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talltale's reviews view profile

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Why Willie Will Always Remain  
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on August 7, 2006 - 3:10 PM PDT
  of Shakespeare Behind Bars (2004)
 


Should Willie the Shake (a friend of mine's favorite name for The Bard) have the opportunity to come back, even briefly, to choose his favorite amongst the oodles of appearances his plays have made on film and/or TV (648, according to the IMDB!), I wonder if he wouldn't pick, not Olivier's "Hamlet" nor even Branagh's "Henry V", but SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, if only to attest to the amazing staying power his work still carries--the words, themes, timeliness and emotions. I also suspect he might identify strongly with the men in this wonderful documentary that tracks a group of prisoners in one forward-thinking Kentucky prison.

We watch them rehearse "The Tempest," grapple with the roles and the language (under the tutelage of one smart director/sponsor), and talk to the camera about who they are, why they are in prison, and the reasons they choose to take part, over an over, in this special drama program the prison offers. Their understanding of and love for Shakespeare's work comes across so strongly and honestly that I think this is what moved me most. I also found their honesty about their various sexualities--straight, gay, bi--and their caring for each other and their joy in the possibility of each man's parole surprising and enriching. The documentary meanders some and doesn't--can't--tell you everything. But what's here makes quite a feast.
A Dead Movie About the Dead  
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on August 7, 2006 - 12:44 PM PDT
  of The Loved One (1965)
3 out of 5 members found this review helpful
 


Guess I am among the contrarians regarding this film. Not having seen it since its debut in 1965, I gave it another shot. Big mistake. Among the utterly dismal, "nothing works," clubfooted comedies in history, THE LOVED ONE may stand tallest of all. Crass without being clever or funny, totally lacking in comic timing, and featuring mostly tired targets for its slapdash satire, the movie is, for me, among the most shocking of misfires. "Ishtar" had more going for it, for god's sake. You sit there waiting for something to jell. It never happens.

While the burial procedure was/is not exactly ripe for comic pickings (Evelyn Waugh published his satirical novel in 1948, and Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death preceded this movie by two years), one might imagine that something funny would take shape. A simple perusal of the credits may explain why nothing did: Martin Ransohoff, the producer, also gave us "The Beverly Hillbillies"; Tony Richardson directed art films like "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" and the art/mainstream success "Tom Jones"; the actors run the gamut from perhaps the most miscast lead ever (Robert Morse, opposite the pointless Anjanette Comer) to John Gielgud & James Coburn, Margaret Leighton & Milton Berle, Liberace & Lionel Stander, and poor Rod Steiger, who manages to go consistently over the top and yet does nothing but "mince." The writers? Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood! Talk about mismatches. Could any of these people have had anything to say to each other, let alone collaborate on a film?

Mr. Morse can't even manage a consistent British accent: it varies wildly within the same scene and is far worse than the cowboy trying to ape a Brit accent of which the movie makes tired fun. The tag line upon release was "Something to offend everyone." If only. The offense here is utter, abject failure. Something to embarrass everyone is more to the point. (Haskell Wexler did the cinematography and it is the single thing worth watching in this corpse of a film.)
Is Somebody Greasing Criterion's Palm?  
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on August 6, 2006 - 11:49 AM PDT
  of Equinox (Criterion Collection) (1970)
1 out of 4 members found this review helpful
 


In our Bush-league era of lobbying, payoffs and general sleaze, I must admit that the following thought crossed my suspicious mind: What could have prompted the folks at The Criterion Collection--who have given us the finest group of DVD transfers thus far--to include the bizarrely dreadful EQUINOX among their titles? Did they perhaps reap enough monetary benefit from some hush-slush big-wig to bankroll another hundred DVD transfers of their usual high quality? If so, then I'm all for bribery. If not, I guess we must chalk this up to "Whatever Were They Thinking?"

Oddly enough, even the transfer here is pretty awful: Certain scenes are grainy beyond belief. Aside from this, the movie is so juvenile and silly, full of poor special effects (that must have looked dismal even back in 1970), and acted, written & directed in mediocre fashion. I watched the original student version first (71 minutes), then turned to the theatrically-released version: ten minutes longer, certain scenes and/or character added or redone and some nitwit sex included (has saliva EVER looked this delicious?). The disc also features an interview with the retired editor of a famous "movie monster" magazine, in which he praises the (then) young filmmakers, at least one of whom went on to greater glory. I am thoroughly flummoxed by all of this, but good luck to you.

Wait, wait--I just got a brilliant idea, which I hereby submit to The Criterion Collection absolutely free of charge. Remember how, when Miramax began releasing some not-exactly-art-films like "The Crow," the company decided to create a new shingle called Dimension Films for its more downscale output? Why doesn't Criterion create the same kind of thing for DVD releases such as "Equinox." I'll even suggest a name for it: "Nadir Films."
Lurid! Campy! God-Damned Good!  
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on August 3, 2006 - 4:38 PM PDT
  of The Naked Kiss (Criterion Collection) (1964)
 


Leave it to Sam Fuller. Who else might combine pederasty, prostitution, physical rehab for kids and salvation for adults into one shocking, funny, jaw-dropping "camp" fest. (And this was back in 1964, before Hollywood adopted the rating system and began making slightly more adult movies.) I'm sure Fuller didn't intend his film as camp at the time, but that's what it is today. Still, damn it all, the guy's such a good moviemaker that he carries you right along, from that breathless lulu of an opening to his leading lady's switch from bad girl to good, her "encounter" with the madam, and a musical number that would not be out of place in "The Sound of Music."

THE NAKED KISS is so enjoyable and surprising that it lands smack dab in the must-see realm. (And Criterion has given it the classy DVD rehabilitation it so richly deserves.) I recall it as amazing back in the 60s, and it remains so today (if for different reasons). The gorgeous and statuesque Constance Towers proves the perfect choice to play Kelly, Anthony Eisley is properly macho/nasty as her cop nemesis and the creepily pretty Michael Dante makes a wonderfully wrong Mr. Right. And through it all shines Fuller's insistence on honesty and second chances. Watch for Russ Meyer's own Edy Williams in a small but "prominent" role. Golly gumdrops: this one's FUN!
Highly Political Zombies  
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on August 1, 2006 - 7:24 PM PDT
  of Masters of Horror: Joe Dante - Homecoming (2005)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
 


Even knowing what to expect didn't prepare me for the shock, fun and sadness of HOMECOMING, Joe Dante's gift to the Masters of Horror series. I suppose, for those who have no strong feeling regarding what we have wrought in Iraq, this hour-long film may appear just an over-the-top screed, using horror tropes to score political points. It seemed a hell of lot more to me, offering scenes of enormous resonance: The soldiers coming out of their coffins, covered (or maybe bound) by our flag; the cafe with the soldier, the owner, his wife and their dog, and most particularly not just why the soldiers have returned, but what it takes to make them die.

Some of the writing (by Sam Hamm, who gave us the underrated "Monkeybone") and performances border on breathtaking--nasty, funny, & utterly on-target--with Jon Tenney just splendid as the conflicted "hero" and Thea Gill wickedly Coulter-esque as the libidinous, blond "author." It may seem odd that the most relevant and incisive bit of modern political muckraking comes from a short horror film made for cable TV, but there it is. When, at this point, it appears that only some kind of "magic" will put our country back on track, Mr. Dante's righteous and brave fantasy appears. Drink it up while you are still allowed.
Cold Fusion  
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on July 31, 2006 - 4:15 PM PDT
  of Grandsons (2004)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
 


Just squeaking into the OK level, the French film GRANDSONS--written and directed by Ilan Duran Cohen--fuses documentary filmmaking technique with what I believe to be a fictional story about the relationship between a young man whose mom has died and the grandmother who helped raise him. This fusion has its moments but overall is a bit tedious.

The young man appears spoiled and narcissistic in the extreme; it may take awhile, if ever, before you warm up to him. Granny is slowly declining and has taken in a young gay man to help her with cleaning and coping. Her grandson has an older lover with whom he seems to be splitting up, and he's also putting off the scattering of mom's ashes (in Scotland, as per her wishes). Due to all this, Granny may lose the opportunity to babysit the cute little boy who lives nearby. That's pretty much it.

The film, at only around 75 minutes (on the DVD I viewed, at least), still seems both unduly attenuated and lacking in pertinent details that might help involve us. It's not bad, but it's not quite good enough. Hard to believe that this is the same writer/director who gave us the surprising, funny, whip-smart and stylish "Confusion of Genders" back in 2000.
Boredom and Amazement  
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on July 31, 2006 - 7:37 AM PDT
  of Ask the Dust (2006)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
 


ASK THE DUST start out so charmingly and interestingly that I found myself thinking, "What was wrong with critics and audiences that this film flopped so badly?" Then the movie passed the half-hour mark and.... now I know. By the end, I'd been treated to one of the duller stories of a sour relationship with most of the clichés intact but without any specifics that might reveal the depths of that relationship. What was Robert Towne, director/adapter of John Fante's novel, thinking in order to end up with something this simple-minded and pointless? Perhaps his love for the book (which I have not read) blinded him to the differing strengths and needs of novels and movies.

Whatever: the series of increasingly lifeless scenes between Farrell & Hayek culminate in an almost laughably sentimental and silly ending. Idina Menzel (everyone's favorite "Wicked" witch) fares best, due to her rather brief appearance, which is full of anger, need, sadness and more life that anyone else exhibits here. Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is crack, as usual, and we do get an eye-opening look at Hayek's incredible body but only a glimpse of Farrell's full-frontal. The latter was deleted from "A Home at the End of the World" for artistic reasons because this supposedly amazing sight might have thrown the movie off-kilter. "Ask the Dust" could sure use a little "amazement," from whatever source it might be found.
Damned-Good, Little-Known Western  
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on July 30, 2006 - 12:59 PM PDT
  of Yellow Sky (1948)
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful
 


The less you learn in advance about the plot or the characters in YELLOW SKY, the better time you will have watching this particularly good 1948 western, directed by William Wellman and written by Lamar Trotti. I knew zero, except for its notable cast, and so was surprised and gripped from the moment an intriguing group of horsemen stop to chat in the middle of nowhere. They proceed to town, where they have a drink in the local bar, and then....

The movie grabs you immediately because of its simplicity, believable and sparse dialog, and very good performances and photography. Adult in its notions about everything from love and sex to greed and trust, it understands what people sometimes must do in order to negotiate all four. Watching the film now, in all its subtlety and moderation, is to realize that, while movies have gained enormously as times and customs have changed and restrictions fallen away, much has also been lost. The finale--which today would have gone on for an ungodly length and probably featured buckets of blood--is an absolute model of restraint, and all the more pleasurable because of it.

In addition to Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter (as good and as beautiful as she's ever been) and Richard Widmark, the movie features an excellent supporting cast, inclduing one of cinema's most handsome nearly-leading men: John Russell. Though he lived to 70 and made (coincidentally) 70 appearances in film and on TV, Russell never quite made it past "B" movie status. Our loss, since he was a good actor--and quite the hunk. In his shirtless scenes with Peck, he's shows off a body that leaves the latter's in the dust.
One of the best, from two of the best filmmakers, ever.  
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on July 30, 2006 - 10:27 AM PDT
  of A Canterbury Tale (Criterion Collection) (1944)
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
 


Here's another rich and wonderful piece of moviemaking from the Powell/Pressburger team--as well as a lovely little time capsule of WWII Britain: the land girls, small town England, and what real patriotism is all about. Watching it now, as America continues to decimate Iraq, forces us to confront the sleazy variety of "patriotism" that much of America and some of Britain are currently experiencing. Made in 1944, while WWII still raged, A CANTERBURY TALE is a discovery as good as anything I've seen from this amazing filmmaking team. Beginning with a lovely link to Chaucer's tales, then using a quick cut that ought to remind you of something Stanley Kubrick is now heralded for doing (though he did it nearly a quarter-century later!), it moves ahead to tell the story of four people whose paths cross to a purpose.

Full of quiet surprise and a lead character (played by Eric Portman) who is enormously problematic, the film makes you look, listen, think and feel intently. For me, cinema can't provide much more. As the movie seems to meander along, it is actually picking up an enormous head of steam which will--at the end--let loose a blast of patriotism, pride, beauty, sound, architecture and spirituality. Regarding the latter, I do not refer to the fact that the finale is set in a cathedral--as beautiful and symbolic as this one may be. This film rises above any stricture of creed because of the honest humanism of its creators.

This is a "war film," as it appears from the view of civilians who remain at home. Among other things, it shows that, while a civilian population in wartime must give up a great deal (concerning Iraq, this is something American at home have yet to do), the rewards can be commensurate. This astonishing film stands, after more than sixty years, as one of those rewards.
A Triumph of Concept and Style (that doesn't quite work)  
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on July 29, 2006 - 6:37 AM PDT
  of Brick (2005)
6 out of 11 members found this review helpful
 


A very smart exercise in concept and style, BRICK is film noir set in a present-day high school. If this sounds like some Saturday Night Live/Mad TV skit, it's not. Much subtler than that, it features a raft of terrific performances from its young cast--each of whom gloms on to the role and creates a believable (within the movie's framework, at least) character. Once you tap into it, "Brick" is a lot of fun to watch: a high school party with the femme fatale doing poetry/song at the piano; a conference in the Vice Principal's office that is a dead-on take-off of the noir scene with the private dick in the D.A.'s office.

If I'm not mistaken, writer-director Rian Johnson has actually created a kind of new-speak that works for today the way the zippy, off-kilter & often metaphorical dialog worked for those mid-century noirs. Even if you don't understand the specific meaning of some of the phrases and terms, it's a little like watching well-done Shakespeare: the actors' understanding of the dialog and the "intention" connected to it can pull you along and keep you in the loop.

Still, as the twisted plot starts to straighten out, the film slows down and begins to plod. Maybe these kids--the actors and their characters--are simply not old enough--and seasoned enough--to encompass the loss and pain that the best of the noirs can offer up. How could they be? They're kids. (The film that popped into my mind along the way was "Bugsy Malone." "Brick" is much better than that silly fiasco, but there is a connection: kids play-acting adults.) Your final reaction is likely to seem plain weird. Here is a story that deals with such primal feelings and events that it ought to hit like a punch in the gut. But it's so damn clever that you don't feel a thing.
Unappetizing  
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on July 28, 2006 - 3:41 PM PDT
  of Feed (2005)
2 out of 3 members found this review helpful
 


Gross and ugly does not begin to describe the wretched FEED. If it took itself at all seriously, or had decided to play it "camp," or simply attempted to provide decent thrills and chills, we might forgive it its nastiness and vomit-inducing swill. I rented it because it supposedly starred Australian actor Jack Thompson, a long-time favorite of mine who, it turns out, has almost no role in the movie. (His son Patrick plays the co-lead, along with Alex O'Loughlin, who, as a blond, looks an awfully lot like Owen Wilson, without the noticeable nose.) The movie begins as though it might hold together, but slowly comes apart until, toward the end, director Brett Leonard ("Lawnmower Man," "Virtuosity") leaves logic adrift entirely and has his hero (and us) lamely rolling around in body parts and fluids.

For sheer stupidity, nothing equals the moments (several of them) when hero and villain could easily kill or at least maim each other, but simply don't. So, of course, the movie can continue on its vile way for another half hour. The questions supposedly raised here about our consumer culture and over-eating are red herrings, plot-wise, and neither pertinent nor intelligent enough to qualify as "intellect." Yes, unhealthily fat women (and the men who go for them) exist in life and online, but this film--which equals "Hostel" and "Wolf Creek" in sheer ugliness while possessing about one-tenth the moviemaking smarts of both put together--has no reason to be.
Muddling Through  
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on July 28, 2006 - 1:52 PM PDT
  of Somersault (2004)
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
 


It's always bracing to encounter a movie in which characters behave in ways real but not predictable so that you don't know who they are for awhile and can't easily tell what they might do next. SOMERSAULT is one such film, and though you may guess the ending, I believe you will not begin to know by what route and in what manner the film arrives there. This little Australian movie deals with themes of budding sexuality & what to do with it, class & place, parents & kids, and communication between generations & sexualities. The lead is a ripe high-schooler trying out her sexual wiles in some rather odd places, which makes for often embarrassing times for her (and us viewers).

There is nothing really groundbreaking here, but the writing and direction (Cate Shortland) and performances (Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington, in particular) are on a high enough level to pull us along believing and wishing that things were otherwise. Another mark of above-average intelligence is that Shortland's scenes go on just long enough and her characters possess the knowledge to understand that things should be better without knowing how to make them so. There are no out-and-out villains here, just a lot of mixed-up people doing, for the most part, not quite their level best. They muddle. Fortunately the film does not.
A Gift  
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on July 27, 2006 - 4:22 PM PDT
  of Electric Shadows (2004)
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful
 


ELECTRIC SHADOWS is such a little treasure that I want to plug it in to every film lover I know. The comparison to Italy's "Cinema Paradiso" is apt in the most important way because it's all about how movies enrich the life of a child. In other ways, the film is so vastly different from writer/director Giuseppi Tornatore's lovely work, which is quintessentially Italian: big with emotions, architecture, color, performance, length and budget.

In this short and seemingly simple Chinese film, lack is everywhere, from the missing father to the lives these characters lead: where they live and work, what they have to eat and how they get around (the bus in which sister escorts her baby brother is a perfect case in point). Yet thanks to a style that is warm, honest, rich and--especially--gentle, a story full of quite awful happenings is told in such a way that whatever director/co-writer Jiang Xiao offers us, including some pretty heavy coincidence, we gratefully accept because all of it works so well toward her goal of celebrating film, family and friendship.

Her achievement is all the more surprising because the movie--her first, and filmed, it would appear, on an awfully small budget--starts out simply and charmingly then quietly builds until it reaches a conclusion that ties everything together without a whiff of heavy-handed melodrama or overkill. In the Special Features, the director explains her purpose, how she came to filmmaking, and her hope to do something worthy for the major anniversary of Chinese film. I can't imagine a better gift to the country, its growing film industry, or the widening world of international film lovers. Enjoy!
As Fractured as Its Heroine  
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on July 27, 2006 - 9:58 AM PDT
  of Petulia (1968)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
 


An artifact of the transitional 1960s, PETULIA is as fractured as its time period, its story-telling and its title character--played gracefully and honestly by the great Julie Christie, who helps turn what could be just a kook into a very real, very sad young woman. Director Richard Lester doesn't just fracture the time frame, he splinters the story and even the emotions you start to feel. All this lends the movie and its after-effect a kind of distance and chilliness that offer both dividends and drawbacks. Finally, the film seems most about our inability to connect, so perhaps Lester's choices serve to register this in the most appropriate manner.

In any case, the performances of Christie, George C. Scott, Shirley Knight (just wonderful!), Richard Chamberlain, Joseph Cotten, Kathleen Widdoes and Arthur Hill hold it all together. An added perk to viewing this unusual movie again, so many years after it was made, is to see--popping up all over the place--performers for whom "Petulia" was their first film work (or very close to that): Look for everyone from Rene Auberjonois to the late (and still-mourned) Barbara Colby, Richard A. Dysart, Ellen Geer, Howard Hesseman, Austin Pendleton, Mel Stewart and even Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin! You won't soon again find a collection quite like this.
With Your Brother-in-Law? Oh, no!  
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on July 27, 2006 - 7:19 AM PDT
  of La Mujer de Mi Hermano (2005)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
 


Soap opera doesn't come much riper than LA MUJER DE MI HERMANO, a Mexican tortilla stuffed with sex and sin and silliness run rampant. The wife of the title seems a particularly harebrained woman: cuddling up to her brother-in-law and then saying "No, no!" and then cuddling some more. "Sleep with me," she begs him, "but no sex." Yeah, sure. Well, her hubby just ain't puttin' out, so what's a poor girl to do? I have seen a few good Mexican movies in my day, so I know that these exist, but "La Mujer..." is so foolish and obvious that it makes Mexico appear to be perhaps 10-20 years behind the U.S. in both its themes and its talent.

The beautiful Barbara Mori (from the idiotic "Inspiracion") has not grown much as actress in the intervening years; slim and hunky Christian Meier (from Peru's wonderful "Don't Tell Anyone") is fine as far as the character development allows (a half-inch) and Manolo Cardona and Bruno Bichir are OK in one-dimensional roles. While the ending does imply a surprisingly adult and mature manner of handling the situation, because everything leading up to this has been childish and simple-minded, the finale seems, shall we say, a tad unearned. Come on: Mexico has GOT to offer better current mainstream movies than this wheezer.
V for Very Good Indeed  
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on July 26, 2006 - 4:30 PM PDT
  of V for Vendetta (Special Edition) (2006)
12 out of 13 members found this review helpful
 


Finally: an intelligent movie derived from a comic book. Even considering the glories of the Wachowski Brothers' "Bound" and the original "Matrix" (not those unnecessary sequels), I was unprepared for the sharp acumen and enormous fun provided by V FOR VENDETTA. Witty, fast and referencing obliquely (though obviously) events from the Holocaust to 9/11, Iraq and beyond, the film is extraordinarily humane and understanding in its attitude toward outsiders of all stripes (including terrorists, which will set some teeth on edge).

The brothers and perhaps their comic book source tell us things we need to hear: that governments should be afraid of their people, not vice versa, and when times are as bad as they are now, to discover who's to blame, simply hold a mirror to your face. The Wachowskis only wrote this film and left the directorial chores to James McTeigue. His work is proficient, particularly in the quieter scenes, but his action sequences are almost always too drawn-out, the final one especially. (Isn't it time for less slo-mo and more speeded-up action?)

With a cast that includes the likes of Hugo Weaving, who does a commendable job with just his voice and (sometimes) body, Stephen Rea, Rupert Graves, the glorious Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Piggot-Smith and Sinead Cusack, this is the classiest of (not-quite) mainstream futuristic fantasies. (George Lucas should be forced to watch the film at least once a week, to observe how he could have used the wonderful Natalie Portman or as penance for how he DID use her--dreadfully, pointlessly--in the latest Star Wars schlock).

The film's "arc" (as they like to say in Hollywood) is a bizarre one: it begins all over again midway, as our heroine, imprisoned, discovers a letter that is strange, sad, moving and unlike anything you'll have encountered in the genre. For this alone, "V for V" stands head and shoulders above every other comic book/theme-park-ride "tent-pole" this summer. No wonder it garnered only a respectable box-office: intelligence will never trump twaddle. Maybe Warner Brothers should have booked it in "art house" venues.
This Italian Police Procedural is a "Find"  
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on July 25, 2006 - 5:21 PM PDT
  of Uno Bianca
 


A top-notch thriller/police procedural via Italy, UNO BIANCA is one of the best of this kind that I have seen. Made for Italian television, it dwarfs most of our own attempts at this genre, managing to be thrilling, suspenseful, extremely frightening (due to the growing build-up as to who the perpetrators are) and--moment to moment--consistently involving. While the levels and management of the Italian justice system work quite differently from our own, no one should have trouble following what happens--and why.

The cast is fine, too. Italian looker Kim Rossi Stuart shows his acting chops better here than in the French TV version of Stendhal's "The Red & The Black," and very nearly as well as he does in Gianni Amelio's brilliant "The Keys to the House." The supporting cast, mostly unknown to me, acquits itself very well, and the taut direction is by Michele Soave (probably best know for his grizzly/funny "Cemetary Man"). The two-disc set totals nearly 3½ hours, yet there's not a wasted minute. This is riveting stuff and, for my money, one of the DVD "finds" of the year.
Extreme Twaddle  
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on July 25, 2006 - 10:22 AM PDT
  of To the Extreme (2000)
 


Terminally pretentious twaddle taken TO THE EXTREME is what you'll get from this absolutely dreadful French misfire about a poor little rich boy whose mommy died on him years before. He drowns his sorrows in bad poetry (poorly spoken), booze, sex (hetero/homo/bi), his sister, and the son of his current lover--that last of whom soon leaves us, as well. Thereafter he makes lame attempts at becoming guardian of the boy, finally kidnapping him off to Ibiza for some pretty scenery and more twitty twaddle.

I usually have a lot of patience for French cinema, but this one--with its dreadful photography, rock-bottom screenplay and mediocre performances (you can't blame the actors, saddled as they were with a no-account script)--took me to MY extreme and then over the f***ing edge. I would not be surprised if any normal art film enthusiast required a full year to recover. The writer/director is Etienne Faure (in case you might to want to red-flag that name).
Back to Bosnia  
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on July 24, 2006 - 3:18 PM PDT
  of Harrison's Flowers (2000)
 


Seeing HARRISON'S FLOWERS in 2006 (it was made in 1999) puts us in touch all over again with the horrors of Bosnia, even though we have moved on to equally disgusting behavior from Iraqis (and Americans in Iraq), from the Sudan, Darfur, Rwanda and we can now probably add Israel/Lebanon to the list. Watching this film is like seeing an entire country become George Romero's living-dead zombies with no purpose other than to kill--and as brutally as possible.

Unfortunately, the film's central love-and-rescue story reduces the entire movie to schlock, and not because Andie MacDowell, David Strathairn, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson and Elias Koteas aren't trying their level best to rise to the rather stupid occasion. Characterization and motivation are barely thought-through, and somehow the idea of rescuing a single probably-dead photographer against all odds and as an entire country self-destructs, keeps striking one, over and over, for more than two hours, as stupid and pompous. Yet, as a short history of "hell as other human beings," this movie lingers far too long and tastes like a mouthful of ashes.
Spike's Peak (of late, at least)  
12345678910
on July 24, 2006 - 10:12 AM PDT
  of Inside Man (2006)
5 out of 6 members found this review helpful
 


It's true: Spike Lee has finally made a mainstream movie. Unfortunately, it's only so-so. I suppose critics (it received pretty good press) were so stunned that they let their shock get the better of their judgment. How else to explain their missing the fact that INSIDE MAN is, as usual with Lee's work, way too long, running downhill for the final half. (Unlike the terrific "16 Blocks," another urban thriller from earlier this year that manages its sociology, politics, economics and excitement with a lighter, surer hand--and is twenty minutes shorter, to boot!)

Lee and writer Russell Gewirtz also let the cat out of the bag far too early concerning the what and how of the bad guys; their "interviewing the hostages" scenes build up but then implode in a manner that is just plain dumb. It does appear for a good while that Lee has at last foregone his silly and pointless camera effects, but then-- "Is he on a skateboard?" my partner asked, as Denzel Washington suddenly zoomed along in a position both moving and stationary. No, it's just Mr. Lee on "uppers" with his camera.

There are a few clever lines pertinent to post-9/11 life, but many of these are dropped so heavily that they clunk. There is also a welcome understanding that power and money are as likely now to make things cushy for the Bin-Laden family via the Bush & Bloomberg administrations as they did decades ago for certain rich bankers via the Nazis. But the film is so full of holes and lack of believability (from the first moments, as the "painting crew" makes itself too easily at home in the bank, to the finale, in which a collision between bodies that ought to look like a subtle accident appears more like a deliberate train wreck. Performances are as good as they can be under these circumstances, and, though the movie is not awful, it ought to have been much better.
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