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Arn (2010)
a worthy effort
2 December 2012
The miniseries reviewed here is actually a compilation of two feature length movies, which were very successful in Scandanavia, and as a result of that success, were shown on television in the form of a six-part miniseries. But the running time is pretty close to identical. The two films, minus opening and closing credits, run about 257 minutes; each episode (there are six) runs about 43 minutes, minus opening and closing credits, for a total of 258 minutes. So the reason it looks like a feature film is because it IS a feature film.

As to the content, it's a love story, but the lovers are divided by war and circumstance, so the bulk of it is devoted to how they cope even though they are divided. I thought the two leads had marvelous rapport (the two actors actually were in drama school together, and have acted together many times, on film and on stage), and I found their devotion to one another to be wholly believable. Of course, you have to remember that these were very different times. As the author of the original novels has said, this was an age of faith, and that extended to the faith that the lovers had in each other. Ours is a secular age, and so in order to fully enjoy the films, you have to be able to make a leap of faith, to believe that two people could love each other that much. I guess I'm a sucker for a good romance.

But don't go to this series or film expecting a re-run of "Kingdom of Heaven"; it's set in the same time and place, and covers some of the same historical events. The tone and feeling of the film, however, is very different. If it is an epic, and I'm not sure it is or was ever intended to be, it is what might be called an intimate epic. As with "Dr Zhivago," to some extent, history is the enemy of these two, and it constitutes a force that is very difficult to deal with. I can say no more without spoilers, but rest assured, all is not gloom and doom for these two.
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grupenfeuhreur is incorrect
23 June 2012
I was able to see this film at a film festival, where the director spoke afterward about how the film was created. As I had suspected while watching the film, the source for the script was not just the minutes of the meeting, which mention very little of the detailed discussions which occurred that day, but as well what the director called the "Eichmann protocol," that is, transcripts of the interviews conducted by the prosecutors at Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem. Grupenfeurher is correct when he says that the minutes of the conference never mention extermination. But Eichmann's later, extensive, comments prove that that is precisely what was being discussed. For a detailed look at the conference, the best place to begin is Mark Roseman's book, "The Villa, the Lake, and the Meeting: Wansee and the Final Solution." But there are also comments noted in Goebels' diary, and interdepartmenal memos from those who were invited to the conference itself, and much other evidence besides. A good discussion of the process leading to the genocide can be found in Christopher Browning's "Origins of the Final Solution," and a more abbreviated discussion in volume two of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler, "Nemesis."
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Sky (1963)
technical bravura, imagistic brilliance
29 May 2010
Feeney was a National Film Board director beginning in the early 1950s, and this was one of the last films he did as a director. Since he lived on until 2006 I assume, like other NFB types, he made the transition into management, and thereafter didn't work actively on production.

That said, nothing in his previous films could prepare you for the breathtaking splendor of the images in this film, nor (once you think about it) the technical virtuosity which created it. We are very used today to time lapse, or speeded-up motion films, particularly as it's used in such films as "Baraka" or "Koyanisqatsi," to show nature and society. Sky uses all kinds of camera mounts and positions to show one day in the life of the sky over western Canada, specifically, the mountains, forests and prairies from around Banff and on down in towards Calgary. In 1963, when Feeney made the film, so far as I know, nobody had ever tried to use time lapse photography in quite this expressive and artistic way. Mostly it was a tool used by scientists to study various phenomena that moved too slowly to be observed with the unaided eye. One locked down the camera, exposed one frame every second, or every two seconds, or whatever, developed the film and studied whatever it was you wanted to study.

For a movie, however, a locked down camera is boring; movies should move. So Feeney and his collaborators devised ways to get the camera to pan, tilt and dolly while it was simultaneously working at time lapse speeds. So you get shots in the film that appear to follow the clouds and their shadows as they speed past mountains tops, and then down on into valleys. "Baraka" achieves the same effect with the assistance of complex computer programs, i.e., a motion control system. Feeney did it without any sort of computer assistance at all, with purely mechanical systems. In some shots, the speed of the pan appears to perfectly match the speed of the clouds as they move across the sky. My guess is that Feeney either built his own motors and gearing systems, or he adapted gearing systems used by astronomers of the day to keep their telescopes static with respect to the movement of the stars. One of my favourite shots in the film shows a vast stormcloud rotating, raining on the prairies below, and moving up fast towards the camera.

However he did it, it is an astonishing technical feat. What 's even more amazing is the stark beauty of the images, and the melding of the minimalist music track with the images. One gets an entirely otherworldly feeling from the movie, that is, the music is designed to try and put us into a frame of mind that emphasizes that what we are seeing is not something one can ever see in the real world, but rather only out of a distillation and transformation of the real world, a transformation only achievable by the technical means of cinema. Simply astonishing.

NFB's website doesn't really do justice to the film. Shot in 35mm, this is a film that is long overdue for transfer to a high definition medium.

One further point. The film was shot at a wide variety of different speeds, but at the very middle of the film, roughly the five minute mark, there is one shot, and one only, at the regular 24fps. A truck passes along a road with a storm looming over the fields in the background. I believe it's placed there as a reminder that what we see depends on how we choose to see it.
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PT Raiders (1955)
Good script
28 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What's noteworthy about this one for me is that similar vintage Hollywood films often spoil their stories by making their villains remorseful or in other ways kow-towing to the official morality of their times. These characters, by contrast, the bad ones and good ones alike, never hesitate for a moment to do the nasty things we know they will do. What's better, they are pictured as intelligent, for the most part, and able to give the authorities a run for their money. It's not that I think criminality is in any way praiseworthy, but rather that the writer gives us real people, making real decisions, and doesn't throw away the credibility of the characters merely to bow down to the official morality of his times. Particularly good is the character played by Attenborough, who isn't a bad man, but who, through not thinking enough about the choices he's making -- which he rationalizes very cleverly and realistically, so that it takes us a while to even see that that is what he's doing -- gets in far too deep, and then can't get himself out. A marvellous job of acting, and an intelligent and tightly woven script. Not a great movie, but a pretty good one, especially since the "actions" of the boat can just as easily be attributed to the hesitations of the characters, that is, there's no real supernatural force necessarily implied by the script.
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Jumper (2008)
unjustly maligned film
18 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Not an epic for the ages, but a very good film, creatively put together and exciting to watch. Director Doug Liman does an excellent job of putting the audience in the same position as his young hero, that is, he knows he has an ability, but is completely ignorant of the larger context of that ability or power. The film shows his discovery of that context, and his coming to terms with it. A lot of the negativity of the reviews I've read really only highlight that the reviewers were not looking at the movie Liman made, but the movie they expected to see, and no film could survive such a comparison. The actors do well enough, given that their job is to basically react to things, and the real surprise here is that Jamie Bell is equally the star of the show along with Hayden Christensen. My advice for watching is simply to let the story unfold in front of you, let it take you along.

Now for the SPOILER, which isn't about the film as such, but about the concept. The DVD extras contain several big hints that in future episodes of the Jumper franchise, jumpers will be revealed (under some circumstances; but those are undisclosed) to be able to jump time, that is, go back and forth in time. As well, several minutes of a pre-viz for a future film show a fight that takes jumpers into outer space looks stunning, and involves jumpers fighting each other. My guess is (another SPOILER) that some of the Paladins are themselves jumpers, that is, they are hiding in plain sight. How else does David's mother get to Rome so fast, and then disappear so quickly?
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Grand Canyon (1991)
an amazing film about the magic of life
24 October 2007
A lot of the comments people have made strike me as (sorry) missing the point. Kasdan wants to present life, simply, ordinary life. The conventionally structured story, where characters have insights that change their lives, and then fade out, music up, and the film is over, is absorbed into this much larger canvas. Several characters in this movie have just such illuminations, and then they move on. Sometimes they can hold onto their insights, sometimes they can't, and that's the way life really is. In other words, Kasdan jettisons conventional dramatic structure in favor of an exploration of the the ongoingness of life – there is no happy ending, only an eventual ending; and everything before that is still in process, still always up for grabs – and, if you absolutely insist on a theme, an exploration of the role of the miraculous in our lives. What is a miracle? Well, life itself, for a start. Then add in all the random incidents and cross-connections that make up a life, or several interconnected lives, and you have miracles by the bucketful. Kasdan underscores this theme lightly, rather than insisting on it, and bolsters it in various ways, most memorably by the device, right in the center of the film, of having Mac and his wife, lying in bed, each dreaming their own dreams, but as well showing, later on in the film, how those dreams have the power, within the film, to shape reality. This is not a film with an easy or obvious message. You just have to let it play out in front of you, and then let it sit in your mind for a few days, a month, a few years, and see what it has wrought there. This is, without a doubt, Kasdan's best film, his most mature, his most humane. A major meditation on life from one of our most gifted writers and directors. The tragedy is, of course, that he has not been allowed to work for a number of years now, mostly due to studio constraints around "Dreamcatcher." Hopefully we haven't heard the last from Larry Kasdan. A great film from a great artist. Keep in mind that art does not have to rationalize itself completely in order to succeed.
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war is hell, but poetry is heller
16 December 2006
An interesting film, but it's based on a rhetorical trick. War is such a hellish experience that the only thing that can make it bearable is the comradry of soldiers, the sense that their platoon, company, unit, is acting as a group, that they are looking out for one another. Of course, this is to some extent an illusion, but it makes the experience bearable. What Malick does is strip away any sense of being part of a group. The poetry, and the rendering of the inner experience – and most often doubt; Malick never allows his soldiers to feel they are doing the right thing or to allay those doubts – acts very quickly to reduce the soldiers to collections of isolated individuals. Naturally, under such conditions, the experience of war completely overwhelms them, thus making those doubts seem more valid, or rather, disallowing the possibility of any other way of looking at things.

So, yeah, it's a good film, but it's by no means a great one. And once you realize that the poeticization is not only a bit of a rhetorical cheat, but also loaded against anything other than one way of viewing the experience, then the whole thing reduces to a propaganda exercise. The clearest indication that this is the case is in the fake utopia of the native people, everybody being nice and organic and environmentally conscious, which is, at best, a naive view. Prehistoric humans had wars just as we do, they simply lacked the destructive means with which technology endows us. The way Malick sets it up, however, he tries to make it seem as if war is the property of civilization, rather than something inherent in human life per se. Again, it's a rhetorical cheat, and a cheap one too.
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not so wide screen; engineering responses
14 December 2006
The movie is okay, though it does play fast and loose with the facts in the name of "drama"; since Stone was just the hired hand on this one, I guess he wasn't motivated enough to worry about the accuracy of the script.

But the DVD is a bit of a let-down. Originally shot in 1.85:1 ratio, the DVD (commemorative edition, so-called) actually projects at about 1.66:1. Some of this is undoubtedly an overscan problem, but by no means all. What it means is that, on each shot, we are missing information on the sides, that is, it's been reformatted to look optimal on an HD monitor, without much regard for the actual aspect ratio. Too bad.

Oh yeah, there's also a little too much in the movie with the guys in the hole saying goodbye to their lives. I would have preferred more on the actual rescue itself, since in McLoughlin's case, it took something like 8-10 hours to actually get him out. Once again, however, and in spite of the huge audiences that TV shows about engineering get, the Hollywood producers have decided to dumb down the process, so that the average 11-year old will "get it." Almost as bad as "CSI: Miami" in respect of depiction of technical processes, but not quite.
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Uprising (2001 TV Movie)
Historically accurate?
3 December 2006
One writer says that the film is historically inaccurate BECAUSE it portrays the Poles falsely. Well, it's not a film about the non-Jewish Poles, it's a film about the Jewish Poles. And while the AK Polish underground organization may have helped the uprising, technical support and so on, the fact is, they weren't in a position to be of much strategic help, simply because of the overwhelming might of the Germany Army of occupation. Remember too, that those Poles who took and active part in the resistance, AK or otherwise, were a very small minority of Poles, just as very few Frenchmen ever fought with the Maquis or other resistance units. That said, I'd be interested to know if the AK, or other Polish groups – and let's not forget that the Polish resistance was deeply divided along ideological lines, fighting with itself as well as against the Germans – did anything of value to prevent Wermacht units/SS units/ police units from getting to the scene of battle.

One suspects they did not, not least because of the high levels of anti-Semitism that existed in Polish society before the war (and again afterward; numbers of concentration camp survivors were murdered in Poland in the aftermath of the German defeat). So the movie is historically accurate in portraying a certain level of anti-Semitism in Polish society. To be absolutely accurate is not possible in a filmed drama, but I would say that the tone of the film, the tone of relations between much of Polish society and Jewish Poland, is generally accurately rendered. It's nice to have a few minor corrections, but they don't change the overall dismal picture of Jewish/Polish relations. Even the great Trilogy indulges itself in a few (moderately) anti-Semitic stereotypes, suggesting that such notions were widely accepted in pre-war Polish society.
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a great little documentary that deserves a release
20 November 2006
This was a documentary made at about the time that Penn's "Little Big Man" was hitting the screens, and originally shows on PBS.

Penn had had such success with "Bonnie and Clyde," and then again with "Alice's Restaurant," that his western was eagerly awaited, and generally praised upon release. So besides a retrospective look at Penn's career, we also get to see Penn directing LBM, and eavesdrop on his direction of Hoffman in particular. As well, we see scenes from his own life, including a hilarious reading, with his children, of a Mark Twain short story involving farts, whose title I can't remember, and have never heard since. I was disappointed to NOT see this as an extra when LBM was released on DVD, and hope to see it later in a Penn retrospective. Not all of Penn's films work as well as he hoped they would; too often, he allows his actors to over-use their method chops, when a more textual approach would serve the film better; too often, he wanders off into art-film territory for no really good reason other than artistic self- indulgence, sacrificing story and character for mood and effect which don't add up to anything. But he's a hell of an interesting director, one of the 1950s-60s originals, and not much talked about these days. If you can ever get to see this film, it's a great introduction to Penn and his work.
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Event Horizon (1997)
mismatched ideas, gore effects, sink flick
14 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have to disagree with those who like this film, sort of.

It sets itself up as a science fiction film, but in fact, it's a horror film, and worse, a theological horror film. The spaceship's "drive" allows it to travel in space by short-cutting through other dimensions, but when, after an absence of seven years, it returns to the solar system, it turns out (**SPOILER**) that it's actually been to Hell.

The problem is that science fiction is based on science, and the idea of this film depends on a literal understanding of some fairly medieval (aka fundamentalist) Christianity. The two simply don't mix. Those who like science fiction will be deeply annoyed by the intrusion of religious ideas, and those who are religious likely will miss this film entirely because it looks like science fiction.

In the end too, a lot of loose ends remain untied. Is Hell real? Is it just another dimension? What's the theory behind the way all these dimensions fit together into some universe or other? Are our cultural ideas about Hell derived from some sort of intuition about these other dimensions? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not the film-makers, who seem interested only in milking the concept for the maximum amount of gore and pointless shocks -- you know, the sort that make you jump in your seat for a second, and then you realize that's all it was: no concept, just another "Gotcha!" moment. Manipulative and thoughtless film-making at its worst (or best, depending on your tastes).

And the truly sad part is that the acting and the set design are truly fabulous. A lot of energy was expended on making the ship seem workable, real, and genuinely creepy. In the end, however, all the effort is wasted. The story doesn't fit together, and the genre itself is misjudged. Give it a miss.
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Tobruk (1967)
exciting, well-made, and tackles some big issues
18 September 2005
A lot of the comments above seem to be focused on whether or not the film-makers got the tanks and trucks right, yet at the same time, the writers admit they loved the movie. Me too; and I don't give a damn about the equipment, so long as it's reasonably close to the real thing.

Here's the point: a war film that tackles the big issues which the war itself was partly fought over is such a rare bird – and especially one that's combined with some good character writing and knockout action sequences – that one should embrace it. The movie gives us spectacle, yes, but it does so in a thoughtful way, a remarkable achievement when one considers that the typical war movie of the era was more like "Where Eagles Dare" than this one, ie, a farrago of nonsense designed to showcase ludicrous special effects sequences.

"Tobruk" may not be the literal truth, but it shows people committed to and fighting for beliefs and ideas, and fully prepared to sacrifice their lives if necessary to achieve that greater good. Stirring stuff, and the editing in the final tank sequence is nothing short of amazing.
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The Keep (1983)
monster movie with brains IS coherent
21 May 2005
The creature is being revived by the Nazis to assist them. The interest of Hitler and others in his hierarchy in supernatural phenomena is well-known, and often used by writers and movies (as here) to update an older type of story, in this case, the Golem of Prague. Even though they locate the keep where the Golem's spirit is trapped, they need an expert to help them animate it so as to use it. Accordingly, they pull a Jewish scholar out of a concentration camp to do the necessary. What they don't know is that the Golem has an enemy whose sole purpose is to make sure that he stays incorporeal and buried in the keep, so when he's disturbed, this hunter (Scott Glenn) is aware of it and comes looking for him. This, of course, leads to the showdown, which, as I recall (I saw the movie many years ago on TV) is divided into a couple of parts before we get to the final finale (so to speak).

I don't really see how the plot could be clearer than it is. What it requires from viewers is a willingness to sit still and let the story unfold. They photography and the shooting style is typical Michael Mann, which is to say, beautifully done. The Golem too is not simply a monster, but an intelligent beast, one who can sweet-talk the people around him into doing his bidding, or at least, blunt their purposes by making them question their own motives. Quite unusual for a monster film. The presentation of the monster too is unique, first appearing as a mere cloud or presence, and only slowly gaining solidity and form as the movie goes on.

What works less well is the decision to shoot almost entirely on a set, something which almost forces the decision to stylize, and while the set design is good, the sound and colour isn't always (surprisingly) as well controlled as in Mann's other films. Mann seems to have thought that since the film is set in the 1940s, it would be cool to make the film resemble a 1940s studio piece. It's only a partial success on this level. The pacing, as indicated already, is a bit slow, yet these are all minor flaws compared with the overall impact of the film, a monster film with brains. I loved it and keep waiting for a DVD release, with as much restored footage as possible, since I've heard rumours over the years of truncated production and post-production meddling by the studio. Heaven knows if these are true, but in any case the film deserves better treatment and a wider showing, if only to acknowledge Mann's ambitious attempt.
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Nickelodeon (1976)
not as bad as it's said to be
26 April 2005
The critical "view" of this film is that it's a dog. But that's only true if you want to see films through the eyes of critics; and when this one came out, the critics were gunning for Bogdanovich. Why? Who knows. They were gunning for Spielberg when "1941" came out, the difference being that Spielberg bounced back. Bogdanovich never really did, but that doesn't make "Nickelodeon" a bad film. True, it has no appreciable story, but it's a nifty little love letter to the makers of those early movies; which is why it has equal parts slapstick and straight drama. It's affectionate rather than melodramatic, and has a convincing evocation of what it must have been like to be around, scuffling on the edges of fame and fortune with this weird new invention, motion pictures. It's not going to scare you, or thrill you with wall to wall CGI pyrotechnics, it doesn't have a cast of thousands, and it didn't bankrupt a studio to make it. It's a good little film, well made, solidly cast and directed, and in general, well acted. A lot of what we like in film depends on our expectations. The critics were gunning for Bogdanovich because they were expecting Art with a capital A; instead what they got were a lifelong film fan's notes. Enjoy.
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The Wanderer (1967)
astonishing film, brilliant camera-work
23 April 2005
Filmed in cinemascope, and making full use of the aspect ratio, watching this film is like being immersed in another world. For much of the first quarter of the movie, we're at a strange party at a country house, and very little in the way of dialogue is spoken to explain things. We are simply there, and the camera prowls through the crowd and around the house and grounds, and we follow, seeing what it sees, and trying to piece it all together. It's a bravura opening, and the film stalls a little afterwards, until it once again establishes its rhythm. It's a tale of a young man, wandering, searching for a path in life, and the constantly mobile camera expresses his wanderlust, just as the beauty (and sometimes strangeness) of the shots expresses his amazed and youthful eye on the world. It's too bad that this film is not available in its original, uncut length, indeed that it's totally unavailable anywhere (except, perhaps, France?), because it is a hidden treasure. Anyone who cares for the art and craft of movie-making should watch this film. Not only is it expertly made, it packs an emotional punch too. It's not to be compared to the novel, because film works differently. But the spirit of the book is intact, and the translation into visual terms is as stunning as the original prose.
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High Treason (1951)
sadly neglected cold war thriller
6 February 2005
I agree with the writer of the previous comments. This is a little gem of a thriller, not because it has unusual plot twists, or even especially good acting, but because of its fantastic pacing (more like a modern thriller than the usual fare from 1951), and because of its fabulous shot-on-location scenes that put you right in post-war London. I grew up in post- war Britain, so perhaps I'm biased; but some of my favourite films are those which manage to escape the confines of the studio, something that was much rarer in those days than it is now. The world of the film is now more than half a century distant, and when you watch those streets, buses, and cars, those people walking around, it's slightly shocking to realize that many of them now sleep the big sleep, that you're looking through a window into the past. This alone, for me, is worth the price of admission.

The film is also the least talked about, most neglected of all Boulting's films, and as far as I can make out, hasn't ever been released on VHS, let alone on DVD, probably because, once the 1960s New Left had come into the ascendancy, especially in the various film studies institutes, the kind of old fashioned Cold War politics Boulting's film embodies were seen as both embarrassing and naive. Well, it's time for a re-evaluation. The politics of the film never did make much sense, so what we're left with is an exciting, well-crafted, and beautifully paced thriller, one that has, perhaps surprisingly, more heft than many contemporary thrillers, certainly more pizazz than the usual James Bond entries. If you can see it (and I discovered it courtesy of A&E, who ran it as a kind of joke several times in the early 1980s) sit back and enjoy it.
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Eleni (1985)
A lot of the comments miss the point
14 December 2004
This film seems to have unjustly attracted a lot of nonsensical comments, mostly from left of center commentators; and it's sadly revealing how the facts cited by other viewers are not even addressed, but simply ignored by the left-ist commentators. Those who accuse the film of being anti-communist propaganda mostly use ad hominem arguments, and insult and invective. But ask yourself: what good is a political view which assumes itself (because it is self-described as "revolutionary") to be above ordinary moral or political criticism? If that were true, then there could never be any way to judge the value of the actions performed in its name.

In short, this is a reasonably good film, with a fine performance by Kate Nelligan, and much less good work by other members of the cast. The direction is not inspired, and the flashback structure of the film seeks to maximize the emotional effects without stopping to consider just how powerful those effects are all by themselves, that is, the use of that structure betrays the fear of the film-makers that the story might not have the impact they wanted it to have.

The original book is stronger, but it too is flawed by Nicholas Gage's failure to ask himself about how it was that the communists picked on his mother, even though he presents some of the evidence that answers the question. It's clear from the book that some members of his family -- I think his grandfather, but it's been a long time since I read the book -- had serious disputes with other people in the village in the 20s and 30s and perhaps even earlier, and that there may even have been a murder involved; naturally, Gage is not all that clear on the point. The communists, men, most of them, couldn't go after the grandfather, so, brave souls that they were, went after the most vulnerable: the Gage womenfolk. Despicable, but that is often the tenor of village and peasant life.

And to me, this was the message of the book, that the politics of revolution were, in many cases, simply another weapon in the never-ending village war between its own members. The problem with the film is that it never really clarifies this central aspect of the drama, and so the power of Nelligan's performance is marooned. It affects, but it's almost in a vacuum, and Malkovich's portrayal of Gage, which I thought quite good, is similarly detached; but the flaw lay in the original book, which ducks important questions because Gage, North American that he is, simply doesn't understand the deeper currents of village life.

Worth a look, no matter its flaws. No work of art is ever perfect, and this one gets high marks for trying.
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brave satire
27 November 2004
I loved this movie when it came out, and I still think it's one of Friedkin's most under- rated efforts. Where it lost a lot of the audience was in its requirement that they actually think about what was being presented to them. The jokes are not the usual Chevvy Chase, fall on his ass kind of thing, but for the most part have an actual point behind them. Where the film failed, I think, is culturally; audiences at the multiplex tend not to like to have to think about the entertainments they consume, so the movie got lukewarm reviews, and poor audiences. Look at the scene for example, where Gregory Hines' character is accosted by a mugger, and the way in which the scene escalates, for a perfect mini-allegory of the cold war, and the simplicity of its essential "strategies."

In truth, the movie falls between two stools, in terms of the audience it was aiming at. It's too much a Hollywood production to play on the art-house circuit; but its ethos is too "political" to play well in the major exhibition houses, ie, suburban multiplexes. It might be the case too, that because its satirical target is the military, some thought it as somehow "anti-American" and stayed away for that reason. But it's a fine film, well-structured and well scripted (in my opinion), having as its core the moral redemption of an immoral man. It also features – a rarity for American commercial movies – a black man in a major, well-thought out role who's not just a comedy sidekick for the hero. Give this one a chance, and it will reward multiple viewings.
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not just for kids
5 October 2004
When the movie came out, it pretty much disappeared right away, which is often the fate of small movies, simply because the studios don't bother to advertise them. As well, the film was "pegged" as a kid's movie, which is absurd. It's about kids; and kids could watch it with profit and get excited about it; but where kids see a film about a boy who succeeds ultimately in becoming an "escape artist," and using his talents to defeat the bad guys, adults see a whole different film, one that is about a profound emotional connection a boy has with his father who has died. And this side of the tale is made even more affecting by its only slowly being revealed as the film goes on.

One thing that may also have confounded audiences is that it's not a "talky" film. The young hero does things, he doesn't much talk about things, and that makes it a little hard to follow the motivations in places. But it is a lovingly crafted, beautifully put together, piece of work, one that is long long overdue for a release on DVD. The sequence of the young boy cracking the safe is fascinating, as is the dream sequence in the jail where he magically floats his father out of danger. Striking visuals, and a clear dramatic structure. Wonderful.

As of last year, I believe American Zoetrope held the rights to the title, and while it is on their list to release, they've had higher priorities (for example, Coppola's "One From the Heart," which is good, but suffers from Frederick Forrest's unfocused performance) so it may be quite a while before this marvelous film is released. Let's hope that

when it is released, Deschanel has some say in the process, i.e., we get at least a small documentary on what it's like to make your first film, we get an anamorphic transfer, and we get a reasonably high bit rate for the transfer.

If you can find this on VHS, that's not the best way to see it, but it'll do until the DVD comes along. Enjoy
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Grand Prix (1966)
Where oh where is the really special DVD?
23 November 2003
(Shockingly, the DVD of "Grand Prix" - probably the best racecar movie ever made - is still (Nov. 2003) missing in action. I just checked the release calendar at DVD Journal and once again, there's no news.)

Update, 2010: Well, it's now available on DVD and on HD. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Speed Channel material I mention below didn't make it onto the special edition or onto any other edition. Most likely this is a rights issue, but it could also be sheer laziness. The extras for the DVD special edition are okay, but could have been much better. Shame.

It's a crying shame, especially when you consider that the US television channel which specializes in cars (I forget the name of it; "Speed Channel?") several years ago ran a special showing of the film, in widescreen and stereo, which featured, along with the movie, over an hour of interviews between director Frankenheimer, star James Garner, and GP fan Bruce Dern. In other words, most of the work of creating material for a "Special Edition" has already been done. All that's needed is the rights clearance.

Remember too, that almost all of the big-budget, widescreen, multi-star, roadshows from the 50s and 60s have already been put out on DVD. Why? Because, being shot originally in 70mm, hence, boasting super-detailed images and multi-track sound, they are perfect candidates for digitalization. Not that anyone from the studios is listening, but please, release this title now.
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A colossus of jazz, bestriding the world
13 November 2003
This movie isn't a filmed rendition of Rollins' classic album, but rather a documentary that delves into the man and his work, and features as its centerpiece a 1986 performance of his "Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra," a stunning work, which as far as I know, is currently available nowhere else. Directed by Robert Mugge, who's known for his insightful music documentaries (on blues, on Robert Johnson, Hawaiian music, zydeco and bluegrass), this is a classic work that allows the man to explain himself, and has inserts from critics that help you to gain a greater insight into what you're seeing on the screen. Impressive, and (dare I say it) educational. We get good a fully rounded portrait of one of jazz's greatest players ever, a man who pursued spirit as much as he pursued music.
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Razorback (1984)
fantastic piggy fun
4 October 2003
Judging by the external reviews, quite a few people appear to hate this film. I can see why, but I think they're coming at it from the wrong angle.

I see it as - intentionally - trying to send up the whole genre of vengeful animals horror flicks. In truth, neither sharks nor grizzlies, and certainly not razorback hogs, are smart enough to conceptualize, let alone carry out, acts of vengeance on humankind. The film simply takes the "rules" of this particular genre and applies them to a ludicrously unfit vehicle: a giant pig. And there are some pretty funny scenes, notably one where the monster eats a nasty watchdog that's chained to the side of a house; naturally, the corner of the house to which the chain is attached comes off and Joe Couch Potato is left sitting in a wall-less abode, staring quizzically as his television disappears into the outback.

Treat it as comedy, and the film makes a lot more sense.
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