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Torch Song

True, it's all true . . .
Everything in the prior comments on this film-- It's all true, and then some. Rating this film is difficult. It's so bad it is fun. High camp at its extreme. Joan has more poses than a bodybuilder and more faces than a totem pole. The signing is dubbed, the dialog is from outer space, and the plot developments beggar description: The Blind Rehearsal Pianist, Joan in Black Face, . . .

As you sit there, watching in amused disbelief, random thoughts occur, such as wondering how this film would have been with Bette Davis. Or imagining Joan in "Hello Dolly!" My rating is based on my enjoyment of the film--it is a hoot. But also an overripe mess. I love it.


Two Problems
It was too long, and Anthony Hopkins telegraphed the fact that he had something to hide from the very beginning.

I read the book before I saw the miniseries when both were new. I again watched the miniseries, and though my memory of the book has faded, it could only be much better than what made it to television. Maybe my familiarity with the book helped fill in the gaps when I first watched the series.

It would have been very interesting to explore Kelno's motivations--a need to atone? A death wish? Did he really hate Jews, as opposed to simply being a coward who collaborated? Anthony Hopkins certainly conveyed a troubled individual. It would have been interesting to find out why.

And Cady--he was a total louse in the first half, and then was suddenly redeemed and transformed by his father's death. Not believable. And wasn't that Juliet Mills as the first Mrs Cady? A totally wasted part.

I don't regret watching it again. A seventies miniseries was not usually created or edited to be compelling and concise, but to furnish enough material to surround a sufficient number of commercials.

The Ghost Army

Why is this not a movie?
I was reminded of Clooney's "The Monuments Men." As much as I liked Clooney's movie, I think these guys and their story would be ideal material for a film. The Monuments Men involved the plan to save priceless art, but Frankenheimer had already used that theme for The Train. On first impression, the camouflage brigade seems almost a parody of The Dirty Dozen. The idea of assembling a squad of specialists, drawn from professionals in the fine arts, is something new. A war movie featuring various artists, art directors and designers for film and theatre, recording engineers, not only to create camouflage but later to create decoys, plus it all being TRUE--how could such a film not make a mint? I totally loved this documentary, and I am very grateful that the recollections of many of the participants were recorded at last. It is a shame that their story was not told sooner.

War and Remembrance

Well-earned superlatives
This series was broadcast before the creation of IMDb, and so the comments are from people who actually saw the series, rather than being engaged just to inflate the rating.

Perhaps I might have done without the soap opera romances, but I suppose they were necessary to make the characters more realistic. I won't repeat the superlatives, and mention only a couple of the many things which impressed me. The late G. D. Spradlin played Admiral Spruance at the Battle of Midway, and as I watched the scene I was touched by the restrained but eloquent performance. I knew nothing of Spruance, and after the episode, I looked him up online. Not only did Spradlin physically resemble Spruance, but the restraint was one of Spruance's defining traits. And also his unusual willingness to be open to the opinions of others. The writing was well-served by Spradlin's remarkable performance.

And Gielgud in Part VIII. OMG.

The Big Sky

Pure escapism
I love this film--it makes me feel good every time I watch it. I'd seen it when I was a child, and loved it then. However, for decades later, I confused it with The Far Horizons which was released a few years later. Could there be two upriver boat adventures involving a pair of heroes and one Indian princess? Sure enough.

The film may not be faithful to Guthrie's novel, but there were too many unmarketable items, such as having heroes with dark sides, and a generally "down" ending. Rape, murder, and racial hatred are not usually found light-hearted adventures. A film with serious characters who experience adult problems is not something that could be sold to kids, such as myself when I first saw the film. For example, I saw The Searchers when I was a kid, and was clueless. I vastly preferred The Big Sky. More fun.

So if you take the book and subtract the adult themes and plot elements, you are left with a film that was hugely entertaining to kids, as well as to any adult looking for pure escapism.

Under the Skin

Beyond me
I did not like the film. I did not feel obligated to like it, though I generally like and support independent films. I just didn't get it, though I suspect there was not much to "get." Any viewer who approaches this film thinking that it is in any way a typical sci-fi film is in for a grave disappointment. I knew it was not typical before I went to see it, but just because a film is unique does not mean it is also good. It is very beautiful--lots of evocative scenery, with no real point that I could see (the bleak mountain lakeshore in mid-film, for example). The "soundtrack" is mostly sounds, with very little intelligible dialog.

The film may be well ahead of its time. Perhaps in about twenty years, I will be able to appreciate its qualities. Anyone seeking any more immediate enjoyment should look elsewhere.


I was so wrong
Before today, I had seen this film only once, in a cinema when it was released. Over the past fifteen years, I seem to have developed very fond recollections of what was in it--so much so that I rented the film to watch again today. I wanted to enjoy again what I recalled was a terrific film.

And then I saw my original IMDb rating: 5/10. What was I thinking back then? I believe that there is so very much in this film, that it is nearly impossible to fully appreciate the film in a single viewing. There are so many ideas in the film that provoke further thought. I think this film was so far advanced from the usual mainstream movie that the traditional process of a viewer finding things in the film to relate to his or her "real life" was reversed: since first seeing the film, I have found so many things in my own life that I can relate to the events in Magnolia.

The Oscar nominations: Tom Cruise, screenplay, song. Won zero Oscars. I can't explain that. Except to say that in 1999, I was wrong to rate the film only as 5/10. I can only assume that the Academy was equally mistaken.

Twelve O'Clock High

I don't see it as a "war" movie
I ask myself how I could have improved on this film. I can't think of anything. So I give it a 10.

There are perhaps five minutes total of actual combat, and the remaining two hours are devoted to exploring the humanity of the individual fliers. There are no flashbacks to establish characters, no extended reminiscences to furnish a backstory. There is simply the drama of soldiers placed in the immediacy of battle.

I saw this film for the first time today. I'd avoided it for decades: another "war" film, one that a TV series was made out of. (Yawn.) Boy, was I wrong.

I won't give away anything in the film. I will say look for examples of its amazing humanity in Dean Jagger's performance--the line about trying to remember the faces, and the line about the letters he had to write. But Jagger has no show-stopping soliloquy--just perfect. And then there was the bit about a conversation with a nurse in the hall.

And I noticed that the theme and basic plot set-up for this film were exactly the same as Joseph Heller's Catch-22.


Artists at work
I preferred this to Gentlemen's Agreement, if we must limit the comparison to similarly-themed films. I have read too much about what this film could have been, should have been, would have been, but for . . .

Criticizing a film because it was not the film you would have made is beside the point. Please go and make your own film. For example, I've seen complaints that the film was an insufficient exploration of anti-Semitism. If the film were made last year, I'd probably agree. But consider the time-frame. 1947. The theme of the source material featured gay-bashing rather than anti-Semitism. That theme would certainly have been interesting, addressed in a film from that year.

But woulda coulda shoulda . . . That's not a valid criticism for a film made under the constraints that existed then. Making a 1947 film which "sympathized" with Jews just further cleared the way for the director's place on the blacklist.

Let me offer only a simple example of the artistry in this film, which transcends any kind of "message": there is a scene near the end, when soldiers are shaving in a group washroom. The composition of that scene (involving mirrors) and the shots in it--simply breathtaking. I don't know if that scene was the product of the director or the cinematographer, or both. But OMG, what a wonder this is!

Red Dawn

Missed opportunity
This film might have been vastly improved (i.e., at least made endurable) had the "Wolverines" been a scout troop and Hemsworth would be their leader. The action would not have been any more believable, of course, but at least the producers might claim that it was supposed to be funny. As it is, there are some funny moments, but not nearly enough to save the film or to recommend it as a comedy.

The "plot" was certainly not new (and it wasn't new in the earlier version, either). The multiple car crashes in the first ten minutes kind of set the tone for what was to follow. I think the film would have gone straight to cable had they not paid multi-millions to Hemsworth.

All Is Lost

Don't take a metaphor literally
It is very interesting that about half of the IMDb remarks deal with deficiencies in sailing. I really don't think that was the point of this film, or that it was to be taken literally, such as "Titanic." I don't think the film's target audience was sailors.

Here are a few things to think over: Did he set out alone? Maybe he set out with a companion, who he murdered. Or who died of a heart attack and was buried at sea. Maybe the companion was the more experienced sailor The lack of backstory leaves room for a lot.

The message in a bottle. Watch the hesitation as Our Man decides what to do after sealing the jar. What is he thinking?

As for the ending: Passed by two ships. A third approaches at night. Light is needed. We know from the initial voice over that his rations are running out quickly. An impulsive and dangerous act results in an "All In" plea for rescue--it's then be rescued or die. There is no guarantee of success. He is placing his life in Other Hands.

Our Man may be a negligent and uninformed sailor. And we all know that no sailor would kill an albatross.

Outstanding film. A total failure as an instruction on sailing technique. But maybe, just maybe . . . the instruction was about navigation of uncharted waters?

12 Years a Slave

Must be something wrong with me
I really disliked this film. I am not saying it's not a fine film. I am not saying it is inaccurate. I am not saying that anyone who enjoys it is wrong. It is certainly thought-provoking. But it told me nothing new, offered no new insights, and I found it to be unrelievedly gruesome and depressing. After about an hour of the film, I decided to stop squirming and leave--that I would enjoy not seeing it more than actually seeing it. For this reason I did not rate it.

I wasn't expecting sweetness and light from this film, only perhaps a little enlightenment presented in an entertaining or at least endurable manner. There must be something wrong with me--how dare I not like it? I recommend that everyone see the film. But if you don't like it, you are not alone.

The Family

I can't believe I watched the whole thing
I could hear a thunderstorm outside, so I stayed and watched it all. In retrospect, I would have had more fun standing in the rain. Early in the film, there may have been a smile or two in the lines. Once the gratuitous violence and killings began, I sat there wondering where did I go wrong? I am probably too old to laugh at needless killings. I find it about as funny as teen suicide. In slasher films, the body count is the point; here, well . . . what's the point? Whenever things got boring, another character was killed needlessly. The filmmakers at least had the restraint not to shoot the dog, but had no qualms about the needless killing of a friendly neighbor.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

A reduction
I recently found this movie in searching for Dee Brown's book at the local public library. I recall reading the book when it first came out, decades ago, and I was fascinated--a history book that I could not put down, just like The Exorcist (the book) when I first read it. Dee Brown's book was also a horror story, and the major horror was that it was real.

So knowing absolutely nothing about the movie, I borrowed it, thinking that it would be essentially a documentary. Was I wrong! I should have just checked out the book and read it again. Historic atrocities can only be properly dramatized by extraordinarily gifted filmmakers. Anything else is a reduction. But perhaps it is better if someone stumbles upon the Native American genocide done up as a popcorn movie, than never to have any idea at all.

The NY Times review complained of some rather obvious analogies to Iraq and Afghanistan. That further illustrates the reduction--would anyone dare use the Holocaust as an analogy for anything else? I don't fault the production, which was polished and accomplished. But HBO should have passed on this.

Pacific Rim

Coolant low
I will keep this short: I was so surprised. I went expecting a cut above the usual action movie, but I was amazed at how terrific this was. The screen play seems to be a collection of virtually every war movie and monster movie cliché imaginable--all of which is obviously intended. It's like an intelligent and witty Transformers film, if you can imagine. The film does not try to be trendy and it avoids witty dialog, TG. The stock characters are given stock lines to say, and they do it perfectly. For example, the eve-of-battle speech.

At first I was wondering if the director knew that the film was just one cliché, in-joke or film reference after another. There was no doubt that he knew, after I saw the "Coolant Low" warning.

The 3-D and IMAX were distracting. When (not if) I see it again, it will be in 2-D, which is at least one dimension more than most summer action films lately.

Moment by Moment

A hoot
I enjoyed this movie so much, and for so many reasons. But that's because I can appreciate a truly awful film. I can't say anything really, to add to everything that's been said here. At least Ed Wood had an excuse, gaining immortality with absolutely no resources. So poverty is not an explanation for this film. However, it's just as hilarious as Plan 9, and I am so glad I found it again after so many decades. Tomlin and Travolta were talented enough to survive this career-killer.

I was tempted to give this film a multi-star rating because of how much I loved it. But I didn't rate it because it would be a shame to skew the average, and perhaps lead someone to think it's a good film. Which it's not. But I don't think that's any reason not to see it.

This Is the End

A devil put aside for me
I thoroughly enjoyed the film, though in retrospect, I am not sure if it is really a great film--there's not much to compare it to. One thing's for certain: this film is not "just like" any other film you could name. It is one of the funniest films I have seen in quite a while. And I am probably going to miss the Rapture as a result of my enjoyment.

The film has graphic sex talk and graphic violence. The dialog could hardly be any nastier. And of course, hardly more sacrilegious. However, despite all of that, the film is surprisingly good-natured.

This is not a film for children or for family viewing. Anyone who is squeamish or easily offended should stay away.

And don't automatically assume that anyone over 40 would not like this film. I'm over 60; I had a great time. So I saw it a second time, and loved it even more.

Daughters of Satan

Hilariously bad
This film was so awful it provoked laughter rather than shudders. Tom Selleck is the major reason to see the film, done at the beginning of his career. Fortunately it did not end his career. Along with everything else in the film, he also is awful, and that is probably because the script was so bad and the direction was probably nonexistent.

The first 15-20 minutes were terribly slow, and I was tempted to stop watching. But then, it suddenly became totally absurd. And enjoyable. Such as an unmotivated chase on foot through Manila. And Selleck and his wife visit a picturesque picnic spot and she finds a ceremonial dagger in the picnic basket, and while Selleck has his back to her and is talking about how scenic the place is, she makes to stab him, only to quickly hide the knife each time he turns to look at her. Hilarious.

There is a scene in which Tom's pink shirt matches the pink shade on a desk lamp. And there was a red and white typewriter on the desk (it's a sad comment when you spend time admiring the details of the set decoration.) There is a scene where a woman Selleck meets at their shrink's funeral invites him over for a post-funeral drink (without his wife), and she invites him into her bedroom to check a painting, and again, he is talking about the painting with his back turned to his hostess, and when he turns to her she has removed all her clothes. He continues the conversation as though nothing had happened.

The witches all belong to the "Manila Assembly of Lucifer." That is actually in the dialogue. And probably they're also listed in the Manila Yellow Pages, under "Churches-Satanic." Many of the actresses seem like they were found in porn films: substandard acting but exceptional breasts. And there's an invisible dog, a mortician who photographs naked female corpses, and so many other completely insane touches.

Personally, I really enjoyed the film. But I can't give it more than three stars, because objectively it is rather bad. And if Tom Selleck had not been in it, but another actor giving exactly the same performance, I'd probably give it a 2.

In the Electric Mist

Could have been much better
The major problem was the script, which was all over the place. Maybe editing would have helped, but I don't think that skillful editing would fix a fundamental script problem. What was the point? Which plot was the main plot? There were so many things going on: a 1965 racial murder, a current murder of a prostitute, alcoholics, and a film being made about the Civil War. I think that there was one character who was involved in both murders, and I finally realized that Peter Sarsgaard was playing Gen. Hood in the film being made.

If this was supposed to be a mystery, there were too many distractions along the way as clues were being dispensed.

The character of "the real" Gen. Hood and his interaction with Dave was awkward and sometimes confusing (i.e., the church scene).

I think all of the "major" cast members did a fine job, though most were underutilized. Mary Steenburgen was way too good for the very little she was given to do. Ditto Ned Beatty. John Goodman was great at slimy menace, but his involvement in the plot was almost unnecessary.

I believe that many of the local cast members could have been much, much better had they been told exactly what information they were supposed to be saying, and then be allowed to improvise. Perhaps this is a failure of direction rather than writing. In the film, too many characters sounded like they were reciting. It's true that they were not skilled actors, but local amateurs don't need to sound artificial, c.f., Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Here are a few personal notes. The film was released in 2009, and I was not aware of it until today. I was born and raised in New Iberia, where the film is set (and where it was filmed), and the rest of my life has been spent in New Orleans. This film is probably the most extensive and best cinematic use of locations in Cajun Country. I could not pick out any scene which appeared to have been filmed on a sound stage. The film seems like a missed opportunity. I don't think the film had any significant pre-video release in the United States, and unfortunately, I can see why.

The Winds of War

Broken promise
I truly enjoyed this miniseries, which I had never seen until this week. I'd seen War and Remembrance and liked it, so I figured that I'd now be able to enjoy a "pre-quel." So, uh. . . , where was Jane Seymour? The other characters were familiar, but I was trying to place Ali MacGraw in the later series. I had to check out the cast lists on IMDb. I couldn't place Ali, because evidently she had been re-placed. And I soon saw why.

There were some films in which Ali was very good. But those were her first films: Goodbye, Columbus and Love Story, for example. Did you know she won a Golden Globe award in the year of Love Story, as the "Most Promising Newcomer"? I just saw that on IMDb. A broken promise, IMHO.

I think the reason she is so bad in this series is that the script had major problems and the director was not resourceful enough to talk Ali through it. Major story developments of the first half of the film depend mainly on arbitrary, unmotivated and totally absurd choices made by Natalie Jastrow. For a single example: she would leave her dear uncle alone in Italy and go off to a Jewish wedding in Poland knowing that Hitler was about to attack? Perhaps a more skilled actress could have made us accept Natalie being just a flighty impulsive creature--a tragic flaw. Perhaps she inherited it from her uncle--but John Houseman at least made me believe that a scholar of history could be so dismissive of current events. But as enacted by Ali, all I saw was a willful haughty imbecile, making me wonder what Briney ever saw in her.

I also thought the "romance" in this series was disposable, or worse. The various triangles were boring, and unnecessarily time-consuming. The series was at its best when it kept close to actual historic events. It is, of course, completely improbable and nearly impossible that approximately six to eight of the characters should be on-hand for most of the noteworthy events in the pre-WW2 years, rubbing elbows with all of the major players.

If you think that Ali MacGraw is a terrific actress, then add two stars to my rating. If she makes you cringe (as I did), I still think the miniseries is worth watching. It is true that many cast members were playing characters at least fifteen years younger. I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Except about Ali. And there, it was not her age that troubled me.

Evil Dead

Grossly disappointing
If there was a moment of wit or humor in this film, I missed it. Perhaps it occurred while I took a restroom break for a minute or two.

In 1981, when the theme of a group of youngsters imperiled in a deserted location was by no means new, Sam Raimi created The Evil Dead, and the film obviously did not take itself too seriously. In my estimation, Raimi was not attempting to one-up George Romero's Night of The Living Dead. Do I think The Evil Dead was intended to be taken as basically a horror film? No. Not at all. In 1981, Raimi took what was already a cliché in horror films, and made what is mostly a parody of such films. Yet the genius in the film is that Raimi's film could be enjoyed as a horror film by anyone unaware of what Raimi was doing. (Unlike the "Scary Movie" films, obviously intended as parody.)

This film was promoted as being a remake of the 1981 film. If the creators of Evil Dead (2013) think their film is a remake of Raimi's, I can only say that they are probably one of those unaware of what Raimi was doing in 1981.

This film--depressingly unfunny, and incessantly gross and unpleasant. How do we distinguish it from any of the dozens of other similar unfunny and gross "horror" films being released? Well, perhaps because this one did not go straight to video, though don't ask me why.

So, if you are expecting a remake of the 1981 film, generally similar to the original, you should plan to be disappointed. If you don't have any idea of the 1981 film, and you are entertained by unfunny, gross and unpleasant horror films, you will love this one.

Olympus Has Fallen

Yikes! I actually liked this one
My only misgiving about this was the "prologue", with the incident on the icy bridge. Alternates were available to furnish the backstory without pointless references to politicians and vehicles going off bridges. And in retrospect: if someone can save the world in the major plot, he could not have saved one person earlier? If you have not learned you shouldn't ask such questions about contemporary action films, I think you are unnecessarily limiting your enjoyment of the current cinema. For example, I've actually read a comment comparing this film unfavorably to Mission Impossible and Die Hard. Yes, and in The Three Stooges, you only liked Curly and Moe, but didn't like Larry. Give me a break.

This film was rather low on believability. But who is currently making comparable and believable action films? I had a terrific time watching this. I was actually surprised, because I entered the theater with very low expectations. This film is not art. It is not a masterpiece. It won't live forever as a shining example of its genre. Its only appeal is whether the viewer bought into the premise and the action. I bought. I got my money's worth.

The Rig

A must to avoid
One of the cast members doubles as the monster. I don't mean he turns into the monster--I mean he puts on the monster suit. And the screen writer has a large role. Two early warnings.

The only remotely positive thing is that the film makers somehow got permission to shoot the movie on an actual rig (which was probably ashore when filming occurred). That location might have supported a really good film (which this wasn't).

For about the first twenty minutes, I thought that this was going to be quite a surprise--I mean, could it really be THAT bad? Well, uh, yes it could. And it was. From about twenty minutes onward, it only got worse.

I can't call this the worst film I have ever seen. There are probably a few others I could think of. If I had a lot of time. The film was not hilariously bad, but rather just painfully bad.

The Constant Gardener

Shockingly good
The film was released in the US on Labor Day weekend 2005, and due to an extended absence from my home, I missed this outstanding film then. Afterwards, from the title, it sounded to me like a film about horticulture. I saw it for the first time today, after checking the reviews. Roger Ebert said it was one of the best films of 2005, gave it 4/4 stars. So I decided to see if he was right. And indeed, he was.

I won't discuss the plot at all--any viewer should discover it as it unfolds, as I did. I am glad I did not know much more than the basic theme. The story was told flawlessly--without cutting corners, without easy shortcuts. This film could not have been made on a studio back lot--it had to be filmed on location, as indeed it was. Among its many other graces, the acting was superb from everyone. Rachel Weisz won a deserved Oscar for her performance, but I thought that Ralph Fiennes was just as good. A particularly good performance in a key role was Pete Postlethwaite.

Having missed it the first time around, I saw this film almost by accident. I am so glad I did. It has so much to offer.


The tragedy is this was invisible
If you love Shakespeare, you should see this film. I was not aware this film existed until today. That's the tragedy.

The film is done as a "war movie," and was promoted as such, but anyone looking for the usual action film will be disappointed in this film. This is not a war movie or an action film, any more than "Macbeth" would be.

This is an adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The setting is modern, but the words are all Shakespeare. I had not encountered Coriolanus since my college days decades ago, when we studied the text. I had never seen a performance of it, and it was considered one of Shakespeare's "lesser" plays--not much poetry, not much audience appeal.

This film was evidently released in this country in early 2012, at the time of year when "problem" films are usually dumped on the market after the rush of Oscar-worthy movies. I don't recall it being released locally--maybe it played at a local art house. Maybe for a week.

I think the film is a triumph for all concerned. The major achievement is making Coriolanus (the character AND the play) cinematically interesting. The script did an excellent job of pruning the text. Purists may recoil, but let's face it, a scene performed in front of military tanks not what Shakespeare would have imagined. Further, the script did not attempt to call attention to the cleverness of the adaptation, such as how a modern legislative chamber is used in place of the Roman senate. Instead, the script focused on the enduring issues, such as whether a public servant is chosen to execute the will of the people, or whether the servant is intended to exercise those personal qualities which caused him to be chosen. Or the question of whether there should be a separation between elected officials and the military.

With respect to the cast, I have nothing but praise, and astonishment. Ralph Fiennes did a remarkable job, showing a restraint which was sometimes absent from earlier films which he did not also direct. Vanessa Redgrave was just incredibly perfect. She has had many recent, excellent bits in very low-key roles (e.g., Atonement). But here, she is given an opportunity to show what she can do, and the effect is heart-wrenching.

Jessica Chastain did a fine job in what was basically a bit part. And Gerard Butler was (for me) the major surprise. Maybe he was offered the role because an "action film" actor was needed to boost box-office appeal. Regardless, he was allowed to perform without regard to affecting a British accent (or any other accent). The choice to allow him to focus on emotion rather than sound was a major plus. (Side note: Butler's first theatrical offering was in a production of Coriolanus. See Wikipedia.) Brian Cox is a grossly under-appreciated supporting actor. His final scene (with dialogue) is the best of the film.

I can't believe I missed this when it was released. I am so glad I found it today.

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