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qgnb's reviews view profile

The Worst.  
on August 3, 2006 - 1:26 PM PDT
  of Grand Prix (Special Edition) (Disc 1 of 2) (1966)

If you thought that souless, empty, big-budget Hollywood filmmaking - big for the sake of big without any depth or intelligence to speak of - is some kind of recent development, then this awful film from 40 years ago will set you straight. They've been thowing money at these shitpiles and insulting audience intelligence for at least that long.

First of all, the racing scenes are awesome. Phenomenal editing and innovative use of the split-screen (for some reason The Thomas Crown Affair, which came out 2 years later, is often erroneously credited with that innovation).

However the movie exists only as a platform for the high energy racing thrills ... which is evil, and the worst thing about Hollywood filmmaking. A story that exists only as a reason for a bunch of cool looking stuff to go on. That is not a film.

Frankenheimer's direction of the drama is bad; almost deliberately bad. Like he's trying to communicate how boring and worthless all these characters are - the only thing interesting about them is the racing. Why would anyone want to watch a three hour movie about that?

One could not imagine a more lifeless, plodding story about empty, dull people to construct around the environment of grand prix racing. Toshiro Mifune is wasted. James Garner is a joke - even when he wins he's still a loser and you want him to lose because he deserves to lose - of all the shitty, boring characters in this movie, the main character is the worst. Both of the main female characters are shrill, selfish bitches. Yves Montand contributes a hint of class which only makes the movie seem worse.

It's a film about racecar drivers - it's a B movie. It could have been an awesome B movie, especially with these racing scenes. Except it's not shot like one. It's made as though they thought they were making Spartacus - actually it's produced by Edward Lewis and Kirk Douglas which makes sense - so I guess that's the crux of the error. Maurice Jarre score and all - which is hilariously aweful.

The best thing to compare this to would be Pearl Harbor, for which all of these criticisms apply: monstrous budget, technically impressive, a handful of thrilling sequences, but mounted on top of an atrocious storyline, miserable characters, and the most horrendous directing I have ever seen on screen.

There are many other things to criticize here, but this movie sucks so hard it's really not worth it. I hate the movie the more I think about it. What a waste. Frankenheimer is definitely off the list.
Fathers, Sons and Unholy Ghosts  
on July 7, 2006 - 2:08 PM PDT
  of Undertow (2004)

Is it a realist thriller? Or a semi-surreal fable? DGG using all manner if cinematic technique to construct this story that is not easily any certain thing. Most obviously it is a thriller about two boys being pursued by their murderous uncle. But though the genre conventions are present they are employed in an unconventional way. At the same time this is also a story of a family curse, a demon, and a treasure. But it is by no means fantasy. The unnamed time and place further heighten the effect - it is set somewhere in the American south sometime in the 70s ... I think, but it's so strange you never really know for sure.

The first time I saw this film I was a little disappointed in comparison to DGG's other two films. It had a vivid feel to it in terms of setting and design. But I had a hard time following the symbolic elements and the stylistic homage to 70's filmmaking was a bit distracting.

A second viewing was immensely rewarding, however. After a year or so, I found this film to be more memorable than just about anything else I had seen, despite its flaws. Watching again, the strange world between realism and fantasy, and the stylistic flourishes, were much smoother. In fact I was engrossed. DGG draws elements from a lot of different places and manages both to make them his own and be very consistent with how he deploys them.

This is a unique film - unlike anything else really. If you are looking for a straight-forward suspense film, you may not like what you get. Perhaps this is where the comment on DGG's inability to tell a solid story comes from. His films are poetic and associative; conventional linear plotting is not a big concern of his. To expect otherwise wouldn't make any sense. His is also the most original and expressive voice in American film today.

I'd rank this next to "All the Real Girls" as an equally excellent film. They are both still second to "George Washington," a masterpiece that no American film made since has equalled.

Also of note are the performances in the film, especially Jamie Bell and Josh Lucas. And did I mention that Philip Glass composed the score?
Less than the sum of its parts  
on June 30, 2006 - 11:12 AM PDT
  of The New World (2005)
5 out of 6 members found this review helpful

"Days of Heaven" stands as the crowning acheivement of American film in the 70's, a period sighted excessively for its influence and accomplishment while over-praising many lesser films. Perhaps "Apocalypse Now" is the runner up.

Mailck's return to filmmaking 25 years later, "The Thin Red Line," was a transformative experience as well - a war epic with the spirit at its core. No one had ever done what Malick had done before - an American especially. He is an entirely unique artist.

But goddammit "The New World" put me to sleep. There was not a doubt in my mind that this would be the finest film of the year. But nonetheless, sometimes an artist is crippled by the very techniques and elements that have made them the artists they are.

This experience was very similar to that of "2046." A movie full of the expected images, feelings, essence of a vital filmmaker, yet only in pockets ... sublime moments surrounded by ... what? Time passes yet there is nothing. And it passes very, very slowly. Scene after scene - in both these films - I found myself baffled by what story or emotion was being communicated. Recycled stories I've seen over and over told in a style that I expected, rather than was surprised by.

I have seen the explorers/ natives conflict too many times. This story is dreadfully boring if that is all there is. It is really a backdrop, a matte painting, and nothing more. It is supposed to be the backdrop to the mythic romance but Colin Farrell is so inept in this role that the narrative sinks. I am really surprised I had not read anything of how badly Farrell tanks in this role. He looks like he is waiting to be told what to do in every scene, completely uncomfortable or about to fall asleep. He's just not the right actor for this kind of film. I actually thought "Alexander" was a pretty good movie and his performance in it, considering what he was given to work with by Stone, rather impressive. "The New World" was obviously a case of landing a big name in order to secure funding. An actor in a Malick film needs to be able to express complex emotions with a minimum of words. There really aren't very many actors who can do this. This was a very unfortunate mistake.

Though the images are striking, there is no deeper connection because of the lack of a strong narrative. I am amazed that the original cut of this was 155 minutes, and that Malick intends to release an even longer version at some point. The only possible way for this movie to work would be at a shorter length ("Days of Heaven" only needed 95 minutes and was all the stronger for it.) I am very, very sad in having to write such a negative review.
Unfortunate transition  
on June 19, 2006 - 2:43 PM PDT
  of Lulu on the Bridge (1998)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

Over the last year or so Paul Auster has come to be one of my favorite contemporary writers. His explorations of loss, isolation, and the function of art and human connection as tools for survival in an insane world resonate much deeper with me than just about anything else. He has several elements that reoccur in his work: identities shrouded in mystery, coincidence, fiction or fantasy becoming reality. If you are not familiar with his work I highly recommend Oracle Night, Leviathan or The New York Trilogy as wonderful places to begin.

Auster is often lumped with other modern literary figures as being pretentious and difficult (see BR Myers), which is a ridiculous assessment. If you find his language "complicated" you probably didn't make it to high school. His language is in fact some of the simplest, most concise and least self-conscience of any major writer. He loves to play with genre, especially the mystery/noir pulp classics like Hammett's.

Lulu On The Bridge is no different. It is very much an Auster story: there are strange coincidences, shadowy characters, a tragedy and the subsequent dealing with that loss. It draws genre elements from drama, mystery, thriller and romance. In his writing, Auster weaves a world of these pieces, very much his own with its distinctive, haunting and engrossing effect. But his first attempt to tell one of his stories with cinema falls woefully short on connecting in any of these categories.

It would be unfair to reveal very much of the story to anyone still interested in the filmm after reading this. The story elements themselves are actually very good. Keitel is Izzy, a jazz musician. He meets Sorvino through a set of very violent coincidences, well establishing a shadowy, scary world. But out of terrifying experience these characters find love. Sorvino's Celia is an aspiring actress. A bizarre plot device, which drives much of the rest of the plot, brings them together.

As a screenwriter, Auster makes numerous miscalculations which one would never find in his novels. First, he cannot rely on a first-person narrative as he does in almost all of his books. Keitel therefore remains a rough sketch of a character but still manages to be interesting as a performer despite the shortcomings of the writing. But his relationship to his ex-wife, Hannah, is so poorly handled it almost derails the entire movie about 10 minutes in. Albeit, Gina Gershon is not much of an actress and she is awful in this film. But the dialogue she is given is not believable in the slightest, and the direction of the actors is so roughshod that everything sounds stilted and hokey. In a dinner scene we are introduced to 2 other main characters: the boyfriend (Patinkin) and the movie director (Redgrave). Again, awful direction of actors makes for an embarassing scene culminating in Gershon and Redgrave doing a silly dance with a 12 year old. Why are we watching this?

Also in this scene we are introduced to one of the most important elements of the film which is completely glossed over: Catherine's remake of GW Pabst's silent film Pandora's Box which featured Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu. At the time I had never heard of Pandora's Box, knew nothing of the plays it was based on, therefore did not know who Lulu was, nor still have any idea of what the story within the story (a regular Auster element) is really about. This would have been a perfect place to intercut some shots from the original film, have some conversation about the film, why Catherine wants to remake it. Anything. But for some reason Auster leaves us with nothing but the brief mention of these names and moves on. Grievous miscalculation.

The love story is sweet. The idea of something completely inexplicable drawing to people together is really nice. But Mira Sorvino is so innocent and childlike that there is no erotic energy. Their relationship is nice but boring to watch.

Auster's direction is all over. Some scenes go on far too long. Others are brief or seem out of place. Visual elements and locations are unique but little is made of them. But the acting is what kills. Early miscalculations in character and exposition hinder much of anything else from working.

As a script, I think this is a very cool story that could have been made into a much better film by a more skilled director. On the DVD we learn that there were scenes of the film within the film - Pandora's Box - which were cut out. There is information and structure there that could have been very helpful.

But there is no justifying the ending ... MAJOR SPOILER:


For some reason, Auster chooses the cheapest, most overused storytelling technique of the 90's - the "it was all a dream" ending. Though most of the rest of the movie wasn't working anyway, there were still aspects that were interesting. But any meaning that had been created up until then - about redemption, healing, mystery - is totally undercut by this ridiculous narrative trick.

Auster is so much better than that. It is no surprise that he has waited almost 10 years to direct another film. His writing certainly hasn't diminished in that time. I just hope he has grown as a filmmaker. The Inner Life of Martin Frost - which is a story from within his novel The Book of Illusions - comes out next year. It is also worth noting that Auster's only other attempt at writing for the screen, Smoke, is a wonderful film and a very good screenplay.

I wouldn't recommend "Lulu on the Bridge" to anyone but Auster junkies who have exhausted everything else he's produced. If you do not know his work, this is the worst possible introduction.

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