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The Other Side of the Wind

The essential problem of daring to review The Other Side of the Wind, assuming it is indeed Orson Welles' concept if not total creation, is how does one critique the oeuvre of an artist equal to Michelangelo, Wagner, Matisse, Griffith? How can the aesthetically challenged muse on the subject? Perhaps rather than expose their ignorance through an opinion which, considering the source, is inevitably bovine, simple folk just confine themselves to watching films they love, those in which cars blow up, and nothing else. That way, they neither delve into areas they'll never understand nor expose themselves as delightful to observe primates.

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

My Last Star Wars Film -- Ever
Like another reviewer said, this is the last movie in the series I will see. I will not be disappointed again. I was there 40 years ago and have been to every one of them since within the first couple weeks of their releases. Though a notch above The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, this dreadful film is like a rag you soak up spilled coffee in and then squeeze into the sink. There is not an original idea in the entire wretched business and what's worse, whole parts of previous incarnations are blatantly stolen from to create this mess. Some of the ideas are slapped together and amateurish to boot. Only the casino scenes have visual merit but again they are derivative. The Yoda figure is almost inanimate and unforgivably boring. Worst of all are the appearances of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who, rather than be presented with iconic build up and respect, are two geezers wheeled out of the home to get some sun. I wasn't sure if Leia was Carrie Fisher or Ethel Barrymore. Knowing Carrie is gone also made some of her scenes a bit creepy. She was much better served by the HBO documentary "Bright Lights" as a swan song. And Hamill looked like the bum who asks for change with the cardboard sign by the highway. Remember when Luke Skywalker used to wash his hair? Finally Luke's absurd death reminded me of the scene in Wizard of Oz when the Wicked Witch melts away. Please.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Stumbler
Three points out of ten only for the cinematography, which equals expectations -- and is the only thing about this sequel that does. Maybe if it wasn't so over-hyped I would have been more tolerant of its weaknesses, which follow: there is an hour's worth of fat worthy of Terence Malick at his worst, meaning exposition for its own sake that never carries the story forward but serves as a backdrop for childish indulgence in visuals, that could easily have been cut; while the plot is tortuously convoluted and needed to be far more linear. The cast obviously reveres the material and is intimidated by the source, making for distance in their acting. James Edward Olmos, so sinister and subtly threatening in the original, has an unnecessary cameo as a doddering version of his younger self. And where is Vangelis, whose music added another dimension to the original? The music in this one is mediocre at best. I wonder if Ridley Scott was needed at the helm. Maybe my perspective is colored because I was there the first week the original Blade Runner came out and loved that great film, but if anybody who was there with me in the early 80's feels differently I'd love to know.

The Exception

Extraordinary Christopher
The film is a typical euro meager budget co-production with a nice little plot and the substance of an eclair, but the delight here is viewing Christopher Plummer showcasing his pure love of acting. He has reached legendary dimensions in his ability and he joyously devours each part he gets these days regardless of the material. He has become in many ways someone he played: John Barrymore. Same love of tricks and hypnotic magnetism. But what a joy to behold. If you want a master class in the study of a near 90 year old acting magician see this!

The Dresser

Far Less than Movie
The lead actors, great theatrical geniuses both, convey an absolute disinterest in their roles and only put forward what their particular personas can convey in this. Though the adaptation makes more sense than the original film, the actors are just walking through their parts to make a few bucks as compared to the care Finney and Courtenay put in their roles in the original. Of course, considering their talents I was impressed by their expected competence -- but watch the original to see better performances.

The Hollow Crown: Richard III
Episode 3, Season 2

Insightful Context Changes
As another poster stated, it is good to see the Henry plays to gain a greater perspective on Richard III. I have seen quite a few Richards, and this one stands out as the best for matching the historical participants characteristics to those in the quasi-propaganda of the Bard's backstory. As an example, the historical Edward IV was an amoral hedonist as is portrayed here -- not the somewhat daffy old man of the great Cedric Hardwicke in the fifties version. Another thing that appealed was the wooing of Lady Anne with the elimination of the Prince of Wales' corpse in the background, which I always felt was an odd distraction. Also worth noting is the sly tribute to Welles' Chimes At Midnight mud during the battle of Bosworth Field. I love how Cumberbatch changes the emphasis and cadence of Richard's dialogues as well. Only complaint is that I miss the tendency to indulge in a wee bit of ham acting that the Bard lends itself so well to. Even McKellen's fascist version had some nice meaty word chewing. Though Benedict is memorable, who can ever forget Olivier as Richard -- and Richardson as Buckingham? "And has it come to this?"

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Star Wars Nursing Home
Young folks out there: Once upon a time in Hollywood there was a superstar named Marlene Dietrich. She was born close to 1902 and died in 1992, having made her first confirmed film appearance in 1923 and her last in 1978. When she realized it was time to quit because of advancing years, she quit completely. From being one of the most photographed women in showbiz she went to never allowing another photo of her again, except once. She knew that by being photographed when no longer beautiful her legend would be diminished. I preface my opinion of The Force Awakens with that introduction because 38 years ago I remember the premiere of Star Wars; and how the cast appeared in it and the two sequels: young and attractive, with their images and personas sealed forever in epochal material: a combination and legend forever that only gained power with time. So now to provide a box office safety net, Disney drags out and dusts off the original trio of protagonists in Star Wars, problem being they're far from young anymore. In fact they are just plain old. Carrie Fisher has the wry, knowing look of a sagacious grandmother, as if she's letting the audience in on a joke -- that sexy thing she used to be is nowhere hinted at. Harrison Ford reminds me of Henry Fonda or John Wayne in westerns when they were collecting social security; and who'd ever think Mark Hamill in full beard under a Jedi hood would end up looking like Orson Welles? By appearing in this film they run the huge chance of diminishing their personas as at least 2 generations plus remember them. In terms of film immortality, this is a grave sin indeed. The film would have been better without them; memories of the past overwhelm here, and their appearance is sure to disappoint those who have followed the Star Wars saga since the beginning. Do we really want to be reminded how much we have aged, too?

The Moon and Sixpence

The Aesthetic of Albert Lewin
A creator of such intellect as Albert Lewin, the director/adapter of The Moon & Sixpence, rarely had the opportunity in classic period Hollywood to showcase such a unique talent as he had and we are fortunate to have had him. There were only a handful like him that beat the odds and actually were allowed to produce true art instead of common trash -- Sternberg, Ulmer, Sturges come to mind -- and in many ways Lewin stood apart because he worked the system without challenging the former tailors and junk dealers that ran Hollywood. He made a quartet of films that express his unique style magnificently. These are, in order: The Moon & Sixpence, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami and Pandora And The Flying Dutchman. The common threads are stateliness, pacing and intelligence, with literate dialogue that has a sophistication that belies the commercialism of the time. His lead of choice was George Sanders, who was perfectly cast in the first three titles as a symbol of an age. The Moon and Sixpence is the first of this quartet and showcases what a small budget but superior talent can create. Each film was an improvement on its predecessor, and I recommend that those out there interested in stylized film follow Lewin's work chronologically to observe the course of aesthetic refinement, beginning with The Moon & Sixpence.

Inglourious Basterds

Amusing Homage
Again the director hits us over the head with unabashed and sometimes silly references to what made him a film maker in the first place but, after all, what is his signature without that. I pity the soul who goes into this without knowing Quentin's work. Soon enough they will get it -- it's Christopher Waltz/Anton Diffring meets Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be meets Melanie Laurent/Catherine Deneuve meets Moe Howard/Adolf Hitler waiting for the closeup of Henry Fonda's eyes in.... ! It spins in all directions and ultimately becomes a grim absurd farce. However the whole thing grows on you after a bit and if you can overcome your annoyance with the broad brush strokes, you can enjoy the whole canvas.

The Grapes of Wrath

Are we seeing the future?
I strongly encourage everyone out there to view this brilliant film. Though episodic and with the usual Steinbeck plotting weakness, the courage it took Zanuck, Ford, and Johnson to make this statement is astounding considering it came from Hollywood 1940. It goes from grim to grimmer with an honesty that is almost unbearable. In an age when our shallowest vanities are catered to, from designer coffee to nail salons, the film is a seminal reminder of what was and looks like will be again. One note of humor I appreciated: the head of the immaculate "social engineering camp" was made to resemble FDR. I can't but wonder -- is this the future as well as the past?

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Okay But Refreshingly Unpretentious
As a cineaste with what I suppose could be considered eclectic taste that is borderline elitist, I am also one who has guilty movie pleasures -- meaning Caltiki and Potemkin both have a positive place in my heart but for very different reasons. I went to see The Dragon Emperor fully expecting the worst based on critical assessment but nonetheless intrigued by Ebert's good review. I understand what Roger was driving at: the picture is very sound in that it doesn't pretend to be anything more than it actually and exactly is. No attempt at messages or Deeper Things or pseudo symbolism attempted by some film maker trying to mix popcorn and deep thought. So by its very lack of pretension and naked embrace of bangboom it is good. Put aside big expectations and you'll come out of the theater OK with this film. My less than 7 rating is based on two flaws: the father-son age thing doesn't work, and the back story of Brendan Fraser's boredom in retirement is very forced. But this is nitpicking. So enjoy!

The Count of Monte Cristo

O. P. Heggie as Abbe Faria
Delightful film of the classic stage warhorse, a bit creaky and slow starting, but with cumulative power sustained by the subtle yet vivid characterizations. Each principal has a uniquely nuanced personality, brought forth by gesture and language -- something sorely lacking in today's 90 percent trash. NOTE FOR CINASTES: I never fully appreciated the comic outrages of Jame's Whale's use of the Hermit in Bride of Frankenstein until I saw the prototype, created here by the same actor, O. P. Heggie. The Hermit in "Bride" is a gleeful, unabashed parody of Faria, even in the crescendo of music that mimics the "Ave Maria" in the Whale picture. I'm sure Whale wondered if his in-joke would be caught, and by how many. See the picture and you'll understand.

Basic Instinct 2

Mae West Reincarnated
Sharon Stone is sharp. So sharp she perceived that since the script was so hackneyed the only way to salvage anything out of this mess was to have a seance and ask Mae West's advice about self-parody and apply the lesson to a magnificent comic turn that could rival anything from the original cast of Saturday Night Live. On every level except one this thing is derivative, silly, and an enormous waste of talented people. David Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling, for instance, have always been risk takers and acted out of the box; here I guess a paycheck became more important than consideration of their parts. Only Sharon gave me my money's worth as the new Mae West and if you want to spend some time observing her high camp please go see this.

The Libertine

Make the critics hate you: make The Libertine a hit!
Phew! Can egalitarian snobs get their panties in a wad over a movie that isn't just plain stupid or realistic or even a cartoon and gang up on it because they somehow feel threatened by its courage in attempting something we haven't seen on screen in a long long time: literature in film form. The Libertine committed the most unspeakable sin any movie can commit in the 21st century: it actually cared more about the spoken word, its rhythm, cadences, timber and music that any movie should dare care about in the eyes of today's critical cognoscenti, who drape themselves in the robes of Petronius Arbiter (not that they even know the name, its significance, or how to pronounce it; I guess I'll let them go online and try to figure that one out for themselves). I've got some news for them. This is art, boys, and this is style; and was once considered to be art of the highest order. If you consider it artifice and reject it as art shouldn't you apply the same standard to excessive realism, which then becomes artifice as well? I shudder to think of what would happen if these self appointed judges of what we should or shouldn't like would do if they were transported back in time and saw the first production of A Streetcar Named Desire. They would, I am sure, in that smug superior way of theirs condemn classic Tennessee for its then undefined style and consign it to the toilet rather than the Pantheon. And as for Depp, well, this is what Edmund Kean must have been like. So people, think for yourselves. Don't be afraid of any form of art and enjoy The Libertine for its bravery in doing something so old it's new.


Clever HBO
The beauty of this series is in the fact that all the avid viewer needs to do to get "sneak previews" is start with selected bios of the principle characters in Plutarch's Lives. It's all there. It's as if Tacitus, Suetonius and Livy could be credited as "Creative Consultants". If the rating gods are willing, the show can last as long as the history of Rome. Think the Sopranos starting with Tony's ancestors in Sicily during the Renaissance. The set design is also quite innovative. The standard set design is usually classic Hollywood scrubbed temple white (Quo Vadis) or dirty beige. Here walls are actually painted. The other element that distinguishes this series in its realism is that the principals are not painted as larger than life. The writers were clever enough to adapt historical characters in a human context without being in awe of them in the school boy way authors have dealt with them in earlier productions.

Prince of Foxes

Orson All Over The Place
This is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen in the sense of evoking a specific age fused with a mindset. Only El Cid and Ivan the Terrible Pts 1 & 2 come this close. Ironically, for all the perfection of set design, the film was shot in black and white because, if I remember reading correctly, Zanuck got cold feet about costs. But even in this there is a positive result in that it is obvious the Welles-Toland shooting style heavily influenced the cinematography...something color would have stifled. Quite frankly, if you study the camera set ups closely enough you can almost believe that Orson was standing next to the camera man. Worth mentioning also is Alfred Newman's brilliant score which evokes the Renaissance perfectly. The plot is typical Fox hokum and the acting okay to uneven, but both the visual and sonic elements more than compensate to make this an outstanding work of art. Cinastes will understand, and I encourage them to view it.

Van Helsing

Edward Van Sloan, I mean Abraham Van Helsing, is turning over.....
...in his grave. Of course they thought that the majority of moviegoers are not cinastes, and it doesn't matter if the memories of classic monster character development and subtleness is absent, but oh, a couple minutes of silence as Lugosi descends the staircase, or Lon Chaney Jr exposes his soul's anguish as the full moon rises, as Una O'Connor looks up at Karloff...are worth more and more memorable than this regurgitated second rate porridge could ever be. Hugh

Jackman is a very good actor, and when he stars in a remake of Oklahoma I'm sure I'll love it -- but the old man with the horned rimmed glasses will always be MY Van Helsing.

The Ring

Thanksgiving in October
The most annoying thing about this movie is the really silly use of plot devices. No one really expects there to be anything new under the sun in horror or sci-fi and the intelligent film maker will devise STRONG twists on stuff that was perfected by Pabst/Browning/Whale/ Lewton/Hitchcock/Corman/Bava/Carpenter. Don't be so weak in plot development and don't deceive or insult your more intelligent viewers because you can't decide if the boogie man will get you or a Holmesian conclusion based on logical insights will be reached. Scare people because it makes sense, or scare them into suspending their disbelief because you know how to write. Good acting though; and at least I had an early early Thanksgiving of...celluloid turkey.


Mel Gibson Shines in Signs
The film of course is excellent as a fusion of different elements and influences, primarily Val Lewton's concept of build up the fear but minimize the monster, and truly unique in that it's not a typical sci-fi zap-em-up or blood feast. How refreshing not to see the cliched military perspective but emphasize the protagonist's psyche. There are some silly holes in the plot -- if I was within ten feet of a trapped alien I wouldn't stick around, would you? -- but overall it works, and for one reason: Mel Gibson. This was, in my opinion, his best performance ever. I rate them thus, in descending order: Signs, Mad Max, Hamlet, then Braveheart. He is, like Connery, a movie star in the golden era sense of the word who only gets better with each new wrinkle. The deep empathy and chemistry he has on screen with children(begun in Man Without a Face, developed in Patriot, and reaching its apex here), no doubt has its origins in his own large family, but it carries over from real life magnificently onto film. May the Big Australian Three -- Gibson, Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush, keep astounding us!

The Cat's Meow

Learning from the Master
The Cat's Meow is one of those unique movies in which another artist's influence is apparent, but subtle. That artist was the director's mentor and friend, Orson Welles. The movie has a tendency to float along, but it does so charmingly and with respect toward the real characters portrayed. However, one thing Welles wouldn't do, and that is create anything that just floated along. There is plot tension missing here, but that is a small flaw when compared to the whole. If one is aware of the Welles-Bogdanovich connection, one can't help but to subconsciously search out the Welles imprints. The main ones are the overlapping dialogue scene between Ince and Hearst in the beginning of the movie, when Hearst shoots the seagull; and the enraged Kane/Hearst tearing up Marion Davies' stateroom looking for evidence of her infidelity. Edward Herrmann almost hulks around like the older Kane here. Cinema historians, check this one out!

Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows

Harrowing, relentless determination to self-destruct
This movie had the main worst element of 95% of the films made for TV -- it was constructed around commercials, which sabotages film to its core. Constricted little vignettes, no matter how well written, always look rushed and this was no different. That said, let me speak about the awesome performance of Judy Davis. I've always adored Garland's awe some talent and never quite understood how she could not protect such a precious instrument. Davis gave me that understanding 1000 percent. Here the depiction of a harrowing, relentless determination to self-destruct was perfectly conveyed. She was a female Norman Maine no one could help, it seemed. Judy Davis -- give us more such virtuosity!


mixed feelings
I left the theater a little dazed because I wasn't sure exactly what I saw. The age old problem with sequels remains: one cannot help having preconceived ideas, especially if the original was a masterpiece. What would we think if Hannibal preceded SOTL??? First off, the edge is off; now we know Hannibal, and are even comfortable with him. It's as if your neighbor is a convicted murderer but was let out after twenty years and now waters his lawn with a smile and a nod as you pass by. Second, the cannibalism is GONE! It's only referred too rather quaintly and not with a shudder. Thirdly, the psychological banter between him and Clarice, which should've been exploited as in the first time, is only obvious for a little bit. Mason Verger is a pathetic villian, as opposed to the looney kidnapper in SOTL. Hopkins, of course, is wonderful. Did anyone notice how he modulated his voice in the mall scene and sounded almost like Richard Burton? Lastly, Ridley Scott, I think for the first time using a contemporary setting, did his best with a less than tight script. There was little or no tension in this film, and that is what is fundamental in this type.

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