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The Big Chill (1983)
Well made but meandering
13 January 2018
I agree with what Roger Ebert has written about this movie: something in the style of "it knows all the moves but has no payoff and it doesn't go anywhere". It's interesting as a portrait of (very) early middle age but eventually you're left with a question: "so what?".

There are also some minor inconsistencies which are each very forgivable but all together contribute to the disconnect I feel towards this movie: it's clearly set in the 80s but the characters are supposed to have a past rooted in the 60s counterculture, and yet they seem so relatively young. And yet they have turned that page pretty swiftly, and made it big, while continuing from time to time to utter oddly naive considerations. There's a lot of music in the film, diegetic and not. Sometimes we get whole songs while the characters do stuff in the background, and it seems a bit of a narrative copt-out.

For the positives: it's very well acted and contains several genuinely funny moments. But I struggle to see what's supposed to be "seminal" about it. There's another film on a very similar theme, "Le déclin de l'empire americain" -- which feels infinitely more real and poignant than this one.
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My Partner the Ghost (1969–1971)
Unsual, whimsical
4 January 2018
The premise is so absurd (a detective solves cases with the help of the ghost of his deceased business partner) and the special effects so primitive, that it's very surprising how well it works.

The atmosphere is almost Hitchcockian in the first episodes, with some comedy added. But the grittiness is such that an alternative interpretation is possible: that there's no ghost and the cases actually happen only in the confused mind of the surviving partner. In the latter episodes the tone is mellower and more comical -- personally I prefer the early ones, but I know that opinions differ on that.

The actors are all fantastic, especially Mike Pratt -- a Bogart in minor mode, with his perma-ciggie, elegance and the battered look of someone who has seen too much of the world.

Unlike other commentators, I saw this series for the first time as an adult, and I was surprised that it has a moderate reputation for being a children's show: it's way too scary for kids. Still, it totally deserves to be rediscovered.
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Mango Tango (2009)
27 December 2017
First the positive: the first five minutes, in a comic-book-meets-Allen kind of way aren't that bad. But really only the first five minutes. The film does do what's on the tin: there's a great deal of tangoes and mangoes. I may suggest, tho, that an even more apt title would be "Me, myself and I" as the filmmaker can't resist putting herself in every single shot: she's practically photobombing her own movie. I get the premise: to reveal the grotesque side of love stories through a heavy use of symbolism. Sadly, such good premise is betrayed almost immediately, and all we get is a lot of little boring dance numbers and wheelbarrows of self-indulgent rubbish. There are several recurring themes which don't mean absolutely anything: apart from the regular mango eating and tango dancing, we get excruciatingly long sequences, for example, of the protagonist just walking on a beach. Or frowning. Or looking in the far distance.

The bottom line is: you can't film yourself doing mundane things for one hour and a half and call it an art-house movie.
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Underrated little gem of the 80s
25 December 2017
Spectacular balancing act between fact and fiction, public and private, greedy, ambitious Thatcherites and vacuous upper class specimen of the gauche caviar. The "Ploughman's lunch" is extremely tightly narrated and manages to make the spectator interested in the sorts of a bunch of not really likeable characters and their struggles for love, sex and power. This is "Wall Street" in European and ultra-minor key version and a formidable depiction of the Eighties and their political and social contradictions.

Hope I haven't made it sound boring, because it isn't -- it's wryly, dryly funny, without even so much of a wink to the spectator, and dissects his protagonists with surgical precision.
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Works really well as a feelgood movie
5 December 2017
I approached this documentary from a point of view of complete ignorance about its subject, prompted by having listened to "Lifestyles" on an internet radio. I understand that it tends to eschew some facts to deliver what is at the end of the day a heartwarming fable.

Truth is, I would have probably liked more something more warts-and-all, but the film really works. It's true that it's frustrating how the investigations about the "money trail" are cut short, but clearly it fell through the cracks and maybe the details of how it did fell aren't so important. It emerges clearly how South Africa was relatively isolated and remote seen from America, and how in this isolation mythologies had fertile space to grow.

It's probably not terribly accomplished as a documentary, but as a feel good movie, with a very consistent and fair tone, and lots of humanity, it's a little masterpiece.
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Effortless elegance
19 November 2017
This is comfort TV at its best. It consists of thirty minutes episodes where James May reassembles at each time a different mechanical item, explaining what he's doing and musing about disparate topics related to the object.

It may seem a boring premise: it's not. It's funny, elegant and captivating. The threadbare setup makes the charisma of the host shine through. It's oddly cosy as well, like sitting near the fireplace with a glass of whisky in the company of an extraordinary raconteur.

The format is rigorous: even when it skids into meta territory, with the cameramen/women interacting with the host and the filming devices left visible, it's always functional to the narrative, it never looks as it were trying hard to seem clever.

The only minor gripe is that at time the editing looks too severe: one can only suspect that too many interesting bits remained on the cutting floor in order to fit several hours of footage into thirty minutes. It would be fabulous to have an extended version of one hour, or even the whole raw footage in pure slow TV style.

Even with this caveat, it remains a brilliant program, with a host who can make great TV out of almost nothing. The possibilities seem endless (threadbare cookery show anyone?) -- hope it won't remain an isolated work.
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Bombay Talkie (1970)
Oh man, that's tedious
19 November 2017
I love the Merchant Ivory films and I love the 70s aesthetics, so I was quite drawn initially into this movie. The initial sequence around the giant typewriter is spectacular.

Unfortunately, it just fizzled out from that moment onwards. I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of the characters: the guys are stupid, the female lead vain, narcissistic and self-centered to the point of implosion.

It remains somewhat watchable as a document of an era, but it's a surprisingly poor movie.
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Dullest movie ever made?
18 November 2017
This is a classic romcom written from a Word '97 template, with all the inventiveness of a bank teller on Valium. Imagine every romcom ever made, except that the actors are less good than usual. Basically a long series of clichés, cheesy and predictable. An exercise in box ticking of worn-out narrative devices.

There are a couple of elderly characters who appear briefly and briefly awake the spectator from their slumber, but it's really too little to love. The setting in Brighton could have at least supplied some nice backdrops, but it's way underused.

I can't believe that, at the time of writing this film has a score of 7.2. Seriously people, this is one hour and a half of your life that you used to watch this. Do you really ask so little from your movies?
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La bella Otero (1984 TV Movie)
Interesting TV movie of yore
4 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I first watched this when I was a kid and it made a profound impression on me. Since as a grown up I am very much into biopics, I decided to check it out on DVD -- half expecting for it to be a disappointment.

Surprisingly, it has aged quite graciously, and it remains eminently watchable. There are a few grating things, obviously: first, the dubbing. It was an international production and I have no idea which language it was shot in (if any: as at the time it was common practice for the actors to say gobbledygook if there was no direct sound recording), but the dubbing in Italian is truly and well pedestrian, reminiscent of an online Russian bootleg. A modern text-to-speech software would probably inject more sentiment into the dialogues and have a better lip-sync. Second, it clocks at just above four hours, and especially at the beginning and the end, you start to notice all the filler shots that don't add anything to the atmosphere and narration and are just there to pass the time. Some sequences could be cut in half and being improved in the process.

But, despite these faults, there are still many moments of genuine emotion, and Harvey Keitel and Angela Molina are a pleasure to watch. One thing that I find striking, it's that as a kid I was absolutely enthralled by the both of them, but seeing it now I mostly appreciate how both characters are unspeakably wounded, and how a successful life ends up being a slog for both of them (which makes for a quite sad movie).

This is not a true-to-life biopic: it has been inspired by a novel which in turn had been inspired by the life of Carolina Otero. As far as I am aware, some of the main characters may be pure invention. Still, if you are into flamenco or vintage television, or if you just want a ton of eye candy in the shape of the two very comely protagonists, it's worth checking this out.
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Do not believe the hype
13 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I really wanted to like it, after hearing friends talk about it like it were some paradigm of coming of age masterwork.

But I really couldn't. The main character takes a day off, behaves badly and gets away with it. Which would make for a funny, cheeky film, weren't for the fact that such main character is an unlovable, self-absorbed young idiot.

The film itself has more plot holes than a narrative colander and the other characters are little more than cardboard cutouts. Charlie Sheen fleetingly raises the tone slightly with a tiny, well acted part of a juvenile delinquent -- but this is pretty much the only positive thing I can say about this absolute dud of a movie.
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The Goodies: The End of the World Show (1977)
Season 7, Episode 6
Absolutely brilliant
6 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I love the Goodies, but there's no doubt that the quality of their shows varies somewhat among episodes. Earthanasia (such I believe is the original title of "The End of the World Show") is in a league of its own. Showing the three main characters waiting for the end of the world at midnight, it superimposes silly but funny gags with a surprisingly real sense of impending doom. I found very clever that the episode is narrated in real time, e.g. it documents the passage of exactly half an hour. As the time progresses the Goodies become increasingly frantic to make the best use of the rest of their lives, and so the pace of the comedy accelerates linearly. The frenzy is cut by an incredibly abrupt but apt ending, which contains a final dazzling twist (but not the one the viewer expects).

Earthanasia is the best work of the Goodies, and it's better than most contemporary comedy. A pity that it seems vastly forgotten. If you can get your hands on the DVD, it's one to watch and rewatch from time to time.
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19 July 2017
I am not sure why this film gets a bad rap -- I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wonderful locations of an impossibly glamorous late-60s London, Lawrence Harvey suitably mysterious, a seeping sense of doom which won't give you nightmares but will make you appreciate the story arc even more.

Yes there are plot holes but nothing major. The character of Mia Farrow remains a cipher, but maybe it's intentional.

Watch out for two then future telly stars in minor roles: Richard O'Sullivan (of Man about the house) and Mike Pratt (of Randall and Hopkirk).

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19 June 2017
Worth seeing for the various scenes of Camden in the late Nineties. Apart from that I found almost impossible to relate to anything that was happening on the screen. Affairs are started, continued and/or abandoned on a whim. The characters have all the depth of a very shallow puddle and generally are extremely difficult to care for. In a sense, it's understandable they do sleep around: their partners' personalities are so uniform, what makes it possible to discriminate between one or the other?

A marginally interesting side is that, watching it today, it has a time capsule aspects. No cell phones, no social media: everything is dealt with in person. I missed that kind of youth by just a handful of years, having come of age slightly later. I envy them a little.
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Massive disappointment
17 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I had high expectations -- I like the films of Frears. But this one just doesn't do it for me. The characters are walking stereotypes, and they are either saints or cartoon villains. The plot holes abound: for example, why the heart in the toilet at the beginning of the movie? I understand the need for the symbolism, but it is really contrived (where's the rest of the body... ?).

The worst fault of the movie is that it sacrifices both realism and nuance in order to clumsily and gracelessly hammer home a political thesis. Please, please progressive filmmakers, don't make such manicheistic movies: I feel a tiny bit less left wing after having seen Dirty Pretty Things, as a reaction against its ham-fistedness and single- mindedness.
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Moretti's masterpiece
4 March 2017
I consider Red Lob one of the best Italian movies of all times. It's surreal, moving, thought-provoking and incredibly funny. I wonder what a non-Italian audience may make of it, since it's steeped in references of the Italian political environment of the 70s/80s but I hope such audience can enjoy in the same way, I, for example, can love an Aki Kaurismaki movie despite it coming from a culture whose finer points I ignore.

It's a film of my adolescence and nowadays it looks, feels and sounds quaint and almost naive -- but also courageous. Which Italian director would risk today to make a two-hours dream-like, heavily metaphorical political movie? And whose director would manage to make something so hilarious out of it?

I wish I could share at length how much Red Lob influenced me and my whole generation. Some scenes, like the one where Michele slaps the journalist in the face because she is using clichéd expressions, or the one where he tries to explain to a Catholic politician why they are different, are still quoted today and are part of our cultural baggage.

If you've never seen a Moretti movie, maybe start by something more conventional like The Mass is Ended but please don't pass by Red Lob, because it's a real treat.
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Cloclo (2012)
Predicable script but still very enjoyable
31 July 2016
Biopics are all somewhat un-spoilerable: you know from the first frames, where usually the character is shown as an adorable baby, that such character will do stuff, be famous and/or infamous and then die. That's why, in Cloclo, it's easy to fear the obvious outcome when, in the later part, the characters start to say "see you tomorrow" in an involuntarily ominous way.

I am a fan of French music but not of Claude François. The little I've seen and heard of him, seemed wooden, insincere and dated. All I knew before the film is that he dated France Gall and died young. I didn't know how he died and so to me the end came as a surprise twist, a stunning display of the pointless randomness of life, an almost unsubtle payback fit for a control freak. The surprise made come alive a film that, although hugely enjoyable because of the amazing acting, had to that point submissively followed the blueprint of Every Biopic Ever.

This is not a deep movie but then probably the life of its subject was a bit shallow itself. I wish it had had more historical / contextual references than those it has (Zero? Does a passing mention of Johnny Hallyday count?). Still, director and actors more than save the day: it's a period piece that it's terrific fun.
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The Bridge (I) (2006)
Atrocious, insensitive and juvenile
19 February 2015
This may be the worst docu I've ever seen.

I tried to watch it with an open mind and I was ready to not assume a moralising attitude while faced with the premise of The Bridge, which is basically a modern snuff movie. But... like another commenter observed, at each jump you can almost feel the glee of the director about having wrapped a good shot, you can imagine the conversations of the cameramen, and it's not a nice thought. And the music choices, ohmygod.

This film manages incredibly to bridge the gap between gratuitous, immoral shock value and extreme dullness. There's surprising little emotion in every single scene. There's no social discourse. There's virtually no insight on the people we see dying: the interviews vaguely mention depression, mental illness -- and to think that the interviewees weren't informed about the footage of the death of their loved ones, that's so crass and insensitive that defies belief.

I see this film as incorporating everything that is bad in some media industry: exploitation, gimmicks, shock value, insensitivity and superficiality. I hope this director changes career.

The only way The Bridge vaguely works, is in a perverse meta-discourse: the loneliness of the suicides is exemplified by the crassness of the movie itself. The environment that couldn't save them it's the very one that produces "art" such as this movie.
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23 January 2015
I liked it! It's the kind of documentaries that let the subject talk for itself (quite literally) without meddling with the viewing pleasure by suggesting a narrative. Not much happens, I am certain that for some it will be a snoozefest, but it's quite engaging, and funny. The author is so sympathetic towards its subject, making fun of no-one, always showing everyone at their most interesting, professional, human.

It's not for everyone I guess; there is no drama, no critique, no denunciation, it's an intimate and suffuse portrait with some comedic moments, and an occasion to play cultural celebrity spotting. In a few decades it will be a prized object of nostalgia, a very alive document of a bygone era.
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Paris, Dabar (2003)
Fascinating and somewhat depressing
14 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A group of (loose) friends get involved in a drinking competition, held in a well-known Bologna nightlife hotspot, "il Pratello". The prize is a night with a beautiful and ageing transsexual lady. They drink, drink and drink, revealing much about themselves, they puke on screen and let themselves loose, in more than one sense. Shot in "fly on the wall" style, it's close to docu-fiction mode: the characters drink for real and the core scenes are unscripted. I am from Bologna and many, if not all characters, were at the time familiar faces, friends, acquaintances. There's a raw, embarrassing quality about Paris, Dabar: a puzzling mix of vitality and squalor, "no future" and pursuit of pleasure. When we first saw it, we felt fascinated and somewhat ashamed: it's like we had never realised beforehand such pockets of drabness and hopelessness in the lives of people we had actually met, filmed in the very places we went out to have a good time. Seeing it again after some seven years, Paris, Dabar looks nearly like a period piece and it's difficult not to feel somewhat tender towards its candour and realism. One of the actors, Roberto Bozzetti, died shortly after the completion of the movie and this certainly adds to the feeling of looking at a world which is irremediably gone. The darkness and vitality that pervade Paris, Dabar were certainly there even if we were partially unaware of this; it's rather mesmerizing to see them depicted so exactly on screen, even if one can't help but being somewhat relieved to be far away. Uplifting? Not at all. Interesting? Certainly yes.
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Ball of Wax (2003)
Strangely compelling
18 January 2007
Ball of Wax is a very-low-budget little claustrophobic movie about a baseball star that becomes mean and cruel out of boredom.

A loose essay on acquired situational narcissism but one that is strangely intense. It's not very realistic but somehow you are hooked and want to know what happens after. It's a bit of pity for the ending, not strong as the rest of the movie.

It's shot in digital but the images are visually interesting.

Ball of Wax remembers me some French movies of the Sixties and I loved it. Worthy of mention is the Eric Bachmann score; I found it so beautiful that I bought the cd.
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Nearly perfect
1 December 2006
This is one of the most accomplished movies I ever seen. Brilliant dialogs, wonderful acting, moving music, a perfect mix of sobriety, passion, psychological violence and reserve.

At the heart of the movie, the character of Stephane is an enigma for the other characters and for the viewer. Who is he? What does he wants? Sautet doesn't embrace any psychological analysis for him: he could be neurotic, or a closet narcissist, or a perfect normal person. The director is very subtle in providing the viewer with plenty of little details about him, but refraining from pointing the finger at a single explanation. Still, the character is incredibly life-like and we comes to see him as it was a real person. It is worth noting that, although he wrote completely original stories, Sautet used to use real life, identifiable individuals as models for his characters.

I've seen Un coeur en hiver many times, but still each time I discover something new. Arguably the best Sautet movie and one of the best movies ever.
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A masterpiece
1 December 2006
I've seen De Wisselwachter for the first time about fifteen years ago, but this movie is still with me in some way, and sometimes I feel the need to see it again. The director guides us in an absurd story with an absurd background, but like in a dream, the disbelief never settles in and we are projected in the little world of the movie as it was a perfectly coherent parallel universe. The events in the storyline are scarce, but the tension is always very high, like in a well-made thriller, and the attention of the viewer never fleets.

The visuals are stunning, with no shot falling short of having a perfect composition and gorgeous colors. The sound is used sparingly - the film is nearly completely speechless and the music is used with great parsimony, only the ambient noise is always present - but with great effect. Very original and throughly enjoyable.
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Not Only But Always (2004 TV Movie)
Deeply moving
1 December 2006
If you don't know much about the biographies of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, don't expect to build yourself a solid culture about their lives just watching this movie: quite a lot of important things are glossed upon, or reported a bit incorrectly, or not enough developed. Take for example the attitude of Peter Cook towards David Frost: just a couple of quick references appear in Not Only But Always, without any background, and from these we don't understand much.

But where the movie is a brilliant achievement, is in describing the lifelong collaboration and love/hate relationship between the two main characters. This is portrayed with subtlety and compassion, and with such attention to the hurt feelings (and pride) of the protagonists, as it was a very well narrated love story. If you have ever had a very intense and mercurial creative or sentimental involvement with someone else, you will comprehend the struggles of Cook and Moore. In this sense, NOBA is definitely a better and more enjoyable movie than your average biopic.
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5 February 2006
OK, it's racist, we all know that. It's so exaggerated that is pathetic, and often it elicits more laughter than contempt for its so out-of-date point of view.

But in my opinion it's also pure, cheap, obvious melodrama, so trivial that I felt irritated at many scenes (as others commentators here, I saw it in a film class).

I have the impression that "Birth of a Nation" is still largely overrated, for people don't want to be labeled "ideological" in condemning this early soap opera.

I'm afraid that even in narratology, Griffith gave the bad example.
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A weak movie from a weak novel
26 December 2005
"Jack Frusciante" has a weak and simple plot and Stefano Accorsi is inexpressive as always. The novel was a small literary phenomena in its years but largely overrated, and the movie lacks its major strength: the colorful and funny language, with a strong local (we are in Bologna, Italy) tone. It seems shot paying attention not to stray from extreme mildness. Moreover, the characters are supposed to be aged of 14-16 years: well, they look a lot older. If you want a more interesting movie about the Bologna of youngsters, look for "Paz!" or, on a lot darker mood, "Paris, Dabar".

Definitely not to see.
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