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Jules and Jim (1962)
7/10
Stretching the definition of greatness
26 May 2007
Excellent, possibly, but not great in context of film of the period. Few might, but I would rank Shoot the Piano Player over Jules et Jim (while virtually no one would argue The 400 Blows).

That's just Truffaut. Then consider Godard's Breathless, or even Contempt. That's before mentioning Fellini: 8 1/2, La Strada, La Dolce Vita.

For film buffs today, the Italian Neo-Realists (and post) and the French New Wave represent the most prolific period of innovation in film, driven by creatives who rejected most of what they saw in contemporary "manufactured", dumbed-down films. American film was at its nadir as the studio system was plummeting on miscalculated automatic pilot.

Jules et Jim feels like a pulling back, a reaction on Truffaut's part to the failure of Shoot the Piano Player to match The 400 Blows with critics or audiences. This, his third film, contains some of the spirit of his earlier work, of Godard and Fellini, but fails to lift beyond, to be an evolution, much less another salvo in the revolution.

Yes, it was controversial for its content. Jeanne Moreau matches the best of American actresses (as in an apt comparison to Bette Davis on the overall dreadful DVD commentary). Raoul Coutard's cinematography is the fourth lead actor of the film. There's very little to criticize, in fact.

This film is enjoyable for many reasons, and required for devotees or students of film as art.

But greatness? Even in its time and context, many more foreign and some American films surpassed it. Hitchcock and Welles, even Kubrick were already on stage.

While worthwhile, it doesn't rank with those films that changed film, or culture itself.
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9/10
Surprising Should-Be Classic
13 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Despite a seemingly extreme requirement for suspension of disbelief at times, this film should rank much higher within its category. The story is sound and intricate, and certainly tight enough for the day. Where it is over-told, it only reflects convention. No one should miss Welles' performance, or Natalie Wood's first turn on screen. She is already mesmerizing, and her ability with languages amazing. I saw her name in the credits, but without calculating age, expected a teenager. But the second time she appeared, and smiled, I recognized her immediately and was stunned with her performance (compare most modern child performances on diction, delivery and command of emotion).

Colbert seems able to anchor any movie. She isn't a character actress and lacks the range of a Bette Davis, certainly, but her effortless portrayal of her own humanity always grounds the story, and she seems to catalyze and enhance the other performances (a rare and subtle talent).

Rather than retell the story or cover similar ground, I will comment on a couple of points.

I did feel that Colbert was convinced at the end by Welles that he was not her husband John, my only doubt being the denouement when her possession of his daughter, Natalie Wood, and her exit, is so perfunctory. But even then, she shows no curiosity whatsoever about the apartment, where we know the proof exists. And this is a relatively rare example of a multiply-ending film in the 40's (could have logically ended 3 or 4 times). Each of the final scenes would necessarily be succinct--BUT would deliver any important information. And her knowing at the end would turn this drama into a melodrama, because it would have shoved her back into her grief through the end, which is I believe not the intention.

But most significantly, if the writer or director intended that she knew, it would have been telegraphed in those days. In fact, there was nothing at all in Colbert's performance to indicate she was maintaining secret knowledge after their conversation.

Colbert not recognizing Welles is answered by the technical conventions of the day. The complaints here really are saying that WE cannot see a drastic difference in appearance, which we could expect now. Without extreme makeup or even digital effects (a la Forrest Gump), audiences of that day would have simply accepted having been told he was horribly disfigured (theater convention). They would thereafter assume it as fact and imagine it. In the hospital in Austria, the dialog between the doctor and Welles solidly informs us that he is injured beyond recognition. The doctor even mentions plastic surgery, almost science fiction for that time.

Overall, though the plot and theme may seem hackneyed today--and if remade would certainly leave more on the editing floor--the story is skillfully structured, acted and directed and for sure worth a watch by anyone interested in classic movies.
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Love Crazy (1941)
8/10
One of the Best of the Team of Powell and Loy
28 June 2006
Frankly, I just recently discovered this team, besides seeing part of The Thin Man years ago (prior to my interest in classics). TCM played a run of their movies recently (Double Wedding, I Love You Again, Love Crazy).

Of the many comedy teams, I truly like Powell and Loy the best now from all of film history (Close second in modern films is Adam Sandler and Drew Barrimore). It's a case of two people so well in sync; the performances mesh so smoothly in every moment, it becomes real. The perfect rhythms aren't real life, but the way real life should be in marriage.

Possibly its their brand of humor, and certainly the writing makes a difference, but Powell is such a consummate comedian when given any kind of chance (compare My Man Godfrey, passable with Carole Lombard the screwball, where Powell is great to watch even though the script constrains his talent).

Myrna Loy is so brilliant at being funny, intelligent, independent and genuinely loving all at once. Her characters with Powell are dream wives. Like the documentary on her, "So Nice To Come Home To"--could not be stated more perfectly.

Powell's drag performance stunned me. Several more modern examples, which I thought of as definitive, suddenly aren't so original and certainly no better. I would put his acting equal to or better than Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire. My opinion of his acting talent leaped another plateau.

Regardless of its faults mentioned elsewhere, this is the one of the best Powell-Loy pair ups. Loy has a bit less to do, but it would not be worth seeing without her. The supporting cast is sometimes cliché, but they are perfect at it. (And the portrayal of the mental health "professionals" seems madcap and again cliché, but is a bit uncomfortable being so near truth. What happens to Powell is still legal and happens today to sane people that don't fit the norm).

If you like feeling good and watching excellent performances, and having a few belly laughs to boot, don't miss this one.
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8/10
Bette and Olivia - What More Can You Ask For
28 May 2006
Being in agreement with James Woods that Bette Davis is the greatest actor there ever was, male or female, it's difficult to criticize, and virtually impossible when Olivia de Havilland is her foil. I love the fact that they were life-long friends (among a very few for Bette apparently). I agree her performance isn't as finely tuned as others--Huston wasn't confident enough yet to manage her. I understand that she would accept specific direction, if grudgingly, from a director she respected. Minus that respect, she would direct herself.

I think the success of Bette and Olivia's relationship stood on Olivia's nature. In interviews, she seems virtually the characters she played so well--a truly wholesome, intelligent, even-tempered, non-judgmental woman with a sly and easy sense of humor. It's unlikely that Bette could have gotten her goat, and Bette probably loved her for that.

Perfection would have been spending my days with Bette, and my nights with Olivia ;>.

This film is certainly enjoyable, and the performances of the other actors admirable, for all the reasons given here in other comments. It could possibly have been better with a more tempered performance from Bette. But I wonder, because the other performances, while admirable, are fairly spot on by today's standards. Without Bette's intensity and continual gyrations, it might not be noticed today.
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7/10
I Loved You for 80 Minutes
10 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As a sequel, Evolution delivers at least as well as, say, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and as a movie it is royalty compared to poor, shamed Aeon Flux.

Here's my Good, Bad and Ugly...

GOOD

1. I could watch Kate Beckinsale as long as anybody could. It's a contest I would enter.

2. Direction, cinematography, editing--all immerse you successfully in Underworld again, and the several new locations expand it admirably.

3. The battle on the truck is superb action film-making.

4. I could watch Kate Beckinsale naked as long as anybody could...

5. In fact, until Selene and Michael reach Corvinus' ship, any complaints are almost so minor as to be ignored.

6. Costumes and effects have improved.

7. You can see the extra $35 million on the screen (over Underworld's budget).

BAD

1. The excellent Budapest locations that budget forced Len Wiseman to use in Underworld made the built Vancouver sets of Evolution look at times like cheap Disney in comparison. You can't buy real iron curtain dilapidation (on their budget, anyway).

2. Kate's talent and potential are either suppressed or just ignored. She's an excellent Selene, again, but we see no transformation--physical, mental or spiritual--when she becomes a god. The only slack to be given is that maybe they're saving it for the last installment.

3. What the hell does it MEAN that Michael is a hybrid of two immortal races anyway? In Underworld, we apparently created the most powerful being in the universe. In the beginning of Evolution, he's confused and still wants potatoes. No problem. But even after 90 minutes, all it means is "oh, yeah, your a hybrid", and he jumps fast and hits hard. I think there was a bunny rabbit that could do that, too.

UGLY

1. WTF happened to those ULTRAVIOLET BULLETS!? What a cheat to have introduced such a cool concept with such massive story potential, and then do absolutely nothing with it. It's the single best effect in both movies, and we see it only once, in the first 10 minutes of Underworld! How about instead of Selene just blithely out-fisting Marcus in the finale (okay, so the helicopter WAS cool), she is on her last breath, Marcus having double-skewered her, when she spies one of the ultraviolet shells glowing in the water... she eyes it, smirks knowingly for once and shoves it into his skull? How hard is that to think up? I mean, she is the baddest ass in the universe, right? Surely that would finally give her a sense of humor.

2. Ditto the silver nitrates. Please... "all we've got are these ultraviolets"? Especially when we ALL know William is loose before we leave the ship? We hear that William is a hybrid as well. Maybe the nitrates DON'T WORK ON HIM! OH, SH*T!!

3. How about Selene gives some of that new god juice to lover boy to wake him up, so he doesn't just fly coach in a body bag to the finale and suddenly "wake up" for no reason (deux es what?)? Or, even better, revive him with her regular unleaded, so he can contribute to the Corvinus scene. Then wait until William has pummeled him to HIS last breath, after Selene has just lit up Marcus, and she crawls and shoves her premium-grade arm into Michael's mouth. As the spinach takes hold, Popeye leaps up and dissects William, his parts flying in all directions. Did they run out of money or just imagination in the last 20 minutes of this movie?!

As always (read my Aeon Flux comment), it's the missed glory in the writing that saddens me, because excellence of story rarely costs you anything more in production. So much of this movie worked, and worked most of the way.

Endings are tough. Hell, any good writing is tough. But if nothing else, in action-horror you can exaggerate everything 50% and pay off your coolest ideas in the last 15 minutes, and your audience leaves satisfied. The first 80 minutes, no matter how good, are wasted if you don't.

Based on the box office so far, I would say that lousy last 15 minutes cost at least $5 million per in the theaters.

But if you liked Underworld, you should see Evolution, and on balance you may think it's better.
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Benny & Joon (1993)
10/10
True Brilliance
7 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Hey, as the owner of over 600 DVD's, and by far most of those from top movie lists, I can honestly, easily put this movie in the top 60 of all time. Including all the movies I've seen and aren't worth owning, B&J lands neatly into the top 2-3% overall.

It's a simple fairy tale, but simple neither in its creation nor execution. The layers of theme and the reality and originality of characters, so well performed in every way, almost put it beyond genre, and certainly it is neither a comedy nor a drama. It precedes and predicts smart dramedies of the later 90's and beyond.

But the tale's most significant moral, so subtly and honestly delivered--one real reason this movie stands out--is the prescient confronting of our society and culture's treatment, both legally and personally, of the so-called mentally ill.

Finally today we are beginning to acknowledge how disgustingly medieval is our approach to mental illness via heavy drugging, chopping of brains and nerves, and even electric shocking "patients". Add to that the fact, highlighted in this movie, that our supposedly free society takes away any personal control from either the individual or the family when someone has been labeled "mentally ill" and gives that control to the pscyhiatric organizations (not to any legal or governmental body, you notice).

It is estimated now that all these "mass control" methodologies, originated by Germans mostly in the early 20th century and polished in Nazi Germany and under Stalin, will be eliminated in the United States within 20 years. This movie has helped contribute to that motion and heralds a major positive turn in our society from the long trends of worsening education and rising crime that began when pscyhs were given control of our educational institutions and our mental health methodologies.

The obvious, demonstrable fact is that changing the way one acts toward a person--any person--to a positive from a negative will assist them in improving their own ability to live their life. (Negative being absolutely any motion or communication that compromises or reduces their own control, confidence or positiveness toward the future). Many people are not even "insane", but just individual enough to cause the established mental health industry to label them with a disease so they can prescribe drugs for them. The old joke, "Are there really more insane, or just more definitions of insanity?" applies.

Like Joon, simply being treated with dignity and as a regular person is all they need to lead a successful independent life--they really weren't a big problem until someone said they were and kept telling them so.

But even without the tremendous significance of this thematic message, the movie is extremely clever and subtly entertaining. The DVD contains an excellent and different little piece where John Schwartzman, the cinematographer, comments over about 20 minutes of makeup and lighting tests of the lead characters. Much better than the usual 20-minute "making of". His comments plus the director's commentary give an excellent context for how the movie was conceived and made, and shows that they were well aware of the issues and challenges they faced.

Of course, I believe they met all those challenges exceedingly well and produced a timeless little classic.
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2/10
Watch it for Renee
4 January 2006
The only reason to watch this is to complete a study of Renee Zellewegger's work.

It's a B movie. Don't read the reviews and then think you will see anything near the value of Tarantino or Stone even at their worst. I cannot understand how this movie could even be compared to True Romance, for instance. TR is amazing--brilliantly written and packed with excellent performances by too many good actors to list. This one has Renee in a forgettable part. That's it.

Gil Bellow is mis-cast entirely. The acting is mostly sub-par, caricature. Cinematography 101. Even Renee delivers a so-so performance, but she's never unwatchable, which again is my reason for seeing it. There just isn't much entertainment value at all.

Unless you know someone on the production, or maybe for study purposes, you should definitely pass on this one.
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Æon Flux (2005)
7/10
The Good, The Bad and the Greatness Missed
3 December 2005
It's no worse than 70% of the formulaic rehashes that finance the commercial movie industry in terms of mass entertainment, and it at least tries to be unique and innovative. I didn't feel cheated in the way I was with, for instance, "John Q" (the political advertisement ghost written by Hillary Clinton which I was forced to pay to see and which forever barred me from Denzel's movies on principle).

The story hasn't been told before, the world hasn't been seen, the pacing is consistent, although slower than we expect for an action film (which Aeon Flux the animation was not primarily), and the special effects equal to today's standards. As eye candy, it certainly delivers.

I leave the "bad" items to the many negative reviews already here, which are mostly technical.

However... the worst is that a chance to establish another great franchise was tragically missed. The fact that a major motion picture starring two Academy Award winners was made based on a handful of experimental cartoons that virtually no one saw is evidence of the opportunity.

Aeon Flux as created by Peter Chung achieved near cult status via a few late-night showings on MTV's "Liquid Television" in the early 1990's. That program may have represented the last gasp of the soul of MTV, now the Wal-Mart of teenage culture, complete with taking no chances at violating marketing results. One irony of Aeon Flux the film is MTV's logo in front of its own story (to avoid spoilers, I'll let you figure that one out, but suffice to say they are the bad guy, not the good guy).

Which brings us to the sadness: The good guys and bad guys. Which are obvious and formulaic--and not what Peter Chung created. Theron and Csokas as Aeon and Trevor, whether forced by the script or from lack of imagination, are not at all, in any way, by any stretch, the characters created by Chung. And Aeon Flux the animation drew interest and accolades almost entirely on those characters.

The success of the original Aeon Flux was based 25% on its ambiguousness and 75% on the personalities of its lead characters (though less as the series neared its end--again due primarily to lack of imagination and, sorry, simply balls on MTV's part).

Aeon and Trevor fascinate us specifically for their refusal to be driven by external purposes. Their stout resistance to the falsity of altruistic intentions and their adherence to their own ethic and interests is fresh and exciting, demonstrating what it would be like to be truly free of cultural and political hypnotism.

In the apparent darkest of times, they are the lightest of personal characters, with a spirit of play unachievable by those beholden to history, education and the machine of civilization.

The skill of adaptation is to capture essence. To recreate the emotional and intellectual response of the original in a new medium, regardless of physical trappings--witnessed by successful adaptations set in entirely different settings and circumstances.

All that was necessary to make Aeon Flux the film into a classic was to capture Aeon and Trevor's essence and deliver it, but no one associated with this film was interested in doing that.
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