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Popeye (1980)
30 April 2017
Robin Williams's first starring role kinda fell flat in 1980 for a number of reasons. Fist, the Thimble theater cartoon by Segar went through several changes but had been pushed out of the mainstream viewing by such more cerebral cartoons like Peanuts, Doonesbury, Bloom County and then 5 years later, Calvin and Hobbes. As late as the 60s, these Popeye cartoons were seen only on kiddie shows and as such, were long out of the public view. Hence, the appeal of the strip was restricted to old duffers like me who grew up with Popeye in the 40s and 50s.

Too bad, because this film reflects the talents of Altman and Feiffer, maintains a level of tristesse and timelessness that hearkens back to the old Segar cartoon strip. My only criticism of the acting was Robin Williams's difficulty in getting Popeye's squint done which Ray Walston did so beautifully.
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23 April 2017
Myth is good and in the wake of Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, we've seen a number of sequels, prequels-- none of which measured up to the original. Then we have the Irish fantasies based loosely on folklore surrounding the Celtic notion of the Se, many of which are terrible, stereotyped or used as a boilerplate for a knock-off horror or ghost film. What we have here in this film is a hybrid that meets neither of the generic criteria and takes itself too seriously. The story line goes from confusion to chaos as contradictions and non sequitur occur, ending up in a jumbled up mess that never resolves any of the conflicts. Make matters worse, the exorcist is not even an ordained priest but a shaman who craves to be a rock star with two teenybopper sprites as sidekicks.

If you want decent fantasy, check out Robocop, Peter Weller in Buckaroo Banzai who is not only a scientist, CIA operative but a rock star as well.
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Savage Memory (2011)
Superb Portrait of a Complex Man
5 September 2016
As an anthropologist educated and trained here in the US, I grew up on Malinowski's ethnographies. Indeed, I can boast that I have nearly every one of his great works on the shelves overlooking my desk as I write this. So, I was more than slightly interested in this film.

As a documentary, it takes a personal approach because the film maker is Bronislaw Malinowski's great-grandson. From the get-go, it's a no holds barred exposure of this great scholar showing all the moles and warts of a complex man. I'm old enough (80) to have talked to several of his students and had garnered a great deal of insight before reading his biography and his published diary. All of it squares with what I'd learned beforehand.

As a scholar and field investigator, he was brilliant, insightful and innovative. As a person, he was as human as you or I. The documentary goes to great lengths to make that point of the seeming paradox of his life and research. The disparaging remarks about his subjects of study in his diary seem to militate against his presentation of them as people in his ethnography. That's not at odds with reality. All of us who have done field work in miserable places under trying conditions, far from the comforts of home and our loved ones have harbored those feelings.

Good scholarship is often the product of a good mind and nasty comments made to oneself is likewise frequently the result of being human.
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20 August 2016
This is a wonderful movie. It's not perfect but it's a fantastic tale that holds your attention from the first scene. Why do I think it's so good? Well, it goes far beyond my merely "liking" it. As an anthropologist and linguist who's familiar with Japanese culture, I was struck by the weaving of Japanese folklore into a captivating tale of a heroic journey. You have the boy, wounded from infancy by his grandfather whose mother is injured. The fetish is the three string samisen which arranges colored papers into origami figures into action to tell a story. The instrument is also wounded as it's missing a string. In an attempt to contact his departed father, Kubo the one- eyed principal endangers himself and winds up in a strange land with a monkey as a mentor who tells him of his quest. Another ally is a huge beetle who provides comic relief and assistance against Kubo's Noo-masked aunts striving to take his other eye.

The tale unfolds in an amazing collage of several Japanese ghost and folk tales. The cultural depictions and insights are many and the CGI are delightful. As an anthropologist, I kept wondering what happened to the monkey's tail but that feature offered only a slight distraction.
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Hail, Caesar! (2016)
7 February 2016
Funny. If you're familiar with the old 1940s studio days and the stable of stars, gofers and fixers, you'll find this hilarious. The Coen brothers do not aim for the center of the bell curve. The jerky review about "people walking with their feet" makes this point indeed. The jamoke writing this terrible review neither understood the film, the innsy humor or the historical tie-ins and took everything at face value. A lot of the audience did the same thing in No Country for Old Men, leaving the theater grumbling, "That was no ending."

Ah, but it was! And so is this film. American cinema is the great contribution to the art world and there is so much witty business and satire tied in this film that, like The Big Lebowski, I could watch it a dozen times and still come home with some witty little pearl.

OK. The Coen brothers approach Cinema-making as an art. Ethan Coen read Wittgenstein in college and you won't really appreciate the depth of their art unless you take the effort to see the integration of structuralism, neomodernism and the wit of the traditional Yiddish Theater which gave birth to the Marx and the Ritz brothers.

Don't take my word for it. Go see it for yourself. It's a good film.
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6 September 2015
I've no quarrel with "true believers." Freedom to pursue any ideology is part and parcel of our democratic system in the good US of A. However, when religionists line up a battery of so-called "experts" who are no more that other religionists, and in this case a pro-Israel agenda and try to pass it off with a patina of "science," that's when they step on the side of being egregiously offensive.

The entire episode is laced with fantasy, anecdotal reported incidents and in some cases, pure nonsense. Sure, I should have known that this would slanted but ugh! Why didn't they tell us it would completely topsy-turvy?

If you're a true believer, you'll like this movie. As a scientist who is pro-Israel, I hated it.
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1 December 2014
They ought to put a warning on movies like this: THIS IS FOR BELIEVING MORMONS ONLY!

My wife and I scanning the net for entertainment got sucked into this mish-mash of bad acting and Mormon fiction. We have it all for a maudlin young folks story, the misplaced, unwanted kids with an erstwhile older non-druggie teen age sister and a potential gang- banger little brother who escape the government incompetent and uncaring bureaucracy and gang violence to come to the warm caring bosom of Mormondom with large families, doting parents and a wise grandfather steeped in Mormon mythology. Add some Aztec-like other- world fantasy characters from that great work of Joseph Smith fiction, mix it up and bingo! You got a movie to entertain young Mormons.

Mormons will love it, as indeed, the two true believing reviewers posted here did. Non-Mormons like myself will likely not be able to sit through all the pablum and fantasy passed off as "truth" to the end.

My objection here is not just based on passing off a set of myths and pseudo-history of a large religious corporation with documented cultic origins as fact: we're free to express whatever beliefs we want under our rights and liberties of freedom of religion, speech and social media. My review is based on the bad acting, the doggerel story line and the corny premise used in writing this mongrel of a movie.
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A Classic B movie
23 July 2014
I loved this movie. Yes, it's corny. Yes, the story's premise leaks all over the place, and yes, it's a long way from reality. But, what we see here is the late 50s and early 60s where you could get away with the corn, gags and stereotypes that show up on the sweet side. In this wonderful little film, they shake out the box with dozens of character actors whose faces you seen in films for years.

I recall seeing it as a second feature years ago and I didn't enjoy it as much then as I did watching it again. Those were wonderful days and movies like this help us aging old guys recall the innocence of that time.
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