rzajac

IMDb member since January 2002
    Lifetime Total
    250+
    Lifetime Plot
    1+
    Lifetime Bio
    1+
    Lifetime Trivia
    10+
    Top Reviewer
     
    IMDb Member
    17 years

Reviews

Revenge
(2017)

bloody and irrelevant
Weird flick. Nice visual stylizing, shot-by-shot. Odd choice to mix French and English. I guess it was a effort to shoehorn a pretense of european classiness into a marketing-driven "need" to play to an English-speaking demographic.

They started with a sure-fire premise, which was essentially a "spit on your grave"-type story rehash. But the script was written by a hack, and the direction/production thought they could just run with it. But that never really works: The scripted weirdnesses shine right on through. There were all these little childish touches, like an eye-rolling take on "peyote", recovering from solar plexus impalement, makeshift cauterization in lieu of stitches, unlikely character glitches, a furtive "search party" sequence that wasn't blocked in a way that built tension and momentum, ... and other stuff.

And I know that in the current day we have to be careful about this, but as you assimilate the character "development", some modulated slut-shaming is not uncalled-for. I suppose you could say this part of the character development cleverly pointed to an "all-creatures-great-and-small" moral imperative--that is, even sluts deserve basic decent treatment. But I'm not sure I bought into that. And I'm NOT saying the "slut deserved what she got." I'm saying that she is "who she is", and however you want to label her is trumped by the overriding factor that she appears to self-identify as a piece of meat from frame one. So the scenario creates a challenge for the filmmaker: Can she(?!) convince us to discover a redemption of the woman *in her own heart*. That's the best I can offer, and I daresay the filmmaker fails on this. To me, she morphs from a piece of meat into a pissed-off piece of meat. Huzzah.

Truth be told, the script is hit-and-miss, but misses often enough where it eventually loses a discriminating viewer, and you're just left assimilating a morally adrift manhunt blood sport sequence.

And if that floats yr boat, fine. But if you appreciate narrative integrity, skip it.

Sleeper
(1973)

Yea, verily: A Classic
So much muddy Woody water's run under the bridge over the years, that I've come to be turned off by Allen. I suppose there's some chance I may have missed something he did that's worth watching in those intervening years, but... well, there you have it.

But "Sleeper" falls on the cusp of two eras for Allen: Before, he pretty much just adapted thematized stand-up routines for the screen. After, he fancied himself an "auteur". Here, he hits a sweet spot. And how sweet it is!

It's homage, it's wacky, it's new, it's physical, it's comic and comedic. I daresay for the dated techniques and low-budget limitations it nonetheless gets off the ground, then fairly soars.

A fun flick to take in, of an evening. What's stopping you?

Fahrenheit 11/9
(2018)

sigh... yes, Moore bends reality... but what a master.
Moore makes me wonder what all he's trying to slide under my radar because... my radar sometimes registers weird blips.

I'll talk about that in a second. But first, kudos on Moore doing yet-again what he does so well: He gets us to sit up and take notice, and does so by reminding us not to lose sight of "the ball"--that being, the things that really matter in a sustainable republic: Public health; preparing the next generation to assume the mantle of sustaining that republic; and the glue that binds all that together, a healthy reality-basis for policy and praxis.

And that why I rate this flick relatively highly. Someone has to remind us of these things, and if one of those people is Moore, so be it.

But at the same time, you occasionally get a whiff of Moore going too far with his editorial decisions as he crafts these pageants to progressive democratic republicanism. What was it for you? For me, it was his decision NOT to point out the specific mechanism by which Bernie Sanders got stiffed during the primaries. Moore sells it as simple highway robbery. It wasn't. Well, it arguably *was* a robbery... but it's vitally important for progressive-minded folks thinking of entering the political fray to understand that Bernie "was robbed" under the auspices of a long-standing institution of the U.S. Democratic Party, and that institution is the "superdelegates".

I don't think this is picking nits to point this out. It's a problem with Moore, from time to time. It verges on "white" lying. I think he figures it's a better sell; a more effective way to agitate and activate a sleeping giant of popular progressive socialist thinking. I differ on this point. People need to know these things. Knowing Things is the basis for activism if it hopes to produce real change.

But... I could also argue that in light of the stakes in this game--the game in which U.S. progressives wage war against U.S. post-war propagandistic social programming that suppresses the implementation of *real* republicanism and furthers the short-term interest of economic/power elites--Moore's "offenses" are small potatoes, indeed. Given that he's fighting for the average American--and he is--more power to him.

I slight my rating by a single star for the abovementioned editorial indiscretion, and another star for a sense that he occasionally slips and fails to artistically segue the segments in his presentation.

Other than that... well worth watching.

The Christmas Chronicles
(2018)

Amazing how NETFLIX is trying to cover all the bases
First: Enjoyed the flick! It was a sort of well constructed Hallmark-style feelgood Xmas special! It teetered on the edge of outright cornball, on the verge of teetering on over into that chasm from time to time... but (by my lights) always managed to pull back in the Nick o' time!

So, if you're in the mood to watch a decent Xmas type fantasy special, check it out.

But this was, for me, the No.2 in a 1-2 punch regarding Netflix. Just read an interview with a Coen brother (forget which) where he seemed to indicate that the normal channels for the kinds of big bucks he and his brother need to make their particular magic happen... were drying up. So he pointed out the nouveaux riches of the Internet media companies as the new go-to sources... which rather blew my mind!

And then... I see The Christmas Chronicles! Someone in Netflix's boardroom had the bright idea that no demographic stone should be left unturned. Bravo to that personage and an extra scoop of Exec Chow in their hubcap tonight!

Beverly Hills Cop
(1984)

Dated
It was interesting to watch this as a sort of period piece.

I have super happy memories of Murphy on SNL. He's a truly gifted guy.

I guess I can see that a flick like this can be entertaining to watch at home. But I really do expect better. I guess it works better for me if a cops-robbers flick is an honest drama infused with comedy, and this appears to be a comedy draped over a "hard-stories-in-the-big-city" dramatic framework. That don't hunt. I suspect they thought the exercise would be redeemed because of (minor spoiler) the sundry inversions: Inversions of (economic) class, flyover vs. coastal, and race are thrown in for good measure. You can feel the storytellers are trying too hard to earn those heartstring tugs.

This dog *could've* hunted--if it'd been better written. But this one wasn't, so it don't.

I accord it a few stars because of the effort. But it was a bit of an effort to watch, so....

Anyway: Can't recommend it, if you like an honest story.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
(2018)

Moving, touching, thoughtful
One of the Coens (fergit which) made an interesting comment on how the media money system is shifting... and they've had to surf that wave in order to continue to make the kinds of picture shows they're accustomed to making.

Which, in a way, is what you'll find that the segment "Meal Ticket" is all about.

These are six bold, gutsy, little vignettes that... may be set in the Old American West, but... in fact transcend time and space.

Some you may recognize (I read "All Gold Canyon" as a kid), and some will be new to you. The opening number is a riotous explosion of character development, the rest keep the 4th wall neatly erect. But they *all* invite you in.

The acting talent--all of it--acquits themselves with the highest professionalism and artistry.

This is truly a high point of the Coen Brothers' oeuvre. Check it out.

The Hateful Eight
(2015)

Vital
The key (for me) to The Hateful Eight is that it is fine, fine theater.

And that means that it flows like a vital river--as does all good theater.

It's like a natural phenomenon. But, of course, it's also somehow special, and in that way for which Tarantino is known: Create a scenario in which quiet deceptions and general moral ossifications are flung at high velocities against the wall, examine the data from the scattering, and draw your own moral conclusions.

These are ordinary theatrics. The amazing thing is how Tarantino makes them compellingly ponderable, in real time, on the big screen. Yet again.

I "fault" my rating by one star, but only because this doesn't exceed a very, very high-water mark set by Pulp Fiction.

Check it out.

My Name Is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure
(2004)

A rich media product
Gotta do my part to pull this thing out the low-ratings doldrums!

Can't figure out why folks don't like it; it's got it all: It's got action, it's got heart, it's got "parlor" sensibility. Think of it: It's a "parlor piece" with action and colorful backstory flashbacks.

Loved it! Would like to see more like it!

Enjoyed seeing Raymond Cruz! I've only known him as "Tuco", and really relished the opportunity to have him show me he can stretch.

Yume
(1990)

Come for the dreams
Always liked folks daring to just put their dreams out there via the arts. Love it when cartoonists do it (Woodring, Holt), and filmmakers like Bunuel and Fellini.

And this flick is a fine exemplar of this esthetic. These are the dreams that you rejoice in; the ones that make you stop in your tracks because the level of needed engagement precludes getting on with other things.

And, in keeping with this esthetic, it's surely expected to be something of a garage sale. Some things are going to be immediately recognized as true "finds", and other might not quite blip yr radar--but the point is that you can be sure some of those scenarios that didn't resonate will nonetheless resonate with others. That's the beauty.

Need to add, I suppose, that the production values are fantastic. I was even a little surprised to see some of that production going above/beyond. He didn't need to exert himself that much, but did anyway. Sort of Kubrickian in that way.

If you are a person with a rich nighttime dream life, I think you'll find a kindred spirit at work in this flick. But even if not, if you are a person who understands that the mysteries of those scenarios thrown over the wall from the subconscious are worth delictating, you'll dig this.

Check it out.

Hereditary
(2018)

Not for me: Superb technically, lacking narratively
Subject sez all, but here's some elaboration.

Beautifully produced: Fantastic and captivating in every sense. But it runs off the rails about 1/2-way through. The simple way to describe it might be "producers' cold-feet syndrome," where the money people didn't trust that the flick's maintaining tone, plus the planned narrative end-game, would put butts in the seats and recoup expenses. So they just ran roughshod over the director and turned the thing into a weird spook house cavalcade. There was some tying together of the first and last halves of the flick, using the grandmom as a ligature, but I didn't buy it.

Of course, there's a chance the film got made as planned, and the planning for the narrative direction was just screwed up from the get-go.

The film's technical mastery starts out so great, I'd almost be tempted to advise that you rent it just to watch the first half. But in the end, ... that's a dumb idea. Forget I suggested it.

I was looking forward to Byrne cutting another notch representing his contribution to another noble artistic effort! So sad!

Sigh: Avoid it.

Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013)

Beautiful
It's a great story, incredibly well told.

The Coens continue to hone their own craft, and work with able others to create truly fantastic spectacle. Watching this comes close to tipping me over to the view that they do drama better than they do comedy... but I'll demur: They're non-overlapping magisteria.

I've observed other very good, very descriptive comments in these IMDb User Comments, so I'll leave it here and send you there. The stuff folks point out--the faithful reproduction of intimate artistic moments; a portrayal that makes the invisible visible; all production details lovingly attended to--is wonderfully true.

My only qualifier to all the above comes down to whether you find this kind of slice-of-life, everyman heroism compelling.

But I'll add this: If you tend to characterize all that as hoity-toity art-house frippery, I'll send you to this flick, anyway: I daresay it just might bring you around.

Check it out.

Rick and Morty: Pickle Rick
(2017)
Episode 3, Season 3

One of the best, in my book
It's perfect. There's not much more to say. The scenario work, dialog, direction, acting, pacing, EVERYTHING.

The writing is super, super intelligent. Well... I will note a kind of "goof" in the underlying science at one point. (DON'T consider the following a "spoiler":) It shows Rick stimulating "parts" of a cockroach's "brain" to tap it's motor functions. Pretty sure that early stimulus/motor-response scenario is not in keeping with our current understanding of the nervous function of the arthropods. For some time now, robotics researchers have recognized the effectiveness of "distributed intelligence" and point to insects as examples of this.

BUT!!! I don't care! The story is fantastic, and I loved the writing for Dr. Wong, and the challenging thematic treatment of therapy. I'd like to think that if there's a downstream effect, it'll be in the direction of getting *more* Rick and Morty weenies to consider seeing a professional... not *less*.

Please, R&M producers: Hew more in *this* direction in future development!

Active Measures
(2018)

Important (but some tech issues)
Good flick. Don't let go of yr higher, skeptical self while watching, and I still don't doubt you'll come away a little more informed and smarter.

My only remonstrance is that, from time to time, the editors gave in to the impulse to favor "the firehose" effect over the reality of a typical viewer's ability to parse an image (typically) over a brief moment of time. It's a simple matter of the psychology of perception. They'd flash something on the screen--typically textual--then remove it before you could parse even the barest crux of the information. And that was just... sloppy. I like that, at heart, they treat the viewer like a discerning person who understands that meaningful participation in a democratic republic means you must be informed. But... you STILL have to allow us to be mere humans with limited abilities to perceive stuff whizzing by at a mile a minute. It's amateurish; like done by kids who figure that, since *they* understand the information (getting to ponder it at their leisure in the editing room), we'll absorb it no matter how fast they cut it into and out of our ken.

But, to back off a bit... yes, this tech flaw in the edit occasionally niggled... but on the whole a very, very worthwhile viewing.

Check it out.

The Fly
(1986)

Has a great myth which overcomes rather dated limits
Just re-watched it. It was enjoyable and thought provoking, though a few things niggled.

I can't help but think that the depiction of the computer interface would be much better done today. Cronenberg vests the production with brains and passion, and this made me overlook the hokiness of that representation.

And as much as I can certainly see his straining for professionalism, Getz's work here is distracting. Was it a lapse in Cronenberg's direction?

But it's safe to say these distractions can be set aside in order to mainline the payload myth, which has to do with... the nature of nature, at its most elemental. I suppose more folks might pick up on a "tech hubris" message... and that's OK, too.

If you haven't seen it, it's pretty much de riguour for buffs, so get it under your belt, already!

Life
(2017)

Genuinely horrific; lovely stylizing
Man, this flick is getting slagged off at!

It really isn't worth all that negative energy. There's just too much to recommend it.

What do people hate about it? Seems folks've decided it's a premise rehash of the "Alien" series. I say... eh... sure, it's a kind of hurdle that the film would need to clear to hold our attentions. But I feel the film clears that particular hurdle nicely. It makes stylistic decisions that mark it as a clean, new approach to the whole sub-genre of "contact" films. At any rate, sizing it up against "Alien(s)" to me seems like a tepid basis for a negative evaluation.

What I appreciate is how enormously crafty the whole enterprise (of making this flick) is. The writing, pacing, editing, direction, everything comes together to make something... artful. And I *always* like to see artfulness in a movie. Not enough of that.

There may some divergence from this view on the basis that the film plods, or otherwise fritters itself away with a deficit of needed "action"; I say; the balance of action and interstitial quiet dramatics as the crew attempts to resolve its ever-morphing "issue" is perfect. One of the things I really loved about the flick was the writing; the dialog. I was surprised to find that the writing drew me in with its simplicity and plaintiveness. You really believe these are folks on a space mission--highly educated and trained, with distinguishing qualities of character--but ultimately just folks... you, me, anyone. Great, great writing, and seen too, too seldom in movies these days. Refreshing!

So all that's really left is an overview of the story management, and technique in general.

I'm thankful that the story had an decent ending. Ending a story well is like an end-game in chess; the hardest part of the game. I thought the flick ended a damn sight better than all too many others.

In terms of general technique, I found the sets, visuals. and effects in general to be fine and conducive to the suspension of my disbelief; I could "relax" and take in the harrowing narrative.

Will you like the movie? Depends. I think I pretty much outlined the issues, above. If attention to the kinds of details I mention above don't rate much in your enjoyment of movies, odds are you shouldn't waste your time with this one: You'll probably wind up resenting the wasted time, and chiming in with other naysayers in these User Comments. Have a look at some of them to see what I mean.

The Rapture
(1991)

Lovely production, but kinda... stuck
First of all, it's a great production. So much loving attention to detail in the writing and professionalism in the execution.

Which means we can get down to the message. It's a strange mess, and my impulse is to see it in the same terms that I now see the gulf between U.S. evangelical "believers" and "new" atheists. And, to me, that's water way, way, long under the bridge.

I can't see that the territory this flick explores is universal or timeless. A lot of this kind of religion--where belief and faith are rather conflated--is a sad waste of energy. The way true religion should be approached by folks looks *nothing* like *anything* in this flick. And it doesn't matter whether you see the flick as strangely accommodating evangelical "faith", or as an outright repudiation of this sort of experience as ultimately hollow. There is so, so much more to what faith can mean in a person's life than anything that this flick may be trying to aim at.

So, to me, the flick seems sorta "stuck", in a general way, in that old place where belief and faith get lumped together... man, that's old news!

Side note, tacked on: Loved Will Patton's character. It reminds me of the feeling I got watching the redemptive, angelic civic functionaries in Greg Marcks's "11:14". Now *that* is a lovely image in a narrative product: The image of a person whose heart is pure and whose need to serve/give is plainly evident. Can't get enough of that!

A Ghost Story
(2017)

At last! A ghost story that makes you believe in ghosts.
I'm not going to pretend to have a clear idea of what the flick's about. But there are certain base level impressions which, on their own, suffice to motivate me to come here to rate and pronounce on the flick's value.

At its simplest level, it's a flick that attempts to take you into "ghost time".

And that's really all you might need to know as you begin to watch the film.

What it might mean beyond that I'll leave to you and my future self (as I ponder--and I *will* continue to ponder "A Ghost Story"!).

Enemy
(2013)

Didn't want to like it, but...
Ultimately, it worked for me.

Now, I know that sounds like "damning with faint praise." But I loved it because it was artfully made and dances on the event horizon of "takeaway opacity", that you are severely challenged to understand its ultimate meaning. I love that. I love that it was willing to do that, to exert itself to create a presentation to convey that puzzle.

Of course, I have ideas of what it's about, but the whole thing rests comfortably on my back burner... where it rightfully belongs.

If that bothers you--sounds like it's not yr cup o' tea--then pass it up. But I aver it truly was a masterful exercise in an odd sort of storytelling.

It worked for me.

The Square
(2017)

Giving it a '10' because I fancy myself a frou-frou elitist type
Loved it. Literally on the edge of my seat at times.

It's a challenging flick, yet at the same time inviting. And that's the way it should be. A good flick challenges, and if it siphons you in to process and try to understand that challenge, huzzah!

The challenge being, of course, that under its base scenario of the high-flying modern art word is something almost crushingly quotidian; a man who's like most men: He's not the sharpest (moral) tool in the shed.

In fact, he's so hapless that he's a hapless performance artist himself. And that's where the sparks fly in this flick, IMHO. Like "The Square", he's non-stop commentary on contemporary reality.

Happy!
(2017)

It Works!
An amazing show: It's preposterous enough to transcend its gross expressionistic excesses.

And, really, that's pretty much all that needs to be said. This is the grail of narrative products: Create a great myth, and damn the torpedoes.

That said, a few nods to detail are in order. It's violent, violent, violent! The writing is smart and clever. The character work is an over-the-top labor of love. Yes: It's a detective/thriller set at Christmastime with a reprobate with a heart-o'-gold, a la Shane Black.

Enjoy!

Chronicle
(2012)

Gotta say: In the end, really just a SFX snack.
I was looking forward to being able to say that this flick blew my mind.

And then I sort of ponder whether the quotidian nature of the characters and story were supposed to be the things that did the trick, and I'm just too dim to catch that.

Being careful not to spoil, I can mention something revealed in the first 10 minutes: It winds up being a sort of non-parable parable about kids getting super telekinetic powers.

I have to say that I expected many layers in this story, and what bit of layering may have been present really gets eclipsed by the flick being (as I say in my heading line) a kind of SFX snack plus largely unfiltered teen angst. If you can imagine the outcome from a storyline so hedged in, you probably have a good idea what to expect from this movie.

So I can't heartily recommend it. I know there's a subculture that fawns on CGI-dense movies... but I don't run with that sort... don't really know their expectations... so I'm not sure if I can recommend the flick to them.

If you expect narrative richess from a flick, skip it. If you expect colorful character from a flick, then maybe. If you get a rush from particularly well-executed CGI, then... I dunno what to tell you.

The Salvation
(2014)

Art Film quality "wild west" portrait of evil
The best first thing you can say about this flick is that it's good old, down-home, operatic storytelling and character development.

After that, it's icing on the cake. The production values are fantastic, and the direction and acting is spot-on.

If you find western revenge dramas to be your thing, definitely check this one out.

The Cell
(2000)

Art Direction: 1001%!!! Mythos: Rube-Goldbergian....
What can I say? You kind of expect the premise of a story to be reasonably tidy. If I set forth to state the premise of The Cell, it'd take about 3 minutes to do so, which is 2.5 minutes too long. The mythos is bizarrely reticulated, both quantitatively AND qualitatively, as in; some of the elements of the belabored premise individually strain credulity past the breaking point.

But.... what a visual marvel! En route to driving home the over-wrought concept I daresay you will get your money's worth just in terms of the strenuously-yet-delicately wrought dream sequences.

I should add a touch of the snob, here. Bunuel taught me that dreams in movies should dance on the fault line between the inscrutable and being amenable to pithy interpretation. Are these dream sequences so amenable? Yes and no.

If it weren't for the extreme nature of the mythic aspect--that is, if they'd been able to drape the amazing visuals over a neater, more streamlined premise--It would've rated at least one more star for sure.

So I guess that sums it up. If amazing art direction to flesh out an over-wrought premise is OK with you, the flick is definitely worth watching.

The Doctor and the Devils
(1985)

Hate to say it for something as (very) well-intentioned as this production
I came across a slim volume at a cut-rate book sale in university back in 1973; it was Dylan Thomas's made-for-TV screenplay for "The Doctor and the Devils".

It was a great read. I was impressed by how Thomas cleverly broke the action into small mini-scenes; you could call it short-attention-span theater, but I've gotta admit reading it was cinematographic: I felt like I was watching TV.

So here's a Mel Brooks production, roughly based off the Thomas script.

In truth, the story's changed quite a bit, but the spirit is the same. There's a tone to the movie which I think the director took from the script, which is simultaneously sage and florid... if you can imagine such a thing!

So... if I have a misgiving about the movie, it's that the tone worked in the book, but somehow seems cheap and hammy in the movie.

That's my sole complaint. Too bad that complaint colors my experience of the movie from start to finish!

But... what's to recommend? The actors took direction VERY well. I was amazed at Twiggy: She is a true dramatic force in this flick, and (come to think of it) she somewhat tempers the tone issue I mention above. Hmm.

In general, the production values are fine.

I suppose if you want to take in the story, this flick will do. It delivers the tendentious payload--the dance of dawning scientific achievement, shabby preening moralism, and honest moral issues--quite nicely.

I wish I could give this at least a 9. But it doesn't feel right. It's that "tone thing", y'know?

L.A. Confidential
(1997)

Well-nigh Perfect
L.A. Confidential is straight-up storytelling, well done.

It's hard to know where to step in to comment on the flick; there are so many possible ports of entry. Perhaps the best place to start has to do with its vast portrait of corrupt officialdom. So, if you're the kind of person who gets drawn in to crime stories with broad swathes of moral grey, hesitate not: Watch it now.

The flick is rewarding simply from its richness. It has so many layers and treatments and telling scenes and exchanges. So if I start expounding on a symbol or metaphor, it's a fart in a flaw.

But I want to try, anyway.

Here's a little something that I can recommend by way of a recurring symbol that might help anchor you as you start taking in the firehose of imagery:

The flick really centers around Ed Exley's character, played by Pierce. He's the guy who's dancing on the fault line between two aspects of law enforcement practicum; a stoic, fact-basis and a romantic, belief-basis. And the writing fixes on a very clever image that you can see as a key to this dance: Exley's eyeglasses. They dance on and off his face, and you can dependably see this as a symbol of his understanding of law enforcement practice; which starts out vacillating, but eventually settles on a clear vision of true law enforcement in a decent republic. This vision ascends, takes hold, and ushers him into the vortex of the film's crisis confrontation.

This is the heart of a story in which the images informing your understanding of that heart is as deep as it is broad. That's how great this flick is.

Check it out.

See all reviews