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Missed the book almost entirely
25 April 2012
If one had not read the book(s), I think he might find this to be an enjoyable, if not outstanding, movie. However, anyone who has read the trilogy knows that the movie did not even address the theme that made the trilogy so outstanding. The trilogy is primarily a character study of at least four of the trilogy's characters: Peeta, Gale, Haymitch and most importantly Katniss. Katniss is a girl who seems to stand for honorable ideas, but who finds insult and deceit in almost everything anyone tells her; especially Peeta. She finds comfort in his arms when she is fearful, but then refuses to admit to anyone, including herself, that she has any need for such care. Rather than being the hero, she is more the anti-hero of the story.

In the movie, she is brave and bold and smart. In the original she is bold, but not really so brave and certainly not smart. She operates entirely on emotion, saying and doing things without paying the slightest attention to logic. Time and again she is convinced that everything bad that has happened was caused by her. In this view she is only somewhat wrong. But after all of her agonizing and vows of repentance, she continues to do the same self-serving and illogical things that lead to more suffering of herself and others. In book 2, Haymitch tells Katniss, "See, this is why no one lets you make the plans." Later, she recalls Haymitch's statement and says,"That's true, no one in their right mind would let me make the plans. Because I can't tell a friend from an enemy." Here, she is exactly correct, but that does not prevent her from making that mistake time and again with her most loyal friend, Peeta.

Nonetheless, Katniss is a very appealing character, and that is what kept me going for three volumes. I got a feeling about Katniss very much like the feeling I had for Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind."

This, not her skill with the bow, is what makes "The Hunger Games" a great story.
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Cool It (2010)
Someone has to tell it right
17 November 2010
After reading the first 3 reviews I decided that a review from someone who has read Bjorn Lonborg - who is an economist (not "a poly-sci guy" as one newspaper reviewer referred to him) - and who has studied the science of global climate change for more than a decade might be helpful.

First off, Lonborg is not a GW skeptic: he thinks it is real, but that the severity has often been greatly overstated, which even the scientists at IPCC will admit. Also, he does not mean that if we spend a few trillion dollars and deprive (by creating large deficits of energy) poor people all over the world of the few things they currently get to enjoy (like adequate food) we will decrease global temperature by 1 degree: he means we will limit the increase by one degree. Big difference. He is pointing out that taking a sledge hammer to the world economy will not really make much difference in temperature, but a big difference to people who will not be able to buy energy at the intentionally increased prices.

Lonborg points out that we will be able to adapt to the climate change, as people and animals have been doing throughout history, as we gradually change from fossil fuels as more desirable technologies mature. Some parts of the world - equatorial zones - may change drastically, but those nearer the poles (Minnesota, Canada) will likely gain a longer growing season and more tillable land.

But, Lonborg's main point is that if we spent these large sums of money and resources on things we can change: hunger, diseases like malaria and AIDS, and clean water, we could bring about some real improvement in the lives of millions of people world-wide.

My studies, which include a discussion with one of the leading scientists at IPCC, lead me to think that Lonborg makes a very good case. I don't know why so many reviewers ridicule Lonborg. This movie, if you really watch and listen, does not deny climate change. It does state that global poverty is not the best way to counteract global climate change.
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Vanilla Sky (2001)
Not Nearly As Good As Open Your Eyes
7 August 2009
I saw Vanilla Sky when it was first released in 2001 and then again on DVD about a month ago. In reading reviews on IMDb I discovered that it was a remake of a Spanish movie, Open You Eyes, and so I ordered it from Netflix as well. Penelope Cruz is the only cast member in both versions. She plays the role of Sofia and does a masterful job. The story is almost exactly the same scene by scene and even in dialogue.

But, the ALMOST is significant.

When I saw Vanilla Sky, I thought it was pretty good. I did think that it left too much unresolved and an extra scene (which I didn't know was extra at the time), further clouded the resolution with no apparent value to the movie.

Ambiguity isn't always bad in a story, but I felt that the resolution in Open Your Eyes was exactly what was appropriate for the movie. I also felt that the scenery-chewing that Tom Cruise did in several scenes of the American version actually detracted from the feel of the story line.

There is a bar scene that is almost identical, word for word, in the two films. The only difference is the tone and body language of the main character and the bartender, which makes the Vanilla Sky version quite confrontational while in the Spanish version the scene plays as a simple faux pas on the part of the bartender that is quickly resolved. Again, I thought the confrontation was unnecessary and, I would hope, unrealistic.

In general, I think the American version suffers from inferior direction and poorer acting. Penelope Cruz is excellent in both. Cruise and Kurt Russell seem to have decided that their roles needed to big bigger and more emotional. They were wrong.

If you are really interested in film making, I suggest you watch both and see how seemingly small changes can change the "feel" of a movie. Otherwise, I recommend Open Your Eyes.
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Much Better Than Vanilla Sky
7 August 2009
I would urge all of the REAL movie fans to see both and see how very small differences can change the viewer's overall sense of the film.

I saw Vanilla Sky first and thought it was pretty good. I did think that it left more unresolved, which isn't always bad, but I felt that the resolution in Open Your Eyes was exactly what was appropriate for the movie. I also felt that the scenery-chewing that Tom Cruise did in several scenes actually detracted from the feel of the story line. There is a bar scene that was almost identical in the two films. The only difference is that the tone and body language of the main character and the bartender, which makes the Vanilla Sky version quite confrontational while in the Spanish version the scene plays as a simple faux pas on the part of the bartender that is quickly resolved.

In general, I think the American version suffers from inferior direction and poorer acting. Penelope Cruise is excellent in both. Cruise and Kurt Russell seem to have decided that their roles needed to big bigger and more emotional. They were wrong.
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The Jacket (2005)
Should have received at least one Oscar nomination
16 May 2009
This is one of the best films I have seen in a long time. Adrien Brody is sensational as Jack Starks and that is the key to the success of the film.

As to the question of whether it is all just a dream: there is nothing in the film to suggest that, so why should anyone arbitrarily decide that to be the case. A story is what the writer wrote: no more and no less. Time travel to the future is currently impossible, both technologically and logically (the future is a concept based on prediction and speculation of events that have not yet occurred and may never occur, thus, it never actually exists). That, however, does not mean it doesn't ever happen. Should that be the case, our whole notion of existence and reality (as well as cause and effect in this case) must change - that is one of the basic ideas in the film.

So, if you just watch the movie very carefully, you will see a very interesting, mind-challenging, well-produced story. Then, if you wish to add more in your own mind that is your prerogative.
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Atonement (2007)
I will tell you exactly why this movie is painfully bad...
25 April 2008
I will not say that this is a really bad movie because a lot of people think it is really good and, unlike some others, I am not arrogant enough to think that my taste should set the standard for everyone else. There is no accounting for taste, even bad taste.

However, I thought it was a painfully bad movie and I will tell you very specifically why.

First, some specific things that prevented a knowledgeable viewer from sympathizing with the characters.

1. In the promo they say that a young girl sees something she doesn't understand and mistakenly tells a story that that has tragic consequences. That entire sentence isn't a quote, but "something she doesn't understand" is. In fact, she sees several things and she does understand enough to know what is going on. The specific event that tops off the sequence of events that ruin lives is one she knowingly lies about whether or not she fully understands it, and she clearly has set out to destroy a man's life (apparently motivated by jealousy). Even before the "main event," she says that he should be put away where he can hurt no one.

2. It is said in one of the promo trailers (no spoiler here) that Robbie had the choice between prison and going to war. Well, this was a part of WWII that most Americans don't know about because America hadn't entered it at that time, but all able-bodied men in the UK went to war.

3. The scene in the library was absurd. To disrespect one's family by doing something like that in a library with a horde of people wandering around would have been the height of disrespect and stupidity.

4. In the 1930's in Britain (or America for that matter), if a father caught his daughter engaged in (or learned of) the acts that actually did occur the boy would find going to prison to be one of the nicer things that might happen to him.

Now, about the structure of the movie:

The story has a beginning and an end. Most of the story should have taken place in a middle that does not exist in the movie. There are events with major consequences for all involved: the girl (Briony), Cecelia, Robbie, the Tallis, Quincy, and Turner families, as well as others. These events take place in the beginning of the story: And the consequences? We learn nothing of what happened except a little of Briony, that Robbie chose war, and that Cecelia stayed around, possibly waiting for Robbie – or possibly not, as we learn near the end of the film. The middle of the story is related in a few sentences.

The end of the film is supposed to show the "atonement". Presumably, this is Briony's atonement for ruining a few lives – we don't know how many because that would have occurred in the middle of the story. Atonement is "satisfaction given for wrongdoing." Unless one includes satisfaction obtained by the wrongdoer, which I don't think counts, there is no atonement.

So, what does one have? Some very unlikable characters, some of whom have bad things happen to them because of bad things done by other unlikable characters. The few likable characters disappear during the non-existent middle of the story.

If you choose to see this movie you may very well find something to like, but I don't think it will be anything that is a part of the story.
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If you have a normal 21st century attention span, you won't get it
18 April 2007
I am disappointed to see reviewers refer to this movie as anti-war or a story of unrequited love or Lord Darlington as a Nazi or WWII as a nuclear holocaust. I think that perhaps these comments reflect both the lack of an adequate attention span and a lack of a proper knowledge and perspective of the times. "The Remains of the Day" requires both. I found it to be an interesting movie with many facets, each of which could be used as the sole theme of a movie. It is a movie that has great acting, is beautifully filmed in and around one of England's great mansions, and tells a fascinating and complex story as well.

It is true that the movie is about, in part, what many in the audience would believe is a romance that never has a chance because of Mr. Stevens' devotion to and pride in the occupation he has chosen. It is important to recognize that it is the job of his choosing, not one that has been forced upon him. It is tempting to write the job off as no more than servant of the wealthy, but it is actually the equivalent of presidency of a small company. Stevens is in charge of seeing that the large staff serving Darlington gets all of the many jobs in the household done - to perfection - every day of the week. I doubt that the White House has standards that approach those of Lord Darlington. So, each viewer can decide for himself or herself whether there could have ever been a woman in Stevens' life to whom he could give husband-like devotion.

Darlington is not a Nazi sympathizer. He is a man who exhibits the ideals of 20th century Britain: honor, fairness, and full devotion to what is right. He believes, most would say correctly, that the Treaty of Versailles was unduly harsh in its treatment of post-WWI Germany. Unfortunately, he fails to recognize, as many Americans do now, that unfairness in the past cannot be rectified by stupid policies in the present. So, by seeking what he considers fairness for Germany in the 1930's, when Hitler's evil and expansionist aims should have been clearly evident, he and others set the stage for a world-wide conflict that cost 60 million lives, of which the lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute less than one-half of one percent.

One of my tests of a movie is how far into it I start looking at my watch. In this case I began looking at my watch not to see how much more I had to sit through: rather, I was hoping to assure myself that there was enough movie left to provide a satisfactory ending. There was: however, I could have enjoyed much more of the talent and story I was seeing.
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Much better than I had been led to believe
5 March 2007
I had been told that Merryl Streep is great in this movie but the movie isn't really very good, so I went in with very low expectations. Maybe that was good: I really liked "The Devil Wears Prada" a lot.

Maybe I liked it because of two things I had in common with Andy: first, I have had the experience of starting a new job with only the vaguest idea of what I was supposed to do (and how to do it) and finding that everyone expected me to perform competently, without any training or help, right away. Second, I have had a boss (female) who was so difficult to please and so willing to tell her underlings how stupid they were that several quit without even waiting until they could find other jobs. In other words, I could really relate to Andy's situation. Stuff like that actually does happen in the real world. Perhaps, that is the reason that I was possibly the only person in the theater who was hoping Andy would not make the choice she made.

One thing that Miranda Priestley (Merryl Streep) had going that my Boss From Hell did not was class. It would have been very easy to create Miranda as a monster, but, wisely and skillfully, Merryl Streep allowed her to have a dignity and intelligence that made her seem to be demanding but not sadistic.

Stanley Tucci is superb as Nigel, the ambitious, hard working man who dreams of having a position of power like Miranda's some day.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is a very funny movie that is not as far divorced from the real world as, I believe, the producers of this movie may have thought.
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Can a million viewers all be wrong?
5 March 2007
Joel Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal movie reviewer, suggested that "Little Miss Sunshine" might win the Oscar because it was the only nominee no one disliked. That was the feeling I had going in - it was a movie no one disliked.

Well, I am not about to tell you that I'm right and everyone else is wrong: there's an old saying about there being no accounting for taste. But, I will tell you why I didn't like it very much.

Actually, I found each of the characters to be quite likable -- at the end of the movie. But, for the first half-hour or so I felt as if I were trapped in a room full of unruly children. I just wanted to get outside and take a deep breath. I guess it's just me, but I don't find humor in people being mean to other people. Nor am I comfortable being present where people seem to be unable to resist describing the flaws in the character of everyone else.

Everyone was right about Abigail Breslin - she was charming throughout the movie. Her presence was all that kept me in the theater long enough for the rest of the characters to become civilized.

There are some very funny moments in the film. There are some mildly touching scenes, as well. The theme of the movie about what differentiates a winner from a loser is good. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) could have been quoting me when he told Olive why she was not going to be a loser.

So, if you like the things I dislike, or if you can avoid becoming irretrievably bummed out long enough to get to like the characters, you may very well like this movie. It seems that almost everyone except me (and the several hundred IMDb reviewers who hated it) liked it a lot.
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Some valid points, but not many
25 January 2007
This film was actually a bit of a disappointment given the very high score it had been given by voters on this website. Nonetheless, it makes some valid points and provides some insight into the MPAA film rating system.

Unfortunately, it spends far too much time in the rather meaningless task of trying to find out the identities of the members of the ratings board. That reminds me of a con used by professional wrestling years ago: a wrestler would come to town wearing a mask. He would call himself Mr. X or some such and promise to take off his mask if anyone beat him. I remember asking someone what people thought they were going to see when he took it off - would it be some famous person? Of course not! It was some guy no one had ever heard of. Who should care who he is? The same thing with the ratings board members. I assume they keep their identities secret to avoid harassment from people like the two nut-cases in this movie.

Mostly, the film takes a rather one-sided view, spins it as if there were no other side, and provides some unhappy film makers with a chance to whine about the unfairness of it all. It implies that the studios should release whatever they create. Otherwise, it's CENSORSHIP.

In our society, no one expects the purveyor of a product to present something that may harm its reputation or lose money. A film studio has every right to refuse to release a film it doesn't like. That is in no way censorship. The film maker has the right to find another studio or to release it as an independent film. Of course, they don't get the benefit of the studio's promotion if they do that but, hey, that's life. Some of the critics seem to recognize that and merely want a chance to present their case. Others sound like spoiled children who believe they are entitled to have someone else (a movie studio) provide distribution and promotion of whatever they make. Still others want to be free to make, and have distributed and promoted for them, whatever they want, but they want others to be restricted to their standards.

The point is made that in Europe a movie is more likely to get a restrictive rating for violence than for sex, with the implication that the Europeans have it right. Well, they have their point of view. I, personally find the extremely distasteful and currently popular "comedies" that are usually rated PG or PG-13 more offensive than either the violent or the sexy. But, that's just me.

I agree with those who say that instead of a simple rating, there should be a more specific description of scenes that are potentially offensive to some (I do not consider myself to be the judge of what others should find offensive). This is available, in some cases at least. Netflix often has the MPAA rating and a link to another MPAA page that describes the violence, sex, language, etc. in the context of the film.

At a time when the major studios are not putting out very much of value, this topic is definitely a good one for discussion. Unfortunately, this film does very little of that.
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So good I watched it over again.
13 January 2007
Sometimes, when a movie (on DVD) is particularly interesting and thought provoking, I watch parts of it over with director's comments turned on. In the case of "The Illusionist" my wife and I watched the entire movie over to hear the director's comments.

Clearly, as some critics complain, some of the illusions could not be done as shown in the movie (and certainly not in 1900) and the director admits he took some illusions that actually were done during the movie's time period and added to them to provide an enhanced movie effect. But, that is really picking nits in this case because the basic illusions themselves would have been adequate, in the real world, to provoke a similar response. In fact, many illusionists throughout history have done exactly that.

Some reviewers compare this movie to "The Prestige" because they are both about illusions. That is like comparing "Saving Private Ryan" with "Apocalypse Now" because they are both about war. In "The Illusionist" illusions are the means to an end. In "The Prestige" the illusions are the end.

The theme of this movie is that in the minds of most people, there is a fine line between illusion and reality – one need only hear discussions (such as they are) of renewable energy, nuclear power, or global warming to verify the truth in that – and writer/director Neil Burger uses a story of star-crossed lovers (a relationship which, interestingly enough, is not in the original story on which this movie is based) and Eisenheim's (Edward Norton) determination to be with his love, if only in death, as the framework for that theme. At one point in the movie (no spoiler here) the question of whether the visions Eisenheim has produced are illusion or reality is being discussed when Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) states that it doesn't matter – the result is the same.

Such, according to Burger, is the nature of the mind. It is often stated - and, incredibly, many people seem to be believe - that perception is reality.

Edward Norton is the perfect actor for this role. Norton may have no peer when it comes to using nothing but facial expressions (or lack of same) to convey thoughts and feelings, and that is all-important in this film. It is politically, and legally, necessary that Eisenheim not make claims that could be used against him, so he conveys his thoughts with body (mostly facial) language that is so strong that one feels that words have been said that, in fact, were never spoken. Similarly, he can disclaim, with strong words, any special powers knowing that the people who hear those words will continue to believe the powers exist. I did not think Paul Giamatti was right for the role of the police chief, but he handles it adequately, which is all that is necessary. Similarly, the much-maligned Jessica Biel handles her undemanding role quite well. I was surprised to hear the director say in the commentary that there was some concern about using her in the film since neither Norton nor Giamatti "suffer fools" very well. He said it in praise, however, because he thought Norton and Giamatti accorded her the respect they would only give to a competent performer.

But, this is Norton's movie. He is great in it and makes it a great movie.
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The Prestige (2006)
A great story, but not a great movie
24 October 2006
As I sat in the theater, engrossed in the kind of story I love – complex, intriguing, and mysterious, I wondered why I wasn't enjoying it more. I found myself trying harder to tie the action on the screen to Nikola Tesla's real work than to tie together the many seemingly loose ends of the story.

It was a good movie, no doubt, but it seemed a shame not to do more with a story that had so much potential. The problem, I finally realized, was this: there were a number of key events: dramatic, exciting, and violent events that were underplayed to the point of being almost lost in the background. After lingering over a rather dull conversation, the cameras would speed past an amazing and startling event, leaving me to visualize the event in my head long after the camera had gone on to another long conversation. Furthermore, I found it impossible to gain any rapport with any of the main characters other than Cutter, played superbly by Michael Caine, which prevented me from investing myself in any hoped-for outcome. Eventually, the movie just seemed too long.

Perhaps, the reason for the rather strange approach, emphasizing words over actions, was that the clues are in the events, not the words, and the filmmakers wanted to promote the film as a suspenseful story full of twists and turns – a movie that would challenge the audience. The problem is that there is nothing really very challenging about the movie. Anyone who follows the events will understand what is going on.

Considering the dearth of quality in the Hollywood product, "The Prestige" is definitely worth going to see, especially for anyone who is interested in the art of illusion. But, a story this good should provide a lot more.
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The Path to 9/11 (2006– )
A rare case of TV fulfilling its potential
11 September 2006
I have read The 9/11 Report all the way through and 2 of al Qaeda expert Michael Scheuer's books and, as I watched part 2 of "The Path to 9/11", I couldn't help but think how much better it was AS A MOVIE (forget the politics) than Spielberg's docudrama, "Munich", which I saw on DVD several days ago.

I was hoping for a movie that presented the events leading up to the attack in a reasonably accurate, understandable, and interesting way. I never would have expected a TV network to produce something of this quality. What I saw was one of those very rare cases where TV lives up to the potential we once expected but have very rarely seen.

Beginning with the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, it relives the events leading up to and including what many of us remember as possibly the worst day of our lives. Most importantly, it reveals the hard work done by American intelligence agents and the frustrations they experience as politicians repeatedly find what some would call reasons and most of us would call excuses for not acting. The portrayal of events is first rate with an outstanding cast led by Harvey Keitel as FBI agent and al Qaeda expert John O'Neill, and is quite consistent with the reports of the 911 commission and others such as Michael Scheuer.

Concerning the politics: I think this should be seen as a commentary, not on one individual or political party as opposed to another, but on how difficult it is to operate in a governmental system that encourages avoiding mistakes (that the media and political opponents can use to destroy one's career) more than taking needed action for the benefit of our society.
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Like a long lecture by a very boring professor
25 April 2006
Perhaps George Clooney did about as much as he could with a story that really did not have a lot of depth. I suspect that Clooney set out to make an "All the President's Men" sort of movie featuring Murrow as the crusading journalist. Murrow was a very competent and very popular journalist - one of the first of the TV editorialists - but in the McCarthy case he did not really have to crusade. Like many of today's journalists, he used his show to voice his opinion about a very controversial man who was on a very controversial committee investigating reports of Communists in high government positions. In 1980, this might have been an interesting and informative movie, but much more has been learned since then. We now know that the agents of the Soviet Union McCarthy was searching for did exist, as information from the Venona files has verified. Actually, had Clooney chosen to include the Venona Project he might have made a truly historic movie.

The Venona Project was carried out during and after World War II. American military intelligence officers secretly recorded transmissions between Washington and the Kremlin. (You can find information about it on many web sites, including an article entitled "Significance of Venona" on Wikipedia.) The transcripts were sealed until Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan sued under the Freedom of Information Act in the mid-90's to have them released. It would make a great movie. Hollywood has not chosen to tell the Venona story, just as they have not chosen to make movies about the Soviet gulags or China's Cultural Revolution.

So, Murrow was no hero, he was doing what Sixty Minutes (or, perhaps, The O'Reilly Factor) does now, although in a manner more suited to the dignified 1950's. McCarthy's popularity faded as a stream of witnesses "took the fifth" (as they said back then) and the investigation produced very little. McCarthy was indeed very heavy-handed and overly zealous in his approach and his treatment of witnesses (as was Richard Ben Veniste of the 9/11 commission). He was not really responsible for the "black-listing" of some of the people who were called before the committee, nor was he responsible for the apparent suicide of Don Hollenbeck. It was movie producers and publishers who decided (often as a result of investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee rather than the Senate's Tydings committee) who they would and would not use, just as they do today, and it was other reporters who attacked Hollenbeck, who chose (as the movie indicated) to involve himself.

Ultimately, McCarthy's "crusade" lost its popularity and he was demonized and driven from his position in disgrace. Anyone who reads the papers or watches the news has seen this happen to numerous senators and congressmen in the past fifteen years or so. It is what is called "hardball politics." Even if McCarthy was as bad as he is portrayed, his effect was minor. The Tydings committee (on which McCarthy served) was active for only one month and led nowhere.

So, that's the story. It could be told very well in 30 minutes. McCarthy's story has been kept alive by Hollywood and book publishers. Much better movies such as "The Crucible" (ostensibly telling of the Salem witch trials) have been based on these investigations and, as fiction, have had interesting stories woven into them.

People who cannot remember back to that period find it hard to understand our concern with Communism, which is now viewed by many as a benign alternate form of government. I think the people who risked their lives to escape Cuba, East Germany, Stalin's USSR or Mao's China could probably explain it.
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Absolutely hilarious when viewed in perspective
1 January 2006
I can never understand how people who laugh the 800th time they see a man kicked or punched or hit with some object in the groin and find it hilarious when a man catches his private parts in the zipper of his pants can become outraged when a little good-natured fun is poked at women.

"How to Murder Your Wife" is a 1965 comic satire that pokes fun at the husband-wife stereotypes of the day; women as manipulating creatures who control the marital relationship, and men as little more than beasts of burden – acting boldly at work and then becoming brainless boobs at home. The male half of this stereotype has been the backbone of popular sitcoms since they first appeared on the small screen: Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, William Bendix (and, briefly, Jackie Gleason) as Chester A. Riley, Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, Ray Romano as the Ray everybody loves. So, no one was surprised or offended when Jack Lemmon as cartoonist Stanley Ford and Eddie Mayehoff as Ford's lawyer Harold Lampson, a henpecked wimp who is afraid to disagree with his domineering wife, played effectively by Claire Trevor, played the stereotypical roles.

In 1965, when I saw the movie in a theater with my wife of one year, we both thought it was hilarious. Perhaps part of my wife's enjoyment came from having just engineered our move into a brand new apartment that I was convinced was beyond our means and then filled it with furniture I did not believe we could afford. Of course, I came to love the apartment and the beautiful furniture now, forty years later, has a place in our den and guest room.

After the opening scenes showing Lemmon's character act out, on the streets of New York City, elaborate scenarios (that even major movie studios would hesitate to finance) for the purpose of establishing credibility for the escapades of his cartoon character, Bash Brannigan, no one in the audience should believe this movie is to be taken seriously in any way.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Stanley Ford's marriage, while in an alcoholic stupor, to the beautiful Virna Lisi. His first reaction is to get out of the marriage, which was not that easy to do in 1965, especially in New York. Of course, she totally disrupts his orderly, healthy lifestyle causing him no end of grief. But, in spite of all his protests, it is clear that he is hooked. He loves her. But, she has become a part of his cartoon, which he does not like, and he decides to kill her in the comic strip. When she disappears in real life, he is accused of her murder.

It is the courtroom scene that causes the feminist outrage. But, thanks to the comic talents of Jack Lemmon and an unbelievably funny performance by Eddie Mayehoff the scene is simply hilarious, and when we watched the movie on DVD a few nights ago my wife and I laughed as hard as we did forty years ago. People know that America was very different forty years ago, but most seem to think the changes have all been for the better. That depends on your point of view. One place where the change has not been for the better is in long-term male-female relationships (that meant marriage in 1965). Contrary to what many have been led to believe, most men really loved their wives and put their happiness and welfare above their own (and in my experience, they still do), and their wives knew this and did not take seriously a movie like "How to Murder Your Wife." They were able to have a sense of humor: just as men must have in order to take their wives and girlfriends to movies that consistently demean men.

If you are a woman, you can decide whether you have a sense of humor. If you do you might very well find "How to Murder Your Wife" to be very funny. On the other hand, if a kick to a man's groin is your idea of humor no matter how many times you see it, perhaps this movie is not for you.

A bonus that light jazz lovers will enjoy (at least, my wife and I did) is Neal Hefti's score (worth listening to in its own right) which is used very effectively in setting the mood for each scene.
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Walk the Line (2005)
At least one Academy Award Performance
31 December 2005
This movie was a very pleasant surprise. Although it got good reviews, it was only the lack of something better when my wife and I decided to catch a matinée before going for dinner that got me into the theater to see it.

I was never much of a fan of Johnny Cash, who I often described as having a range of half an octave in an unpleasant key. Furthermore, I just did not believe Joaquin Phoenix was the right man for the role. I believe you had to see Cash to appreciate his unique style. "The man in black" looked big and powerful on stage as he held his guitar to his shoulder like a rifle, and when lyrics like, "I killed a man just to watch him die" passed his curled lip while his eyes seemed to dart about the room he could appear somewhat menacing. I didn't think Phoenix could convey that image.

I was wrong. In the Folsom Prison scene, when Phoenix yanked the guitar to his shoulder and curled his lip as he poured forth the lyrics, the darting eyes had a look of madness in them. I felt a chill run down my spine – it was as if Cash himself had taken over the actor's body. I actually felt as if I were watching the real Johnny Cash. I have never seen an actor actually become the real-life character he was playing the way Phoenix did. It was an Academy Award performance.

Reese Witherspoon handled the June Carter role quite well. She conveyed the spirit quite well, although I don't think anyone ever had the energy and warmth in her comedy that Ms. Carter did. Think Minnie Pearl on speed.

Cash is not portrayed as a sympathetic character. He was a self-centered man who could be downright mean. Of course, those characteristics are not exactly rare among big-time entertainers. What makes the story interesting is June Carter's unwillingness to marry him, in spite of her obvious love for him. She made him wait until he knew she could live without him if could not return that love and be faithful to her. Possibly, for the first time in his life he came to value someone else as much as he valued himself. It seemed to work and Cash, along with June Carter Cash, went on to a great career, and reportedly, a good life with the woman he loved.
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Albert is a mentally challenged young man: or is he?
5 June 2005
Albert is a mentally challenged young man: or is he? Whatever the case, he definitely has a gift for catching fish through the ice. The movie is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (not a small town); which is definitely not the ice fishing capital of the U. S. Minnesota has that title all locked up; but Albert's mom is so possessive that she will not let him go to Minnesota (or anyplace else where he might be tempted to try a few things on his own) to enter the big-buck contests, so he fishes in Wisconsin. (A reviewer praises the film makers for avoiding "You betcha" Minnesota stereotypes. Perhaps that is because there is only one scene, the last, in Minnesota. It shows a large ice-covered lake and a few fishermen, none of whom gets a chance to say, "Okey, dokey".) Anyway, it is his awareness that he is not where the big tourneys are that led me to question how mentally challenged he really is. If he were truly as challenged as some would have us believe, he would probably settle for the $23,000 prizes he wins in the Milwaukee area and never question his mother's wisdom. However, he clearly wishes to go to the bigger fishing tournaments in spite of his mother's opposition. It appears that what seems to be lack of mental competence may actually be more a sign of his great loyalty to his mom whom he loves dearly in spite of her suffocating control.

After mom's death, in a hit-run auto collision, Albert is forced to take more control of his life as the scam artists, Quaid (as Jerry), Folland (as Tuey), and perhaps Dern's character, Sean, make their moves to gain control of the $300,000 or so he has accumulated.

I thought the first half of the movie was far too slow. Mainly, it introduced us to the characters. It did not take that long to get the take on Mom, Stan, Tuey, and Sean. Jerry (Randy Quaid) makes his appearance a little later.

The second half is much better as reality grabs Albert by the throat and forces him to take charge. How he does that gives the clues to his real capabilities.

I think people who compare "Milwaukee, Minnesota" with "Fargo" are just looking at the snow. The similarities between the two movies (other than the snow) are pretty minor.

Fargo it is not. A nice movie with some very complex characters (but not story) it is. Garity is excellent. Quaid and Dern, whom I suspect received far less pay than usual, gave them their money's worth.

It made for a pleasant afternoon in the movies on a cold spring day in Minnesota.
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The Aviator (2004)
A movie about a man's OCD. Period
15 February 2005
Suppose Martin Scorsese made a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt which consisted of three hours of discussion of his affair with Lucy Mercer and his Polio induced disability with only slight attention paid to the Great Depression or WWII. Better yet, suppose the movie ended just after FDR's third inauguration with a Republican foe, played by Alec Baldwin, rising and in two or three sentences, acknowledging defeat and predicting that FDR would end the depression and rid Europe of Nazism and Fascism, making it safe for Socialism.

Substitute Howard Hughes for FDR and change paralysis to OCD and you have, "The Aviator." Scorsese's thesis is that everything Hughes did was the result of an obsession or compulsion. Hughes compulsively chases (and catches) every beautiful Hollywood actress in the 1930's and 40's. Meanwhile, his obsession with airplanes and perfection drives him to design innovative aircraft that enable him to be the first man to circumnavigate the globe in four days and set new air speed records. We are shown a seemingly endless scene (one of many) in which he is trapped in a men's room because he is so obsessed with germs that he is afraid to touch the doorknob. Strangely, this fear of germs doesn't seem to prevent him from touching the private parts of female movie stars. (It should be noted that Hughes's biographers rarely if ever mention his disorder as occurring prior to the late 1950's.) As if in answer to my most fervent prayers, the movie finally concludes in a 1947 scene (after Hughes has defeated the U. S. Senate and several couples have left the theater, but before he has established his business empire) by having Alec Baldwin, as the head of Pan Am, predict Hughes's accomplishments in the 50's and 60's (which should have been shown in scenes replacing those of catch me, catch me with starlets and Hughes suffering from the OCD he had not yet acquired).

Cate Blanchett, currently the best actress in Hollywood, is outstanding as Kate Hepburne. Leo DeCaprio is not credible as a giant like Howard Hughes. He isn't helped by having to spend the duration of the movie displaying a facial expression which seems to say, "I have to find a men's room, fast." For this atrocity, Scorsese should be exiled to movie hell in Northern Minnesota making movies about female iron workers filing sexual harassment law suits.
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Not bad for a really crummy movie
13 February 2005
This is possibly the strangest movie I have ever seen. When Ford and Ashley (?) are engaged in that senseless and unending shouting match I wanted to yell at the screen, "Stop this crap and start the story." Then when they wandered endlessly and mindlessly through the streets I felt like turning off the DVD player. When they were doing the "Sexcapades" I felt like I was watching one of those late-night soft porn movies, except everyone was keeping their clothes on (well, mostly). All the while, however, the camera was aimed at some of the nicest scenery in NY and that wasn't bad at all. Then, at the end, the photography was great and the story almost made sense. When it ended, I was surprised to find that I didn't think it was all that bad. Not good, mind you, but not all that bad.

One thing I learned was why Neve Campbell never took her clothes off in a movie before -- she should have kept that policy intact.
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Open Water (2003)
Pretty good if it hasn't been spoiled for you!
5 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think this is really a spoiler, but just to play it safe I am giving notice.

I liked this movie quite a lot, but maybe would not have had I known more about it. I expected there to be scenes of the incompetent boat crew discovering the error (I mean earlier, when it could have helped) and the ensuing search. I was taken completely by surprise by the way the movie played out. I also think that the extreme dislike of some reviewers is just another example of the inability of most people today to enjoy a movie that is not full of action. When I watch a movie like the original version of "The Flight of the Phoenix" or "Glengarry Glen Ross" I realize that no major studio would make these movies today.

I have no doubt that had a major (or even not-so-major) studio made this movie it would have been very different, probably better. But, just as I can enjoy a good high school hockey game, I can enjoy a small movie for what it is.

I noted one reviewer of "Open Water" excoriating the couple for not getting back in time. In fact, Daniel states quite emphatically that it is not yet the appointed time for the boat to leave. The crew had simply decided that everyone was back and left. Reviewers of the movie have described the event as a careless accident. Not at all. This would be nothing short of criminal negligence. There must be 100 acceptable ways to avoid leaving someone and the crew managed to avoid all of them. The frightening thing is that I have taken excursions in the Caribbean and other resort areas with crews that were no better.

If you have any interest in the film (like it or not), it is worth getting the DVD and watching the special features. The director and actors describe making the movie and actually swimming among the sharks (no computer graphics or stunt doubles). Those scenes were scarier than the ones in the movie. Also, they describe the very limited resources they had. This is a (married) couple of talented people who decide (for the second time) to make a movie and set out to do it, the way an ordinary couple might add a room to their house. Kentis even worked at his day job all the while. At a time when people complain that corporations rule, they show once again that individuals can do things now they never could have done in the past.
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