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alexjb's reviews view profile

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not so violent  
on October 16, 2006 - 4:30 PM PDT
  of Pulp Fiction (1994)
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful

tho i'd be really surprised if there are folks on GC not familiar with pulp fiction, i thought i'd clarify a couple of things:

1. it's not *that* violent. no major shoot-outs like Heat or reservoir dogs; nothing at all to compare with natural born killers. a couple of people get shot, and there are oe or two other scenes with a violent or explicit tone, but this is not a heavy violence or even heavy action film.

2. great dialogue. my friends often quote lines from this film, many years later. the performaces are all super tight, the characters memorable and well-developed despite the absolutely minimal use of backstory or "establishing scenes".

3. unusual storytelling. one of the hallmarks of this film is the non-linear storytelling approach. multiple plot lines which converge at different points, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. it's not all that uncommon now, but this film is still a great example of how to make it work.

a character study  
on October 12, 2006 - 10:18 PM PDT
  of The Conversation (1974)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

it's not a spy movie, not a con movie, not an action film, not a whodunit. those things are in it, but are secondary. the techie stuff is fun, but way outdated; the SF backdrop is interesting if you live here (they were surprisingly realistic in their location continuity), but it doesn't actually matter to the film, and there's very little in the way of taking advantage of the city.

it's a character study. a study of someone who's incredibly repressed, a total control freak. his entire identity is based on the fact that noone knows him, and yet he can learn things about other people. when the demons of his past come back to him, he begins to unravel, but slowly, privately.

hackman's performance is great, which is good because this is film is tight, with very little else going on and no other characters that are more than supporting. if you stay as focused on hackman and what his character is going through, there's a lot to be appreciated about The Conversation.

oh, and i agree that the commentary is worthwhile - coppola explains the connection (in his brain) to BlowUp, as well as filling in background on the characters, plot development and logistics.
decent bonus content  
on September 25, 2006 - 2:05 PM PDT
  of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Bonus Disc) (1975)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

just to comment on the 'bonus disc' content - it's got a making of featurette and deleted scenes, which doesn't seem like much.

the deleted scenes have no commentary, just an introductory title, but there's a 'play all' option which is convenient.

the faturette, however, is actually fairly well done. it is obviously a relatively recent creation, as the primaries are all much older than they were, but it's got face time from several of the actors, the director, and producers. interview content is blended with production stills and movie scenes; some of the background on how the main players came together is included, which was illuminating to me at least.

perhaps most interesting was to hear about how the conditions of the filming in particular - the actors residing in an actual mental institution, etc.

overall, a worthwhile addition to the film.
great performances  
on May 10, 2006 - 10:31 PM PDT
  of Slam (1998)

i was really impressed by this film - the theme it's exploring is pretty simple- a young, intelligent, articulate black man in DC unexpectedly lands in prison and is confronted with some harsh realities.

what makes this film rock is two things: there's some great spoken word, which is cool to watch and listen to- a couple of impromptu bits early on with one incredible rapid-fire series towards the end that just blew my mind.

but what rocks this film even harder is the acting/directing. it takes a little while, but the major climax scene is an absolutely phenomenal gut-wrenching, amazing performance by the two leads. their characters break the movie stereotypes for black gang-banging drug dealing project dwellers. the director doesn't bother with the usual "diamond in the rough" backstory- the character's depth is revealed in their actions, their power is in their *real-ness*, their complexity.

the camera and directing tap into a little improv and verite style sometimes, which sometimes work and sometimes seem hokey.

overall, a super-must-see !!

on May 3, 2006 - 12:00 PM PDT
  of Benjamin Smoke (2000)

this isn't bad; the subject is actually a very unusual character - gay, HIV+, cross-dressing, and fronting a hard-core punk badn, all in a very small, unsophisticated town.

unfortunately, it's a bit weak as a documentary because we're sort of air-dropped right into the middle - there's very little setup or context provided for what the film's going to cover.

there's a lot of monologue from smoke, who is a very compelling screen presence - he's got this great scratchy throaty voice, loves to tell stories, and is very comfortable in front of the camera. there are a few scenes of the town he lives in and his band's interactions and performances.

visually, it's not bad- a little rough the way that the various scenes are strung together. it lacked a certain cohesion in terms of telling benjamin's story.

overall, i felt like i would have enjoyed this a lot more if i had already known who he was, or was a fan of his music, which seems unlikely, since he didn't seem to ever make it big.
on May 2, 2006 - 10:53 PM PDT
  of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
2 out of 3 members found this review helpful

i'm really surprised noone has reviewed this yet.

i've watched this film many times and it's brilliant.

the score rocks - it creates the mood, complements it, while matching its complexity. music smoothes many of the scene transitions, and includes great classical pieces as well as classic jazz bits- representing the two male leads, Tom and Dickie.

the cinematography is just as well architected - European locations are highlighted, but don't detract from the plot, and the framing of each scene reinforces the themes; there's very little that feels accidental.

the writing and the acting, tho, are what make this really work. jude law plays the perfect spoiled rich boy, and gwyneth and cate are lovely and supportive, but matt damon has a huge challenge in portraying the incredibly complex Tom Ripley. swinging from earnest to sinister and calculating, confused to confident, damon balances it by subtle changes in body language, voice, eyes, everything. in some scenes, he's acting someone who's acting, which has it's own complexity. plus, he actually does a singing impersonation of Chet Baker doing My Fnuny Valentine!

from a storytelling perspective, one of the interesting ways that this diverges from the book is that the viewer really sympathizes with Ripley, despite the fact that he's shown lying within the first 5 minutes! he even claims his talents - lying, forging signatures and impersonating people, and we still somehow want him to come out on top.

the director's commentary is somewhat interesting, providing some insight into what the director was after, and there are a bevy of Hollywood extras on the disc - interviews and behind the scenes crap that don't add much value. but don't overlook this just because it's hollywood - the plot is tight and the acting is top notch.
on May 1, 2006 - 12:47 AM PDT
  of Sucker Free City (2004)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

i'm rating this pretty low because it's a significant let down. either spike is getting lazy in his old age, or something else went horribly awry with this joint.

the 'murder and chaos' is significantly lacking in chaos, and even energy. the problem is that it's weak all around - plot, dialogue and characters.

the plot doesn't go anywhere; tho it seems to be on a rise to a confrontation, it fizzles before it peaks.

the dialogue in many scenes is *painfully* bad - "this is the scene where Keith plays Dad to the younger black man"... "this is the scene where the white guy rages at having to move to the black neighborhood"

the characters are sometimes believable, and sometimes sympathetic, but sometimes completely in-credible, and hispanics have an absurdly small role, considering the presence that they have in the city.

the take away message is muddled - i don't feel like i got much insight into any one of the groups, nor really how they intersect.

aside from being mildly interesting as perhaps the only gansta film set in san francisco, i was seriously disappointed by this.

*** i just researched and realized that this was done as a 2 hour pilot for a show that didn't make it. as the setup for a series, this has a bit more potential than it does as a film. it's the set up for a much longer story arc, obivously, so my plot critique would have to be lightened. it's still weak in dialogue and characterization, tho, and not worth watching as a standalone film.
a great surprise  
on April 28, 2006 - 12:39 AM PDT
  of Fire (1996)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

as the director says in an interview, this movie is about a people who are victims of tradition.

it's about women, and to a lesser extent men, who are trapped in the strict and long-standing traditions of India. the fact that the women break out of their shackles by falling in love with each other is both central to the plot and secondary at the same time. for the older woman, it takes falling in love for her to realize how deeply locked in she has become, but the pattern is strong. each character expresses the feeling of being trapped while simultaneously reinforcing the trap for everyone else.

there's also a brief documentary on the disc discussing the huge controversy surrounding the film's release in India.
don't belive the hype  
on April 24, 2006 - 9:53 AM PDT
  of Safe (1995)
5 out of 7 members found this review helpful

to manage your expectations for this film:

* do not look at the image with the orange background - this is not a fast-paced film; it's not "urban paranoia" in an action-y sort of way; there are no folks running in white and black jumpsuits for any interesting reason.

* do not believe the village voice quotation calling this the Best Film of the Decade. it's not, by any stretch of the imagination.

* don't expect a normal story arc - it's **slowly paced**, and is tracking the progression of one woman's realization that her body can no longer stand to live in what we call civilization.

* julianne moore plays her part well, but her character is borderline pitiful the whole time. it mainly put me in mind of the pampered housewives of the 80s (several scenes feel *very* 80s), some of whom did have to invent illnesses just to stop from dying of boredom. she plays a victim with a capital V, exasperating my inner-feminist.

* if you have issues with Western medicine and the perils of our chemical-heavy lifestyle, you'll probably dig this. if not, it probably won't convince you. when julianne's character does start to find folks whose bodies are similarly plagued, it starts to feel *very* cult-ish. is the director purposefully toying with us - expecting at any minute to pull us aside and say it's all baloney? or does sincerity blind him to the quasi-religious fervor of the little commune? hard to say.

overall, it wasn't BAD, but i wouldn't regret having never seen it.
too deep for me  
on April 24, 2006 - 9:15 AM PDT
  of Teorema (1968)
5 out of 9 members found this review helpful

i actually turned this off about 40 minutes in. maybe i'm an un-cultured heathen, but i couldn't take it anymore.

the film is full to the brim with "art movie" cliches - there's almost no dialogue; many close ups of faces with too much makeup; long cuts of "meaningful" glances that are supposed to convey volumes but don't.

we often cut to scenes of cloud shadows rolling over a desert to indicate the passage of time. there are b&w silent montages that almost seem like they're leading somewhere, but really don't.

the way that The Visitor starts affecting people is totally out of nowhere - these are apparently the horniest, most sexualy repressed people on the planet.

the most generous way to put it would be to say that this film is not "accessible"...
good not great  
on April 24, 2006 - 9:02 AM PDT
  of Vatel (2000)

i agree with the other reviewer who pointed out that there are some serious gaps in the plot here. from some reviews, i was expecting more emphasis on the food, so thought i'd write a bit of clarification - this movie is definitely about behind-the-scenes intrigue; how the politics of the time affected everyone from the king, to the kitchen-boy who gets picked out as the king's brother's new "valet".

so, the food is in there, but it's not really about The Food, you know? it's not like you can just lean back and watch a parade of delicacies roll past you. also, the plot weaknesses - poor insight into Vatel's motivations; confusion over why Uma becomes so taken with him, etc etc, definitely detract.
a series of uncomfortable events  
on April 22, 2006 - 12:13 AM PDT
  of Faces (Criterion Collection) (Bonus Disc) (1968)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

this was better than i really expected it to be. i'm not a film student, so the significance of a particular work as part of a director's career has never meant much to me.

this film is a series of conversations between adults in awkward social situations. there is a central plot, though it takes a while to become clear. more than anything, it's a study of people trapped in their social position, desperately wanting just to be liked, and allowing that desperation to carry them over one edge or another. men drooling over women, men colliding with, competing with or negotiating with other men, a married couple negotiating, desperate housewives fawning over a young buck...

i didn't find the camera angles to be as disturbing as the GC review implied - the technique mostly works, though it's occasionally clumsy. the dialogue is sometimes compelling, sometimes lame, but i found that my attention was held pretty well from about 20 minutes in, all the way through to the end.
on April 21, 2006 - 9:09 PM PDT
  of Beautiful Boxer (2004)

this movie tells a great story. it's complemented by occasionally gorgeous visuals, as well as some interesting insight into thai culture and the world of kickboxing.

good stuff  
on April 11, 2006 - 11:17 AM PDT
  of All About Eve (1950)
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful

i don't like "classics". usually, they're crap, or at least significantly overrated. so i watch them rarely and reluctantly.

all about eve totally surprised me. it's not exactly a life-changing experience, but the dialog is sharp, the acting is great and the plot is actually really cool, even if you know where it's going. it occasionally feels like a stage play, but overall, i found it much more attention holding and entertaining than i had expected.
reminiscent of City of God... except that it sucks horribly  
on April 11, 2006 - 12:06 AM PDT
  of Our Lady of the Assassins (2000)
0 out of 2 members found this review helpful

there are two themes - an older man dealing with feelings of loss as the people and city that he loved die, and the mindset of street teens in Columbia who've become completely inured to gunplay and murder. both of these themes have merit; neither is explored well in this film.

the camerawork is straight out of a Spanish-cable-channel soap opera, as is the scene flow. 90% of the film is Fernando (the older guy) spouting half-baked theories on his life, why everything sucks, and how stuff ought to be. but his monologues lack both wit, depth, and significance, making me wonder why i kept reading the subtitles.

there's some gay romance (which is sort of trying to be actual *romance*), but i think that in 90 minutes, i only saw two guys kiss one single time. there's plenty of teen boy eye candy, though- is that 'gay romance' ?

the two young leads act terribly and couldn't emote their way out of a paper bag; their performance drags the older actor's down as well, or maybe he was just bored out of his skull.

there are some bizarre and implausible plot twists about 3/4 in; the alledged romance veers even further into creepy sugar-daddy/chicken-hawk territory, and finally the whole ends up in an unecessarily graphic and morbid ditch.
russia's coming along...  
on April 3, 2006 - 11:06 PM PDT
  of You I Love (2003)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

remarkably, i actually found the GC review to be pretty accurate on this one.

the best things about this film is that: a. it's from russia, and b. it presents sexual fluidity and polyamory in a positive light. all the primaries are likable; none of them are weird or freakish or crazy, and you really want it to work out for them.

there's a certain lack of character development, and some parts don't flow very well, but there's also some exploration of russian racial issues - uloomji is from an ethnic minority that i've never actually heard of (gives him that too-beautiful-to-be-masculine look).

anyway, it's not too serious, there's some hot, not too graphic sex, and the ending is actually kinda realistic!
it's not just a gay thing  
on March 17, 2006 - 7:53 AM PST
  of Lilies (1996)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

OK, so the GC review makes this seem like there's going to be husky prisoners playing drop the soap while a bishop is tied up in the corner forced to watch. that's not what happens ;-)

what i think makes this film really remarkable is the visual style. ostensibly, it is prison inmates putting on a play. but the 'play' is a re-enactment of one man's memories, and the filmmaker got really really creative with how the film moves between retrospective and real-time, sometimes blending the two in amazingly artful, beautiful ways.

the acting is also really impressive- all of the actors are men, even when we go into flashbacks (so yes, they're in drag, but it's not campy). it adds a really amazing subtext to the film that i haven't even really finished thinking about. there are a couple of twinky young guys that are very hot and perform reasonably well, but i thought that the performances by the supporting actors as women were even better.

the plot's not too far out there; there's a little bit to think about in terms of life paths, revenge, love, escape from small town, etc etc. but these are standard plot points and not revolutionary. plus if you think too much about what's actually supposed to be going on, it becomes a bit of a stretch.

much easier to just roll with it and get swept away by the beauty of the scenes, the transitions- this is what you can do with film that you can't do on stage!
thank goodness it's only an hour  
on March 2, 2006 - 11:06 PM PST
  of April Story (1998)
0 out of 2 members found this review helpful

wow. if only i could figure out what possessed me to rent this...

mind you, it's not as painful to watch as some *bad* movies; the main actress is sufficiently easy on the eyes, and you keep having the feeling that maybe it's either going to go somewhere, or get much more symbolic/visually compelling. but it doesn't. or rather, just as it seems to be about to, it ends.

mainly it's just 67 minutes of light fluffiness - a girl moving to the city and going to university.

i only recommend renting this if:

a. you think that the main actress is cute (which she is), and you'd do anything to watch her move around for an hour

b. you want to practice your japanese

c. you've rented everything else.
could have been more, but still worth watching  
on February 23, 2006 - 9:49 PM PST
  of A Home at the End of the World (2004)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

*sigh*. as usual, the AMG review is WRONG, both factually, and in reflecting the focus of the film.

the film chronicles a lifelong relationship between these two men, adding in Clare about halfway through. bobby is actually most likely bisexual, and their three-way relationship is at once more subtle and interesting than probably any other relationship like it on film except for henry and june. they don't move in with jonathan's parents - they buy a house in upstate NY. jonathan's parents' relationship is actually almost non-existent- it's all about jonathan and bobby and clare.

unfortunately, the film does seem a bit flat. colin and sissy spacek are delivering strong, subtle, slow performances. the others don't quite get down to that pace, which makes it seem like colin and sissy are the odd ones, and the viewer has trouble knowing which pace to get in synch with until the very end.

overall, it's about life taking people in unexpected directions; it's about some very subtle types of love; it's about wounds that never heal and how they drive people; it's about the free-love spirit of the 60s, and the way that some people actually embody it; it's about the family that you make as opposed to the one you're born into.

if you like it, go rent "You I Love" and "Henry and June".
the feel-good movie of 1990  
on January 11, 2006 - 6:28 PM PST
  of My Father's Glory (1990)

this is a pretty simple movie. no challenges, no strife, no deep undercurrents. i was left wanting more, perhaps because i was expecting ... well... something to happen?

most of the movie has voice-over by the main character, the first son of a French schoolteacher. that helps character development along a little bit, of course, though it can be kind of a storytelling crutch...

anyway, the characters are pretty enough, likable enough. we cover more of this kid's youth than we really need to, except to prove that he and his father are exceptional and that his mother is exceptionally dim (apparently, French wives in this time period were prized for their beauty, not their brains). but hey, it's seen through his rose colored glasses, so we'll cut them some slack.

anyway, things progress to vacation in Provence, where we think 'aha! something will happen!'. but nothing exceptional really does.

meanwhile, although there are some nice vistas of Provencial countryside, there was nothing that really took my breath away. nor is the dialog terribly clever (granted i'm not fluent in french, but this is by no means a dialog movie).

overall, i guess it could be good if you just want to let your eyes glaze over and watch a movie in which everything works out... or maybe it would be good for kids...
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