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Phoenix (II) (2014)
Different Ashes
24 June 2018
Hubert Monteilhet's novel has been filmed three times I saw two of them. The 1960's Return From The Ashes and this one, Phoenix (2014) - the one I haven't seen is a TV version from the 1980's Le retour d'Elisabeth Wolff, but now I really want to see it. Phoenix is a moody, painful journey to a rebirth. Nina Hoss is lovely as the survivor, Ronald Zehofeld plays the husband, object of her obsession. He's an interesting actor, a mix between Benicio del Toro and the young Orson Welles. Their scenes together have a realistic, tangible suspense. But Christian Petzold, the director of Jerichow (2008), gives the whole film a severe pace and tone, the 1964 version has a sharp, sophisticated script by Julius J Epstein with titles like Casablanca to his credit and J Lee Thompson at the helm, Thompson directed films like The Guns Of Navarone, Cape Fear and What A Way To Go. So his version, Return From The Ashes, is a whole other experience, at time it's even funny. With a superlative international cast cast, Maximilian Schell, Ingrid Thulin and Samantha Eggar - So one can see both films as it they weren't even related.
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The Legend Of Kim Novak
7 August 2017
Well yes, it's compelling viewing in spite of, everything. So overwrought it's jarring and at the center of it all, Kim Novak. The swan of Picnic. James Stewart's obsession in Vertigo. She appears in The Legend Of Lylah Clare, but she's not really in it. Distant, cold, awkward. Pale, almost white lipstick. She has a death scene for goodness sake! It reminded me of that death that Goldie Hawn plays again and again in "Death Becomes Her", she watches it on TV as her arch rival, Meryl Streep, brilliantly plays an actress without talent - dies again and again strangled by Michael Caine. Meryl's Madeline Ashton even licks her lips before her death - Well, Kim Novak's Elsa Campbell/Lylah Clare doesn't lick her lips but almost.Peter Finch is the leading man. Peter Finch! Howard Beale in "Network" His dialogue here is not by Paddy Chayefsky, no, not by a long shot. Hysterically funny I must admit, specially because of the seriousness of the delivery. Then, surprise surprise a few genuine delights, Coral Browne plays a columnist with a wooden leg, Rosella Falk, a talkative lesbian and the glorious Valentina Cortese plays a costume designer. As I'm writing about it I feel an urge to see it again to make sure I didn't imagine the whole thing.
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The Rainmaker (1997)
Johnny Whitworth And The Test Of Time
24 June 2017
It was something else, seeing The Rainmaker again, 20 years later. The plot, the cast, the look of it, it all has that Coppola touch and that

has to be with truth, the way he, Francis Ford Coppola sees it. Beautiful, powerful and moving but the most powerful element after 20 years turns out to be Johnny Whitworth. What a gorgeous, soulful performance. It took me by surprise, I remember the character from my first viewing but this time his is the character who affected me the most. Imagine in a cast that includes Teresa Wright! Yes, Teresa Wright, Dean Stockwell as well as Matt Damon, Mary Kay Place, Jon Voight, Danny De Vito, Mickey Rourke, Claire Danes. Time does extraordinary things. It reveals the center of the center of the truth.
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Michael Redgrave on film, what a treat!
21 May 2017
I loved the Graham Greene novel. I admit I picked it up secretly from my father's library when I was 15. It stayed with me. I knew about the existence of this 1958 version written and directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz but I had never seen it until now, thank you TCM. I had seen the 2002 with a terrific Michael Caine but the film - a more faithful version of Greene's novel according to the critics and it may be true but the 2002 version left me pleased but unmoved while the 1958 version is much more unsettling, in spite of some hard to understand choices by the filmmakers. Audie Murphy plays the quiet American, and he is, very quiet. Good looking a real life American war hero but he is not an actor and here he is sharing the frame with Michael Redgrave. Michael Redgrave! The other oddity is the casting of Italian Actress Giorgia Moll as the Vietnamese girl-in-the-middle. She's lovely but I repeat, she's Italian. No, the power force here is Michael Redgrave, A marvelous, fearless performance and that alone makes The Quiet American an absolute must.
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Psycho (1960)
Anthony's Norman
19 May 2017
Getting into Hitchcock's Psycho, 57 years after its original release is like assisting to a masterclass of sorts. We can now identify what made this little lurid tale into a classic. Hitchcock himself, naturally, but now we know the first director's cut was a major disappointment and that Alma Reville - Hitch's wife - took over, re edited and the results have been praised, applauded and studied ever since. Janet Leigh's Marion Crane created a movie landmark with her shower scene. Bernard Herrmann and his strings created an extra character that we recognize as soon as it reappears under any disguise but, what shook me the most now in 2017 is Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. His performance has evolved with the passing of time and its effect has remain as chilling, as moving, as funny and as real as it was in 1960. It's interesting to watch Gus Van Sant's 1998 version with Vince Vaugh as Norman Bates. If you look at the film, shot by shot with Berrnard Herrmann's strings - it's pretty fantastic. - Play it in black and white if you can. The problem and it is a monumental problem, we wait for Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, if the casting of Anne Heche was really bad - not a hint of Janet Leigh's humanity, the casting of Vince Vaughn was incomprehensible. Not just not credible for a moment but annoying, very annoying. Anthony Perkins brought something profoundly personal to Norman Bates and as a consequence we connected with his sickness. We felt for him. Okay, sorry, I didn't mean to go there but I felt compelled to because I saw again Psycho (1960) ad Psycho (1998) at 24 hours from each other and realized that the main flaw of the 1998 versions is the absence of Anthony Perkins.
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Summer's Webb
22 July 2009
Who is Mark Webb? Anyone? Anyone? It is an astonishing piece of work for a first time feature film director. He counts with a beautifully crafted screenplay and two sensational leading performances and that's where the success of this comedy resides. Jodseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are two startling originals with a winning screen presence and a brain, yes, a brain. I was involved in their peculiar relationship because there isn't a hint of shallowness in their back and fourth. I believe it, completely, and when you sit in the dark and believe what you see on the screen, things are going to happen to you the way that happened to me. It is again a confirmation that treating your audience with respect will pay off somewhere along the line. I love Zooey Deschanel, she reminds me of some my favorites of the past without looking or sounding like anybody else. And Joseph Gordon Levitt, well, this young man is something else. He projects a humanity that doesn't need to be embellished. It's just there for us to dive into. Marvelous actor, marvelous performance, marvelous film. I'm so thrilled to be able to say that.
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Watchmen (2009)
Unaffecting Graphic Violence And Nudity
8 March 2009
The success of "Watchmen" is another indication that we're moving away from everything that was dear to me in the movies. Technically brilliant, I presume, but not a single indication of humanity as we know it. In the dialog and intention, of course but in practical terms, zilch. The fact that Billy Crudup's Dr Manhattan sports an Olimpyan style penis that doesn't even make you blink should tell you something. It's all so far removed from human emotion. The men, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode and the aforementioned Crudup are thoroughly feminine. The women, Malin Akerman and Carla Gugino, beautiful masculine creatures. The only one depicting some shape of a real character is the wonderful Jackie Earle Hayley. To tell you that the film depressed me is to tell you only part of the story. "Watchmen" is an amusement park ride, one of the most boring I've ever taken. For the devotees of the genre, perhaps, this thing provokes some kind of pleasure, I don't know but for me this was torture. I'm not giving it a 1 (awful) because Mr. Hayley deserves some respect and I must say that Billy Crudup and Patrick Wilson are among my favorites of the new generation but they will be demoted in my estimation if they're going to put their talents at the service of things like this.
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Emma Thompson makes the whole thing worth it
7 January 2009
Yes, it's one of those "nice" movies but Emma Thompson's presence alone raises the worthiness of this movie several notches. We believe everything we see in her wonderful complicated face and that's the hook that will carry you along, it certainly did me. Dustin Hoffman, is the unlikely romantic door that opens to Emma, poor girl. But she sees something in him that I, quite honestly, didn't. At the end of the day if it's okay with Emma, it's okay with me. There are a couple of marvelous moments but that's about it. Another element that helps us enormously to escape the predominant flatness is Eileen Atkins as Emma's mother. All in all I would recommend you to see it, preferably on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
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Doubt (I) (2008)
Entertaining Drama In One Single Note
24 November 2008
Let me start by saying that I wasn't bored for one second and that it is always fascinating to see great actors chewing the scenery. Meryl Streep is one of my heroes she will always be be here something happened. Her performance is devoid of highs and/or lows. She goes through it in second gear. I had hoped for a performance of the Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratchet with a pleasant almost benign exterior but a monstrous center and Philip Seymour Hoffman, another great, doesn't project any kind of sexual vibe so the sexual allegations may work on a stage play but not on the screen. The part needed a John Garfield. On top of that, there is something missing on the structure of the story. We're taken through two acts but the third act is missing. I didn't believe in that ending it felt to come out of left field. So yes, I was entertained but dissatisfied.
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The Women (I) (2008)
The Women 08 It's Not A 30's Movie
12 September 2008
It was an impossible task to update a classic that was embedded in its time and as such could travel the waves of time intact because we could adapt to its historical context. Now this 2008 version seems the one that's dated. I used to love Meg Ryan, reminded me of Carol Lombard now she's more like Joan Rivers, in appearance if not in spirit. There is nothing funny about her. Strangely enough she looks better in the second part of the film. In any case, the modernity of Norma Shearer's performance is unbeatable. Annette Bening is better but couldn't cancel the memory of Rosalind Russell, who could? If one can divorce oneself from the George Cukor original, and one must to be able to sit through it, there are a few pleasures to be had, mostly thanks to Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen (playing Meg Ryan's mom for the second time, remember "Rich and Famous"?) and Bette Midler in a much to brief stint playing the part once played by Mary Boland. The most unforgivable blunder is Eva Mendes's Crystal. She couldn't fill Joan Crawford's shoes not even by mistake. Her performance is vulgar, jarring and ugly. How strange that someone as smart as Diane English could give us such a confusing picture of women. Oh well, I had to see it, I saw it and I'm very disappointed but hardly surprised.
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Mamma Mia! (2008)
A Pretty Missfire
8 July 2008
Relentless like one of those loud action movies. The entire cast seems to be on speed. I didn't quite get the director's intentions if any. I wonder if she's ever seen a Stanley Donen, Vincent Minnelli or even a George Sidney musical. Structure, please! This is one hell of a mess and I loved Abba. The costumes the unflattering photography - unflattering towards the actors but loving towards the locations) The one thing that makes the whole thing bearable is the sight of Meryl Streep making a fool of herself. No chemistry with her friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) think of Streep with Lily Tomlyn in the Altman film and you'll understand what I was hoping for. I was embarrassed in particular by Pierce Brosnam and Colin Firth. The audience, however, seemed to enjoy it so it probably it's just me.
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The Queen (2006)
An Acting God As A Royal Queen
10 December 2007
It was Meryl Streep no less to call Helen Mirren "an acting God" and she wasn't kidding. I saw "The Queen" again last night, a year after the hype, the awards and the masses of superlatives thrown Helen Mirren's way and you know what? It was all richly deserved. Her performance got an extra something along the year and I believe it will continue to grow like most wonderful true things. Helen Mirren is not an actress who "dissappears" behind a character , no, she is in total control and that's what makes her creation so moving. The illusion is fueled by her own conviction - the character's as well as the actress's. Last night I wondered, during the Queen and her Prime Minister's walk, how did the real Elizabeth II reacted to this portrait. I'm sure she's seen it and I'm sure that she must agree that nobody could have done it better or more fairly.
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A Southern Fried Comedic Tragedy
1 October 2007
A thinly disguised couple, one of the most famous couple of the last decade. They carry the "come as you are" kind of attitude, apparently, so, yes, at least apparently. Looking at it from where I'm standing in 2007 she may become the first USA woman president and he was, for 8 years, one of, if not the most popular American president since JFK and with the benefit of hindsight, he was probably a much more talented politician than JFK. I'm not necessarily a Democrat but I became, eventually, pro Clinton. Junk food and "momathons" infidelity and at times right down vulgarity doesn't blur the intentions of the couple and a couple is what they are. It may not have been John Travolta's most popular performance but for my money it's his best. Emma Thompson deals with Elaine May's superb and telling dialog with all the depth and poignancy, let alone fun, that the character deserved. She is magnificent. Kathy Bate's time bomb character is an unnerving fun to watch. Her Libby is a close relative of her "Misery" Mike Nichols keeps it really domestic. The most important things take place in Motels or kitchens. She wears yellow plastic gloves to do the dishes when big decisions are taken and cleanses her skin with a tissue in front of the preppy Adrian Lester the first time she meets him. They are ordinary southern folks with an extraordinary destiny. She's the one with a sense of history. Imagine that. See it now, again or for the first time before the next elections. It's a very good movie too.
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The Law Of Darkness
12 February 2007
The unexpected coming to alter what is already our daily routine. Doing something for one specific purpose without realizing that we are being lead by fate , I presume, to an existential cul-de-sac. This is the stuff that fairy tales are made off, also great drama, great comedy and all the natural ingredients of what is laughingly known as our daily existence. This is Minghella's most moving film to date - and that is saying something. His obsession with darkness hidden in his characters hearts is as universal a theme as unrequited love. Minghella loves his characters and the darker they are, the stronger the love. I didn't love Jude Law this much since Mr. Ripley and Juliette Binoche is heart breaking. Brilliant. I sat in silence after the film was over. Tears running down my face. It hadn't happened to me in many many years.
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Night And His Wet Story
23 July 2006
What an uncomfortable adventure. Night Shaymalan against the blindness of his detractors. How old is he, really? This is the work of a petulant multimillionaire boy who won't take no for an answer. Hollywood creates monsters of all shapes and sizes but this one is kind of unique. Did you see the steam of arrogance covering him through his American Express commercial? The Lady In The Water is populated by a fauna of Fellinesque caricatures and Shaymalan's ego. Images that go nowhere and a story - if you pardon the expression - trying desperately to recreate the box office bonanza of The Sixth Sense with a series of unfulfilled promises leading to a final twist that is anything but. All that said and done. I wasn't bored.
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The Girl And The Sacred Cow
1 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not a girl, so I knew next to nothing about Anne Hathaway, I went to see Meryl Streep and oh boy, did I see her. An inedited Meryl Streep, far, far away from anything she has ever done and that is saying something, isn't it? Blazing with self confidence, Miranda Pristley is a monumental modern queen. Hints of human trouble at her own personal castle doesn't disturb that imperious facade and her extraordinary talent to say "No" I may be totally out of touch but I just wanted Anne Hathaway out of the way. It bother me so much. I longed for the young Julie Christie in that role. The Christie of "Darling" can you imagine? Then yes you have a battle of the titans not a predictable, tired, phony fairy tale. When Hathaway's boyfriend tells her "You have become one of them" I wanted to shoot myself because that's obviously what was suppose to happen but other than different outfits and make up I saw no difference in the girl. I enjoyed very much Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt's performance and I'm recommending the film just to witness Meryl Streep, the greatest actress of our or any generation, dazzles us with an extraordinary new face.
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A Joyful Film About Death
10 June 2006
As usual Altman will divide his audience in a radical way. He, clearly, doesn't do it on purpose but it happens more often than not with the works of real artists where there is no room (or very little) for concessions. It is what it is, his vision, his whole. He mentioned that the film was about death and found that not everyone agreed not even some of his closest and more devoted collaborators. That's what he saw, that's what it is but it's bound to be contradicted by critics and audiences alike. Personally, I don't think I'll see a better film this year. The work of an idiosyncratic artist and masterful craftsman doesn't hit the main stream screens every day of the week. My only reservation is that the film is too short. I wanted to go on and on and on. To say that Meryl Streep is sublime seems kind of redundant but never mind, she is, sublime, surprising, funny, very funny, moving, very, very moving. Lily Tomlin and Meryl have the best moments in the film. They appear, look and sound as if they had been working together all their lives. Total chemistry. Lindsay Lohan is the biggest surprise. Good for her. That's the way to forge a way ahead. Work with the best. Woody Harrelson and John C Reilly are simply glorious. Kevin Kline does a Kevin Kline in the most enchanting way. It was also a delight to see Garrison Keillor himself playing himself, not just wonderfully but very convincingly as well. I recommend it with all my heart.
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Put The Blame On Wilde
17 April 2006
It is quite an extraordinary experience to sit through this film years after its controversial outing back in the distant 1998. Like many of the great pieces of art, or wine for that matter, time gives it that extra something that evolves its taste into something that you crave. The erotic innocence of the story is very much Oscar Wilde territory. Innocence, yes. - I've been arguing about it with some people about the inclusion of the word, if not the feeling, innocence in this context. I insist the word is perfectly fitting because at the end of this rainbow there is the longing for love. Ewan McGregor's cock is already famous the world over - and with reason - here it dangles across his frame like a child, unaware of his own nakedness. Jonathan Rhys Mayer is a delight. Strange to see him in feathers after "Match Point" and yet it makes a lot of sense. Christian Bale one day, will leave behind the pouting arrogance that is rapidly becoming his trademark - even as Batman - and come back to the glorious promise he insinuated here. All in all a triumph, Todd Haynes style.
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Josh Harnett vs The New Trend
8 April 2006
"Lucky Number Slevin" feels like the thesis of a promising film student from the P T Anderson/ Quentin Tarantino school of smart ass film-making. To tell you the truth, I'm getting a bit too tired of this clever, oh so clever style of narration. The dialog, coming out of Freeman and Kingsley mouth is as fun as it is meaningless. Absurd without being Ionesco absurd. Absurd but self consciously so. After a little while you're way ahead of the characters - not plot wise naturally, but style wise. You know is going to be one of those movies trying to be those other movies. That in itself makes the experience rather frustrating. Thank God for Josh Harnett. He is an actor that manages to remind you of all those greats icons of the past and at the same time he's an original. The fact that I could actually see this movie again just to look at him, makes me think he'll be a huge star. The kind of star the people remember and loves, generation after generation. I wish he manages to find his Elia Kazan.
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The Fabulous Jane Fonda And The Dog Walker
30 January 2006
Everyone I know went to see "Monster In Law" for Jane Fonda and in spite of J Lo. If you go with that spirit, you just may have a reasonable good time. I hadn't realized how much I missed Jane Fonda and how wonderful she is, she was she will always be. The film in itself is just too terrible for words. A showdown between a possessive mother and a dog walker. The script is unbelievable bad and the aforementioned Jennifer Lopez is, poor thing, atrocious. She has the lightness of an elephant and the charm of a blank page but, look at the billing...Jennifer Lopez right on top, above Jane Fonda. Ridiculous isn't it? But that's what, I imagine, marketing people decide. What a shame. If I had been Miss Lopez, I would have used my power to demand that Jane Fonda's name should appear above mine. I know, I live in a fantasy world of respect and, if nothing else, good manners. The film may turn out to be useful as a teaching tool. To show both actresses together for a how to and how not to. I'm sure Jennifer Lopez must have been told by someone that she has to cultivate her craft. Her voice, goodness! A jarring, shrilling clash of tonsils and nasal sounds. Too late to play cute, virginal girls. A dog walker indeed!
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A Season In Hell
25 November 2005
Yes, it made me think that if Jean Arthur Rimbaud had been a man of our times he could have been the one behind this film. Optimism through pessimism. The light of darkness. A contradiction that makes sense, that rings true. A mesmerizing film with a spectacular Viggo Mortensen. The truth is there for us to see it, the truth is going to be told but the truth has the flavor of a fantasy. It is the adopted life the invented one that is real. We're invited into this simple but startling reality guided by the masterful hand of David Cronenberg. The casting is a stroke of genius. Viggo Mortensen has the presence of an icon and yet he can disappear be invisible in the most magnetic way. Maria Bello, for me, a stunning surprise. I didn't know (I still don't) her work, I only remembered her name because she has an unforgettable name. But here she proves she's an actress of enormous emotional/dramatic resources. 2005 is not quite over yet but I bet "A History of Violence" will be among the two or three best films I've seen all year
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Shopgirl (2005)
Shopping For Company
20 November 2005
Claire Danes has become a lanky, elegant movie star in the old Hollywood tradition and "Shopgirl" showcases it without a doubt. She was always a good actress but now she's more than that. Her character is a genuine creation that moves in logical if unpredictable patterns. Steve Martin, the most self effacing of the contemporary American comedic geniuses, is becoming quasi french in his story telling style without betraying his utter Americaness. I have a feeling that he'll continue to surprise us and I for one will wait eagerly for his next move. The thinking clown if there ever was one. Jason Schwartzman belongs to the quirky Coppola, Nicolas Cageish school of acting and he is a delight. Odd and sexy in the most irresistible way. The film has an intellectual pace and a sad smile at its center. A real original American comedy for the new millennium.
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Hitch (I) (2005)
The Unberable Phonyness Of Cuteness
9 October 2005
Will Smith is fabulous. Elegant, handsome, funny, with an irresistible childish maturity. I hope one day he'll get the comedy his talent really deserves. "Hitch" is smooth, I hand you that, but the formulaic code by which the implausible proceedings unfold, makes the whole damn thing very irritating. I didn't believe in the melt down of Eva Mendes for a minute. The happy ending made me think and predict a "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" in their near future. There is an element of hardness and of selfishness that the cuteness couldn't mask. I couldn't help longing for Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond, for a moment of truth, no matter how ugly. Real comedies have that from Lubitch farces to Rock Hudson/Doris Day pastiches. None of that is present here. A few moments with Kevin James and the unquestionable charm of Will Smith will see you through, but that, unfortunately, is hardly enough.
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This Return Deserves a Comeback
17 September 2005
Certain films travel just below the radar. "Return from the Ashes" is such a film. The ones who've seen it never forget it but somehow it's nowhere to be found. Never on video and so far not on DVD. I'm not going to tell you about the devilish plot because that's most of the pleasure of seeing it for the first time. Just let me wet your appetite by saying that Maximilian Schell plays a young amoral polish guy who seduces a French, older, wealthy widow, played for real by a great Ingrid Thulin. The action takes place at the dawn of the German occupation. She is Jewish he is not. When Schell asks her to marry him, she laughs it off as a surprisingly conventional request but he means it saying "At this time is not convention but defiance" So he marries the older Jewish woman...that's all I'm going to tell you about the story. Samantha Eggar, beautiful and skinny gives a powerful performance of seductive evilness. She is a stand out of major proportions. The ending seems a bit of a commercial concession but it doesn't spoil the cleverly tailored plot. If you see it announced on late night TV, set up your VCR or whatever contraption at your disposal.
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Sin City (2005)
Sin In Spanish Means Without
6 June 2005
A feast for the eyes but not the senses, well maybe one. That in itself is not a bad thing unless you go to the movies for entirely different reasons you go to a theme park and take a ride. I admired what computers can do in the hands of visual artists. Some of the images where out of a Gustav Dorè of the future, I mean the present. A Dorè with sudden bursts of red the reddest red you've ever seen. I must confess I was very unfamiliar with the comic "Sin City" is based on. A male fantasy of the first order. Blood, guts, huge guns and fabulous babes. The almost adolescent Jessica Alba throws herself in the arms of Bruce Willis, promising eternal love. Willis, by the way, is terrific so is Clive Owen. My God what a face! A heroic movie icon for the ages. Mickey Rourke picks up where he left off, deformed, full of blood and moving, very moving in a chilling kind of way. I didn't recognize Benicio del Toro until it was too late. Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy and the afore mentioned Jessica Alba are nothing short of spectacular. To boot Josh Harnett appears as beautifully creepy bookends. And yet, I was left with a sense of frustration. I was in the mood for a movie and found myself in a theme park ride. But if you're in the mood for that, I recommend it.
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