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Rebelové (2001)
low budget, high comedy
7 July 2008
I ran into this piece while looking for "Rent"...

Fortunately "Rent" was out for the weekend, otherwise I might not have encountered this musical from a part of the world I am most unfamiliar with.

The Japanese title is, unexplainedly "Prague!!", but then again how else might a Japanese marketer give the local moviegoer the idea that this is not your average campy musical?

After settling into the novelty that this is a movie set in the former Czechoslovakia, and as a musical oddly interspersed with Petula Clark numbers sung in Czech, and with Twiggy dancers splashed all over the screen in sequence after sequence, the harsh reality of the society that is the backdrop of several happy-go-lucky soon- to-graduate high schoolers comes subtly into play, with no bashing you over the head that this is a communist country in transition.

Though I somehow doubt that a provincial Czech town in 1968 would have had the latest Carnaby Street fashions that the actresses were fond of wearing, it added to the sense of that wild and free time of life the protagonists were in, rather than catering to the reality which was likely a bit more subtle.

Knowing practically nothing about the culture and social background, I'm sure I must have missed more than a few references, but the message came through:

A group of high schoolers about to get out into the world live in a rapidly changing society longing to put Moscow's shadow in the past and join the "free" world. Tereza, the lovely protagonist, has a father who has taken advantage of the new political environment to open up a café on the edge of town. Her suitor Olda, is a symbol of the upstanding socialist who wants to take her to see the city lights of Moscow... but she can't stand him.

Into the scene walks in a band of young (and very handsome) army deserters posing as repairmen taking refuge in the lonely town church, where one of their uncles is the priest. Of course, Simon, the one with relatives in San Francisco is the one who falls in love with Tereza. Their goal is freedom in the West, but Simon gets waylaid with his feelings for Tereza, and who can blame him??

Meanwhile, the search is on for the deserters, and Tereza and her girlfriends have no idea who their new boyfriends are.

While it is honestly a little difficult to believe Tereza is merely 18, she plays it well, and the "summer of love" in a Czech village plays out for the 6 young people almost oblivious to the dark clouds that are gathering on the horizon. What happened after that is history, but the movie/musical shows it with humor and humanity as how it affected the average Czech family and personal relations.

If you like musicals with an element of seriousness but not played too darkly, this one is for you.
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Offside (I) (2006)
Girls Will Be Boys
24 September 2007
I felt this movie was as much about human sexuality as anything else, whether intentionally or not. We are also shown how absurd and paradoxical it is for women not to be allowed to such a nationally important event, meanwhile forgetting the pasts of our respective "advanced" nations. I write from Japan, where women merely got the right to vote 60 years ago, and female technical engineers are a recent phenomenon. Pubs in England were once all-male, the business world was totally off-limits for women in America until rather recently, and women in China had their feet bound so they couldn't develop feet strong enough to escape their husbands. Iran is conveniently going through this stage in our time, and we get a good look at how ridiculous we have all looked at one time or another. Back to the issue of sexuality, we are made to wonder what it may be intrinsically about women that make them unfit for a soccer game (the official reason is that the men are bad). Especially such boyish girls, a couple so much so that you even get the feeling that lesbianism is on the agenda as well. I think one point is that not all women are the same, and the women the police are trying to "protect" are not the ones who would try to get in in the first place. The opening scenes of the approach to the stadium makes you appreciate the valor of the young women trying to get in -- and each one separately -- at all. It is a brutish man's world. Any woman brave enough to try to go should be allowed! The world of sexuality is not one-size-fits-all.

Meanwhile, the apprehended criminal girls bond inside the makeshift pen awaiting their deportation to who-knows-where, and in a much more subtle way, begin to bond with the guards keeping watch over them. These had definite ideas about women and femininity, which were being challenged head-on. The change in attitude is glacial, but visible.

Since the movie is pure Iran from the first moment, it takes a little easing-into for the foreigner, but the characters have a special way of endearing themselves to you, and you end up getting the whole picture, and even understanding the men's misunderstandings and give them slack. The supposed villain is the unseen patriarchy of the Ayatollahs, which remain unseen and unnamed, and likely unremembered.

Knowing that this movie was filmed during the actual event of the Iran-Bahrain match gives me a feeling of awe for all involved.
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Miss Potter (2006)
The Real "Bunny Book Woman" Movie
16 September 2007
I was a little apprehensive with the two leads -- the same leads in the movie "Down With Love" ! But, instead of trying to make the Potter and Warne characters more glamorous and beautiful than in real life (or making a cheesy romance out of it), they were portrayed as the two very down-to-earth (and likely very misunderstood), believable, and yes -- even homely -- people that they likely were. Not very familiar with Potter and her work, I was surprised to learn that she was also quite the naturalist, and was also reminded very much of "Wind in the Willows" from the same era; I believe the era when the British nature conservancy movement was likely taking root. I was always a great fan of Thornton W Burgess, whose main character was also named Peter Rabbit, who started writing just a decade after Potter for American readers (who, as children, would probably not have grasped the British nuances of Potter's work), and decided through watching this film that he must also have been greatly inspired by her. The realism and lack of (or at least toned-down) melodrama may make the film seem slow to formula-thirsty film-goers, but offers a lot of food for thought. The idea that you should follow your dreams is very Hollywood, but the dramatization of two very non-glamorous people and their romance (which -- surprise! doesn't necessarily make them more attractive) is almost revolutionary.
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First Movie Ever Seen
1 July 2007
I saw this movie when I was 5 years old.

I don't remember a thing about it besides the title, and I'm amazed I even remember that.

After reading one or two reviews, I realize why my parents would take a five year old to see it (altho I probably slept through it): one, it was filmed in Yakima WA and we lived in Seattle at the time. It was probably the talk of the state. two, being so well acclaimed, it must have been a popular film at the time, and three, they probably didn't trust babysitters.

Sorry to waste your time! I just wanted to see if this movie really existed, and it did. Just wanted to leave my footprint.
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Dreamgirls (2006)
Soul Opera
23 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is not a musical. This is not a movie about musicians with a lot of musical numbers. It is what I'd call a "soul opera".

People who are not used to operas may be a little put off when the characters start singing their lines instead of talking them, and not in the way of a musical number, either. (people who ARE used to operas, however, will probably groan though).

It was a real OK movie. I can honestly say, I liked it; but I would like to get a few things off my chest before I talk about the good points.

One, I like a movie that can transport back into a time and place and make me really believe I'm there. Tiny details like what kind of buttons people wore don't matter. But in Dream Girls, while the set and costumes were so obviously 60s (but even that got a little blurry towards the end) the sound rarely was. OK, some at first. But it mostly felt like "modernized" sixties music. As someone growing up in the 60s with a transistor radio practically wired to my ears, I can honestly say this film practically never "took me back". The low-budget non-famous Robert Townsend flick "Five Heartbeats" did that much more for me.

Two, and this is related to One, I would likely have enjoyed this movie more if I were deaf than if I were blind. The music wasn't bad, and there were great moments, but a day after seeing it I can't remember anything (except the refrain of "One Night Only" disco version): it was mostly forgettable. This was in direct contrast with the incredible sumptuousness of the costumes and dance staging of the numbers themselves. (This too went a little overboard and became a 2006 version of the sixties/seventies and didn't convey the period at all to me. but I understand it was to make the movie fun, and that's OK with me).

Anyway, Beyonce was incredible as the naive teenage girl to the jaded star (as were all her costumes and wigs), and Jennifer Hudson was a sight to see as Effie, even on welfare, but I keep comparing the movie to "Five Heartbeats". Oddly, the "Heartbeats" were played by actors (not singers), but the too-few numbers were beautifully done (not always by the actors voices!) and there was a story to follow, although similar to DGirls: poor beginnings, talent shows, racial issues, slime-ball promoters, main-singer-goes-bad and slides into poverty, and of course a reunion.

In contrast Dgirls was over-saturated with musical numbers and the operatic diversion further distracts. Maybe that's why I can remember nothing but the thudding disco beat mentioned above. The story got lost. A 'scuse me, what was this movie about? kinda thing. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily good. I guess I liked "Heartbeats" as it it left me wanting more, whereas with Dgirls I felt a little bloated (and I admit, misty-eyed by Hudson's finale, which I can't remember).

Of course, movies about beautiful women do sell. Pretty boy Leon of "Cool Runnings" fame was about as far as the Heartbeats got with visuals, but that was enough for me.

Sorry, what movie was I reviewing?? Oh yes, Dreamgirls. Anyway, I went home and watched my DVD of "Ray", another low-budget movie, also with Jamie Foxx. Now THAT movie had soul !!!
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White 2 Black
1 June 2007
To my surprise, this was not a movie about the Temptations.

This is one of those cute "black" movies that makes white people wish they were black so they could have so much fun -- and I don't necessarily mean that in a cynical way. Others that come to mind are "The Preacher's Wife", "The Five Heartbeats"... I like movies like this, if only for relief from always seeing the same white actors on screen.

Of course, just like all Hollywood movies, it is total fantasy, and this one even more so seeing as it it was made by MTV (just check out the number of deleted music sequences on the DVD!).

And if you love gospel music (even some who don't), you will love this movie, despite the fact that it looks like the songs were written first and a script later to patch them all together, taking many shameless cues from "Sister Act" -- both One and Two.

The script is pretty lame in many parts -- mostly with Cuba Gooding's lines -- and the punch depends on the goings-on of mostly bit parts. LaTanya Richards as Paulina is extremely convincing as the self-righteous church treasurer, but there are no really strong protagonists (the only one around dies in the first fifteen minutes) so she pretty much controls the plot single- handedly.

The movie is all about cameos. Cameos, cameos cameos!! Even Shirley Caeser plays (who else?) herself ! ! They might as well have called Beyonce Beyonce and Cuba Cuba.

One other good thing I can say for the movie is the positive mixing of races it shows, among so many movies that tend to show mainly conflict among them. In my experience, the kind of mixing as shown in this movie is the real world, rather than the 99.9% black "Preacher's Wife", or for that matter 100% whiteness of so many movies. Sure, it may be fantasy (there is absolutely no racial tension present in this movie despite so much mingling), but I root for the positive image it projects.

If you are a cynic, this movie is not for you, but if you need some warm fuzzies, go for it!
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No One Gets Killed
26 February 2007
It figures this movie was not made in the USA... If it was, then main gay characters would either have to get killed or at least decently commit, or try to commit, suicide, get castigated or openly persecuted or both for their sexuality, and of course there would have to be a gays-are-people-too sermon somewhere in there. In fact, in this movie, while the gays may not have it easy, neither does anyone else; while in fact the non-gays get much more s--t than our two gay heroes, who seem to playing everybody off of each other anyway. You keep expecting someone to burst in upon their smooching or harassing them on the street or some other such low-down thing, but no (and knowing this makes it so much more easy to watch the second time)! To the Hollywood-weaned watcher, the start is slow and you don't quite know which way things are going, but we are very naturally eased into the two guys' relationship. It's very sweet, Romeo and Jules-like stuff. And like other reviewers mention, it is also so natural and well- made (and carried so many other taboos) that gay seems barely to be the issue. It is not a happy ending for many of the main characters in the movie, but life goes on. Just like life actually does.
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A Hitchcocky Kind of Horror
5 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
While many reviewers point out that the movie is not "all that scary", it does convey terror. Especially if you put yourself in the shoes of "Kemp", the old friend of the invisible man, the psychological horror is all there, like in a Hitchcock movie.

When we see this movie, and others in its generation, we are impressed with how short it is, a product of the days when there were two movies, a cartoon and news releases at the theater. The movie makers had to tell their story in a hurry. Which is why things seem to progress a little too rapidly and they get the invisible man where they want him, it seems, just to end the movie on time.

Another point (also true of many movies of the era) which may be welcome by some viewers, is the lack of some kind of deeper "message" which movie-goers seem to seek more these days. A man turns invisible. He's evil (but good at heart). The country turns to a panic. He kills people. They get him, and he dies. The End. As a modern movie- goer, I didn't believe that they would get him so soon in the barn, and then the movie was over five minutes later!

Adding the empty feeling is the presence of a pointless heroine whose only expression is sorrow and moaning. I'm glad she got a reprise in the "Titanic". She really was a good actress!

Otherwise, it is reasonably good viewing, and I kind of LIKED the shrieky old lady with her cockney accent.
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Racist, Homophobic Drivel
5 February 2007
Let me confess. I found this video used and bought it because Guttenberg looked so sexy in his underwear on the jacket. But inside was another story. Besides the fact that the movie was basically a parody of "invisible-man" genre special effects (highly visible strings and other such paraphernalia), the script wasted no chance -- in fact it went out of its way -- in insulting all non-WASP races and real-or-imagined homosexuals. Every insult aimed at a person in the script was either homophobic or racist or both. It starts to grate on your nerves, along with the shaky sound, candid- camera style photography and melodramatic story. However, the end is somewhat of a surprise. But by the time you get there, you hardly care less. Too bad, it could been a reasonably good movie.
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Barnyard (2006)
Serious Bovine Gender Disorientation!!
18 December 2006
Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who noticed that this movie gave a whole new definition to the word "bulldyke"!

I saw this movie on a plane to the Middle East. I got off the plane and at the airport saw signs reading "MALE TOILETS" and "FEMALE TOILETS". So, "Barnyard" is in good company. But honestly, I was waiting for the female roosters and male hens and adult calves to have their say in this movie!

Making cows male in voice only and retaining mammary glands (they actually looked like bears with several genitalia sticking out of their stomach; it took me a minute or two to figure out what kind of animal it was) is like saying Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Independence and thinking it's funny. It's just plain dumb! If the producers actually thought making male cows would be funny, like they apparently say, then they should have made a point of it instead of ignoring it. Bessie should have said something like "Ah ain't NEVAH seen a man with uddahs like that, sista! And what happened to them ho'ns?"

I must hand it to them though for at least not having Ben or Otis actually "father" their "sons" (Ben found the orphaned Otis, and Otis' girlfriend bore another multigenital bear cub through another...what, I wonder? "male" cow?). How modern, of course, that there are no functional families in the movie! I'm all for gay marriage, but I think this movie is way ahead of its time in that sense?? Not to mention an insult to basic intelligence.

On another level, I also found the franticness of the whole thing (parties, whatever) irritating. It's as if the entire cast was high on drugs most of the time. I did get a kick out of the mannequin arms, though (that's where the second star comes in). And the line about having a "human party" to celebrate "our humanness". Actually, for a movie about barnyard animals, the humans had the best lines! OK, make that THREE stars.
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The Host (2006)
Kept me in my seat
17 September 2006
No matter how much I am into a movie, I always have to go to the john at some point. This is the first movie in ages that I didn't have to. Whether that makes it good or not, I don't know, but at least you get an idea of how engrossing it was. I never go see monster flicks, and went to this one just because it's Korean, as I like Korean movies. Having read all the positive comments, I have to agree with a lot of them, and I learned something about monster movies in the process. However, I could never get into the "comedy" elements of the movie. I knew, OK, this is supposed to be funny, but in the context of the movie, I couldn't even break a smile. It's not the kind of movie where fart jokes work. People have commented about the "ordinary" family in this movie, but they are not an ordinary one, but an extremely dysfunctional one (at least in society's eyes) -- a la "Independence Day" -- which is what makes it interesting. Like most monster movies there are plot holes everywhere, which you're not supposed to think about; and the villain -- the US military and their Korean buddies -- is way too broad and obvious (not to mention that the actors are awful). A tiny detail, but I like how at the beginning of the movie in the riverside park there are not just Koreans, but foreigners mingling in (and not just blue-eyed blonde ones). It adds a touch of the everyday "reality" that is supposed to be the backdrop of the movie.
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Not your typical body-switch...
14 June 2006
When I heard about this movie -- involving an extremely rich, cool and handsome (and cold-hearted) lawyer and a poor, homely, and clumsy (and warm-hearted) one who switch bodies in an accident; I thought that the star Lee Sung-jae would be playing both parts. Much to my surprise, however, he played only the homely one! (with an unknown actor much less handsome than the real Mr Lee playing the handsome one)

They both have the same names (Shin Seokki) and were born on the same day (I consider that plot overkill, but, oh well), but one is multi-talented, athletic and knows how to get his way, while the other is lazy, asthmatic and just barely gets by. Both, however, happen to be admired by slightly wacky women in their respective offices; the former which becomes the main woman and the latter comic relief.

On their birthdays, the rich Shin is approached by the receptionist in his office, and he immediately takes advantage of her and in a fit of anger, she puts a "curse" on him. Later that evening he finds himself in an elevator with the other Shin. The elevator falls several floors down, they both go into a coma, and, well, you guessed it. Handsome Shin awakes to find himself in the homely Shin's body, and the homely Shin is unconscious in the other body.

Shin soon finds out that the world is not nice to homely people; he also discovers how hated he actually was. He has no choice but to find the other Shin's life and try to live it. Since he has been in a coma, everyone assumes he acts out of it because of that, and he stumbles around in a strange body, strange clothes, and a strange and filthy apartment, with very strange neighbors and a struggling law practice.

Meanwhile, the receptionist is fired from her job at the office and she goes to homely Shin's law office as he is known for defending unpopular cases. Of course she has no idea it is the man she cursed, who she believes to be in a coma.

The movie basically follows a plot line of a man making up for his past mistakes and learning to live again with a different view on life. The movie was said to be made as a statement on the current theme of Korean culture these days which values looks over everything, but comes across weak in that way. I think of it more as one man's path to redemption as he learns how his lifestyle ruined people's lives and about the humanity of the people he once scorned.

There are a few confusing points, like an old friend (of the handsome Shin) who actually recognized him in the other body, An instrument shop apparently run by a ghost, and the presence of the girl's deaf mother. These bog down things a little, but fortunately not enough to bring down the movie completely.

Lee's acting ability is as always extremely impressive, not to mention the makeup job to make him actually look homely. He is one Korean star that can take just about any part and make it work. I hope more fans of Korean movies get a chance to see this one.
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Holli-dei (2006)
Poor Lee Sung-Jae
14 June 2006
Everything reviewer ajlee3 said I totally agree with.

Let me just add that without the talent of the movie's "hero" Lee Sung Jae, this movie would have been totally forgotten within weeks of its release. As it is, it actually sold quite well. That is likely due to the fact that Lee was able to salvage something with his superb acting skills (all 4 points I give to this movie go to Mr Lee), and also because the director milked every imaginable angle from Mr Lee's fantastic Bruce-Lee-like physique.

Lee apparently realized this movie wasn't destined for greatness, as he said in an interview that with two movies in a row that were box office flops, he didn't feel nervous about being in this movie; i.e., he wasn't stressed out from pressure. However, Koreans greatly appreciate movies like this one, as so many of them have suffered from the injustices depicted therein. If only they found a better way to get the message across.
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Moolaadé (2004)
Not just African....
3 June 2006
By total coincidence, I found myself at the Japan premiere of this intriguing film. I had no idea what it was going to be about, so it was fascinating to watch unfold. But, unlike most of the reviewers I have read so far, I did not think of it as an "African" film. I have seen the dynamics present in this film played out in many cultures and religions around the world, including the "West".

Meaningless tradition in the face of humanity is a universal theme and this film sends the message clearly home. Anybody who watches this film and smugly thanks their lucky stars that they weren't born in such a barbaric culture, has totally missed the point. They may even be part of the problem in their own culture, though unwittingly, as that is exactly how tradition works.

But enough about the message of the film. Even with the heavy subject matter at hand, the film takes us through the leisurely- paced life in an anonymous sub-saharan village, and we get treated to many of the joys and even the humor of their daily life as well. I believe the director would like to say that village life, and even many traditions, are not inherently good or bad; in fact many will probably feel even some envy of the idyllic village and its rich culture. This, however, also happens to be the backdrop of a ritual whose meaning is long forgotten, not to mention excessively cruel. And cities are plenty filled with cruelty of different types.

The fact that the director is male makes the impact of the film all so much stronger, as he shows no sympathy to men in general, and sees the weakness of the female role in African culture (which is just an extreme picture of sexual discrimination everywhere; and ironically men are always giving lip service to women). Thus the general shortage of strong men in the story may be pointed out as one of the film's weaknesses. On the other hand, the women are all top-rate actresses and their roles are realistic, and the near absence of character clichés (among major characters) is almost stunning.

The story is simply told, and many may think it is all too painfully obvious, but I think it is a work to observe on multiple levels: e.g., when the story seems not to be moving ahead we get a chance to learn about village life (albeit not unrelated to the overall work), or we get generous helpings of the character development of the three wives. Subtle interactions among villagers may bore some, but I found them fascinating. It's not made like some Hollywood movie, and thank God for that.
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Jungle Book (1942)
Sexy Sabu in Forgettable Flick
13 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I first encountered Sabu in his other famous flick, "Thief of Baghdad", where he impressed with both acting talent and physical prowess. The movie, though full of Arab clichés and with actors and extras of every race but Arab, was forgivable because its premise was so fantasy-oriented. "Jungle Book" however, supposedly in a much more realistic mode, presents an India that is a mishmash of cultures, sometimes pseudoCambodian, sometimes pseudoTurkish, sometimes pseudoRoosevelt; with a lot of white actors who look like a bunch of poorly-painted Al Jolsons trying to be Indians while talking like New York cabbies. An overly-clichéd India would have been an improvement, but it seems nobody had any idea what India and its people should look like. The two significant female characters, while both actually of European stock, were the only characters (besides Sabu) who were close to convincing as Indians (although their costumes were not). And oddly, altho the movie poster claims that Mowgli risked his life in the jungle for the "girl he loved", their is no hint that their relation with each other was anything more than a vague mutual curiosity. The plot line was going everywhere and nowhere, and the abundant animal scenes were well shot but redundant (some reviewers comment on the obvious flakiness of the animals, but they must have better eyes than I do). For me, at least, the film's only saving grace was Sabu himself, who obviously was the inspiration for the project. He lit up every scene he appeared in with the believability of his character and his lithe and athletic physique which showcased much more agility than even in "Thief". But if you want sexy, you would do much better to see Jason Scott Lee's 90s version, albeit Mr Lee is hard to believe as an Indian. However, back to the 1942 version, the subplot dealing with Mowgli's nemesis - the evil tiger Shere Khan - was half-baked and he did SK in half-way through the movie with no apparent fanfare. It didn't mesh in well with the story of the greedy Hindu 3 stooges raiding the treasure and consequently the whole bit with the jungle fire and all. The real failure, of course, is the end where the British lass asks the storyteller "what happened to the boy and the girl??", to which the storyteller replies,

"THAT... is another stor-r-ry!"

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Rapa Nui (1994)
Jason Scott Lee in his element
26 March 2006
Like many, I was jolted to hear a bunch of ancient Polynesians sounding like "valley girls" and their boyfriends, but let it pass since at least they were all speaking the same language as they would have been anyway, unlike movies like "Seven Years in Tibet" where Austrians spoke English to Austrians, Tibetans spoke English to Tibetans, and otherwise people who wouldn't have been able to speak with each other all conversing in perfect English... that movie was frankly too much for me. As for the different accents in Rapa Nui, I assumed it was a way to show class differences (after all, Jason Scott Lee has proved he can handle about any accent): the chief spoke hoity toity British, Lee sounded like a poor little rich boy (which he was in the movie), so it kind of made sense. And as a great Jason Scott Lee fan, it doesn't matter how well- acted or historically correct or whatever else the movie is or isn't (and by the way I found it completely passable in those senses) as long as we are treated to generous footage of Jason Scott Lee showing off his perfect physique -- and in this movie he nary wears a stitch. Most of the other young male actors, incl Elias Morales, are up to the job as well. I understand perfectly how thrilled one reviewer was about Sandrine Holt's "performance" and feel the same way about her leading man. Anyway, to avoid redundancy, I basically agree with the other positive things other reviewers have said about the movie, and believe one reason it didn't do great at the box office was due to its unusual subject matter -- something that John Q Public isn't always great at handling.
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want to see it....
26 March 2006
I visited Kazakhstan briefly in September 2003. On a Sunday afternoon I was taken up to a reservoir high, high above the city of Almaty which is about the only place available for local residents to go for relaxation. It was an unbelievably beautiful location, even though it was an artificial lake. I was shocked to meet another American at the end of this rocky bumpy road in the middle of nowhere; he turned out to be one of the top guys on the production staff and they were filming "Nomad". He told me about the movie and I then realized that the Japanese wrestlers that were on the plane on the way over were brought in to be extras! I was expecting some huge blockbuster production and kept looking for it in local movie guides. I was looking up Jason Scott Lee and coincidentally found this page and realized the movie was long out and apparently a vanity project for the Kazakhstani president... it probably never made the screens here in Japan. Too bad as I am a great JSL fan. I cannot comment on the film, but I do know from what I saw in KZ that the backdrop must be spectacular.
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Straight Talk (1992)
Somewhat addictive...
11 November 2005
There's something about this movie that keeps bringing you back for more. I bought the video used for about three bucks (the price is why I bought it!) and was pleasantly surprised. And watch it again and again and again. I notice other viewers who have done the same and can't help but wonder what it is. I have even seen lines from this movie quoted in magazines (attributed to Dolly rather than the script writer)!

There are some gaping goofs, of course. Suddenly "Jack" says "you probably think you just heard a doorbell", although no doorbell has rung at all (maybe they fixed that in later releases)! Also, nobody but Shirlee and her boss "Alan" is supposed to know that she is not a doctor despite the fact that the receptionist took her resume filled with occupations such as "bartender, waitress, waitress, dance instructor..." There are others. But even so, you keep coming back for more.

A few of the one-liner bit parts have awful acting skills, but even so.

So, what is it about this movie? Maybe it's the sound track. I hate C/ W but the all-Dolly soundtrack is wonderful and her songs fit each situation as if it were a musical. Also, Dolly is a very believable actress despite the very unbelievable situation. Believing Dolly is a shrink is like believing Whoopi is a nun. You know it's ludicrous, but they somehow get you to accept it and enjoy. You want to believe it!

Some of her advice is like Zen, for example the one about women and corn flakes: you just don't get it. There is a lot you just don't get in this movie. But you still love it. That's a lot like loving a person, I guess.
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One son's love
9 November 2005
Aside from the clever premise and the history lessons involved in the movie, it seemed mostly to be a movie about one son's lonely battle for his mother's life. He had no father to speak of, he is still young, and now he may lose his mother.

However, his mother may be a lot stronger than he thinks.

We are never really told if the mother has figured out the truth of GDR's nearly extinct system or not. One begins to suspect that the mother may be playing along with her son's game out of her love for him. But then again, maybe no. In any case, whether it's the son's concern for his mother or the other way around, what it amounts to is that, some things go better unsaid, and not necessarily as a way of copping out.

The mother would not embarrass her son if she knew the truth. The son on the other hand would rather keep his mother in a world where she had been somebody important. There is some sublime undercurrent of love at work in this film; something that people raised in a culture where everything has to be put out in the open could well learn. The actress playing the mother was a seasoned veteran who kept you guessing, while also keeping you in the belief that you might be seeing something as it is really happened.

As an afterthought, the situation in the movie reminded me of how I hear Japan was after the surrender of WW2. Suddenly, the enemies became boss, and the men who sent your sons and brothers to be killed in a war with them were suddenly grinning and shaking hands with them. That must have been very traumatic, requiring decades for the Japanese psyche to heal. East Germany too will likely not be "all better" overnight either.
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Proteus (2003)
Deserved better production quality
4 November 2005
So as not to repeat what other thoughtful reviewers have already stated, let me agree first that in many ways it is a very powerful film (though I would definitely not call it cinema), thanks almost totally to the remarkable acting skill and pathos of the two leading men, charged with the sin of loving each other and being quite physical about it.

However, especially during the first quarter, one gets the impression that you are watching a reject from educational TV due to overall filming quality (or lack thereof), which of course I'm sure is due to lack of funds, rather than lack of skill in directorship.

The glaring anachronisms look like goofs at first, but then again not even the worst Hong Kong director would send a jeep to look for thieves in 1730 (though he might make prisoners gather eggs with plastic bags and sound sirens in the background every now and then). You start to get the hint.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the modern costumes and props supposedly serve to tell us (wink-wink) that things haven't changed so much (or at least between 1730 and 1965, which is the period of most of the out-of-place costumes) and it still pretty much sucks to be homosexual. In 1965, at least.

While I realize the directors are trying to make a point, the presence of 1990s props and 1965 beehive hairdos with polyester suits just make the movie look cheaper, even satirical, especially in light of the fact that the photography basically resembles a home video on a tripod. To me, the intended anachronisms were just a distraction; and I don't need to be reminded that things are still very much the same, thank you very much. In any case, it just seems to underline lack of budget more than anything else. And lack of imagination.

Anyway, back to the film (not movie). Despite all the critical comments I have reserved for the directing and filming, the story of the happy-go-lucky "Hottentot" and sullen Dutch sailors' relationship was extremely well told and acted out, to the point where the hand-cam and plastic bottles and barb-wire fences didn't matter so much any more. It's a bit of a mystery why Shaun Smyth (the chatterbox botanist) got billing over Neil Sandilands (the sailor), whose few terse-but- loaded lines and facial expression spoke volumes more than one might imagine. In fact the whole film could have been made with just the two leading lovers and the rest as extras (the acting ability of most of the others left something to be desired).

As for the erotic part of the film, it could very well border on porn (again, due to the video look) except that it is much more human and realistic, and yes, touching. Anybody whose tastes run to lean-and-muscular men will definitely get their nickel's worth.

If this film was intended to get certain people thinking about humanity and justice more than they have been, it will probably not attain that goal, as it is so gay as it will probably fly over the heads of even some of the most understanding heterosexuals.

But it's great if you like to see proteas blooming fast-forward.
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