IMDb member since October 2000
    Lifetime Total
    Lifetime Name
    Lifetime Filmo
    Lifetime Plot
    Lifetime Trivia
    Lifetime Title
    IMDb Member
    19 years


Chelovek s kino-apparatom

Amazing, unclassifiable and marvelous
First, let me say that I'm not sure if it's possible for there to be a spoiler in a discussion of a film this abstract, but if it is, there are several below.

This is a simply mind-blowing film, but it's also very hard to describe. It isn't a feature film, but it is in no sense a conventional documentary either. It is: (a) a series of images of daily life in Moscow and Odessa a little more than a decade after the upheaval that created the U.S.S.R.; (b) an account of the shooting, editing and showing of a film; and (c) a celebration of film-making apparatus and what it can do.

Although the film has some propagandistic content, it is easy to see why Vertov got in trouble with the Stalin regime in the end. Among the things that he doesn't shrink from showing are the widespread use (in 1929!) of horse-drawn transportation for both cargo and passengers, brief female nudity (and what are those women doing, anyway?), up close and personal footage of the birth of a baby, and -- ahem -- Moscow's apparently substantial homeless population.

What I saw, by the way, was a 1990's video release that had a gorgeous sound track by the Alloy Orchestra, a trio from the Boston area that specializes in creating music for silent films. A flyer given to people who attended the screening states that their work is "based on Vertov's own notes." The IMDb credits the original music to one Pierre Henry? Anyone know who he was and what happened to his score?


Lighten up.
This is a really fine small film, and I can recommend it without reservation. It is extremely well-acted and well-produced. I wonder if we will see a revival of fitted bodices and wide skirts as a result of its women's costumes (it is set in 1960).

Even so, I am only giving "Chocolat" a 7 out of 10, because the film -- or maybe Miramax's marketing department -- has delusions of grandeur. Someone has decided that it's about big issues like inclusivity, acceptance and free love, but it's really just a cute story about a newcomer upsetting the life a highly provincial small town, and nothing more than that. It can't bear the weight that's being heaped on it.

For the record, it does have a definite anti-Catholic tinge. I'm not a Catholic, but I did notice this. Why has the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights not had anything to say?

What's Cooking?

Is that any way to talk?
The director and co-writer of this film is a relative newcomer to the United States. I was hoping that she would avoid the trap of reacting to this country's diversity by dealing in stereotypes. She almost made it, but not quite.

The film is set in Los Angeles and the Seeligs are portrayed as the family with the longest history in the area, yet the older generation of the Seelig family all speak as though they've spent their whole lives in New York City. My family's roots in this country are in California, and we all speak the "broadcast American" indigenous the West Coast. I grew up in Chicago, where my co-religionists' speech is indistinguishable from that of anybody else. I went to graduate school in North Carolina, and had to visit my synagogue in order to hear a Southern drawl.

Like too many other people, Ms. Chadha confuses a New York accent with a so-called "Jewish accent."

That said, I enjoyed the film very much.

You and Me

They don't make 'em like this any more (more's the pity)
As a fan of both Sylvia Sidney and Kurt Weill, I have wanted to see this film ever since I read Leonard Maltin's description of it. It is apparently not available for home viewing, so Heaven bless the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which screened 'You and Me' a couple of weeks ago as part of its Kurt Weill centennial celebration (which continues as I write this).

According to an edition of Stagebill that was made available to audiences at the screening, Weill composed 23 music cues for 'You and Me,' but the Paramount brass did not care for his work and used only nine of them. (This was typical of Weill's experience in Hollywood.) That's a genuine tragedy, and there's no question that it does diminish the film. 'You and Me' still rates a 10 in my book, however, for the outstanding performances from the entire cast and its anti-naturalistic approach to gritty, "realist" subject matter.

The line between anti-naturalism and implausibility is a fine one, and the film crosses that line during its last 15 minutes or so. Still, I wonder if audiences in 1938 didn't understand that ending as a joke. They may have been more sophisticated than we are today.

In any case, if you get a chance to see this film, grab it.

The Straight Story

This is the first film by David Lynch that I've seen, but back in 1990-91 I had a roommate who was devoted to "Twin Peaks," so I am somewhat familiar with his storytelling style and preoccupations. Those are visible here, but I guess that telling a true story reigned him in a little.

My reasons for wanting to see the film were quite personal. I grew up in Chicago, but my father is from California, and when I was little we used to drive out there and back every summer to see relatives. We usually took Interstate 80, which goes through central Iowa. Those fields and that that endless sky are my landscape, and 'The Straight Story' captures them perfectly. If you think that the Midwest isn't beautiful, see this film.

'The Straight Story' is not for young children, however; the fact that it received a G rating in the U.S., and the equivalent of same in several other countries, suggests once again that the values and priorities of the Motion Picture Association of America and its sister agencies are grossly misplaced. Consider: Alvin witnesses a road accident that is bound to be upsetting; some far from jolly wartime memories are discussed; and above all, Alvin smokes.


But what about the fifth sister?
This was fabulous. It gets 9 out of 10. What keeps it out of the 10 category is the fact that two big questions are raised in part 2 that part 3 (the conclusion) fails to answer.

First of all, what happens to the fifth sister, Cecilia? She first appears in part one as the late-in-life child of the second Duke of Richmond and his duchess. Still a baby when they die, she is sent to Ireland with Louisa and Sarah to be reared by Emily and her husband.

In part 2, the reappears as a teenager. When the family learns that Sarah, now married and back in England, is pregnant, she wants to go and help with the new baby. Emily is afraid that she is too weak to travel, having just recovered from an unspecified illness, but she lets her go anyway.

The next time we see her she looks very ill indeed, but nobody pays any attention. Emily has come to England to argue with Caroline about who should be blamed for Sarah's bad situation, with Louisa along to mediate. As they quarrel, Cecilia leaves the room, and we see what they miss: she's coughing up blood. When come into the hall, still shouting, they fail to notice that she has collapsed in a corridor.

So what happened??? That's the last we see or hear of Cecilia? Did she die? If so, didn't the sisters get back together at least for the funeral?

Maybe I need to read the book.

The other question is: since Sarah, at least as played by Jodhi May, seems to have lacked something in the personality department, how did she manage to inflame the passions of so many men?

The Last Mile

Standard McNally
Do you like Terrence McNally's stage plays? If so, you'll probably like his television play "The Last Mile" just fine.

If, on the other hand, you find McNally narrow and self-referential in his concerns; if it seems to you that he displays his passions rather than sharing them; if you suspect that, deep down, he genuinely despises women -- well, "The Last Mile" won't change your mind one bit.

It doesn't help that Bernadette Peters gives what may be the worst performance of her career. Granted, she's a singer, but there is a world of difference between belting into a microphone that's an inch away and singing opera. Every time Peters opens her mouth to "sing," she tells us that she doesn't know a thing about the latter. (Paul Sorvino, a classically trained tenor, does a lot better with this, and whomever that is dubbing Peters is awfully good!)


Exquisite (but not for everyone)
This is the best film I've seen this year. I'll go further than that: it's better than all but a few films I've seen in the last two years, including "Shakespeare in Love." Does this mean that I am giving "Illuminata" a universal recommendation? Well, no.

If you love the theatre, go see this film immediately. Travel hundreds of miles to see it, if you have to. It will be a transcendent experience, and your faith in motion pictures will be strengthened (or restored).

If you don't feel one way or another about the theatre but enjoyed "The Golden Coach" or "Les enfants du paradis," you'll enjoy "Illuminata" just as much.

On the other hand, if you don't like the theatre, or if you want your movies to have something to do with Real Life...well, let's just say that "Illuminata" will be wasted on you.

On that note, it's worth pointing out that "Illuminata" takes place at an important moment in the history of western theatre. The screenplay doesn't dwell on it, but the film is in some ways a chronicle of the struggle between symbolism and naturalism that took place during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th. Our hero, Tuccio, has written a symbolist drama reminiscent of Maurice Maeterlinck's "Pelleas et Melisande," while the owners of the theatre want to produce "Hedda Gabler," by the naturalist Henryk Ibsen.

On film, a compromise is reached. In life, naturalism won out. Our stages are dominated by the likes of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Miller; contemporary plays look oddly like sitcoms.

Support the fight against naturalism -- see "Illuminata."

Special Report: Journey to Mars

Not your ordinary TV-movie
This film had the misfortune to be shown for the first time opposite the Academy Awards broadcast. I think my parents and I may have been the only people watching it. Too bad, because it's a beautifully-made film with some points to make about its own medium and a mind-bending surprise ending that I wouldn't dream of discussing here.

'Special Report: Journey to Mars' tells its story in the form of television coverage of the first human landing on Mars, in the year 2014. The project has caused a certain amount of dissent back home, and at one point the protesters succeed in hijacking the broadcast signal in order to announce that they have sabotaged the flight. Will our heroes land safely?

The simulation of TV news is so accurate as to be almost cruel. Do see this if you get a chance.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo

An exemplary literary mini-series
Except that it's in French rather than English, this magnificent piece of work is a throwback to the great British and American mini-series of the 1970's. Like them, its features include a top-notch cast of familiar faces, meticulous attention to period detail and -- above all -- absolute respect for its literary source.

Cheers to the Bravo cable channel for showing this in French, with subtitles, rather than having it dubbed into English. Those subtitles, however, were clearly written by someone for whom English is an acquired language. To take just one example, the word "suicide" is treated as a verb, which it is in French (se suicider), rather than as the noun that it is in English.

Double Platinum

Isn't there a law against waste of talent on this scale?
Never mind Diana Ross (who is actually not half bad) and Brandy Norwood, and never mind the utterly insipid music. What makes this movie an outrage is how it wastes the time and talent of several of the best stage actors in New York. It does not even show them off at their best: while I yield to nobody in my admiration for Roger Rees, he simply is not convincing as an American, and to give Brian Stokes Mitchell a non-singing role in a musical simply boggles the mind.

Of course, this really isn't a musical at all. A musical is a work in which songs are used to advance the plot and establish and develop the characters. This, on the other hand, is a series of music videos surrounded by dialogue that this film does not bode ill for the revival of the television musical.

Hideous Kinky

This is a really fascinating film, extremely well-acted (the two little girls are especially good), whose only flaw is an ending that is a bit too neat. The soundtrack is wonderful: traditional Moroccan music mixed with some very well-chosen popular songs of the period. Using "White Rabbit" to accompany Julia's frantic search for her missing daughter is a particularly good choice.

"Hideous Kinky" serves as a reminder of something that seems shocking now -- just 30 years ago, a whole class of educated Western women sought enlightenment, and even liberation, in Islam. One wonders: what became of these women? Did they remain in Islam? Have they survived the rising tide of fundamentalism? And what of their children? What is their cultural legacy? What burdens do they bear?


Right on target
I am (1) a private school kid, (2) the child of a faculty member at the same school and (3) a former teenager, and I am here to tell you that "Rushmore" gets it all exactly right. My school was, and remains, co-ed, and in my day there wasn't so much as a dress code, but the intensity with which we approached everything -- not to mention the degree to which we took it all for granted -- really does ring true.

The Governess

Essential viewing, if only for one reason
This is a deeply flawed film. Supporting characters are never fleshed out and the ending simply does not ring true. But coming as it does in the wake of several films about the Holocaust (with more on the way, one imagines), "The Governess" accomplishes something extremely important: it presents Judaism and Jewishness as normal and desirable.

Indeed, the film takes a fairly dim view of other states of existence. Gentiles -- particularly Christians -- who are thinking of seeing this film should be warned that they and their culture do not come off very well.

"The Governess" is also a very beautiful film to look at and listen to.

Happy Passover, everyone!

See all reviews