mailbob

IMDb member since December 1999
    Lifetime Total
    10+
    IMDb Member
    21 years

Reviews

¡Átame!
(1989)

Good film that ultimately fails
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to experience this film like I did, don't read this or any other review. My spoiler comes in the last paragraph.

The plot is simple: a mentally deranged but nevertheless charming and good-looking young man with a criminal history decides, upon his release from an institution, to kidnap a porn queen with whom he is obsessed with the idea of forcing her love him, bear his children and spend the rest of her life together. To accomplish this, rather than trying more traditional means to reach his goal, he breaks into her apartment, beats her when she resists, ties her up with ropes, handcuffs her, puts a gag around her mouth, and keeps her captive for days. She resists and tries to escape several times without success.

Up to this point, the film holds good suspenseful interest. That the man has some sympathetic qualities makes it less of a good vs. evil plot. After all, he's a human being, and, for that matter, so is she. And I want to emphasize that I watched the film and wrote this review before reading any reviews here or anywhere else.

SPOILER: My objection comes with the ending. If the idea is to dramatize the Stockholm syndrome, where a hostage develops a psychological alliance with her captors as a survival strategy during captivity, the film fails miserably. The ending is not only absurdly improbable, it is offensive. Let me be clear: I am not a woman, but as a man I am loathe to believe that the way to a woman's heart – any woman – is through brute physical force, ropes, gags, handcuffs, being a great lay, and forcing her against her will to love him. Maybe it is sometimes, but not in my world. More realistic would be that he gets caught, sent back to the institution, and has a continuing and possibly sympathetic relationship with the girl. I'm probably missing the point. Possibly this is satire, an attempt at humor, or maybe I'm suffering from some sort of cultural myopia (I hope not). But I don't buy it. It's too bad, because the filmmaker made an otherwise decent film. It just seems like he couldn't think of an ending, so he just stuck this one on to make everyone happy. Everyone, I guess, except me.

Gravity
(2013)

An embarrassment
This is not a spoiler. There is nothing to spoil. I have rarely given a film such a low score, and I am one who enjoys the subject of space travel and good sci-fi. I am shaken that any part of this film was nominated for an Oscar. I am disappointed at the high score of readers on IMDb - - in my mind, it creates a cloud on all future high ratings. By any measure, except special effects (even those are not that spectacular), this film is a failure. If you enjoy watching things fly around and Sandra Bullock grunt and gasp for an hour and a half, by all means watch it. Dialogue, what little there is, is insipid. Plot is preposterous. I can only imagine NASA workers laughing and rolling their eyes. Anyone seriously interested in the craft of filmmaking, take my advice: Don't waste 90 minutes of your life. You can't say you weren't warned.

Lost in Translation
(2003)

Beautifully understated
"Lost in Translation" begins by focusing separately on two characters, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), Americans arriving at a Tokyo hotel, each in a private lost world. They don't meet until fairly far into the film Before they speak to one another 32 minutes into the film, they brush at opposite ends of a crowded elevator. There is just a glance and the barest hint of a connection via Charlotte's self-conscious smile. They depart from the elevator and go their own way. That's it. This brilliant piece of editing and acting sets the tone for the entire film. Their next meetings are equally understated, and so it continues.

As the plot develops, there are moments of silence, when nothing seems to be "happening". There are moments when Bob and Charlotte are each alone in their rooms and we feel the emptiness of their lives. There are moments when they are together but silent with one another. But even as we feel their growing connection, we feel their emptiness. While the pace may lag for some viewers, the film moved along very well for me and kept me fully engaged.

The characters are in two opposite but similar worlds: In Charlotte's own words, she is "stuck". In Bob's words, he is "lost". Bob is an actor, 50-ish, who realizes that most of his life is behind him. He has fallen into a cycle of meaningless work, and while he loves his family, the tedious details of his life, whether it be posing for whiskey ads or choosing rug samples, no longer bring him joy. Charlotte, in her 20's, is barely out of college and in a marriage that clearly isn't working. She doesn't know who she is or what if anything her future holds. While he is lost in the past, she is unable to imagine her future. For both, the present lacks meaning. All this is set in a country where the incomprehensible language, along with curious customs and attitudes, reinforces their alienation and loneliness.

The characters ultimately find meaning, at least temporarily, in their connection, but perhaps not in the way they expect. The film doesn't descend into cliché and the tidy ending anticipated in most Hollywood films. This has disturbed some reviewers, but for me, the climax of the film on the crowded streets of Tokyo is all that much more powerful.

I can't finish without mentioning the cinematography. If there is any beauty to be seen in an overly large and obscenely commercialized city, it is wonderfully captured here. Yet, in keeping with the mood, the beauty as the characters view it while riding through daytime streets or gazing at the 4AM lights from their hotel windows, has a rough edge: there is emptiness as well as beauty that comes through the crowds, traffic, noise, and garish lights.

One might categorize this as a romantic comedy. While it is certainly romantic, almost painfully so, and while there are some hilarious comic moments, that particular classification doesn't fit. Most romantic comedies are made for light escapes. The fundamental mood here is serious, almost depressingly existential. Yet, unlike my feeling after viewing Coppola's subsequent film "Somewhere", I was uplifted. This film aims for and hits on an emotional level that stays with you for days.

Kudos to all involved, beginning especially Coppola (director, writer, and producer) but also the actors, cinematographers, everyone. Even after a second viewing, this film delivers.

Added 4 years later: Even after a 3rd viewing, the film delivers a punch. I'd still rate it a perfect 10.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(2012)

Coming of Age director?
Weird. I love coming of age films, but I thought this one was a self-conscious embarrassment, riddled with eye-rolling clichés, platitudes, and cartoon characters with no depth. In an apparent attempt at "seriousness", every troubling subject known to man was thrown in -- suicide, mental illness, sexual abuse of children -- but just thrown in, superficially, with no understanding or depth. Grossly sentimental. This feels like a coming of age film made by a coming of age director. There are many fine coming of age films that are authentic: Rob Reiner's Stand By Me, or Running on Empty, two wonderful examples. I cannot understand the overly high ratings of the viewers on IMDb for this one -- usually anything over 8.0 is a winner. I give it a generous 6 for a few good scenes and occasional good acting. Don't bother.

Flight
(2012)

Flight of fancy
Much as I like thrillers, especially films involving planes, I was disappointed in "Flight". This was not much of a thriller - not much suspense here. Without resorting to spoilers, let me simply say that I found the plot riddled with clichés, and oversimplified improbable situations. In particular the ending was so banal, so neatly tied into a pretty ribbon, that it ruined any saving graces the film had for me. Perhaps I am too cynical, or too unfamiliar with the effects of alcoholism to be that sympathetic to the "hero". This film left me with the feeling that it could have been much, much better. Nevertheless, having said that, kudos to some good (but not stellar) acting, although it was hampered by unfortunately weak writing and and even weaker plot. The plane crash was the best film portrayal I've ever seen. Fearful flyers, be forewarned!

The Sessions
(2012)

Surprising "upper"
Gusher alert: I'm going to gush. Sex as the main subject has been a staple of films and nearly every other art form since the beginnings of time. But the treatment here is different: there is no camouflage, no pretense, no embarrassment, no sophisticated lines. It is basic sex, in all its rawness, awkwardness, humor, and terrifying beauty presented flat- out and without apology. How unusual!

While sex frequently occupies center stage in human affairs, there is always – always - so much more. There are questions, sometimes hanging out in the open, sometimes tucked away: How do people relate to one another? What does it mean to be a man? A woman? What it is to love, and be loved? What do human beings need from one another?

Sex - that most basic human connection, the act that binds couples together for life or drives them apart, the subject that is bandied about so casually in ads and films and over a glass of wine, here is given a brutally direct look. It is refreshing. This is a bold film. It took some bravery to make it work. Kudos to the director and the actors – Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, and William H. Macy -- for a clear-eyed look at possibly the world's most over-hyped and least understood subject. And of course thanks in particular to Mark O'Brian– whose condition forced him to experience things from his own unique perspective. Thanks to his great gift with words, the only things he could manipulate with facility, he allowed us to experience freshly the important things we take for granted.

La cara oculta
(2011)

Hitchcockian Thriller that works
Ah, yes, perfect thriller for a rainy afternoon. Events begin in rather predictable, ordinary, mundane fashion: in the very first scene boyfriend receives a Dear John video from girlfriend, she disappears, her whereabouts is a mystery, boyfriend meets new girl, new girl's ex boyfriend - a cop - suspects foul play. What's going on here? At first, go ahead with the snack trips to the refrigerator -- you won't miss much.

But, watch out!

Have you ever watched a blurry, out of focus scene for some time, when suddenly the camera zooms in on a hitherto unnoticed object, the focus becomes razor sharp, and from that moment on everything is changed? Something like this happens here. Once it does, the remainder of the film remains locked on this brand spanking new story and nothing more. Things snap into focus that you hadn't even realized were out of focus. Through the use of unexpected, ironic, playful plot twists and flashback, we suddenly see everything in a new light. So much for trips to the refrigerator.

The use of flashback is particularly fascinating: the viewer witnesses a rerun of the same events, but on second viewing they take on a completely new significance from a different point of view. This is clever stuff. Sure, it's a gimmick, but it works. I suspect Hitchcock would be impressed, and maybe even a little envious.

My point: don't give up on this film, stick it out. If you enjoy thrillers, especially of the mind-variety as opposed to blood and guts, you will not be disappointed. I was literally on the edge of my chair shouting at the TV! We're not talking about a great classic film here, but it is pretty good guilty-pleasure that should keep you riveted through the end.

I have one minor gripe, important to me but probably not to most people: Since classical music has always been a big part of my life, what drew me to the film initially was that the main character is an orchestra conductor. I was disappointed in the music. Familiar themes are bastardized all the time in commercials and other venues that are designed for the general public or for special effects. But this is a story about a conductor, who is working with a real orchestra (Bogotá, Columbia) that is actually playing the music, not "lip synching". Excerpts from a movement of a Beethoven symphony begin true enough, but very soon, alas, the music dissolves into corny clichés that I'm sure would send poor Ludwig spinning in his grave. Unfortunately this same pattern is repeated each time we see and hear the orchestra, with Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Brahms. Can they not let Beethoven be Beethoven, must he be improved upon? On the other hand, almost making up for this regrettable sin: in the credits, every single member of the Bogotá Orchestra is listed, instrument by instrument. I don't recall seeing this in a film before. Bravo. I'm sure the musicians are appreciative.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
(2012)

Beautifully done
If you see this film knowing nothing about it, you might think it was set in a foreign country. It may well have been, so far removed it is from anything remotely familiar about our country. We enter an extraordinary subculture completely unknown to most of us. Because we know it is fiction, a movie not a documentary, at first we question the authenticity of the setting. Separating us from the reality of the moment even further is the fact that the story is told from the point of view of a six-year old. A six year old does not always differentiate well between what is real and the vivid beasts of her imagination. As the film develops, we experience a growing sense that most of what we are experiencing is a real setting with real people and events. But….then we are reminded: the narrator is six, after all. Some scenes are unmistakably the terrifying dreams of a child. The effect of this reality-dream interplay is surreal; when we see something truly horrifying, like a flood of biblical proportions, or monstrous beasts chasing Hushpuppy through the fields, we aren't completely sure what is actually "happening" or what is every child's worst nightmare.

In spite of this ambiguity, a strong sense of this place and people comes through. This is a world so different, so isolated, a world cordoned off, of all things, by the man-made levees of southern Louisiana, erected by those on the other side who may as well be creatures living on another planet, yet one more example of the many animals depicted in the film.

Hushpuppy, the six year old narrator, tells in flat, emotionless tones the harrowing story of the epic flood, in the style reminiscent of the 12-year-old narrator's recitation in Terrance Malick's wonderful "Days of Heaven". (The parallel is so striking it is hard to imagine the filmmaker didn't have this in mind.)

The viewer is sucked in by the extraordinary events, aided by some truly spectacular cinematography. But there is also an allegorical feel to all this. If you are able to suspend disbelief and absorb the truths nonetheless, the film surely fascinates. Once one is oriented and reflects a bit, it is the kind of film one needs to see again, to marvel at its magical special effects and beauty, and to catch what you know you surely missed the first time around. That's one mark of a good film.

The Artist
(2011)

A very good film...but
This is one of those films which deserves a "10" for originality, execution, acting, and overall brilliant filmmaking. Many reviewers here rated it that way. It is no doubt a great concept – a silent film about the silent film era whose mood and tone perfectly emulate the genre of the time!

The story line is more allegorical than real. There are some allegories that can pack a punch, hit you on an emotional level. For me, this film is not one of them. Unfortunately the very qualities that give the film its uniqueness also interfered with my ability to become engaged. Too self consciously original, perhaps. It screamed out, "Look at me, look how clever I am!" Even as I watched and respected the film, I found myself drifting. To its credit, I imagine months or even years from now I will remember this film while totally forgetting other more engaging films that kept me riveted from beginning to end. Nevertheless, unless a film keeps one wondering, anticipating, caring – in short, feeling – I don't believe it deserves highest honors. It is more memorable as a curiosity than as a work of art. Certainly a creative and original concept is to be admired. But a truly great film must also reach out, give you an experience, change you.

"The Artist" is a very good film, not to be missed. It is not a great film.

Nothing But a Man
(1964)

"Where are the African Gods?"
In the early 1960's during the unfolding of the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King marched on Washington, when three northern civil rights workers were murdered in the south, and when four children died in a Birmingham church bombing, Michael Roemer and Robert Young, two Jewish guys from Harvard, headed south and crafted, in the opinion of many, the most authentic film ever made of the black experience in America. Although racial relations have since altered, the film depicts the essence of racism, including the subtle and less than subtle forms of oppression still present in President Obama's America.

Roemer and Young have expressed some embarrassment at the naiveté and pure chutzpah they demonstrated in their attempt to make a film that truly represented the black experience. (The term "African-American" was not in vogue at the time.) Yet they insist that in the early 1960's, no one else was doing it. Today, they say, it would be "unnecessary", if not impossible, for whites to make the film. Perhaps the fact that director Roemer grew up in Nazi Germany and at age 10 was witness to the destruction of his grandfather's family store on "Kristalnacht" gave him the chops to understand oppression.

Few involved in the making of the film suspected they were making a film that would join Citizen Kane and Casablanca as one of American "classics" on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Set in early 1960's Alabama, it tells the story of Duff Anderson, played by Ivan Dixon, a proud black man who won't submit to his expected role. It explores the devastating impact of racism on his working life, his marriage, and his dignity. There is no bloodshed, but the threat of violence is always present. We are told that a lynching took place in the small town only 8 years before. The threats are as subtle as whites pulling into a gas station and asking attendant Duff for "38-cents worth of gas, and mind you don't make it 39." Or when a white supervisor, making a lame joke at which Duff refuses to laugh, says: "What's a-matter, boy, you don't think that's funny?" The everyday intimidation is humiliating enough, but the primary impact is economic. Duff won't allow his pride to be violated. "I don't get on so well in most places," he tells Josie, the preacher's daughter played by Abbey Lincoln. He isn't a political militant; for him it is personal. When workers are exploited, he doesn't have an agenda mapped out by a union organizer, he simply wonders aloud to his fellow workers why they don't "stick together" to make reasonable demands. Of course he is then labeled a trouble maker.

Critics loved the movie, but if universally praised, it was and still is rarely seen. A 40th Anniversary special edition DVD was released in 2004. It shows to best advantage the stunning black and white high- contrast low-light style of co-writer Young, who also doubled as cameraman due to an absurdly limited budget. The early Motown soundtrack, whose rights the fledgling filmmakers somehow managed to secure, contributes to the mood; performers include The Marvelettes, "Little" Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, and others who later became household names. The script, penned by Roemer and Young, is remarkably understated. Emotions boil under subdued, almost perfunctory dialogue. Viewers feel the action; it never clobbers them over the head.

But the film wouldn't be the same without Dixon and Lincoln, who are stellar in their powerhouse performances as Duff and Josie, the couple struggling for dignity in a racist world. As they tell us years later, the actors play themselves. Dixon IS Duff, Lincoln IS Josie. This is the story of their own lives.

Be sure to watch the extra features in the 40th year edition. It is a privilege to see and hear Dixon, Lincoln, and Julius Harris (who plays Will, Duff's alcoholic father), then in their 70's and 80's, talk about the film they made 40 years earlier. Fortunately for us, the interviews of the actors came in time; sadly, all three have since died. There is also a 30 minute unscripted discussion between Roemer and Young in which they tell the story of their experience in researching and making the film, and their feelings about it 40 years later. This is a rare peek into the chaotic craft of film-making.

Abbey Lincoln is better known as a jazz vocalist than an actress. In her remarkable interview, she believes that family is the salvation for blacks. In the film, fatherhood takes the thematic center stage, as personified by Duff's father Will, and by Duff's illegitimate son. "A man who doesn't take care of his children is nobody," Lincoln says. Her interview is a monologue, more poetry than prose, more sung than spoken. "Where are the African Gods?" she wails. "We don't know our names…we live without our ancestors...Where are the African Gods who will save us from this misery and shame? Where are the African Gods who live and set us free?" She tearfully proposes the answer: "WE are the African Gods, you and me." The African Gods have been stolen. It is Duff and Josie who must set themselves free.

Abbey Lincoln's tears in the interview, like Josie's in the film, are no act. And when the script calls for Duff to push Josie to the floor in a frustrated rage, concerned director Roemer offers to cheat: "I can fake the fall," Roemer says he told Lincoln. He recalls her response: "I'm going to take that fall for all the black women." The fall is one of those classic moments, like so many others in the film, that emotionally freezes the viewer, and remains etched in our memory.

Vertigo
(1958)

Just watch and enjoy
Every now and then I like to revisit old Hitch – It is part nostalgia, part worship of the old man who never fails to surprise and thrill. There is certainly no director like him.

Although I enjoyed it once again, I must admit seeing Vertigo after many years was somewhat of a disappointment. I wanted it to be perfect; it wasn't. Like many of Hitchcock's plots, this one is silly, convoluted, outrageous.

But if you stop looking for flaws, what a treat it is to ride with Jimmy Stewart as he (endlessly) drives around San Francisco in his fabulous '58 DeSoto, following the stunningly beautiful Kim Novak in her green Jaguar with the bright whitewalls. This is a period piece with full orchestral accompaniment, with spectacular scenes of the 1950's city by the Bay, some of the sights like the Presidio no longer there, the restaurants, the Legion of Honor, the streets filled with all those wonderful American made behemoths (with an occasional VW beetle thrown in). And, of course, who can forget the famous scenes of the now 75-year old Golden Gate Bridge. Hitchcock of course, was the master of suspense, the unexpected shocker, the moment of revelation. But he also was expert in his use of the camera. Experience the visual, let it roll over you.

The acting is magnificent. It is enough reason to see the film just to watch the masters at work: Jimmy Stewart, and Kim Novak in her duel role who as one of the few surviving principals in the film recently paid a visit to San Francisco to display her artwork. But we shouldn't forget Barbara Bel Geddes, the underrated 3rd wheel – she is wonderful in her role as faithful friend Midge. And just for fun: don't miss the old man himself walking by in his traditional cameo near the beginning of the film.

The time capsule is amusingly dated, not just for the cars and silly plot: Attitudes depicted are out of touch today: the unselfconscious exploitation of women by domineering men; the almost laughable depiction of psychological disorders (acrophobia/vertigo, for example, is treated as a disease); the effortless instant love at first sight. Flawed plot and dated though it is, it is a nevertheless a simple pleasure to experience the genius at work: Hitchcock, a true craftsman who wasn't afraid to take chances and who strove to keep us hooked until the very last second, always with a sly wink awaiting us. Implausible? Sure. Who cares? For pure cinematic skill alone, I give the film high marks.

The Juror
(1996)

About to do your civic duty?
A surprise when I saw the ratings here! I watched without checking ratings first; I thought it deserved better. I liked the film on several levels: Acting (Moore, Gandolfini, Heche, and Baldwin), plot (plausible), and suspense (twists, timing, ending). That Moore apparently received the Razzie award for worst actress is simply incomprehensible – I thought she was completely compelling in her role as single mother who is threatened along with her teenage son by the mob unless she cooperates as a juror in rendering a not-guilty verdict for a guilty mobster. Baldwin is evil incarnate – on the surface charming, brilliant, handsome, erudite, sophisticated, spiritual, artistic – all of which makes him more frightening. He is as crazy as they come.

Annie finds herself with an impossible dilemma: do as the mob says and save her kid and herself, or do the "right thing" and turn the mob in to the authorities, which would of course place her son and herself in immediate lethal danger. Rather than jump to a decision, she struggles; she goes this way and that, unsure, terrified. I think this is the way most of us would act if put in a similar situation. It is a monstrous choice, a Sophie's choice; there is no simple solution, and the film doesn't pretend there is.

The plot interweaves in and out, with unexpected but fully explainable twists, getting ever more complex. I found myself wondering how Annie was going to get out of this mess – what's the answer to this terrible spot she's in, and how will it end? The film does a good job of making us care about how it ends.

Baldwin's character is electric – once introduced, his presence is literally ubiquitous, with eavesdropping microphones and break-ins. At one point Annie finds a note left for her in her home: "I will always be with you." You sense he means it, and is completely able to carry it off. His psychosis has invaded her life like a cancer.

My only hesitation to give it a higher rating is some rather inexplicable events at the climax ending, but given all that precedes it, easily forgiven. Otherwise, first rate. This is one scary film, one that will stay with me for a long time, and certainly the next time my name is drawn for jury duty.

Two Lovers
(2008)

Where is this leading?
The central question of the film is: Who is Leonard? Is he a misfit, a social recluse forced by his illness to move back with his parents as an adult? Or, is he Mr. Cool, able to go dancing with Michelle and her friends, and effortlessly meet each social challenge? All we know is that once upon a time he was dumped by his fiancé. This is apparently enough to send him into the depths of depression, even suicide.

We first meet Michelle literally fleeing from her screaming hysterical father with whom she lives, who is so threatening she must seek refuge in a stranger's (Leonard's) apartment. Yet we never once see or hear of the father again. Later we learn that her lover is paying for the apartment anyway, and when she breaks up him, she worries that he will stop paying the rent. What does her father have to do with anything? Did the writers forget he existed?

Speaking of the writers, I can hear them thinking: "Here's an idea! Let's have Michelle ask Leonard to accompany her on a dinner date with her lover. Cool! Awkward situation!" She wants – nay, insists upon -- Leonard's opinion as to whether or not her lover is a good guy and really likes her. What is this, junior high school? We have been told that Michelle has been around the block, has dabbled in drugs, she's been a wild woman. Yet is she so juvenile that she invites another guy on her date to size up her lover? And how about her lover? The dinner is anything but awkward: He asks Leonard (in confidence and without a tinge of irony) to "keep an eye on her for me", as if he would have no clue that Leonard might just possibly be a rival. Duh! Apparently that thought never entered his head.

Is there no end to Michelle's self-absorption? She is so eager to hear Leonard's opinion of her lover that she wakes him up the next morning at 6AM, summons him to the roof immediately, and demands he reveal his opinion. When he reluctantly renders his view that her lover is never going to leave his family (which later apparently turns out to be wrong – so much for Leonard's judgment), she instantly accepts this as irrefutable fact without question, even though Leonard had every selfish motive to see things that way, and she proceeds to fall apart. She immediately decides to break up with her lover. Apparently Leonard's analysis, coming from someone Michelle has just met and barely knows, carries such weight that she plans the rest of her life based on his opinion formed over one meeting at dinner. Is any part of this even half way believable? I kept watching in disbelief, thinking there has to be some point to all of this. In spite of this, I have to admit I kept watching the film straight through to the end. It is like passing a crash on a highway. No matter how hard you try, you can't avert your eyes.

Michelle is completely self-centered, obtuse, has absolutely zero consideration for Leonard, and exploits him shamelessly. Yet he loves her anyway. Although stupid on Leonard's part, this is not completely unbelievable, because love is often irrational. Michelle obviously doesn't give a thought about him at all except how he affects her immediate needs. She of course she has no problem whatsoever having sex with him – damn the consequences.

But Leonard is not the total innocent here. The situation with Leonard and Sandra is precisely the reverse. He is totally disinterested in her, she barely registers on his consciousness, and in fact, unbeknownst to her, he intends to dump her for Michelle. Of course the irony is that this is exactly what Michelle is about to do to Leonard, unbeknownst to him. Again, anyone with half a brain could spot this coming 10 miles away.

This is a drama of settling for second-bests. Initially Michelle settles for Leonard since she believes her lover is unobtainable, so why not run off with him? But she changes on a dime once her lover swears he is leaving his family, and she instantly dumps Leonard, no matter that Leonard has protested everlasting love and who would do anything for her. Unfair? Sure. But Leonard is exactly the same. Thinking he is about to run off with Michelle, he intends to dump Sandra. But once he himself is dumped by Michelle, he settles for second-best Sandra. In the end, Michelle, her lover, and Sandra get the partner they want – only Leonard doesn't. But of all the characters, only Sandra has been constant and true throughout.

The dialogue is shockingly amateurish. Example: "I have a surprise for you." "What is it?" "Well if I told you, then it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" "Ha ha ha. Oh, you're so weird." Or how about this gem - Leonard to Michelle: "I love you. I do. More than anyone." Ah, the poetry sends chills up my spine. Again, junior high students can do better than this.

I don't see the point or direction of this film. It doesn't seem to lead anywhere. The shocking question presented by the suicide attempt at the beginning of the film is left unanswered at the end. Is Leonard on the way back to mental health and recovery? He obviously has as much passion for Sandra as he has for his delivery job in his father's dry- cleaning establishment. She is a fallback solution only, neither good nor bad. Is this enough? Is he OK with this? Or will he plunge back into depression? Will he attempt suicide again? We simply don't know. For sheer soap opera interest, and for allowing us to watch Gwyneth Paltrow for a couple of hours, I'm giving this a generous 4.

Hugo
(2011)

Please see in 3D!
Pleasantly surprised, in part due to low expectations from some tepid critical reviews, but as always, IMDb viewers know best. The film may appear to move slowly if watched in 2D -- the endless chases, windings in and out of the walls, trips through the Paris neighborhoods, all these so beautifully executed (I use that word with respect), all are devoid of purpose unless watched as they were intended. 3D is a main character, perhaps THE main character, both thematically and technically. I'm somewhat surprised Scorsese released it in 2D format. It's all slight of hand, wonderful magic. If you allow yourself to suspend disbelief for the brief time it takes to watch, it will thrill. I don't know if any other "regular" films yet to come (i.e.,Great Gatsby?) will have the same impact, so I'm not sold yet on the 3D medium, believing it will unfortunately be misused or overused. But in this one case, at least, it fits like a glove. I don't give many 10 ratings. A must see for children of all ages, and all lovers of film. Bravo!

Triumph of the Spirit
(1989)

Hang on to your hats
The events depicted in the movie are well documented in historical accounts of the concentration camp experience, and according to these accounts they are not overstated in this film. Director Robert M. Young's background in making documentaries makes this docu-drama all that much more devastating. This is the holocaust, without frills, humor, or preaching. It is what it is. I wonder about other comments criticizing the film because it is too depressing. Gee, sorry if the holocaust ruined your evening. If you don't think you can take the raw experience, don't watch the film. Of course it is depressing, more than that. However, having watched it, I can say I can better understand and appreciate the creation of the state of Israel after the war. Mr. Young did an excellent job of film making on an extremely sensitive topic. Incidentally, he was co-writer on one of my all time favorite films, a 1964 low budget black and white gem, "Nothing But a Man." Also a sleeper which received extensive critical praise but not much exposure, I believe it to be hands down the best film depicting the black experience in America, particularly southern blacks in early 1960's at the apex of the civil rights movement. See my review on this site. Don't miss it.

The Night Listener
(2006)

Spoiler alert - do not read until you see the film
This film surprised me in that it held my attention throughout. I disagree with another comment that it isn't a Hitchcockian in tone, I think it is, in that there is not a lot of overt fast physical action, but the action that takes place is psychological, emotional. Fine acting by Robin Williams, who is underrated as a serious actor (see Penny Marshal's "Awakenings", i.e). My main quibble with the way this film presents this otherwise fascinating tale is the presence of the 14-year old boy (Caulkin) who supposedly submitted his memoirs to the Robin Williams storyteller. The mystery in the film is, does this boy exist, or is he a figment of someone's sick imagination? If this is to be a mystery, why are we allowed to view the boy, as if he is real, rather than just imagine him through his story and his voice? Certainly watching the boy with our own eyes takes away the mystery, and in fact, the ending itself seems to contradict the rest of the film. I suppose you could say that viewing the boy is taking dramatic license. To me, sorry, it's just a cheap trick, as if the director was saying, aha, I fooled you. Well, duh. Yeah, if we see the guy, we think he exists. Maybe I'm too literal. I enjoyed the film anyway, and I suppose a contradictory plot line is too shallow a reason to mark down an otherwise good effort. But, if this is a thriller, it should make sense at the end. This one doesn't.

Running on Empty
(1988)

Hits the target
Saw the film on HDnet -- a complete surprise, since I had never heard of it before. This film spoke to me on a number of levels.

Having grown up in the 60's I understand the culture at the time and do not doubt for a moment that good people committed violence in the name of the greater good. Those who made that mistake paid a huge price, an example of which this movie illustrates. (Lest the younger among us get the wrong impression, most "rebels" in the 60's did not resort to violence, and, in fact, abhorred it along with the violence of the Vietnam war itself).

The coming of age of the River Phoenix character Danny/Michael is poignantly presented without resorting to over-romanticizing. The story isn't flat out rebellion, or coming to grips with one's own sexuality, or even Danny/Michael simply discovering who he is. It's a combination of all. Added to this is his extraordinary love and loyalty he has for his family. This last element is sadly missing in many coming of age movies, where the parents and family are often seen merely as annoying obstructions to forging out and becoming one's self.

Finally, there is the story of the parents coping with the growing up of their children and their eventual departure from the family. This plot is not given much play in Hollywood movies, perhaps because it is seen as too "ordinary" to be of much dramatic interest. How wrong. The family breaking up is one of the most significant events in a lifetime, for parents as well as children.

I believe the central scene, which only lasts for a few moments and which others here on IMD have commented on, is the one in the coffee shop with Annie/Cynthia and her father, from whom she had been estranged for many years. In this scene, all the above plots converge in a nuclear explosion of emotion which will send you reeling. It is one of the more memorable scenes in movie literature -- spare, understated, and masterfully acted. Get the hankies ready.

These plot lines are explored with sensitivity and insight. Overall the movie has a good heart. Its minor flaws are easily overlooked. A fine movie, I would think with near universal appeal.

A Time to Kill
(1996)

Justice prevails?
Cheesy. Full of cliches. Absurd casting, amateurish acting. Inconsistencies abound - is the jury fixed or isn't it? Ending so unbelievably corny it turns your stomach. The entire premise of the movie is legally incomprehensible - vigilantism is bad, I guess unless the vigilantes have a good reason for their violence. A moral embarrassment. Better rent it rather than see it in a theater: you'll be screaming at the screen.

Boys Don't Cry
(1999)

Riveting
An extraordinary look into a facet of life which is totally foreign to most of us. This film accomplished what I consider to be what is most difficult, and for me it the highest compliment for any film: We watch the action through an open window. We are given the opportunity to have an unfiltered view - in essence a "real" look -- at the strange and unfamiliar world of transgenderism, as well as the bigotry of the surrounding world. This is a film that changed me. I have a greater understanding -- on a very human level -- of a subject of which I was hardly aware. Acting was absolutely first rate. An honest, bold, carefully crafted and beautifully executed film. A "10" - Bravo!

Eyes Wide Shut
(1999)

Hard to keep eyes open.
With the hype last year - magazine covers and all - I expected something more. Much more.

I give the film a generous 4. I thought it failed on several counts: Tom Cruise has never been a favorite of mine. In The Firm, at least, he came closer to character playing a smart-ass attorney, but his self-assured semi-smirk and perfect Hollywood looks don't fit the character of a young doctor. Both the Cruise and Kidman characters were superficial to the extreme, with no more personality than cartoon characters.

The characterizations were bad enough, but the acting didn't help. The two leads in particular seemed acutely self-conscious. Whenever Kidman spoke, she exuded "I'm a sexy actress playing a REALLY hot role - listen to my every profound word!" I could prepare a snack before she finished a sentence. By the time she did, I was so irritated I nearly lost track of what she was saying. And her intoxicated demeanor while dancing at the party with a stranger - who came off as some hack's quick-fix cliché - was simply embarrassing.

As if the pace of the dialogue wasn't slow enough, questions had to be repeated - i.e., "What do you....think?" (pregnant pause) "What.....do... I think?" "Yes, what.... do you.... think?" Over and over and over again. Please, not EVERY word is such a big deal. The result is a pretentiousness that simply overwhelems. Is it really necessary for this film to take nearly 3 hours? Not if the characters sounded like real people instead of robots stuck on repeat. I'm reminded of Kubrick's revolving spaceship in 2001, accompanied inexplicably by a Strauss waltz. I remember wondering - will this scene ever end? Unfortunately, I had the same feeling in this film, many times. That shouldn't happen in any film, let alone one with a subject matter that should - de facto - keep everyone enthralled, and one that is the last film and the crowning achievement of an important director's life.

What a shame. Sexuality - as opposed to sex -- is not often dealt with at all, let alone successfully. I kept hoping for a hook to reality, an honest statement. Instead, the plot degenerated into a convoluted hodgepodge which, while titillating (no pun intended), was never sufficiently explained or resolved.

I would have rated it lower than a 4, but for its ground breaking attempt as a serious treatment of sexuality. For a main stream film, it was bold. But again, self-consciously. For me, nothing rang true. As for nudity - frontal nudity, yes. Breasts, plenty of 'em. Sex, er, maybe. But men's privates are still apparently just that - private. And sex - weird and not at all erotic, and only filmed from strategic angles. There is still that familiar and conspicuous holding back, not just of nudity, but of the treatment of sexuality itself. Come on, we're supposed to be grown up. And this is supposed to be a film about a grown-up subject. Unfortunately, it came off more like an adolescent's wet dream.

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