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jmwagner66's reviews view profile

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Quiet Meditation on Family  
on January 27, 2012 - 6:08 PM PST
  of Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Tokyo sonata is done by a film maker known more for his horror films so it's no surprise that he can deal with family life. The father loses his job and tries to hide that truth from his wife and kids...who are of course hiding their own truths. Everyone is so closed off it feels like a Swedish film from the 1970s, in a good way. The striking beauty of the scenes contrasts jarringly and rightly with the dark feelings each character hides. Everyone seems to be living a lie and the greatest fear is being found out.
Guilty Pleasure  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:53 PM PST
  of Moonstruck (1987)

I love this flick. I hate most romances. I hate overacting. I hate an overwrought soundtrack. I hate many things that this film is. And yet, taken as a whole it is wonderful. I love the overacting when it's Cher and Nicolas Cage having angry makeup sex the first day they meet. I love it when it's Olympia Dukakis complaining about her husband having a mistress. I love the smarmy soundtrack (most of the time) with the gratuitous opera clips. Some people really are that over the top and since almost every character in the film is too much, they come out just right.
Amazing Film about Life on the Border  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:45 PM PST
  of Frozen River (2008)

The border of the Mohawk Reservation, with Canada and the US (hence the smuggling). The border of homelessness. The border of motherhood. People are desperate and trying not so much to improve their lives, as to keep from losing ground. Very little separates these folks from that "rock bottom" we hear so much about but those of in the middle class rarely experience. One woman chases her husband to another woman's house. The women end up working together to try to undo the damage that the men in their lives have done. The ending isn't "happy" by Hollywood standards, but knowing people in these situations, it ain't that bad.

Cinematically this is gorgeous. The views of the great white north. The frozen river across which people drive at their own peril. The gritty scenes of life near the bottom of the social ladder. It's all beautiful and treacherous so double beautiful.

The directing was done with a light touch. Living in a town with similar activities and similar family relationships, I was waiting for the big bloody beating in front of the bar. I didn't get it. I got more. The daily agony and struggle and striving for human dignity of the chronically poor.
What happened?  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:37 PM PST
  of Eldorado (2008)

Well, I don't really know what happened, but I had a good time trying to figure it out. It's almost surreal, but not quite. It fits right in with the best films from Belgium of late. Perhaps we need to make this a new genre.
Lovely Complex Multinational Drama  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:31 PM PST
  of Congorama (2006)

I loved this comic (darkly comic) study of people and motives and truth. Once you see the end, it's good to watch it again with the new information. The whole story is revealing of how belief or perception is what people operate on, not truth as we never know the whole truth. It doesn't matter whether we can, we simply don't.
It's Fine...But Watch the Original  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:28 PM PST
  of Brothers (2009)

This is a fine movie, but not nearly as good as the original. The original story centers around UN a peacekeeper and his brother. When that is recast as an American soldier and his brother...well now you've clearly picked sides. The UN is at least nominally trying to "keep the peace" while the US is at war (undeclared but whatever). This change infects the entire film. This film also suffers from having an impossibly good looking cast. Not everyone involved in the military or jail is ugly, but neither are most as attractive as these folks.

In the American film, you know which side the soldier is on and it isn't clear that he's a career man. UN peacekeepers are career men. That is another significant different brought on by the change of plot and setting. Alas, while this is a fine film, better to watch, or also watch, the original Brothers (2004)directed by Susanne Bier
Turns out...I don't give a sh** About Schmidt  
on January 27, 2012 - 5:16 PM PST
  of About Schmidt (2002)

I saw this movie in a theater. If it hadn't been a 2$ matinee with free popcorn and 100degrees outside, I would have left. Instead I sat through this dog. Wow. Kathy Bates provides a breath of fresh air but her few scenes can't pull this one back up. It's dull. It's dark and it's drab. Perhaps if I were an actual aging, aging curmudgeons would hate that guy too. It wasn't even funny-bad. Just dull. And I like early Bergman films. I know from dull.
Crucial Point in American Native/White History  
on January 20, 2012 - 2:24 PM PST
  of The Exiles (1961)

I was blown away by this film. I've taught about Eisenhower's relocation plan (shipping young adult Native Americans away from their homes, into cities to "assimilate" them into mainstream culture), and I know people who were relocated. This movie is the first look of the phenomenon I've seen that was created at the time it was happening. Most Americans have no idea this happened.

Kudos to Alexie and Burnett for getting this film, never theatrically released, out there.
Amazing View of War by a Journalist Who Lived It  
on January 14, 2012 - 9:50 PM PST
  of A Woman in Berlin (2009)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

This is a fine film. The book by the same name is even better. Due to constraints of time and the number of characters a viewer can track, several characters are collapsed into one. That is unfortunate.

Still, this remains an excellent representation of the 8 weeks during which Berlin was under seige just prior to the end of the war. One woman living there write in detail and without emotion, about her experiences. Rapes, attacks, stealing food, hiding, helping and not helping others. This film, along with the book are important records of the time.

The woman wrote her journals as the events unfolded. It is an immediate record rather than a reconstruction. Of course the film must of necessity include reconstruction of details and actions not recorded.

This film is an excellent partner to "Come and See." In "A Woman in Berlin" the atrocities committed by Russian (Allied) troops are detailed. In "Come and See" the attrocities of the Nazi (Axis) troops are shown. It becomes clear that no participant in the war, or any war, is a "good guy," at least not at a national level. In "A Woman In Berlin" as in the other film, you do see the occassional member of the military who maintains his/her humanity through it all, but not an entire fighting force for any country.

This is also a very well made film. The action takes place in very few locations, partly due to people's movement being so limited during this time, and yet the feeling of a city being razed is conveyed. The acting is impeccable, and the color palette is spot on.
If Only Everyone Had to Watch This Film  
on January 14, 2012 - 9:38 PM PST
  of Come and See (1985)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

This is fantastic. I watch many many films dealing with war and this is different. This is realistic. I watched this shortly after viewing "A Woman in Berlin" and wish that before going to war, declaring war or any like action, people had to talk to veterans, victims, survivors and watch these films.

This film shows the Belorussian view of things. A young teen leaves his parents (not a single mother as the synopsis claims), to join the resistance. This film is based on the experiences of a real person who joined the resistance and what he saw, lived through, did, and what was done to him. It is harrowing. There are no redeeming moments. Things are ugly. People suffer. People act in inhumane ways. Others try to keep their humanity. Flory, the main character, starts out as an innocent farm boy and within days of joining up it is clear he will never be the same.

The film is best viewed in silence, no eating, no chatter. It commands full attention. Unlike most war films. This one does not introduce an amazing hero, a victim who believes in the inherent goodness of all humanity despite it all, or any other character you've seen in so many other films. In this film, it is just a young boy who joins the resistance and what he experiences. That is more than all the rest.

There is an interesting statement accompanying the film. A statement by Sean Penn. He says his father called him when this film was showing in LA and told him to go see it. His father was a veteran and felt that this film alone showed war as it is.
Accurate and compelling  
on January 14, 2012 - 8:49 PM PST
  of Smoke Signals (1998)

I live and work in the place where this film is set. I saw it being filmed. The film feels absolutely familiar to me as far as real events, real people, the accent and the look of the characters. Obviously not all members of the Tribe are represented in a single film, but the characters are familiar in the same way that the characters in "The Straight Story" are familiar to Iowans. As for the reviewer who claims that Suzi Song is "too pretty" to be a She isn't a "loner" she's a career woman in health care administration. And why wouldn't she be pretty whether or not she's a loner? There are stunningly beautiful people in all walks of life, all cultures and all locations. Beauty is not the province of the rich and social.

The dialogue, for example the discussions of Indianness, sovereignty, and money, are common. The humor is wonderful and real. And yes, it is sad. But it depends on where the film plays. I saw it in a theater in Spokane, Washington (near the reservation with many Native Americans in the audience) and it played as a comedy. I saw it in the midwest with nary a Tribal member in attendance and people cried throughout the film.

Alexie's other films have been edgier and harder to view for mainstream audiences. He remains a powerful writer who will hopefully someday get his due in filmdom.
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