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Survivor: Two Peas in a Pod (2002)
"I've changed my mind about Zoe. Zoe is a b...."
Strong, athletic, tribal challenge asset Tammy was already my favorite player of this season before this episode; after this episode, we can add passion and determination to her repertoire. There are two qualities that I'm looking for above any others, I think, in a Survivor player: a) to genuinely CARE about staying in the game as long as possible, b) to play for themselves and not for anybody else. Tammy fits both of those criteria. Her immunity win when she was the next person on the chopping block, following her private practice on the stilts and followed by a scream of relief, is such an awesome moment. And ironically, the episode ends with Zoe's boot - Zoe, who was so confident that turning on Tammy would buy her many more days on the island. That little smile by Tammy at the very end tells the whole story. Even if she goes home next episode (which she probably will), she fought lke hell every step of the way. *** out of 4.
Survivor: Jury's Out (2002)
An important episode in the evolution of Survivor strategy
Today the power shift that happens in "Jury's Out" seems inevitable (although there have been PLENTY of people in later seasons, even recent ones, who have not made this necessary move when they have to), but back in 2002 and in only the 4th season of the show, it was positively revolutionary. It's interesting to observe that it's the immunity challenge itself that exposes the "pecking order" of the majority alliance, forces those at its bottom to re-think their positions in the game, and triggers the chain of their reaction. If there is anything to be learned from this episode, it is that those in power must not gloat about their power and make everybody outside of their close circle feel like they have no shot, because then they are very likely to lose their power. It is a didactic episode. *** out of 4.
Gorgeous, leggy Teri Thomson does her best to salvage this cheap time-waster
OK, the cinematography is ugly, the music is of the generic elevator variety, the supporting cast is terrible (Joe Estevez plays an elite hitman....nuff said). But when Teri Thomson and her loooooong legs fill the screen, none of that other stuff matters. Unfortunately, this strong woman in the first half of the movie needs to be rescued (repeatedly) by men in the seccond half 🙄 ** out of 4.
Triumph des Willens (1935)
One of those films that any history / cinema buff needs to watch at least once....
....although, in this case, once may be more than enough for some people. It's technically innovative, with several amazing camera shots, but the content is hollow and repetitive; if you make it through the endless parade footage, Hitler's final speech is the most inflammatory - and revealing. One thing that is made clear, however, is how hypocritical it is to retroactively condemn director Leni Riefenstahl for being seduced by the Nazi ideology at that point in time, when millions of Germans (and others around the world) were far more vocal in their support of the Fuhrer. *** out of 4.
Very long but also very worthwhile
Remarkably in-depth, objective documentary about Leni Riefenstahl which covers her life journey from her early days as a dancer and a star of mountain-climbing adventure films to her latter-day fascination with primitive African tribes and the underwater flora and fauna. Of course the bulk of the film focuses on her famous Nazi-period documentaries, "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia". Although this project was obviously completed with Riefenstahl's collaboration, it does not shy away from her naivete and contradictions; on the other hand, it presents an extensive account of her technical innovations, and makes sure to clear in our minds the chasm between the aesthetic perfection she tried to achieve in her art, and the "master race" ideals of Hitler and his Party. It's a very long film (3 hours), but most worthwhile if you're at all interested in the subject. *** out of 4.
Big Little Lies: Kill Me (2019)
Each scene in this episode is well-done and well-acted, but they don't add up to a whole, nor do they progress the story at all. And the episode ends just when it starts to get really interesting; it's as if the best part begins when the screen goes black! **1/2 out of 4.
Survivor: Going Down in Flames (2010)
Rupert the Strategic Mastermind (!), Parvati the Psychic Goddess (she reads Amanda ike an open book and makes a move that shows her...ahem....nerves of steel), Russell "blindisided" for the first time at a tribal council. Actually the Heroes did the optimal move here by switching their target from Parvati to Jerri; unfortunately for them, Parvati played at an even higher level. One of the finest episodes of Survivor ever. **** out of 4.
Fear Factor (2001)
A great "guilty pleasure" show - except I don't feel guilty at all for loving it
Yes, "Fear Factor" is mostly remembered and recognized for the gross-out (and often downright hilarious) middle stunt, in which contestants usually have to eat something disgusting, lie in something disgusting, or both, but there is sooooooo much more to it than that. For starters, the first and the third stunts are usually spectacular and exhilarating, worthy of any James Bond movie (and done by real everyday people, as opposed to professional stuntmen). The show is also useful as a panorama of human nature; with around 150 episodes and more than 1000 contestants under its belt, the range of behavior and camaraderie among the players is matched only by the range of different locations (you never know where the next episode will take you). Finally, it's hard - perhaps even impossible - to name a TV show in history with more athletic, brave, strong, competitive women, often taking on - and defeating - men in all sorts of contests; yes, I do claim that "Fear Factor" is a feminist show! It is also an honest and consistent show: you always get what you want from it, it never dips in quality (though, of course, some episodes are more satisfying than others; the average episode is easily a 8/10). If I could point out one negative, it's the unfortunate rule, in some (not all) Season 6 episodes, which states that the contestants with the best time decide who they want to send home, instead of the slowest person or couple being automatically eliminated like it always happened since the first episode. But in the grand scheme of things, that is a small complaint.
"Fear Factor" is hours and hours and hours of fun!
Survivor: Survivor History (2010)
One of the most sheerly enjoyable episodes
There are so many things to like about this episode: several funny moments (from Courtney's impersonation of Rupert, to Parvati's "additions" to JT's letter), Parvati finding an idol on her own (along with Danielle) and finally breaking out of Russell's shadow ("he's on a need-to-know basis, and right now he doesn't need to know"), or the reward challenge where by chance three pairs of players from the same past seasons are matched up. But the greatest thing about it is the whole "girls' alliance" misunderstanding by the Heroes, which the Villains (well, Russell basically) pick up and capitalize upon. What happpens next does indeed write Survivor History - if not quite in the manner JT and the rest of the Heroes anticipated. But that's why Survivor is the greatest UNscripted show on tevelvision - because you can't predict people's reactions and perceptions. *** out of 4 (it doesn't get a higher rating solely because the vote itself is far from a shocker).
Energetic gladiator nonsense
The homoerotic subtext of the sword-and-sandal subgenre has rarely been more blatantly obvious than in this film; often the entire frame is filled left to right with nothing else but images of buff, bare-chested men. Oh I guess there IS also Helga Line around, technically....The "story" makes absolutely no sense, and the film is too long, but it has enough action to satisfy those who crave this sort of thing. ** out of 4.
Taur, Thor, Tarzan (see IMDb trivia), what's in a name?
This is a rather amateurish and claustrophobic production (at least half of it takes place inside some mines), but is somewhat distinguished by a couple of unusual, maybe even progressive (for the era and the sword-and-sandal genre) elements: a muscular, strapping black sidekick for the tank-like, twelve-pack-abs hero (yes he's cowardly and mostly the comic relief, but when push comes to shove he gets the job done), and women fighting in the gladiator arena (one of them even scores two kills at the climax). Black people and women usually get rougher deals in movies like this. ** out of 4.
La guerra di Troia (1961)
Well-produced but tedious peplum
Although produced on a higher scale (and budget) than most of these "epics", "The Trojan Horse" soon becomes a tedious blur of battles in which it is even tough to tell who is who. If you're looking for quality Steve Reeves content, he has one great, albeit way too brief, fight scene early on versus the mighty warrior (and not the Dutch soccer team) Ajax, but you can 100% safely skip the rest of the movie, where he is barely visible. ** out of 4.
Still lacking in momentum
The second season of "Big Little Lies" is starting to remind me of the latter half of the second season of "Twin Peaks" (1990), where all sorts of random stuff is happening but you do keep watching solely because you are attached to the characters and the location. There are some beautiful scenes (Mary Louise's refusal to accept her son's ugly side, Jane's "dance", Madeline's speech, etc.), but minimal plot developemnt - if, in fact, there is a plot at all. *** out of 4.
There's Nothing Out There (1991)
Knowingly silly horror spoof
"There's Nothing Out There" is not the greatest horror comedy ever made, but it's a more than acceptable writing / directing debut for 21-year-old (!!) Rolfe Kanefsky: his passion for the genre comes across (he has continued to work steadily since 1990, which is no small accomplishment in itself, even if none of his films have exactly set the box office on fire). The film delivers the slime, the schlock, the breasts and the "meta" jokes ("It's like we're in a movie...") that those who choose to see it came for. Luckily, the hottest girl in the movie survives, and spends nearly the entire second half in an extremely fetching bikini, while the monster's POV camera shots are also pretty cool. It's all likably and knowingly silly. **1/2 out of 4.
Complicated Women (2003)
A good appetizer - not a full meal
Terrific little documentary on pre-code movies, and more specifically the role of women in them, but this subject cannot be done justice to in a mere 55 minutes (it's too short). One omission I noticed: Clara Bow. Ironically, the most telling moment of the entire program may be a scene from a POST-Code film at the very end! *** out of 4.
Fear Factor: The Bees Are Angry (2012)
One of the last Fear Factor episodes is a great underdog / comeback story
The winning couple (who had just met on the Internet for the specific purpose of playing together on the show!) keep it cool, calm and collected, while some of the other contestants go off on personal feuds. The show was still going VERY strong when it ended (personally I think season 7 is an improvement over season 6, mainly because they ditched the unfair s6 sometimes-rule of the couple with the best time on the first stunt deciding who goes home, instead of the slowest couple being automatically eliminated like it happens in all other seasons). *** out of 4.
Big Little Lies: Tell-Tale Hearts (2019)
Not much happened
I will continue to watch this series faithfully, no question about that. It is extremely well-made, and I love the location and the ensemble cast. But, it needs (rather urgently) at least one more main plot thread; Bonnie's guilt and Perry's mother's persistence are not enough to sustain 7 episodes all by themselves. It needs more mystery. Maybe the visions of drowning will amount to something? *** out of 4.
Visions of Light (1992)
Worthwhile documentary, albeit one for specialized interests
Cinematography is an important but often underappreciated aspect of moviemaking (and moviegoing), and - as far as I know - "Visions Of Light" was the first documentary attempt to shed some, uh, light to this art and give a voice to the behind-the-cameras experts who practice it. It's a good documentary and contains many (appropriately) beautiful clips. But, in comparison to the doc I saw yesterday, "The Celluloid Closet", its focus on a technical and not a thematic aspect of the movies means it will probably appeal to a more niche, hardcore audience than that film. My favorite moment: the story about everyone in a theater titlting their heads during a particular scene in "Rosemary's Baby". And at least one omission I noticed: "The Ten Commandments" (1956) - one of the most expressive color films ever. *** out of 4.
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Both eye-opening and vastly entertaining
Comprehensive, frequently eye-opening, and above all vastly entertaining doumentary with a terrific subject. Modestly but beautifully made, with a pleasingly soothing effect (everyone interviewed speaks calmly and eloquently). There are many priceless moments, from Gore Vidal revealing how Stephen Boyd was subtly playing up the homosexuality of his character in "Ben Hur" while Charlton Heston had no idea, to Shirley MacLaine practically apologizing for her portrayal of "lesbian guilt" in "The Children's Hour", and from the Western version of "Show me yours and I'll show you mine" in "Red River", to what looks to be a hilarious camp classic, the 1968 "Detective" ("I only had two experiences, one in college and one in the army"!). If you're interested in the subject, this documentary is a must-see. ***1/2 out of 4.
Excellent start to season 2
Nobody has missed a beat: it's as if the series had never really stopped, which helps you step right back into a familiar world (I'm so glad they kept the extraordinary title theme). I was a little worried about the change of directors, but newcomer (to the show) Andrea Arnold maintains the dreamy, distinctive style of Jean Marc Vallee (the final nightmare sequence is beautifully designed). Meryl Street, as Perry's mother, makes an amazing debut and elevates the show without hogging the spotlight (she plays cat-and-mouse with our ladies as she tries to find out what really happened to her son). Reese Witherspoon has a powerful confrontation scene with her older daughter. Monterey looks as inviting as ever. *** out of 4.
Best left for kids
This (unrelated) sequel to "Saturday The 14th" is just as juvenile as the first film, but perhaps slightly more tolerable because it has at least one interesting story element: the protagonist is briefly tempted by "evil". That's not to be mistaken for a recommendation of the movie, though: it's embarrassingly cheap, with discount-store Halloween masks and costumes for the "monsters", and liberal use of stock footage for the "climax". We can only thank Howard R. Cohen for not attempting to create a trilogy! *1/2 out of 4.
Saturday the 14th (1981)
Puerile horror comedy
Unfunny and boring horror comedy. A few good makeup effects (the severed head looks very real!) and the hot daughter (the actress was 20 at the time, so I can say it!) cannot save it. It's a total time-waster. *1/2 out of 4.
Survivor: Hell Hath Frozen Over (2012)
The Abi and Penner show
This episode is all about two people: Abi and Penner. Abi is on the outs and the unanimous next target, but she shows more strategic chops and more heart than ever before, and (in an absolutely awesome moment) wins immunity, forcing everyone else to look for a Plan B. This seems to point to Penner, whose mistake to refuse to seal a proposed Final Four deal with Lisa and Skupin comes back to haunt him. His tribal theatrics ("DENISE!") are highly entertaining, and overall he certainly justified his returnee spot in this season - he gave it 100% and lasted longer than most would expect, considering he had a big target on his back from Day 1. *** out of 4.
Likably goofy slasher spoof
This spoof of slasher films is hit-and-miss (sexy-eyed Carol Kane as a Carrie-like heroine is a hit; Paul Reubens as an idiotic assistant to the sheriff is a miss), but it's likable enough, and the characters are quirky and developed enough that - dare I say it? - you actually feel kinda sorry when they meet their (cartoonishly over-the-top) ends. The film often diverts from the horror genre and goes every which way and as a result it doesn't have much momentum, but it does make you laugh at several points. My favorite line: "Do you want me to come with you?" - "Sure, if we can time it". **1/2 out of 4.
Shapeless social satire
Cult figure Paul Bartel probably hoped for mainstream acceptance with this film, but it actually had the opposite effect; it practically stopped his movie-directing career in its tracks. And it's not hard to see why: the film lacks a dramatic center of gravity - it has nothing to compel you to keep watching apart from the familiar names in the cast. It's basically a bedroom farce that builds to some "outrageous" events which could hardly be considered shocking in 1989. It's not terrible - just terribly pointless. *1/2 out of 4.