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Fictional anthropology
18 December 2004
With very limited resources at this disposal (the budget, shooting time, and acting talent were clearly in short supply), Sarno has combined a poor plot with an almost anthropological approach to encapsulating the fashions (hair and clothing) and the physical landscape of domestic split-level commuter suburbia (Long Island, perhaps?) in the mid-1960s.

The visual titillation is very minimal, alas, so this isn't much of a sexploitation treat, but it does serve as almost a work of cinema verite, brought about by lack of resources for depicting anything beyond recording that physical milieu directly and accurately.

There is also some attempt as social commentary -- everyone's house is the same, and all the breadwinners (male, of course) take the 7:21 train into the city and return on the 6:35, while their wives stay home and try to fend off boredom). Too bad that Sarno wasn't given enough resources to develop and capture a vision.

As it is, this is sort of a proto-indie movie, wherein the filmmaker was allowed some degree of personal expression within the straitjacket of the highly inhibited sexploitation genre of the era.

SiTS would have benefited from more flesh, and more fleshing out. A nice curiosity nevertheless.
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Love Meetings (1964)
Disappointing, but for other reasons.
10 October 2004
I too was disappointed, but not for the reasons cited in the previous comment.

Instead, I found the film very hard to follow, with lots of academic buzzwords (interviewer Pasolini refers to "the sex problem" at least 20 times), not all of it subtitled, and subtitles that faded out of legibility against light backgrounds.

The movie was visually unappetizing, in part because of inconsistent and often inept camera work, and in part because of a sloppy transfer to tape that washed out the middle tones and often made it hard to see and read people's faces.

The most annoying element was the recurrent muting of the voice tracks (and of course the accompanying sub-titles) that was labeled "self-censorship." Was this a comment on official censorship of the time? I get the impression that the most interesting answers were lost to the audience through this process.

An interesting and meaty idea from a provocative and often great filmmaker, undercut by directorial inexperience and poor repackaging.
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Ararat (2002)
6 August 2004
This is a very flawed movie by a well-regarded director.

One major problem is the star-role presence of his ubiquitous (in his films) wife, who can't act well and simply cannot use her voice expressively or effectively. Her monotonic droning, in film after film, is irritating.

Another is that he doesn't have the directorial chops to film in an epic style such as the Armenian battle scenes require.

The lopsided voting pattern here seems to be the result of ethnocentric ballot-box stuffing. All those "10"s could only mean that thousands of Egoyan's compatriots have invaded the board and voted politically rather than esthetically or rationally.
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What Schumann said
5 February 2004
That's exactly it, in a nutshell -- this seemingly engaging, very well done movie unfortunately lacks authenticity, just as the previous commenter said.

For all of its virtues, this is a sentimental, slick, commercialized movie aimed at a Western market. It looks as though it was explicitly designed to generate hard currency. Good foreign (non-U.S.) movies have humanity and make thoughtful statements about their culture, but this one looks like it's content to skim the surface, just like a typical feel-good Hollywood flick.

Fine production values, interesting locations, generally good acting (except for the caricature-peasant father), but a very muddled set of artistic intentions. Far superior to a typical US movie, but it could have been much better if it followed its own advice about playing from the heart. Ironically, this cautionary tale about the dangers of materialistic strivings doesn't seem to heed its own advice.
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Russian Ark (2002)
Fascinating Failure
27 January 2004
This technically ambitious film shows that it takes more than great costumes, a large cast, and a sumptuous setting to make a good film. The one-continuous-shot concept proves to be a terribly limiting idea -- much of the film is poorly composed and/or shot from a less than ideal position. It's like we're watching an uninterrupted rehearsal, rather than a finished product.

To see a better realized example of the potential of lengthy tracking shots, rent "Soy Cuba" ("I Am Cuba"), another Russian-filmed effort, but one made in black and white 40 years ago. There, the long takes breathe and dance; here they merely wander for the sake of wandering.

The director's intellectual aim was to explore the relationship of Russia to Europe, but his shooting scheme prevented him from truly pursuing that goal. In a sense, this is also an infomercial for the Hermitage Museum, a situation that's made pretty clear in the supplemental material on the DVD.
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Tom Jones (1963)
Wonderful, even 37 years later
4 January 2004
This was a great film in its time, and is still a great one today. Well-directed, well-acted, well-shot, great soundtrack, and based on a splendid literary vehicle.

It's frustrating to see so much uninformed voting and so many uninformed remarks on this otherwise wonderful site; I guess its inevitable since anyone can post anything. But I would like to point out that Tom Jones did not sleep with his mother as erroneously alleged, and that Albert Finney, 26 or 27 years old at the time of shooting this film, clearly did not look too old for his part.

I haven't read the book(s), but from the film it's obvious that Dickens was much indebted to Fielding, using his amazing invention as a convoluted plot model (and perhaps a character-naming model) for many of his works.

Go rent this film after seeing Finney in the currently playing Big Fish -- it's great to see him do so well in such very different films made in different millenia, nearly a full professional lifetime apart.
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Not a terrible movie
19 July 2003
But not a very good one either -- long, slow, stilted, melodramatic, and sentimental. It looks like it was aimed at a popular audience rather than a discerning one.

Was this an early script by Kurosawa, or was it a rough draft in need of refinement? Whichever it was, it wasn't up to the master's usual standard.
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Second rate, derivative, and confused
8 July 2003
This film appropriated quite a bit from Catherine Breillat's 36 Filette, made nine years earlier: both are French, set in that country's oceanfront resorts, and star alienated 14-year old sexual temptresses who consort with older men.

The difference is that Breillat is a film maker of insight, imagination, and courage who knows how to depict character. Whoever made this messy derivative (his name doesn't matter) has none of those abilities. This bumbling, superficial film is poorly conceived and constructed, and is even astonishingly prudish about showing the body of its leading lady, given that the film centers on her sexual attractiveness.

Forget about this confused pallid imitative loser, and instead rent the real thing, the more intense and better characterized 36 Filette.
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Technically stunning, yet lacking a center
17 June 2003
The shots were amazing technically and visually, but if this movie were a migratory bird it would get lost before its journey was half-over.

Much of the music was annoyingly sappy, the Frenchman narrating in English was sometimes unintelligible, and the birdcalls and flapping-wind sounds often seemed artificially processed and too loud. My admiration for the accomplishments of these intrepid feathered creatures grew as a result of seeing this movie, but my admiration for the cinematic sense of the filmmaking team wasn't as high. Bird-brained might fairly describe their grasp of the filmmaking medium.

But the strengths of the subject matter and the amazing filming techniques are still potent enough to earn this flick a 7 or an 8, despite the frequent cluelessness of its makers.
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Suddenly (2002)
Hard-boiled but with a heart of gold.
9 June 2003
A brilliant, ever-shifting intimately-scaled comedy-adventure movie exploring the complicated relationships among about ten characters, young and old, mostly women. It is by turns a bit scary and sadistic, gentle, bawdy, warmly sympathetic, mysterious, yet ultimately rather clear.

Shot in B&W on blown-up 16 mm, and reminiscent of Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise." An edgy celebration of life, humanity, and vulnerabilities. Well worth seeing.
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A nice mellow table wine, rather than a grand cru.
3 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this 2-year-old film at the Seattle International Film Festival, as a substitute for a scheduled Czech film (Brats) which arrived with missing reels, and was glad to have seen it, since a movie like this is very unlikely to go into US distribution. I won't repeat points that have already been made here several times, other than to say that this is very much in the European humanist tradition, with actors whose faces are beleivable and have character rather than formuaic good looks, and a plot centered on real life. The very scenic setting is also one of the film's great strengths.

This film indirectly helped me to understand the motivation of periodically striking French farmers, and the hold that this way of life can have on Europeans, where farming is not as easy, as industrialized, or as large-scale as it is in much of America.

Unfortunately, the script doesn't probe quite as deeply as it might, and


there is a silly recurring bit of gratuitous and vague symbolism in the form of a para-sailer that leads nowhere, and acts mainly as eye-candy. The same can be said about the unnecessarily virtuosic (and at times vertiginous) long opening shot. I'm undecided about the scenes of violence to animals. Yes, living things were harmed -- killed, really -- in the making of this movie, and it could have been made without those acts, but such things are a common and unavoidable part of farm life, and lend reality to a sometimes romanticized portrayal of agricultural existence. On balance, I think this depiction is legitimate, and the scene with the cows may have been pre-existing footage. (It was definitely stock-footage, in a manner of speaking.)


Not a great or major piece of cinema, but a worthy minor human document, with especially fine acting by the heroine and the two old farmers.
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Probably Sirk's best US melodrama
11 April 2003
The dialogue and social observation in this movie seem more intelligent and pointed than in Sirk's three other big technicolor successes, but the movie cops out at the end with yet another mawkish and overblown ending.

Hunter is well-suited to his role, but it's hard to see why his character would be attracted to Wyman's. Sure, she's a capable actress, but she projects no persona or spark -- instead, she's a well-bred, sympathetic, reasonably intelligent woman of conventional spirit and somewhat dowdy appearance, despite her expensive clothes. Hunter brags that she has great legs, but we never see them.

It's ironic to see Frank Skinner credited with "original music", since his one big melody, repeatedly used to symbolize domestic bliss at the old mill, is an uncredited outright steal of a poignant theme from the finale of Brahms' 4th symphony.

Cinematography and lighting are predictably virtuosic, but there's also some bizarre lighting in crucial a bedroom scene between Wyman and her daughter, with the daughter's face alternating between red, green, and heavily shadowed in an awkward way.

Sirk was a wickedly adept commentator on affluent American suburban mores of the 1950s, but ultimately the presumed tastes of his '50s audiences dictated sentimental cop-outs at the end of most of his films. A fine 4/5ths of a movie, undermined by an all-too-easy "resolution".
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Gives made-for-TV movies a bad name.
30 March 2003
A superficial puff-piece about a fascinating political character that stays so much on the surface that it verges on soft-core propaganda. Neither James Woods nor the script really bears a particularly close resemblance to Guiliani, both making him look better than he really was.

One example that can symbolize many others: Guiliani is shown as a devoted Yankee fan, but there is no mention of his various overt and covert efforts to funnel millions of public dollars to George Steinbrenner and his baseball team.

The director's and writer's point of view is not only essentially pro-Guiliani, but the narrative framework is also centered within his political cadre, rather than being informed by the insights of detached and balanced observers.

I would have liked to have seen more about where Rudy came from -- geographically, socially, and psychologically -- to help understand how he became such a capable yet massively flawed figure on the New York political stage. This movie trivializes its subject matter, focussing on a two-dimensional cutout rather than a three-dimensional character within a complex context.
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Max (I) (2002)
8 March 2003
A subtle, brilliant, spectacularly acted, and visually superb film exploring the intellectually and politically unsettled years following WWI in Munich. Hitler's madness is explained and displayed in a sympathetic manner, without attempting to justify his future behavior. The symbiosis and contrast between The Corporal's and John Cusack's characters are fascinating, as is the portrayal of the avant-garde art scene in this tumultuous era.

This is a far more inventive and insightful analysis of Nazism and anti-semitism than found in even the best WWII movies such as The Pianist and Schindler's List, which seem obvious and pedestrian in comparison.

In an ideal world, this picture would win Oscars for the two male leads, for screenplay, direction, photography, and best picture. In the real world, it's user score gets knocked down a full point by IMDB's questionable weighting system.

Go see this movie while you can, for it's unlikely to be a big commercial success.
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