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Parkland (2013)
7/10
An Interesting Account but Not Wholly Accurate
25 March 2014
Parkland is worth watching but it is better to go on from there and review historical accounts for a more accurate rendering of the incidents in question. For example, Giamatti's rendition of Abraham Zapruder may have been reasonably good, especially his reaction to Kennedy's death, which was perhaps his best moment, but it's hard to believe that the Secret Service kept asking his permission to do this or that with the film, which was important evidence of a very serious crime. The actor who played Lee Harvey Oswald may have done the best job. You got the sense of what a jerk he was, constantly lying about what was obviously true. He HAD shot Officer Tippit, according to several eye witnesses. When arrested, he had the handgun on him that did it and he tried to use it on the arresting officers. He owned the rifle found near the sniper's nest at the SE corner window on the sixth floor of the TSBD. His prints were all over that area and the expended shells were there, too. All bullet fragments found in the victims' bodies or in the presidential limousine were traced to that rifle alone. Both the Warren Commission AND the House investigation AGREED that all shots HAD to come from behind and above the president, and not from in front, as many people erroneously believe. Further, a few weeks prior to Nov. 22, 1963, Oswald had attempted an assassination of General Walker, an outspoken right wing nut in Dallas, and according to his wife, was ready to assassinate other politicians (such as Johnson or Nixon) who happened to come into town. To run with the idea that it was a conspiracy (which it still may have been) and that Oswald was merely a patsy is to ignore quite a lot of evidence. That ongoing controversy aside, I still found a number of small objectionable inaccuracies that were made out of ignorance or for artistic effect. Was the director even alive in 1963? I love all these younger people who think they know more about this traumatic event than all of us who were traumatized by it long before they were born and who have devoured everything we could on that and related subjects for several decades. Such criticisms aside, after seeing the movie, I went back and reviewed a number of materials I have in my library that relate to the events depicted in the movie. As such, it has made a contribution, getting people to think about and remember what happened. However, I have to wonder why Hollywood is so completely unable to bring actors to the story who really resemble JFK and Jackie Kennedy or who even remotely remind me of them. In this flick, you never really see the president but the actress who played Jackie, although sympathetic, is not really all that convincing, save for the pink suit she wore that day. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was very beautiful and sophisticated, not at all mousey. She gave men the hots all over the globe.
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1/10
If You're Gay, You'll Love This piece of Crap, if not, by All Means, Pass It Up
9 January 2014
With all due respect to Brittany Murphy, who died far too young, this one was a real stinker. I can't imagine what she was thinking after reading the script and signing on for this unapologetically indulgent exercise in the mass employment of gay actors. We've seen sicko Hollywood's regular inclusion of at least one gay man in almost every one of their insipid offerings in recent years, and now there are gay couples slobbering all over one another, not to mention the fact that they almost never show a naked woman anymore because the gays think that would be immoral (they are really screwed up that way) and the feminists think her modesty ought to be preserved at all costs just to show proper respect for her womanhood. These people far prefer and expect to see some man's stinkin' hairy ass, instead, which you may have noticed is a regular offering in almost every Hollywood production these days. What the rest of the audience thinks about it isn't even a consideration. This movie takes that situation to a real extreme. There are several gay couples in it and they get all kinds of air time. You're gonna need that fast forward button and will be using it liberally. We occasionally get to see Brittany Murphy hopping around in her skivvies, even naked (hiding behind a newspaper), but this little cutie is completely ignored by the men in her life, who are only interested in each other and walk right by her as if she doesn't even exist. Can't wait for all the homosexuals to clear out of Hollywood or at least to have control of movie making wrenched from their sickening grasp. Better yet, for Hollywood to go under and leave movie making to the foreigners. You can thank that Mama's Boy, Steven Spielberg, for starting Hollywood's precipitous decline following the American film renaissance of the 1960s, when the American movie industry was collectively engaged in serious work. Those days were over long ago.
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1/10
"Lucas, Lucas, Lucas!" "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" A Really Ridiculous Movie in Several Respects
9 January 2014
After they survive the tsunami, his indulgent mom calls Lucas so many times that it will drive you up a tree, which is where the pair finally find themselves after being hit by the wave and nearly dragged out to sea in the backwash. Somehow, they didn't drown outright, which comes off as a tad hard to swallow. The experience scratched up the kid and hurt the mom more seriously, but the worst part was when a local villager drug her through the mud in a misguided effort to save her. That, I seem to recall, is what made her absolutely filthy and she never got cleaned off, not even when they were delivered to a hospital. There, she ended up in surgery, still muddied of course, even though the doctors and nurses were decked out in scrubs and masks and both they and the operating room were spotless. The contradiction between the filthy patient and the sterile surgical team was rather startling and silly. Movies and television don't understand the first frigging thing about sterile procedure, and I include in that pointed criticism the stupid show called "ER" that made George Clooney's career take off. Just because a health care professional or a detective dons latex gloves doesn't mean they can touch any nonsterile object (like a gruesome corpse), grab their pen and notebook or a doorknob, and then remove said gloves and regrab the same now contaminated pen and notebook or doorknob. If you don't understand why, then I don't know how to explain it to you any plainer than that. It's why public restrooms still have a door that opens in rather than out, despite other improvements that limit cross contamination. You have to grab the door handle to exit, and you must have noticed how many people simply don't bother washing their hands after using the facilities. If, after washing your own hands, you don't grab that handle with a paper towel, then you just got that guys germs all over your hand, you know, the dumb slob who just emerged from the stall after making a real stink. Think about it. In any case, wouldn't someone have cleaned these people off at least minimally when they were given a bed in a hospital? And wouldn't a person brought into surgery certainly have been properly prepped for the experience? Not in this movie. The entire family was muddied from the getgo and still muddy by the time they hopped on a jet for Singapore. It was absurd. "Hey, folks, just allow our seats to absorb all that disgusting filth. Considering what a bad day you've had, we won't insist that you minimally clean up before boarding." Not to harp on this issue too much, but one of the first things you should do after you are caught in a catastrophe and survived is to clean up. Those cuts and scratches and abrasions will become infected, especially in floodwaters, which are frequently swarming with bacteria. I guess they forgot about that niggling little problem when they made this dumb flick. Better to leave the actors "realistically filthy" so as to emphasize the extent of the terrible ordeal they had just experienced and the level of shock they are exhibiting. That major objection aside, this movie was schmaltzy, unrealistic, and rather stupid. In no way does it communicate the extent of the real tragedy that occurred that day, when upwards of 200,000 people were killed. The best scene is the flashback of the moment the tsunami hit the resort, in which the mother tumbles over and over in the water, gets hit by objects, and somehow doesn't need to breathe. It's better than the depiction of the tragedy when it occurred, by the time of which you are totally sick of the family and don't much care what happens to them.
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Born to Win (1971)
7/10
An Interesting, Unpretentious Flick
19 December 2013
I've seen Karen Black in several roles where I didn't care for the character she portrayed. The thoroughly dependent and constantly whining waitress she played in Five Easy Pieces was a good example. You could understand why Jack Nicholson had trouble committing to a serious relationship with her. In Born to Win, however, she is easily the most likable personality in the film. How many women would start an affair with a man who was attempting to steal her car? Her beauty, her sense of humor, and her spirit shine through immediately and continue throughout. George Segal's unrepentant junkie character, who lost his wife to a sleazy, backstabbing, pimping drug dealer, somehow manages to charm us more than most of the other actors, including the police, who think nothing of planting evidence on anyone they feel like at the moment. There is something hip about this movie, not because it glorifies heroin addiction, which it certainly does not, but because it seems to show a slice of New York life in a fairly realistic manner. The death of JJ's best friend, Billy, from "a hot shot" that was meant for JJ, the armed "take offs" that the dopers pull on one another simply because they really need a fix or are having a bad day (with no offense otherwise intended), the way the corrupt cops are portrayed, the shots of the city, too often grimy yet somehow alluring -- this is interesting cinema. I think I bought this DVD for a buck and have watched it a number of times. It's a good movie.
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Laurel Canyon (2002)
9/10
This is a Good Flick Worth Repeated Viewings
20 November 2012
If my wife doesn't fall asleep in the middle of our evening movie, I know it's got something going for it, particularly if she's seen it several times before. I never get tired of watching this movie, either. It has Kate Beckinsale looking especially young and lovely. My favorite part is when she's out running in her leos and stops to take in the view. We see her from the rear and she certainly has a nice figure. Then there's Natascha McElhone, Christian Bale's attractive colleague at the mental ward where he works. She gives Kate some real competition, which isn't easy to do. The steamy scene in the car where Natascha and Bale confess in explicit terms just how much they want one another, has to be one of the more erotic interludes in recent movie history, and nobody removes even a stitch of clothing! A quick shot of a young blonde who decides to spend the day in the raw at the clinic provides another interesting moment for the guys in the audience. I especially enjoyed her little speech to "Dr. Bale" that "naked is inner," that she didn't wish to conceal her "warm supple skin," while alluding to the barren desert that is the world out there.

Of course, the movie has much more going for it than just hot babes in erotic situations. Francis McDormand, of "Fargo" fame, who is getting a bit too mature to be judged merely for her appearance (although she looks awfully fit for a woman her age), nevertheless is interesting to watch and dominates the situation throughout the movie. The way she interacts with the the record company exec who keeps hounding her about getting the album finished before Christmas is always amusing. Her interaction with her son provides some fireworks, too. We could do without one or two of the scenes between her, her boyfriend, and Kate Beckinsale, but alas, they are integral to the plot's development. The way the band, including her boyfriend, finish off their work in the studio and arrive at the final "hit single" they will need to satisfy commercial interests, provides a backdrop that carries the story forward surprisingly well. Coupled with the romantic quandary faced by Christian Bale who must choose between fidelity to his fiancée, Kate Beckinsale, and a lustful fling with his alluring coworker, Natascha McElhone, gives this movie an entertaining edge that is not usually seen in more recent Hollywood offerings. All in all, the idea of life in Laurel Canyon is successfully conveyed. You get the distinct sense that the young couple from Boston got more than they bargained for when they moved to L.A.
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Se7en (1995)
2/10
Sick, Twisted, and Depraved; Don't Watch This While Eating
24 July 2012
In the first few minutes of this movie, you get a good idea of what it's going to be like. We are taken to a crime scene where a grotesquely obese "shut-in" has been murdered. His bloated, decaying corpse has been there for awhile, with roaches and other vermin crawling all over the place. If this grosses you out, don't expect things to get much better, for this flick is nothing if not a first class gross-out. While there are a few elements of some interest, such as the sequence where annoying and mouthy Detective Mills (Pitt) attempts to run down the serial killer, or veteran actor Morgan Freeman's downbeat interpretation of the jaded detective, the movie is otherwise sadly lacking in redeeming value. The concluding scene is just plain sick, the sort of thing we've come to expect from Kevin Spacey, whom I cannot stand.
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2/10
This Prince Charming Fairy Tale is Patently Absurd
19 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If you possess a rather simple mind and delight in watching a "happy" love story that bears absolutely no resemblance to reality, then this flick's for you. Let's make one thing clear from the outset: Handsome men do not regularly fall head over heels in love with 30-year-old women who look like something the cat dragged in. OK, so "Toola" started taking a few classes, dispensing with the horn rims and the clothes that fit her like a potato sack. She began not only brushing her hair on occasion but styling it attractively. Still, she wasn't any great shakes, merely somewhat appealing, if a tad broad in the beam. For that flake to find himself wildly in love with her on the strength of a few long smooches, then to take her to his lair and suddenly decide he needed to marry her, was asking us to suspend disbelief just a bit too much too soon. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her to find him in a clinch with another woman, but nothing of the kind transpired. You may recall that a mere half-hour into their first date, he was already asking her for a second dinner out, which I thought indicated something seriously wrong with him.

Putting aside one's growing skepticism, for this guy (with nary a second thought) to throw over his well-meaning but nearly lifeless parents and his entire waspish background in order to party for the rest of his life with his intended's loud and obnoxious brood, seemed to be stretching credulity a little beyond anything reasonable. Sure, Greek food is quite tasty while Greek culture once formed the entire basis of Western Civilization, but these people jump around like circus performers and one must ask how many men would become baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church simply to please his prospective in-laws? Damn few, I suspect -- perhaps a guy who'd found the woman of his dreams and was so blinded by love that he didn't even consider the potential consequences.

Providing one of the flick's few real chuckles, just before the impending wedding, "Toola's" aunt incredulously inquires of her fiancé, "What do you mean, you don't eat meat!?" For her, vegetarianism could not possibly be considered (and of course the spineless wimp instantly converts to a virile, meat-eating diet right on the spot). After the wedding, itself (which thankfully was briefer than expected), "Toola's" extremely skeptical and unhappy father suddenly does a complete about-face and blesses the union by handing the young couple the deed for a house of their very own. As they say, that's Hollywood.

A few years down the pike, we are finally informed, "Toola" had gotten preggers immediately following the ceremony (not from their premarital dallying, of course) and they had a kid who is now six years old. She has miraculously retained her decent looks and everything remains upbeat and sunny. In fact, it turns out that the house pop gave them is right next door to mom and dad! In real life, you just know this troubled girl eventually would have reverted to looking less than glamorous and the guy would have become tired of her increasingly apathetic and depressing perspective. He'd probably have been off boffing anything that walked, or at least thinking about it, more sick of all this Greek crap than she was at the beginning of the movie. Following her hubby's first real trespass, her brother and cousin could have fixed his clock, as at one point they'd threatened, which might have formed the basis for a truly happy ending, at least in my book.

I'd like to give this turkey a one, but since my wife adored it, the heroine was sort of sweet, and her aunt a somewhat interesting character, I'll give it a two just for their sakes.
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1/10
A Phony Piece of Crap
21 July 2010
You might think Kirk Douglas incapable of appearing in really bad movies but he's done a stinker or two and this one definitely qualifies. It borrows liberally from another movie where Dan Akroyd played Kirk's troubled adult son and Kirk, having suffered a recent stroke, had to make him believe before the credits rolled that he always loved him and did the best he could for him. That movie wasn't bad, as I recall, whereas this one stinks to high hell and there's nothing to be done about it. Almost every emotional moment comes off forced and false. That said, even with his speech impediment and other post-stroke problems, Kirk hands in by far the most competent performance. Unfortunately, it is clearly not nearly enough to elevate the horrible writing, stupid plot line, and pathetic performances of his fellow actors. Michael Douglas is a total turkey in this abysmal flick, in which he fends off another aggressive female intent on "raping him." You've done that one already, Mike, remember? Bernadette Peters, although looking surprisingly fit for a woman her age, is photographed from some very poor angles and just looks odd too much of the time. Her part is completely forgettable. The youngest Douglas comes off as a complete jerk (to use a less offensive term than the one I actually have in mind). The scene in which he's finally going to make love to the cute young girl he's been after for half the movie, then decides he can't have sex with her after all because "it wouldn't be right," is almost as shmarmy but not nearly as offensive as the scene where the same girl goes to his dorm room and finds him enthusiastically disco-dancing with his male roommate. Douglas really gets into it and I vaguely felt like throwing up. The part where Kirk and Michael send Kirk's dead brother across a suburban lake in a boat that they have torched, ala "The Vikings," is just kind of dumb but hardly the dumbest moment in a flick chock full of dumb moments. The Seder scene with everyone in their yarmulkes is just plain silly, in my opinion. OK, granted I'm not Jewish, but I think that is one tradition that ought to go the way, the skull caps on grown men, I mean. The youngest Douglas looks absolutely ridiculous in his because he plays an unrepentant dope dealer, but gee, he's got to wear his yarmulke for Seder to keep the older folks happy. It's ridiculous. In short, this movie is phony, false, forced, and exploitive of Kirk Douglas's various handicaps following his stroke. The entire Douglas clan ought to be thoroughly embarrassed for appearing in this piece of dung, because that is what it is. Kirk is capable of standout work and doesn't even scratch the surface of his capabilities simply because this movie, itself, is dead on arrival and nothing he does to resuscitate it has a chance to succeed.
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Unfaithful (2002)
7/10
Capably Executed, very erotic, Adult-Themed Story with a Terrible Flaw
2 June 2010
Diane Lane, a lovely brown-eyed blond, makes this flick sizzle, especially when she recalls her first sexual encounter with her new French lover and we watch her quiver at his touch. She's doin' wrong, she knows it, she feels guilty and all distraught over it, yet her body WANTS it bad! Apparently her husband, Mr. SUCCESS, is no longer inspiring her in the sack. He seems used to getting his way and strikes fear in the hearts of anyone who might cross him, so how come he comes up short in the romance department? This is a movie for adults and the heat of the passionate affair is aptly portrayed. Just as convincing are Richard Gere's suspicions, his discovery of his wife's betrayal, and his barely contained rage over it ("I don't feel well.") What really bogs this otherwise good movie down, however, is the excessive inclusion of their son, who for some odd reason has become their very reason for living. The way middle class family types moon over their children and expect everyone else to be similarly affected is too often both silly and sickening. You see the nice kids who really are cute and well-behaved, and then there are the others, not nearly so cute and possibly downright annoying. Unfortunately, it is usually their parents who are unable to distinguish between the two sorts. This odd looking brat has a head shaped like the tip of a missile. He has far too much to say and is in way too many scenes. In my opinion, he should have been edited out of the flick as much as possible.
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8/10
A Sweet and Poignant Love Story
18 February 2010
An Iowa farmer's lonely Italian wife, left at home for four days while he and the children are off at the Illinois State Fair, has a torrid romance with an adventurous, globe-trotting photographer. Although he reawakens her physically and emotionally, she doesn't really believe it's true love until it is too late. What she does believe is that she has a duty to family ("the little details of her life") that eclipses her right to real happiness.

One year, we went through Winterset, where the story is set, and found it to be a rather strange place. The rolling Iowa countryside, with its lush vegetation, vast, often stormy skies, and enchanting, white gravel roads, has a special charm, to be sure. But much of the state is nearly flat and it is often bleak and depressing, the unpleasant odor emanating from penned hogs and feedlots often hanging heavily in the air. And Iowans struck us as a very provincial lot -- suspicious, very nosy, and at times downright weird. In fact, some of them looked overly inbred, even potentially dangerous. The movie, to its credit, captured the essence of all that quite well. Francesca deserved more than to spend the rest of her life in such a place, and she owed it to Robert, the photographer, if to no one else. Tossing their ashes off the same bridge was a symbolic gesture, at best, and I'm afraid it was a poor substitute for the few short years they might have enjoyed together instead of just four short days in each other's arms. Even after her husband died, Francesca made only a token effort to contact Robert. While I understood her decision to stay with her family, fearing that her love for him could not last if she ran away with him and that she'd blame him for a growing sense of guilt, once her kids were gone and both she and her husband were getting older, I think she should have found him again, if only to reunite temporarily, rather than going to their respective graves never having known what might have happened. Clint Eastwood, the director, was trying to make a realistic ending, but I felt a little let down by it.

That said, the love story was sweet and poignant, certain of the love scenes rather erotic, and other sequences quite moving. I particularly liked the couple's interaction on the second day, after Francesca left the note for Robert and they were hesitantly circling one another, both desperately wanting to make love. Then, the scene in the kitchen, where Francesca blew up and called Robert a shallow phony, I thought was very effective. Finally, we had the climax, where Robert stood in the rain, looking pathetic but sincere, then at the stoplight, he held up traffic for another moment, hoping Francesca would change her mind. She almost did, too, but simply couldn't tear herself away from her husband in time. To his alarm and concern, she broke down in tears as Robert turned left and rolled out of her life, forever. That was some good cinema. At the conclusion of the film, we see an encompassing view of the tidy, productive little farm where Francesca spent her life, giving everything else up to remain there. Did she make the right decision? The scenes where her grown children read her notebooks after her death, trying to understand her final wishes, could have been somewhat better but did not, to an excessive degree, detract from this otherwise excellent effort. In particular, Meryl Streep as Francesca was especially good.
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L'intrus (2004)
5/10
"Immersed in Pure Cinema?" You Must be Joking!
3 February 2010
This is a very peculiar movie which, despite the pretentious musings of others about its hidden meanings and artistic brilliance, adds up to not very much worth watching, in my humble opinion. Yes, there are some pretty scenes in the Alps and in the South Pacific but there is very little acting going on and no writing at all. OK, so the director simply wanted to shoot some expensive film in her very expensive camera with all the rest of her expensive equipment in tow, replete with hefty travel budget, extensive staff, and etc. On a literal shoestring, I do something similar with my Krasnogorsk 3, or should I say, did with my K3 before the current economic conditions put my budding film-making efforts on extended hold. But when I go around shooting interesting footage and allow "the story" (or more accurately the edited montage) to take its own course and unfold of its own accord, which is nothing more romantic or thoughtful than just the way I shoot film, I note that nobody is falling all over themselves to exhibit my work, calling it brilliant, artistic, and ever so poignant and meaningful. Perhaps I need to shoot an entire 100-foot roll on just one landscape. This director, in contrast, can't even explain her own efforts. In the interview portion of the DVD, her inarticulate, meandering explanation of the point, coupled with "meaningful gestures" that don't quite bridge the gap, indicate that she's as clueless about the meaning of this flick as a typical viewer might be and I'm not sure she'd disagree.

And as for Colin Gregoire, am I sick of seeing that odd-looking fellow standing there playing the role as if he's got something interesting going on between his ears. He doesn't. In "The Dreamlife of Angels," he played a convincing heel and so far I see no reason to alter my assessment of his apparently shallow character. I'd much rather see more of his French and Belgian costars in that exceptional movie than more of him but apparently he has better connections than they do in the French movie biz. As for the protagonist in this non-flick, he does little for me until he goes to Tahiti, and I must say, that's a neat hut on the beach he built for himself. I remembered him from his role in "Topaz," where he played a sketch artist who did some moonlighting by interviewing a member of the Castro regime as a favor for his CIA employed father-in-law (John Forsythe) just before it hit the fan in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was much older and heavier in this film, of course, but still recognizable.
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7/10
Pretty Good Movie but I Was Disappointed the Director Did Not Acknowledge His Debt to "Time Out"
31 January 2010
Of course, how could he. He obviously co-opted several aspects from that excellent movie, which was also based on the sensational French case of the self-described "doctor in the World Health Organization" who murdered his family and himself when finally unmasked as a fraud. Emilio refers to his son as "monster," he sings to the radio in his car, he hangs out on park benches, and he specializes in investment schemes to defraud his family and friends -- all of this and more directly lifted from "Time Out," which came out the year before "Nobody's Life." It's too bad because this movie is pretty good on its own, with good acting and writing. Whereas Vincent from "Time Out" is a much more subtle character who seems to have a sense of ethics even though at times it gets twisted into knots, the protagonist here seems devoid of any character at all save for his winning looks and charm. Seriously, the part where he used X-rays that show his mother-in-law's cancer to bilk more money from his father, then utilizes a subtle twist on the same scam to avoid eviction from his fancy home for failing to pay the lease on time -- it's almost too much. The guy has no shame whatsoever, In fact, he's more like the lead in "Stepfather" than some poor schmuck who gets fired and is so humiliated that he can't face the disappointment of his family and friends and feels forced to invent a shiny new life for himself, as Vincent did in "Time Out." Thus, one could feel the tension mounting in "Nobody's Life" and the violent conclusion coming. One thing "Nobody's Life" has that "Time Out" definitely lacked was a love interest apart from the protagonist's trusting wife. It's not hard to understand how the sexy babysitter was able to fascinate and ensnare Emile to the degree that he ignored the danger of her natural curiosity and allowed it to lay bare his less than carefully constructed con. Given the reservations mentioned, this is a pretty good movie that we found entertaining. If you long for something touching on similar elements that goes a might deeper and is more intellectually and spiritually satisfying, I strongly suggest "Time Out."
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1/10
Slow, Pointless, and Sick
21 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
If you put a video camera in the hands of someone with little experience who has no idea what to photograph and why, you might come up with an effort similar to "Twentynine Palms." There's nothing wrong with allowing development of a film to take its own course. Some interesting results may emerge in the hands of an experienced photographer who understands his subject matter, has a good eye for composition, lighting, and action, and who is a genuine artist attempting to communicate something about the human condition to his audience. That goal is not achieved in this film, which the director pretentiously advertises as some sort of minimalist artistic enterprise investigating "the myths of America." One might be reminded of "Deliverance," but that movie attempted a grander subject involving not only the dark side of human nature but Nature, itself. We see here a supposed photographer who painfully tries to evoke John Lennon and who with his French/Russian girlfriend attempts to explore the Mohave Desert in Southern California, supposedly scouting locations for a future shoot but strangely without any cameras along (some photographer he is). He's specifically interested in a section of the desert that is reputed to have some real nutjobs roaming around looking for trouble (a few of whom hail from the local Marine Corps base). Despite the stringing together of numerous interminable takes, nothing of interest happens and the setting is not particularly inspiring, largely because the director doesn't seem to know where or when to shoot his indulgently wasted footage. The couple "enjoys" several sexual interludes in their motel room, in the dumpy motel pool, and in isolated places out in the middle of the desert. They drive around in his brand spanking new Hummer, the wheel of which he turns over to his silly girlfriend rather casually. Ultimately, their pointless wandering gets the two of them into a real pickle because they are doing it in a potentially dangerous place with no way of defending themselves. When they are bushwhacked out in the middle of nowhere and he is brutally dealt with by three wayward scuzbuckets who strangely leave her almost unscathed, we can't develop too much sympathy for him because he's a jerk who has been sexually exploiting her the entire time. We can't develop much sympathy for her, either, because she's obviously nuts and has been acting out at the slightest pretext over the course of this boring non-story. But when she saves his life and he responds by assaulting and brutally killing her before killing himself, we are left with even less than we had before, which is a big fat zero. The shocking conclusion has obviously been tacked on just as the gratuitous sex scenes were, to make something from nothing with minimal effort. This movie didn't have to be made, probably shouldn't have been made, and hasn't added anything to our appreciation of the new French cinema, much of which is brilliant, beautiful, innovative, subtle, and artistic. If this director would like some lessons on how to use all the money he obviously has at his disposal to far greater effect in the American milieu, I'd be happy to lend a hand. He certainly could use it, and frankly, were I employed by the Customs Department, I'd be going over his case with a jaundiced eye. The guy appears to be more than a little twisted.
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The Vikings (1958)
9/10
The Definitive Viking Movie
25 November 2009
Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Janet Leigh (along with a strong supporting cast) helped make this one of the best movies of its kind in the late fifties. The Viking theme music, by itself, is unforgettable. As others have pointed out, the role of bullying, aggressive Einar was tailor-made for a natural athlete like Kirk Douglas, while Ernest Borgnine does an equally convincing job as his ebullient, barbaric father, the Viking king, Ragnar. Tony Curtis as Einar's half-brother Eric hands in a good performance, too, although perhaps not as singular a one as his colleagues. Janet Leigh is especially memorable as the voluptuous temptress, Morgana, whose almost ethereal beauty pits Einar and Eric, already hopelessly at odds, in a battle for her affection, culminating in an exciting fight to the death. At that point, what had been a brutal story suddenly becomes poignant and touching. "Why did he hesitate?" the victor asks Morgana incredulously. A funeral for a Viking king closes out the story as the moving theme rises in the background. This flick is good stuff, a story some of us will never grow tired of.
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Pleasantville (1998)
8/10
"Pleasantville" Reminds Me of the Town We Live in Today
25 November 2009
If you think "Pleasantville" is only about America in the fifties, think again. The abject conformity, the unquestioning belief in conservative propaganda, the appalling ignorance, the complete lack of sophistication, and the simmering bigotry bubbling beneath the surface ready to boil over at a moment's notice -- that more or less describes the town in the movie and it's precisely what our town is like, as well. In fact, the flick gave me the willies just watching it a second time because we are surrounded by people just like that. Our next door neighbors, for example, are straight out of some Nazi nightmare, ready to "dial 911" for the slightest reason. The woman (hardly a lady) spies on us openly and brazenly as if there is nothing wrong with it. Today I watched in bemused horror as she directed a fire truck toward a single car accident that occurred about a block up the street. There was nothing wrong with trying to help, mind you, although they already knew full well where they were going. It was the way she pointed in the direction of the accident dramatically and repeatedly as if she were some sort of self-appointed cop trying to earn her merit badge and her assistance was ever so important. What a butt-kisser and what a Nazi. You had to be there to see it with your own two eyes to understand precisely what I mean. The broad is simply nuts, and in this neighborhood, she's hardly alone. Others call in complaints over really trivial matters that don't concern them in the least. This particularly egregious clique that lives in our immediate vicinity are always chatting one another up like a gaggle of teenagers yet they refuse even to acknowledge our presence. It's not that we want to socialize with them, because we don't, but there is something so strange and weird about those people that it's difficult to describe in a few choice sentences if you don't already understand. Bible-thumping conservatives act as if places like this constitute some sort of real world paradise. What a sorry joke. It's a complete police state and about as far from paradise as one can get. Not to excuse or justify the lefties, we used to live in one of their so-called paradises and it was a complete hellhole, too.
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3/10
Gratuitous Displays of Senseless Brutality
13 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is an odd movie in which scenes of natural predation are pretentiously interspersed between innocuous, routine events, serving as thematic signposts that attempt to define and legitimize the director's morbid fascination with senseless brutality. The disheveled, unkempt, often filthy characters never gain our sympathy. Even those who come closest ultimately become immersed in the brutality of the story. The kindly grandmother casually tricks her youngest son's pregnant paramour into spending the night with a thieving family whom she knows are about to be executed by the murderous villagers. Her strong-willed son, the only person who briefly displays any palpable sentiment, participates in the execution with little concern even for the grandchild that will never be born. The victims aren't merely killed but captured in nets, thrown in a hole, and buried alive, a brutal twist to the supposed necessity of the horrible collective deed. Later, the healthy grandmother bashes her front teeth out so she'll look the part when it's her time to "go to the mountain."

All through the movie, this "final journey" is alluded to as if going off to die on a mountainside up in the clouds, a place of ethereal beauty, is somehow a sacrifice fraught with spiritual significance. Unfortunately, the place where the old people are carried is nothing more than a grotesque, stinking bone yard full of broken skeletons and decomposing bodies, serviced by a flock of fat, greedy crows that pick at the dead and impatiently await their next meal. After hauling his mom up the mountain on a pack-board, the strong son simply leaves her there because she insists once again that is how it must be. Before leaving, he sees his selfish neighbor dropping off his troublesome, disabled father, kicking the terrified old man over a cliff while yelling, "Dad, go to the mountain!" The poor, senile old man, trussed up in a net, goes tumbling down the rocks like a cartwheel, bashing his brains out on the way down.

This depressing story is supposed to uplift us? This is "beautiful? It's a real comment on the emptiness of our times that so many here would even begin to believe that. I'm skeptical of the notion that this film was based on fact. It comes off like an exercise in racist propaganda. I may be wrong but I think it doubtful that even primitive and isolated Japanese peasants were that uncaring and brutal.
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10/10
If "The Seven Year Itch" Isn't a Ten, Then Nothing Is
19 February 2009
Truly, this flick was about as good as movies get. If you turned your head away for a second, you missed something worth seeing. It was that good. Tom Ewell was very funny as the angst-ridden middle-aged man with the lively imagination who was about to live the sexual fantasy of his life. Further, he was ably supported by an amusing cast of characters, most notably the psychiatrist/author, the building's "super," Mr. Krahulik, and Ewell's boss, Mr. Brady. As for Marilyn Monroe, attractively attired in several slinky white dresses, she was indeed "a living doll" as the blonde subletting the upstairs apartment for the summer. Those who said she couldn't act or wasn't too bright were proved dead wrong by her wonderfully crafted performance. How many takes she took or how many times she showed up late for work, in the final analysis, made little difference because this was arguably her best role among several standout performances in a brilliant career. The only other actress who could give her a run for the money back in the mid-fifties was Brigitte Bardot, but "the sex kitten" was still a newcomer then and not very well known outside of France. Marilyn, on the other hand, was at the peak of her career. People often point to the leggy scene with her standing over the subway grate, but the fact is, her varied expressions and poses all through this flick were extremely captivating. When she told Ewell that she wasn't impressed by the sort of man who swaggers into a room, thinking, "I'm so handsome you can't resist me," preferring instead the nervous and worried guy who would treat her with tenderness and understanding, she gave hope to us all (if only until the credits roll). Marilyn actually made it seem plausible. My only real complaint is the way Ewell suddenly turned his back on the promise of a summer of physical and emotional bliss in order to join his wife and son on their vacation in Maine. If he didn't regret THAT peculiar move for the rest of his life, then I must've missed something.
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7/10
Watch Out for the Nut and His Trusty Pick
5 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This was an entertaining flick. The story line was fairly simple but you don't know for sure who the bad guy is until the very end. Meanwhile you are treated to brutal killing after brutal killing as the crazed miner everyone thought was dead and buried comes back to life and kills again. The spree coincides with the return of a young man who's been gone for ten years and everyone assumes it's his fault no matter how much he denies any responsibility. His name is Tom and the sheriff has it in for him because his wife used to be in love with him. The fact that his old man owned the mine that keeps the town alive might have played a role in her choice of love interests. Viewers are the only ones who know that Tom is a nice guy wrongly accused because we witness the real murderer going after him more than once. And we watch some very creative killings, too. The psycho's primary weapon is a pick, which he uses to lethal effect, swinging it through torsos and into heads with equal abandon, putting a sudden end to the pointless lives of his victims -- anyone associated with the mine. Then he tears their bodies open to cut out their hearts.

The most memorable death occurs at the beginning of the flick in a flashback to the original killings. We are told that the killer survived a cave-in at Tunnel #5 by murdering his fellow miners who were using up the scarce oxygen. He wakes up at the hospital and kills everyone he comes across, then goes back to the mine and kills his way through a large group of teens who were dumb enough to have a party there. While butchering these naive young fools one by one, he fends off a sudden attack with a shovel by a spirited blonde, yanking the implement out of her hands, then shoving the blade of it into her mouth. She's standing there looking goggle-eyed, with the shovel protruding from her mouth. Then he pushes the blade home against a supporting beam and the bottom of her head drops to the ground with the rest of her lifeless body. The top of her head, however, is still sitting on the blade of the shovel. It's a great scene. In another scene, the killer rams his trusty pick up through this old guy's jaw and the point of the pick emerges from his mouth. He puts his foot against the guy's chest and yanks his jaw right out of his face along with some other grisly matter. The 3-D effect comes in handy here as gore is sent slapping toward the viewer. Besides these, there are several other instances of extremely effective use of 3-D. You've simply got to see this gore-fest to appreciate the lively imagination and creativity involved in its production. Others have complained about the short nude scene, calling it gratuitous. I disagree. In fact, a little more of the same, utilizing the talents of the film's other attractive actresses, would have made it an even more entertaining movie. The new theater in town sent us free passes in the mail and it was a fun evening, for we don't usually watch horror films and had never before seen a 3-D movie. Enjoy!
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Gran Torino (2008)
8/10
"Gran Torino" Eastwood's Best Effort Since "Unforgiven"
11 January 2009
Without seeing "Gran Torino" another time or two, it will be hard to judge just how good it really is. The movie certainly engages the viewer and tugs at his or her emotions without becoming maudlin or sappy, making it difficult to maintain a dispassionate and objective perspective as to its quality. Despite Walt's excessive boozing, continued smoking, and free use of racial stereotypes and epitaphs, the fact that he has a good heart in there somewhere is immediately evident, if difficult to discern. It takes a spirited young Hmong girl, one of his neighbors, to see right past his carefully erected defenses, and her brother, who is teetering on the brink of going bad, to give him a renewed sense of purpose following the death of his wife. One spot in the film came off a little weak, that being the scene at the barbershop where Walt was attempting to "man up" Tao by encouraging him to relate to others in the same way he does. Further, I think the crusty old Korean War vet came around to getting along with his neighbors just a might too quickly, considering the degree of contempt in which he'd held them before the initial incident that brought them closer. Could he really go over to the party at Sue's invitation and then settle into place rather easily what with all the suspicious and disapproving stares from the other guests? One would think he would just stalk off in disgust. Perhaps time constraints disallowed a more gradual lessening of suspicion and hostility. Finally, I suspect Walt shouldn't have had to defend the good Hmong from the Hmong gang. After all, they are not babies but obviously are a tough people and should have taken care of those punks in their own quiet way. These minor criticisms aside, I found the movie quite moving and Walt to be easily one of Eastwood's best characterizations. He deserves an Academy Award nomination for the role and probably the Oscar, itself. The young Hmong girl, Sue, also deserves recognition. We didn't fully realize her importance until the end of the movie. Her strong spirit is every bit as inspiring as Walt's.
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100 Kilos (2001 Video)
5/10
Not a Bad "Life in the Hood" Flick
22 December 2008
In contrast to the only other comment about this movie, I found it somewhat entertaining and in possession of fairly decent production values compared to other "gangsta" flicks. In fact, some of the principal actors and actresses managed to gain our sympathy, despite the fact that they were pushing dope to make a quick fortune. The main character, Rick, wasn't a bad actor (except for the scene where he met Veronica and the scene when he asked her to live with him). The "pimp/killer" who got the guys started on the road to selling dope did a good job with his portrayal as the crack smoking middle-aged man who advised the guys never to use their product or they would end up going down. Rick's second in command wasn't bad, either, and Tee Tee, who took up the slack once the primaries were sent to the Big House, gave a convincing performance as the smart young bad guy with a sense of decency who was set up by an undercover agent posing as his sexy girlfriend. Several other attractive females graced the flick, as well, including a temptress at the swimming pool named Co-Co (Jamaica Charley), Rick's girlfriend, Veronica (Crystal Scales) and the pimp/killer's lady friend who ventured out into the living room wearing nothing but a see-thru top when the guys came over to seek his advice about the drug trade.

Some of the shots of L.A. from the air were good and the cinematography in general was of fairly decent quality. Finally, the theme at the end sticks in the mind. "I'm a hustla, hustla, rich niggah, I'm a hustla hustla, yo niggah, I'm a hustla, hustla..." I watched this flick a second time tonight and thought it more notable than at my first viewing several months ago.
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Alexander (2004)
4/10
Except for the Bedroom Scene with Rosario Dawson, the Remake of Alexander Doesn't Measure Up to the Original with Richard Burton
28 September 2008
And that about says it all. I've begun to read several of the comments that say this is a great movie and that one must be intelligent enough or well-read enough to appreciate it, but hey, I know pretense when I see it and this movie is pretentious. Oliver Stone is a gifted director who has done several interesting projects, but at the same time, he has gained a rep for playing fast and loose with inconvenient facts for the sake of dramatization. Where is the historical justification for painting Alexander as a fairy? Clearly, in this flick, he is depicted as just that. You can dress it up or excuse it all you want, but in my book, his best buddy and he were a couple of fruits no matter how you slice it. In the original "Alexander" with Richard Burton, the Oedipal relationship with his mother was explored in detail, including it's effect on his relationship with his father. In that movie, they were more directly tied to the murder of Philip. But although he had a lifelong friend whom he ended up killing for making drunken insults, there was nobody with whom he was constantly hugging or gazing lovingly into one another's eyes, and most certainly, no male dancer whom he kissed and sauntered off to bed with. As such, that movie was a better one.

Strangely, the wedding night scene with Rosario Dawson is one of the most erotic sequences I've seen in some time. Man, is she put together nicely. I had to wonder how this emotional, fruity guy was able to conquer most of the known world and suddenly become the stud of the week with this hot young Persian chick, but somehow, Farrell pulled it off, even though it didn't make much sense. Had the rest of this overblown flick been that good, I'd be giving it a ten rather than a four. I also thought the sound track was interesting but pretentious. I liked the part where he tamed the big horse immediately, but knew the beautiful animal was going to die at some point and was sad to see it when it finally happened, although I wondered how the same horse made it unscathed from his childhood into his twenties, where it carried him through countless battles. It was also peculiar that this person, who was depicted as becoming a ruthless tyrant, could inspire his armies to such dramatic achievements. Nonetheless, some of the battle footage was quite good, if as others have said, it was often confusing. Why they put the assassination sequence of Philip toward the end of the movie, I'm not sure, for it was important to the development of the story.

Otherwise, "Alexander" had some interesting aspects and I can't join those who feel that it was a complete waste of time. The story is certainly deserving of a serious, historically accurate rendering, and I'm surprised that so many claim that this version is just that. It was too confusing and disjointed, plus all the allusions to homosexuality, together made it a somewhat failed effort. Frankly, Colin Farrell is no Richard Burton. In my opinion, Stone should have explored the relationship between Alexander and Roxanne a great deal more. As I said, there were some real sparks flying between Farrell and Dawson, whom I think did an excellent job as the beautiful Persian temptress. As for Farell's gay lover, no thanks, not interested, and I don't believe there is any solid historical basis for it. These Hollywood guys, these days, surrounded by gay men, seem to think they have to put that crap in just about every movie, justified or not. I'd say that's got a lot more to do with this particular interpretation of Alexander's sexuality than anything else. Stone should have left it out.
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Dan in Real Life (I) (2007)
1/10
Putrid Schmaltz Taken to the Level of Abject Obscenity
6 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Before I start tearing this piece of rotten slop a new one, let me first admit that I didn't see the whole picture. There is no way on earth that I could physically sit through even half of it. I was taking a nap when my wife put this drivel on the DVD player after I'd seen the first twenty minutes the night before and tossed it aside with disgust. I awoke from my nap, hearing all sorts of noise. It sounded like they were having a block party outside the house, but no, it was this incredibly sick movie turned up a tad too loud out in the living room. The so-called extended "family" it featured were having some sort of non-stop romp outdoors, so I got up and sat down to see just what the old lady found so darn interesting that she had to wake me up in the middle of some much-needed sleep. My senses were assaulted right from the start. Some youthful brat with her hip-hugger pants down so low that half her butt was showing was deeply and passionately in love with some cow-eyed hispanic kid and her spineless dad thought he ought to intervene (perhaps to keep her from being knocked-up within the next week). He sends Romeo packing for home and his daughter runs after the car, screaming and crying. She falls down, suicide her only option at this point, then screams back at Pop, "You're a murderer of love!" Say what? Are they serious? Proving that it actually WAS possible, the flick went seriously downhill from there.

We watch as this excuse for a father goes from daughter to sister to mother being told what a complete nebbish he is (just for being male, it seems) and he sucks it all in and keeps asking for more. I wanted to vomit. The oh-so-sensitive look in his eyes made me want to smash him right in the face. Geez, I thought that sort of muck went out when being "an achingly sensitive guy" was all the rage, you know, before even the most ardent feminists got sick of all the spineless yuppie wimps who took their nonsense sitting down and never stood up like a half a man. I had to keep pausing the DVD player to voice my extreme displeasure. Talk about matriarchy, it was enough to make a guy blow chunks for ten minutes, straight.

The girls give Pop a scrap book containing a pic of his tragically dead wife. You expect him to start sobbing but he "manfully" holds back the tears and just looks more sensitive than before. Boy, that thoughtful gesture really got to him.

I forgot to mention the worst part of all. After the interminable football game, or whatever it was that woke me up, they have an amateur hour indoors in which all the little brats and their incredibly forgettable parents perform for one another in full costume. At his brother's urging, Dad and bro do a duet on the guitar, and although bro just can't seem to remember the words, Pop knows every last line by heart, then for the chorus at the end, bro is suddenly inspired. Apparently, the song expresses his innermost feelings like nothing in his silly life ever has before. He's twisting and turning and shouting out those poignant words like there's no tomorrow. Don't get your hopes up, though, because the fun's far from over. As if that weren't bad enough, then comes a game of charades. Bro's love interest has had enough of this silly nonsense and tries to escape with bro hot on her heels trying to persuade her to stay. Ya see, she really has the hots for Dad instead of Dad's bro. Life is complicated and inconvenient that way. The entire family lines up at the window and watches the tearful parting of the mismatched couple. You'd think somebody in that godawful brood might realize that privacy is required now and then, but no, not in that house, where everyone needs to know every tiny detail about everyone else just to make sure nobody gets away with any proscribed individualism.

Dad sneaks off after his brother's girl in his Volvo station wagon and they meet at a bowling alley where they have the place all to themselves. The manager even dims the lights just for them because they are making such a commotion that it would be really embarrassing if anyone else saw them do it. You'd think the management might object to their throwing bowling balls all over the place, but no, they're having too much fun and this must be a special bowling alley that's in business just for them. Wait! You guessed it. In comes the family and bro is royally irked that Dad stole his girl. We already know he's really emotional by the way he belted out that Bee Gees song, so he punches Dad right in the nose. That was all I could take. Out of the DVD player came this disgusting, schmarmy piece of tripe and it's going' right back to the library to serve as an emetic for someone else. Anyone who thinks this horrible movie is good ought to be taken out to the nearest field and executed.
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Away from Her (2006)
7/10
A Nice Movie but a Woefully Inadequate Depiction of a Horrible Way to Die
17 August 2008
I didn't bother to read any of the positive remarks about this movie because what the harshest critics have to say about its flawed depiction of the disease process is essentially correct and constitutes the film's most glaring flaw. It presents a woefully inadequate picture of Alzheimer's Disease, as anyone who has had to deal with it personally can well attest. I have read, however, that attachments between demented patients do occur and also that the disease brings out different aspects of the victim's personality, as one might expect -- people tending to anger in their normal lives become even more bitter and angry once they become afflicted. Similarly, naturally flirtatious or promiscuous people tend to exhibit disturbing exaggerations of that behavior, therefore, the story isn't entirely implausible, just unlikely. It is a nice movie when appreciated on its merits, alone. The main problem is that the writer and director used the disease merely as a prop to develop the plot, which didn't reflect reality convincingly.

Others have alluded to the incontinence, one of the most dehumanizing aspects of the disease, or the mental confusion and the increasing inability to speak sensibly. Another aspect is so-called short-term memory loss and its immediate effects. For example, I remember my father, a highly intelligent and purposeful man before he was diagnosed with the disease, sitting at the dinner table with his arms on his lap and banging them on the underside of the table because he forgot the table was there and he was trying to use his arms to make a gesture. He did this over and over again, each time saying, "Ouch!" then immediately forgetting that he'd just hurt himself and doing the exact same thing yet another time. It seemed to me that his arms were taking a real bruising but nothing much could be done about it. That was following the first round of serious deterioration in his mental faculties, when he seemed to be in good humor and had not yet turned bitter and angry and paranoid or become incontinent and far more confused. Just a year later, after more serious deterioration, he was dashing out of the house and running around my parents' wealthy neighborhood with his clothes put on wrong, scaring people he came across and being picked up and brought home by the police. The combination of not knowing what they are doing while knowing just enough to be both very slippery and a real danger to themselves is a very disturbing aspect of the disease. Only the wealthiest families like the Reagans can afford to keep the patient at home and hire expensive, live-in care. Most people are forced to sell the patient's home in order to afford the less-expensive care facility. Alzheimer's Disease is a terrible way to die, perhaps worse than cancer because it goes on for so long and just gets worse and worse. And these facilities, in concert with the doctors, treat the patients with powerful, potentially deleterious drugs in order to keep them under control, anxious to get them to the final stages more quickly where they are easier to manage and less likely to jump up and head for the door. In fact, the institutional staff obviously prefers them when they are further along, that is, in a wheelchair that can be parked, facing the wall for hours at a time. The loved ones of certain patients will bribe the staff members to give special (read minimal) attention to their afflicted relatives, while less fortunate patients are more or less ignored. The movie didn't adequately deal with this seamy reality, but then again, movies seldom do deal with death in a truly realistic and convincing manner. They tend to romanticize it or soft pedal it, which is what was done here.
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3/10
Alternate Ending: Shoot Hanks (Instead of Hooch) and Give the Dog to Someone Else
29 July 2008
But not to any of the folks in this insipid movie. If you think Tom Hanks is a hunk and you long to see him in his underwear, endlessly horsing around with a big lovable dog, then this flick's for you. If, on the other hand, Tom Hanks at his nauseatingly over-the-top worst makes you wanna gag, then you should avoid this movie at all costs, except for the fact that the dog is so cute. And if Hollywood's PC routine leaves you cold, better have a parka handy cuz this piece of fluff has PC written all over it, from Hanks' endlessly affable black partner to the kindly Asian grocery guy to the fawning female vet who (unlike most vets I've come across) really loves animals and is desperate to get Hanks in the sack, to the altar, and siring her brood as quickly as possible. The humor in this farce, aside from that provided by the eminently watchable dog, falls absolutely flat, particularly that which emanates unceasingly from its thoroughly unfunny human star, Mr. Hanks. How can a minimally talented clown like ole Tom become a multi-millionaire? He seems completely unable to project a sense of simple dignity, and for that has been made rich and successful by Hollywood, in particular, and American society, in general. The only flick I ever liked with Hanks in it was "Every Time We Say Goodbye," with Christina Marsillach, where he plays an American flier in the RAF during WWII who falls for an enchanting Sephardic Jewess in Jerusalem. Little did we know then that Hollywood's favorite director, Steven "sugary pap" Spielberg, was getting set to foist Hanks off as some sort of "Greatest Generation" wonder boy and be roundly applauded by all the clueless phonies in the Academy. Geez, is THAT ever a stretch.
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About Schmidt (2002)
8/10
"About Schmidt" Skewers Modern American Society
6 July 2008
Having watched this movie about four times, I've been loathe to comment on it because my assessment keeps changing, but having read some of the other remarks (most of which are off the mark, in my view), I decided to say a few words about it. The first time I saw "About Schmidt," I thought, what the hell does Jack Nicholson know about a man like this? Can you see him with a woman like Helen? Absolutely not. Schmidt is the antithesis of Nicholson, which is why his performance is so good. He plays a guy who has sublimated all his natural drives and feelings to fit in with all the Northern European conformists in the conservative bastion of Omaha, Nebraska. If you've never lived in the Midwest, let alone in Nebraska, you might not fully appreciate the setting. The first shot in the movie shows blandoid Omaha the way it really is. Creativity does not go over big there, except on Christmas, when the lighting displays all over town are very impressive. Otherwise, it's strictly dullsville. In the late nineties, when we were there, there seemed to be an inordinate number of gays, police chases, and gang shootings for such a thoroughly boring city, where they have all these big box stores that sell exactly the same merchandise from store to store. The countryside is not pretty; the nicest country in the area is right where the city is built, so all of it is going to be developed. I could go on and on about Omaha, which experiences about two weeks out of the year where it isn't either extremely cold or extremely hot, but I think you get the picture. It's saving grace is that there is an interesting diversity of birds, insects, and amphibians in the region. Too bad the human beings all look exactly the same.

So Schmidt is this conformist monkey who just retired from an insurance company. Don't get me started on the insurance industry, that bunch of megalomaniacs who are well on their way to bleeding the entire country dry "just to be safe." He is completely pussy-whipped, doing almost everything his wife decrees, even sitting down to pee so he won't splatter on the rim just because she insists upon it. It's pathetic. When she suddenly drops dead, he is at loose ends and doesn't even know how to feed himself, let alone how to keep their big house clean. It's more than mere depression, one suspects. He actually IS helpless without her telling him what to do. The one ray of hope in his life is his snap decision to sponsor a poor child in Africa, the correspondence between himself and the child (through his actual caretakers in Africa) being the single vein of truth in all the phoniness of his life. His daughter, about to marry a complete jerk out in Denver, has a few things to say to pop when he attempts to stop her from "making a terrible mistake." She's as willful as her mother and a very interesting character when she gets her dander up. I especially liked the part after the funeral where she objects to the fact that her father had bought her mother "the cheapest casket" he could find.

The movie takes us to Denver for the wedding and we meet Schmidt's in-laws, a quirky bunch, to be sure. They are led by Kathy Bates, another "strong woman" right out of "Misery" who has all but castrated her well-meaning ex-husband, whom she continues to bully even though he has remarried a pleasant oriental woman. These characterizations ought to make an impression on all the "post-feminist," hardboiled American women out there, most of whom think they know what's best and that their spineless, stupid spouses are only fit for taking orders, but you know it will take much more than a good movie to make that one sink in. In the end, Schmidt realizes what a fool he's been, even though there's nothing he can do about it. As the movie wraps, the caretaker of his foster child expresses sincere appreciation for what he is doing for the boy and the child sends him a picture he's drawn that shows them smiling and holding hands. Schmidt breaks down in tears. Finally, someone seems to appreciate him, even if it is a child he has never met. We wonder what will happen next in Schmidt's dreary life.
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