conventional, sentimental touchpoints that don't belong anywhere near a comedy movie. (I thought we were mocking that.)
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Cropsey (2009)
Echo Chamber
3 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Cropsey doesn't work. The parade of witnesses and their stories are all befuddling; The film-makers haven't done their job which was to suss out (for the viewer) which of the hordes are the most trustworthy, not to get every single variant story thread (via every person willing to talk on camera) onto the screen. Nobody seems to have the slightest objectivity.

It assembles into an incoherent blame narrative that doesn't even establish why Rand was captured in the first place. The trail of evidence implicating Rand is just not good enough. If Rand was arrested for some actual culpability, the film-makers have done a disservice to the community by leaving it out.

In the end these people and the convoluted story they weave, just serve to persuade me that Andre Rand is a patsy. A bunch of impressionable bourgeoisie who seem to have no idea that they are capable of projecting their fears onto to a total cipher & scapegoat; and then are terrified by the result. When society is almost done with you, there's still one role they have waiting; designated victim... and a run though the persecution complex.

Session 9 also took a real disturbing location/ruin and also produced a muddled result, by fictionalizing the narrative.
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The Big Lift (1950)
Cool movie
7 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
If you managed to endure the quizzical flop 'The Good German' with Kate Blanchett and George Clooney, you should really just get your hands on this little-known movie which covers the same post-war, war-torn locale. It's much better, and it's quite interesting because it was filmed on location in front of some remarkable, bizarre ruins.

Monty Clift manipulates a military situation to get into Berlin, to pursue a meaningless opportunity with a German gal. Clift calculatedly wears nicer clothes and tries to play off the image of the "American nice guy" to score with her. But instead the situation is being manipulated by many others. The biggest problem is that the slight plot does not bear 2 hours of interest, and at that length, it would be nice of them to provide an ending. 'Lift' offers only an inadequate denouement.

The camera set-ups are interesting. The war-lore and landing strip factoids are all interesting. The momentary diversions are interesting. as when a (racially-integrated) drill corp welcomes Clift and Douglas to the Berlin landing strip. ...the collapse of a building behind a sad-faced woman. It lacks a great script, but Seaton is a good director; always with an eye for striking opportunities to include. There's a very strong geography to the film; the lovers rendez-vous in an apartment at the end of the airlift runway. The hair-raising airstrip landings, a couple hundred feet past a half-ruined residential neighborhood, are awesome.

Lars von Trier's remarkable, hypnotic Zentropa covers similar ground. I'm no fan of The Third Man which occurs in destroyed Berlin, but it should be mentioned. The Big Lift has a simpler plot, and is refreshingly free of 'The Third Man's big, dumb reveal. Two other movies (Witness for the Prosecution, Mr. Arkadin) feature moments or plot points that occur in destroyed Berlin. All these movies are tales of desperate individuals lying and/or killing to get their basic needs met; the treachery of war refugees; and the ambiguity of what had been unshakable 'values' once the fabric of life becomes decimated. The views in this movie, are much more than American viewers were asked to consider in the '50s.
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"...and Brutus is an honorable man"
30 July 2011
This "crying over their whiskey" and "licking their wounds" endeavor is a profoundly bad exploration of what might have been. There is not a single thing wrong with Presidential also-ran George McGovern, according to this one-dimensional documentary. The movie asks us to believe that this decent guy (who does share many of my values) would really have turned out to be equal parts Joan of Arc, Sir Lancelot and Teddy Roosevelt had he reached the White House. But sharing my values doesn't mean you have any fight in you. Instead McGovern was just another Casper Milquetoast who couldn't get it done. Even 50 years later, McGovern is as dull as dishwater (he appears here); as earnest, decent and bland as a Dickens protagonist.

Hindsight is always terrific: all things that didn't happen, are 100 percent superior (in some minds) than the awful things that we've watched happen. Well we don't need to see what might have happened with his presidency. We already know what happens to the presidencies of lackluster, nice guys. Their worldview proves to be too simplistic for the challenges that are foisted on them, and they are easily played by the more cynical GOP. Just look at the line-up of weak, apologetic Dems who failed to reach the White House because they couldn't assert themselves (Humphrey, McCarthy, McGovern, Stevenson, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry), or the Dems who did make it to the White House who proved to be extremely weak leaders (Carter, Obama).

Attempting to associate McGovern with Camelot, the imagery of the Kennedy years (see title) is just sad & grasping. Amy Goodman, champion of all things Left, loses some credibility for even associating with this. un-nuanced sob-story. hagiography
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Redgrave puzzles...
24 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this after viewing Howard's End a few time, which is a movie I like despite a problematic, mechanical supporting performance from Redgrave. She stands out for the wrong reasons. Every scene of competence is matched by one of diva-esque deliberation, incongruity or bewilderment.

Jumping to this movie, it's shocking to see how inexperienced she is here too. While she manages to record each scene without falling on her face, the character just adds up to a cipher. Redgrave is quite adrift. She portrays Mary in a perpetually clueless state. So Mary seems like like a wide-eyed dingbat; to the point that viewers can't root for her at all.

Timothy Dalton as a risible little snot of a king, is the sole entertainment value, but that that's only as a pure camp, effeminate, preening Snidely Whiplash of no import. He is not a sufficient foil for the piece. By the time he's breaking out of a prison in a nightgown (with what appear to be herpes blisters on his face) it's become a rather eye-rolling endeavor.
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The Ghoul (1933)
The Dark
23 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Ghoul is a boilerplate thirties horror movie. But in the early portion, it has a script that is rather funnier than most. And some of the lines either sound exactly as whipsmart as you'd expect from a current movie, or surpass them in terms of brevity and guffaws. The 4 lines below make me bust out laughing every time. It probably helps that both the lawyer and the servant are a little too heavily made up and look like bedraggled zombies:

Cedric Hardwicke (lawyer): "I advise you to be very careful."

Dishonest servant: "I've a careful nature."

Lawyer: "You could be putting yourself perilously near dishonesty."

Servant (bulging his eyes at the lawyer): "I've seen men nearer..."

The lines are merely dry. But the delivery by the guy playing the servant always makes me laugh out loud. Sadly, the movie passes on this sort of drollery after only about ten great exchanges. After which, a dim-bulb housemaid (Katie) arrives as the official comic relief, but she's given much more uninventive material.

Commonplace settings are lit beautifully, almost anticipating noir. The lawyer's ramshackle office set is way cool; a pile of boxes and one spotlight.
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High Noon (1952)
Low Tide
19 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In the opening scenes of this turgid dud, Sheriff Will (Cooper) is burdened by marriage to the most mind-numbingly dumb wife. Grace Kelly portrays the Quaker airhead. The flimsy conflict immediately becomes about whether Gary Cooper or his wife's viewpoint will win out. If you think Kelly's underwritten storyline holds even a prayer of potential, well... only the Teleltubbies has less conflict than this movie. Gary Cooper, always a thuddingly dull actor, gives easily his most boring performance.

The story is a thinly veiled allegory of the McCarthy hearings which would be fine if it did something artful with it. Instead it showcases heroics with Will as Foreman's proxy. Most people would not be comfortable shouting "I'M SO VERY Modest and Heroic" like this. No matter how many times I've watched, I never care where its dull, obvious story takes me. Invariably, viewers who don't like having to search for a pesky hidden message declare this a masterpiece. Director Zinneman made his name with stuff this dry.

A classic to give classics a bad name.
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Downton Abbey (2010–2015)
Soapy dishwater
10 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
If you thought Gosford Park needed to be a shallow, episodic TV series, you might enjoy this. Even Maggie Smith (and her character) has been borrowed wholesale to ease your transfer. And what luck, the theme music is a thinly veiled knock-off of the title music from The Piano. But Gosford Park wrestled with matters of substance, and showcased some striking film technique.

This show is teeming with "decent" characters (translation: progressive) none of whom could have existed historically, and none of whom can inject the show with any surprises. The show shoots the bolt in the first two episodes where Lord Grantham defends and acts as co-equals with two different servants. Hooray for time-traveling with anachronistic values. The show never rises above soap opera by larding itself down with drippy conflicts, and boatloads of shallow female matters. The elevated estrogen level torpedoes any real intrigue.

The drama in this is just so much sniveling.
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Thor (2011)
Hercules ...meets Dune ...via Albert Speer
2 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this. It's fantasy mixed with mythology mixed with a superhero; which turns out to be better than anyone should expect. The most interesting aspects are drawn from the fact that this superhero has a full family, and they're pretty much gods. The scenes with the banished, cheerful, humanized Thor are very charming; and serve to reacquaint viewers with nobility in the male gender (pretty much absent in 2011), much like in the awful Kate and Leopold. I didn't care that it lacked great action setpieces per se, but the climax is a bit too underscaled. Still, I was very moved at least twice; when the King realizes that he must regrettably teach his beloved but ignorant son a whopper of a lesson; and when Thor failed at retrieving his hammer (of all things). Heimdall, the bridge guard, reminds a viewer that old school qualities suffice beautifully in producing a figure of admiration. He's unflinching in his devotion, he's 'steady'. The plot is slightly familiar (The central idea of The Sword in the Stone is lifted shamelessly), but the acting is good, and it's better with language than most movies; which I suspect can be credited to Kenneth Branagh. Kat Dennings as Natalie Portman's assistant earns some laughs with her dry line readings.

Thor's home realm (Asgard) looks like the Emerald City as designed by Santiago Calatrava, Albert Speer and Hans Poelig. Not since Bespin (city of pepper mills) has a design aesthetic looked so thoroughly scale-less, unconvincing and cheeseball. The denizens wear things they seem to have bought at Cher's garage sale (although Thor's outfit is pretty great). And the town in New Mexico has 'We GOTTA slash the budget somewhere!!' written all over it. About half an hour of the movie is average or worse, but that not a bad ratio compared to movies that are terrible from start to finish these days (refer to Green Lantern).
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Green Lantern (2011)
What a mess
2 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Green Lantern has a backstory, superpowers and villain so convoluted and uninteresting, that you immediately understand why he remains a 2nd tier superhero. Ryan Reynolds has quite a body (not sure how much of it is fake) but he still can't carry a movie. Admittedly the script is a real mess. Most superhero movies these days choose 1 of 3 types of antagonist; you have a) the corrupt congressman or business man, b) the arch villain or, c) the giant ball of evil moving through space to devour Earth (Yep. It was used before in The 5th Element). This one features all three. Some of the sets look like what you'd see in a softcore cable movie (The female lead's office - all cgi, with no glass in the windows). Reynolds, still trying to make us like him, shows not an ounce of depth here. He's so needy; flashing that chipmunk face and puppy eyes, over and over. We like you Ryan, now would you stop being cute, and learn to act?

There were portions of this dud where I just tuned out. And I saw it for free -- the barrier to me liking it was zippo. I daydreamed about how to get bigger calf muscles, and passed the time swirling my feet around. Green Lantern is elaborate, shallow, tacky ...outlandish.
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