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Believed little except the acting.
9 January 2018
I give this movie 3 stars only. The story (concept) was intriguing, but The writing was muddled, and dialogue often made no sense. The casting and acting were spot on but The directing and editing were strangely bad. I mean in the shot to shot, the cutting, the way the scenes followed each other. Logic and clarity went out the window.

I have only one rule when I am being entertained. (Incorporating style always,) do I BELIEVE what I'm watching? Throughout this movie, I kept being pulled up short. The creature's costume, why no attempt to integrate the face with scales? oh no, mustn't completely hide the actor's handsome American features. Our heroine, was she to be pitied? No, she had friends and sympathy all around. Not downtrodden. These cleaning ladies, since when were cleaning ladies in public spaces chatted up by absolutely everybody as "equals" even in the toilet? I could go on, and on, and on, but cannot be bothered. This was an ego trip by one person, the movie maker. I comment that people are afraid to come out and criticise for fear of sounding ignorant. I forecast that it will do no business at the box offce.
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Dunkirk (2017)
Where's a Narrative with Connected Tissue?
2 August 2017
Mr. Nolan thinks that he can break the basic rules of story telling without fear because, well, he is Christopher Nolan.

One of the first rules is you have to CARE about your leading characters. Does this happen here? Did we ever get to know anything about the characters' character? No. We look at the thin-lipped dour-faced fave of British drama, the Right Hon, no, Lord, not yet, Sir, Kenneth Branagh. He, along with everyone else, is but a puppet for Mr. Nolan to pull the strings of.

As Documentary with punch, OK. As Drama, definitely not. I felt I'd been cheated out of a clear story line, a connected narrative.

Mr. Nolan might benefit from examining the book for all screenwriters, Robert McKee's STORY (substance, structure, style and principles of screen writing).

As I left the Imax Cinema on Citiwalk at Universal last night, a feast of Forrest Gump shrimp filled the empty space in my stomach, if not my assaulted brain.
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Incident in a Small Town (1994 TV Movie)
You need to have BEEN there!
19 April 2010
Ever been in Family Court? I have, more than once.

You need to have been there to appreciate this film, which goes into the complex relationships and differing points of view of the participants in our legal system. What goes on behind the scenes?

You also see why our legal system doesn't work. It has little to do with the subject, the protagonist. In murder trials, they are never there because they're always dead! But they do move the story along. Meanwhile, the antagonists are, really, all the rest of the cast, and we see how they make a lot of money realizing their successful careers (how much is never mentioned, of course.)

Director Del Mann and writer Cindy Myers know their way around this material, and make full use of this knowledge. And it was cast beautifully.

Notice the jealousy and rivalry between the judges, who claim proprietary ownership of "their" courtrooms. Notice the conflicts of interest that infects everything that takes place, especially between the lawyers. They all wear their masks. Here we see judges who become part of the case!

So, watch this film, and LEARN, if you're about to seek a restraining order. I was able to see my own case in a different light because of this film. The principles of Greek drama are fully utilized, and the innocent members of the public will be in for surprises and enlightenment.

You may be left with the feeling, if you reach catharsis, that there must be a better (and not illegal) way to settle family disputes. You will also be left with the resolve to stay away from lawyers, judges, and courts, if you're looking for closure.
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No SS Bismarck
9 March 2010
This is a footnote, really, but one wonders why the film makers kept putting their actors on the SS Bismarck for their frequent trips between the USA and Germany. That beautiful liner, the biggest in the world at the time, was built by the Germans during the first world war, and handed over to the British in war reparations afterwards. She last sailed as the Bismarck in 1922, and after that sailed for the White Star Line as their flagship SS Majestic, ending her days during the second world war as the Royal Navy training ship, HMS Caledonia. She caught fire and sank at her moorings in 1940.

So, at the time this film took place, there was no SS Bismarck, but there was HMS Caledonia.
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The Reader (2008)
Exciting reviews!
22 February 2010
Sat through it, catching short periods of snooze time, and woke up near the end, over at last. Wondered more about how Kate's husband felt about his wife exposing herself to mouthwatering hordes of oglers, some of whom actually criticized the quality of her charms, than to caring about what was going on story-wise. Had to read these reviews to find out what I'd missed.

This may be off-topic, but what better film to comment on the fact that professional reviewers are way less interesting than the weighing in of user views seen here, as honest and politically incorrect as you can get. Time is close when we will not need or want professional reviews. They anyway tell us more about the reviewer than about the film under scrutiny, and the pros must lead very narrow and boring lives.

I have a confession. I've chosen the "hated it" setting as being more rewarding to start the examination of a movie. I've seldom read such original and colorful material. Exciting!
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Blow-Up (1966)
Show it or stow it!
14 February 2010
I saw this film tonight on TCM, after seeing it, like the adoring Roger Ebert says he did in his review, back when it first came out. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. Why? Well, when Roger says Sarah Miles plays a "neighbor across the way who lives with a painter", and I saw that Sarah played Hemming's wife, who thinks nothing of being caught in bed with another man, then I have problems with the plot, and problems with the sympathetic non-critical observations of a famous critic.

It's the job of a story teller to always make everything believable in very basic ways that we all understand, and that requirement never changes, even if it's a cartoon, a horror movie, an action movie, or a farce. But this film ignores that basic rule. I know, as a photographer, that there is no way that 35mm film shot with a Nikon can be blown up beyond what reveals only silver halide grains. That Hemmings, whose look-at-me style of acting turns me off anyway, would make huge prints to put on a wall, and then check for detail with a magnifying glass, well, even an amateur would know not to try that.

You need to be a big fan if you're going to fill in character details not shown on the screen. Frankly, I wasn't going to do their work. Show it or stow it! Acting that portrays emotion by way of neutral expression in the hope that the audience will provide the interpretation, is lazy and treats the audience with contempt. The shelf life of the "trendy" label expired decades ago. Yes, the deep focus camera work was always a beautifully designed diversion.
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Rear Window (1954)
But did you believe it?
28 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Never saw the whole thing through until tonight, on TCM. And I must say, I again got impatient with Hitchcock's penchant for manipulating reality, as if it didn't matter, in setting up his character conflicts towards suspenseful endings. It's all to do with believing what you see. One should not take for granted any audiences, all of whom are familiar with real life.

The film begins with a long long establishing panning shot of the location and ends up in tight close-up of our hero at the window, which was fine, but why was the camera movement so shaky? Surely smooth pans were achievable back in 1954, weren't they?

Then silly little things annoyed me. Like, did New Yorkers ever leave their front doors unlocked? When I lived there in the early sixties, we installed police locks, because regular locks were deemed too easy for intruders to break in. And what was with the SLR camera and its huge long lens that Stewart kept peering through? He wasn't taking pictures, he seemed to be using it as a telescope in preference to his powerful binoculars.

Dramatic writing skill consists largely of giving information necessary to the plot in well disguised ways. When we first meet Grace Kelly, the method used to reveal her character's name was by her pointing out bits of furniture after herself - embarrassing. And one could not believe her sudden conversion from scorn to belief in Stewart's suspicions, nor her journey to dig up the murderer's garden while wearing the long flowing "new look" fashion, nor her break-in climbing ladders to get into his apartment.

What I'm saying is that paying attention to real-life situations to serve the setting up of dramatic conflict has always been a challenge for film-makers, and if done successfully can only serve to make the finished product much more acceptable - suspension of disbelief being key. Hitchcock too often reveals a contempt for this, preferring to manipulate the small details of real life, in order to serve what he sees as his higher purpose.
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Into the Storm (2009 TV Movie)
Oh No!
8 June 2009
Sorry, but as an Englishman who lived through WWII in London, with a thorough awareness of the Churchill persona and character, I found this fictional depiction to be a mockery of him and those years. To begin with, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is ten years too young for the part, indicated a lot of petty grumpiness, lacked the innate humor which was so much a part of the man, and to be more blunt from an acting standpoint, failed to inhabit his character. And Janet McTeer did not find the tenderness and devotion which we know existed between Clemmie and her husband, and seemed instead to be on the brink of divorce. Not to forget the scripter who offered strange choices. I found Churchill's supposed preoccupation with speech rehearsings to be particularly annoying. I suppose American viewers will like it, but what do they know.

Thank God there exists a six part documentary series on You Tube, where I was able to spend a little time to cleanse my mind of this Churchill travesty.
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Plan 10 is with us
24 July 2008
It can be said that there should be a connection between any form of pop culture and the time in which it exists, and that a movie particularly has a duty to address that relationship. But I don't think Ed Wood, the writer and director of Plan 9 From Outer Space, ever entertained that particular thought, at least there seems to be little evidence of it. But the idea is not to be denied. Watching this movie again after many years, I found myself laughing (this time somewhat mirthlessly) even more. Not at Ed Wood's blinkered imaginings as I once did, but because I suddenly realized that it had at last found the aforesaid relationship.

We are living today in his alien world. The beings from Outer Space have finally taken over, and he is with us again to direct, this time in the form of George W.
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A Cut too Far
21 July 2008
I watched this movie on TCM last night, all excited expectation, having last seen it (twice) in its memorable 1957 release in Toronto. I told my wife, who hadn't seen it before, to watch for the thrilling long tracking shot, no cuts, where Veronika is seen on a bus on her way to find her Boris. In a hand-held frame that certainly predates the modern Steadicam, the shot then pulls back up and cranes (pun unintended) over the street as she exits the bus, and darts among the tanks to cross the road. THEN I remember that, no cuts, we follow her up close to the fence as she peers through, anxiously looking for him, but does not find him. But we do continue to follow Veronika as she searches the faces of harried recruits and their emotionally racked women, all extras, and each one a gem of riveting Stanislavskian behavior. How, one wonders, did Kalatozov and his cameraman Urusevsky set up this extraordinary sequence. But what did I see in this version? After crossing the street dodging the tanks, the scene abruptly ended, and cut back to scenes at the apartment, before continuing to the soldiers and their families at the fence. Seems to me that this film was not only restored, but also re-edited. What a downer!
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Beginnings, Middles, and Endings
29 January 2008
It's next day, and this first-time viewer can only articulate a baffling impression, rather than an analysis, of this movie-going experience and this current tendency when making movies. Michael Clayton, executive produced and starring George Clooney, and produced by and co-starring Sydney Pollack, has an interesting plot and interesting characters, but it falls victim to what one can only assume is today's approach, which is dispense with clear exposition, and launch instead in the middle of the story with important but garbled narrative information against a background of unrelated scenery. Obscurity seems and seemed to be the intent until the end, which at last dealt with dramatic clarity. The audience was able to get up and go out with the feeling that they had witnessed an exciting yarn and are content to forget that they had spent most of the movie trying to guess what was going on.

Oh I get it now, that same audience, if they really want to know, will be forced to take the holistic view, and attend the movie at least 2 more times to figure it all out (who did exactly what to exactly who exactly when), and incidentally increase ticket sales threefold. For many of us, it's back to the old b & w's!
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A Classic Forever
25 December 2007
Xmas Day, 2007, and I find myself watching this delight yet again. Fox TV decides to show the original 1947 Edmund Gwenn version, alternating it all day with the 1994 Attenborough modernization. I want to state here and now that the Gwenn film is not simply the best, but it could be used as a primer for anyone studying dialogue and screenplay structure. It was cast perfectly, a light touch with a good old-fashioned story full of uplifting ideas on a universal theme.

It's interesting, not to say astonishing, that the writer/director, George Seaton, should have wanted to make stabs at improving his own original, as he did by contributing to the writing of the forgettable '59 and '73 television adaptations, and to the '94 film version.

This film classic should be the last to be seen, in order to overwrite and obliterate any memory of the others.
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An issue filled film
14 October 2007
Sacha Baron Cohen, is he the British Robin Williams or what (this isn't a question.)

This seemingly low budget film was made in the manner of Candid Camera, except this had a visible camera crew keeping straight faces shooting an unsuspecting unpaid uncontracted non-union supporting cast of thousands. The question raises its ugly head, did they all sign releases? SAG minimum perhaps for those whose voices were clearly heard speaking meaningful words, but what if they refused the bait? Can't be. Ordinary-people ignorant, but isn't that risky? Are the producers and distributors open to a class action suit? We'll see. This, too, is America.

Oh yes, I thought that all these kept-in-the-dark people delivered first class completely believable performances aka natural behavior, no actory shtik to be seen anywhere. Ensemble performances professionals should envy and audit. Indeed, we have already learned that anyone can act in this age of digitally made movies, and the trick for those without training is to find out what's stopping them. Professionals be warned!

2 questions: Why does one have to be rich educated Jewish to get away with anti-semitic comedy bits? And how did this movie deal with all of these to me more interesting social and business issues, with the grosses going well into nine figures worldwide?
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The Queen (2006)
Leave them alone
2 September 2007
There was a time, I believe, when to depict any living member of Britain's Royal Family was simply not allowed, whether by law or Royal Proclamation I'm not sure. I guess the rules were changed somewhere down the line. What hasn't changed is the Royal Family's inability to respond, to fight back, publicly, their only refuge being to "rise above." Revenge is not in their arsenal.

Brits and Canadians and New Zealanders and Aussies, and others, will tell you that while their feelings may be mixed (in the same way that they can be with parents), the very idea of Royalty, uniting together a Kingdom, with its central theme of continuity and tradition and dignity and its separation from the ever-changing politics of the day, make for an emotional tear-in-the-eye response from those who have ever been connected to, for example, soldiers or sailors or airmen. Symbols abound; HMS, the Red Duster, Royal Mail, products produced "By Appointment to ...", the Changing of the Guard, "Great" Britain, the Opening of Parliament, the Christmas speech, the Victoria Cross, Westminster Abbey, the myriad name appendages of Sir and Lord, and other honors (admittedly not always deserved.)

In short, for reasons that are hugely subjective and incapable of being pinned down, we, and I am one of the majority who wouldn't have it any other way, are left with National Pride. Being so, a fictional and personalized account of current royal life promoted by an opportunistic for-profit commercial enterprise, is an affront. And it's not a matter of whether such accounts of royal goings-on of the living are truthful - as if anyone knows - but to pretend to know is a lie and an impertinence. Their interactions should remain private - and a mystery, until such time as they pass into history. Then, and only then, have at them by all means. Portrayals such as "The Queen" are, simply put, ill-intentioned and damaging, especially if they are well made; they contribute only negative input. Unless we want to end up a floundering Republican mess, like the U.S. of A.
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Still the funniest
23 June 2007
Here it is June 2007, and this viewer still eats dinner in front of the TV enjoying Curb, followed by Extras, both of which are multi-layered and watchable many times over, oftentimes catching things previously missed. It says a lot for the new way to record snatches of seeming real life; multi video cameras, creative actors and casting, and above all busy editors. Based on well motivated and strong story ideas. Result: No false notes.

My only carp is that without these wonderful improvisationally creative and probably underpaid supporting actors it wouldn't work, and to roll their credits by so fast so that one has no chance to actually read them, is petty and mean-spirited on the part of the supervising producers. As though they'd really rather not mention them, except for contractual commitments to the performer unions. C'mon!
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A great life-affirming anti-war film.
10 February 2007
The story of below stairs strife in an English seat of power post World War 1 is apparently lost to most audiences (judging by some user comments), who prefer to see citizens express their inner emotional life spreadeagled for all to see. And if these people think that that's hunky dory, then we can watch with amused horror the current events (as of February 2007) of some US citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights, refusing to bear arms in the Middle East when, again, it's too late. Tell that to the Marines, and maybe to the hiflyers of NASA too.

Lord Darlington makes his point where he says that the allied victors, having got their man (Germany) on the ground after the first war, proceeded to impoverish the country, taking as spoils their treasure, their navy, their currency and their dignity. And out of the Versailles treaty was born a terrible resolve for revenge in the form of Adolph Hitler. And one can understand Darlington's (and Chamberlain's) attempts to appease so as to avoid the horrors to come. Millions dead and a nuclear holocaust. Was there another way, way before it was too late?

Against this very political backdrop a human story is played out (masterfully one might add), about the sacrifices made by obedient servants who understandably do not see it as their place to question representatives of visiting international leaders. Very few servants (soldiers?) today attempt this, and those that do, end up in the brig or serving life without the possibility of parole or dead. Please!

Just as James Cameron knew that only a fool would attempt to retell the story of the Titanic disaster in pure documentary terms and created fictional characters for us to gain insight, so Ishiguro, Jhabvala, and Ivory have done so in this story, where we see the personal sacrifices made by those who have no choice but to blindly follow their leaders, denying their right to a missed home life, which still goes on to this day.

To discuss this film without discussing the political background intelligently rather than derisively is such a waste of the film-makers' efforts.

Hear the Politics, not just the Upstairs Downstairs!
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Scared out of my wits!
7 June 2006
Saw this film at the old Capital Cinema, Broadway, Mill Hill London NW7 during the dark days of the blitz, age about eight or nine. I don't remember the comedy at all. Just the scary-ness, and the eyes through the letterbox. Kept me awake for many nights, not helped by the sound of ack-ack gunfire in the distance. Caught it again in recent years, and couldn't understand what I saw in it then. I was unable to look at it in a different light, I guess, or didn't want to. Oh for those memories! I wonder these days whether small kids really get scared any more. They're only allowed to see parentally-correct movies at a young age, which means watching the creators exercise their imaginings, which means no work for young brains to fill in. Pity.
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Illuminata (1998)
Not for "Private People"
13 August 2004
Just saw this on TV. As a lifelong professional actor, and therefore of "the other world" (the other other world is everybody else, the "private people"), I want to say how it seemed to me to be made for actors only. Full of wondrous insights, dealing with the shallowness of actors, and their ever present self-concern that maybe where real life is concerned, they just don't "get it", but want to. (Hence our "method" approach to the craft.)

For me it has everything that I've never seen before in films that purport to be about the theatre, but in actuality pander to the ignorance of Private People about things of the theatre, and lie. These guys really don't care about that, but would rather stick to the truth. Yes, it's a huge "in" joke. Like the no-no of breaking up on stage, and destroying the fourth wall, not supposed to do that, it upsets the audience.

This exploration of that unreal world will always stand for me to be definitive. If you're one of the outsiders, don't bother, you won't understand. If this sounds elitist, it's not meant to be. Put it down to an actor's insecurity. But enjoy it for its beauty if you wish, don't look for more.
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Analysis of plot confusion
11 July 2004
Having seen the film more than once and again last night, I remain confused, and if I'm just being dumb, missed something, I wish someone would point it out. I'm talking about the plot, now, not the performances, which I thought were great. But the plot? Now, I take it that the soldier victim was murdered by having a poisoned rag stuffed in his mouth, during the act of what was supposed to be a hazing. And the 2 marines who did it certainly had a motive, because the victim was reporting one of them for unauthorized acts with a gun over the border of Guantanamo into Cuba. OK. Well, if it was a poisoned rag, and an expert witness, a doctor, said it was (despite the usual expected denials of the defense attorney), then are we to believe that the POISONING was ordered from the top? Hardly. We're led to believe that the HAZING was ordered from the top (the Code Red order). Would these marines have hazed without the so-called Code Red? One might think so, except for the fact that we are told they were completely duty-bound to military discipline, and would not execute a hazing without authority from above. Well, why introduce the rag as poisoned in the first place? Murder is not part of military discipline, is it? Authority does occasionally turn its back on hazing as sometimes beneficial, and whether or not Nicholson's General authorized it or allowed it, or even ordered it, does not seem to me to be such a horrendous act. But if the marines did poison the victim, then they should have been convicted of murder, and not have gotten away with it.

Was the Doctor giving false evidence under oath? Can't believe that he was part of a cover-up conspiracy. So the ending simply left me feeling very frustrated (and limp), that the writers had not thought this through. And more, how was it that the victim was on his way home at the time on the grounds that he wanted out of military service? Is the military usually so permissive towards unhappy soldiers? No, this 3 hour movie became all trees at the expense of the wood. In entertainment, the established wood should always be perfect, everything else is detail.
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The Last Ten Days of Adolph Hitler
29 July 2003
I saw this obscure German film in Toronto in 1956, my first exposure to Oskar Werner. A "sleeper" of a movie for me, but so long ago and it seems never to be seen again. The topic has been treated many times but never, I think, to such effect. The last days in the bunker are entirely through the wondering subjective eyes of Werner, as Captain Wuest, a rather unimportant guardsman. Hitler and his henchmen are always kept at a distance, the way Wuest views them from his station, and what stands out in my memory is the finale of a drunken champagne party as though in celebration of something, but in reality as their means to forget the impending doom looming ahead as the Russians can be heard closing in. The problem with films portraying famous or infamous people is that they are almost always unbelievable because we are unwilling to suspend our disbelief, aware that they are actors up there trying to imitate the unknowable. Here, at least for the English speaking audience, the problem does not arise, we understand only through subtitles, and we hear the characters speaking in their own language. And, thank God, it is in black and white. The impact of the film stays with me still, and of course, Werner was a major revelation.
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Play for Today: Kate the Good Neighbour (1980)
Season 10, Episode 20
Extraordinary, wrenching, and Kempson's finest work
13 June 2003
This is one of a very few fully realized films that sticks in my memory. A mean, bloody-minded, self-hating and lonely old woman with a terrible secret kept hidden away in one of her annual diaries; about her tragic affair with a Royal Air Force pilot, killed in the Battle of Britain, who left her pregnant with a baby she self-aborts. There are flashback sequences where we see her lost beauty and the hugeness of her love. And near the end of her life, we see how the sympathetic caring of a social worker brings her to a new belief in herself, and a willingness to let go. Will this film ever be seen again? Come on, BBC, give us another showing! Rachel Kempson, the late Redgrave clan matriarch deserves this. Her crowning achievement. And the rest of a wonderful cast no slouches either.
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