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The Queen's Castle

Stunningly dull
I found this series to be annoying and irritatingly tedious. I'm generally interested in royal stories. I've been to Windsor and found it interesting. But somehow these three hours managed to leave me put out that I wasted all that time. While the producers were supposedly given free reign to wander the precincts for a year, the series ends up being repetitive and dull. It seems clear that they managed to spend serious amounts of time with only 5 or 6 people (the castle warden, the clockmaker, some cowmen, the fender-men and the Duke of Edinburgh) and simply chop up these film bits over the course of the series. We are told over and over again that the castle is old ("through 40 reigns") that the current occupants are mere custodians, that it is "a living castle". Large stretches feel more like a tourist brochure than any kind of "in depth" study of the castle's workings. The producers also spend far too much time on a couple of set pieces which are not anywhere near as interesting as they want you to think they are --- did we need so very much time seeing maids dusting?, the clock-man resetting all the clocks at the end of daylight saving time?, the footmen preparing the tables for state dinners? Surprising, only the interviews with Prince Philip prove interesting, as he has been responsible for overseeing this estate for 50 years and has clear and strong opinions about things that he is not afraid to state.

The saddest bit is that this series plays fully into the argument of those who claim the monarchy is an absurd anachronism. Thousands of hours and millions of hours are spent maintaining an odd sort of half life at Windsor for the monarch and her family to play out ceremonies that everyone admits are pointless. The Queen and her family regularly appear looking bored to tears (as they well might be-- trapped in a gilded cage doing nothing of consequence) and smacking on professional smiles to make it through the inanity.

The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch

Blegh - more like a home movie
A not terribly interesting documentary about a modestly successful performer/writer whose work -- at least as it is shown in the movie -- comes across as fairly "one-note" and hilariously amusing only to those who participated in making it.

You have to be a little suspicious of the need for a documentary about someone's life when 80% of the interviews are with his family, his lover and a single member of his old theater company whose insistence on the "importance" of the work she did with him in the late 1980's seems geared just as much toward her own importance as it might be to explaining why we should spend all this time learning about Busch. Perhaps the filmmakers had a hard time finding anyone outside their subject's immediate circle who felt a need to say anything about him. There's no way to know whether that's the fault of the subject matter or the fault of the documentarians.

Maybe you had to be there. But a good documentary should give you the sense that you were.

Berlin - Die Sinfonie der Großstadt

Koyaanisqatsi without the pacing
One can understand why this film might be important to the development of a certain film aesthetic. One can understand why it might have been interesting to view back in its day. But (much like Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera) I found it dull to watch today. Much early 20th-century fascination with large machinery, lots of shots alluding to "man as cog in the machine" Leninism, etc etc etc. And, as someone else here has noted, a number of the the "documentary" shots were clearly staged, which undercuts somewhat the life-on-the-street feeling the film is trying to convey.

It is somewhat interesting to see pre-WW2 Berlin, but the editing moves so quickly that one really can't get a good sense of the city. I understand that, arguably, that was part of the point -- e.g. that all cities are the same, but being able to really look at pre-war Berlin might have made it a more intriguing film today.

Overall, to me at least, it felt too much like a series of nickelodeon shorts pieced together for a false, or at least dated, effect.

I Was a Male War Bride

Just terrible
A remarkably un-funny "comedy" that seems to lose its way almost from the beginning.

Much of the so-called humor centers on the bureaucracy and rigidity of the American military in post-WW2 Europe -- e.g., no place for a male "bride" to sleep because the military was used only to male soldiers marrying, or only the woman can drive the motorcycle because rules say you have to have been checked out for motorcycle driving and Grant's character isn't. I can see where this might have been amusing in its day for an audience of ex-GI's who could laugh and say "yes, yes, that's really how it was" but that humor of recognition ages quickly.

But it's not just the age/context of the movie that makes it not work. Cary Grant is clearly meant to be playing one of his patented "slow burn/sarcastic boyfriend" types. But here it just doesn't work --- I think it's because he's given little to work with --- Sheridan's character is not wacky enough to pull the audience along with Grant's frustration. In fact, most of the things that she does that allegedly irritate Grant are quite reasonable (taking care of performing his "mission" in the first segment when he's unavailable, or working through the complexities of the military red-tape in order to make their marriage happen.) If anything, it is Grant who is the screwball -- which may be the central problem.

The film's pacing also seems very off in many places -- jokes that should be punchy are drawn out and slow (and therefore not funny).

All in all, a big disappointment.

The Departed

Remember when Scorsese used to make GREAT movies?
This is not a terrible movie, but it's hardly worth the investment of 2-1/2 hours of your time.

Mostly it feels like a well-filmed (and over-long) TV cop show episode. All very tense. All very "who's really the bad guy and who has figured out who is good and who is bad" with Boston ethic gloss on it (lots of "Southie" accents. Lots of "F..k you" "No F..k YOU" dialog. Lots of bloodshed at unexpected times (it is Scorsese after all).

But what it seems to lack is that ironic edge that makes the great Scorsese films great. It's just a little too much involved in the plot.

The acting is...expensive. I was mostly impressed with Scorsese's ability to convince a studio to pay to have Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson ALL appear in one movie at the same time and then to also add in Mark Wahlbern, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. But none of the performances were anything to write home about (though doubtless there will be a huge Oscar push for everybody -- but I'm thinking no winners because, if nothing else, they may all cancel each other out.) Damon and DiCaprio's important scenes felt a little "acting school." Martin Sheen was working hard not to be President Bartlett. Wahlberg was walking through a "Southie" caricature and Nicholson was once again trotting out the old crazy Jack routine.

Visually, things were not helped by the fact that the film does a good job of looking like Boston, which I generally find to be one of the least interesting looking large American cities. Even the iconic (in the movie) shot of the State House is sort of dull and when two characters talk about moving to another city, I found myself thinking "Please do, I'm tired of looking at Boston."

Some nitpicks --

1. A slightly big deal is made of the fact that the shrink didn't go to Harvard. Then why is she wearing a Harvard shirt later in Damon's apartment?

2. This is yet another one of those movies that mostly makes sense, until it has a plot point involving technology. The, it behaves as if no one involved has ever really used anything invented after 1970. We get miraculously taped cell phone conversations that clearly weren't being taped when we saw them the first time. Or police personnel records that can be completely deleted by the press of one button by one person. Very Charlie's Angels.

3. In an already long movie, why do we have to see the whole "giving the envelope to the shrink" scene when the fact that she has the envelope does not have anything to do with how the last 15 minutes of the movie works out?

...and a couple of other similar silly things that kind of don't really add up when you think about them. They don't ruin the movie, but add to the sense that one is watching a film that is a bit more slipshod than it should be, given the high gloss of its cast and crew.

So, all-in-all, a movie to pass away a slow night at home on the DVD but nothing worth rushing out to the cinema for.


Not even bad in a "fun" way
Just dull dull dull dull dull. Oh -- and pointless. What "art" there is in this movie is limited to still compositions. A great work to demonstrate the importance of a cinematographic eye rather than a compositional one. Some pretty black and white pictures of fruit ripening on the vine and some waving wheat. A silly segment where a man discusses the fact that he's about to die, gets a little something to eat and says "ok I'm going to die now" and does. Other than that -- 70-odd minutes of obscure and ineffective propaganda in favor of tractors and collectivization. If Lenin had seen this movie he would have gone into investment banking, rather than waste more time espousing communism. Please don't waste your time on this.

Dinner at Eight

Surprisingly Bad
Well I was sort of shocked at what an un-entertaining film this is. I usually love these 1930's "it's the Depression but everyone in this film owns evening dress" movies, especially the ones that were released pre-Code. And there are some nice performances from Misses Harlow, Burke and Dressler. But the tone of the picture is -- well to call it uneven would be a compliment -- some scenes are farce, some are dramatic, some are tragic and others to be honest are just a bore -- together they just make for a big mess. At best it's an interesting study in how Hollywood was still struggling to come to terms with this medium - particularly with the advent of sound and the need for real scripts with more complex stories than were the norm in silents. I don't know that I'd say it's not worth seeing, but I wish I'd gone into it with much lower expectations.

America America

And this won awards?
Reading the rave reviews here, I feel a bit like the boy in the Emperor's New Clothes, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I found this movie almost unwatchable. I really don't understand the cult of Kazan -- I wonder if sometimes he doesn't benefit from a kind of reverse discrimination -- some people just determined to like the films --- good or bad -- just to spite those who feel so strongly about his political / ethical behavior in the 1950's. (FYI - from what I understand of it all, I can't say that I think he behaved as well as possible, but I have no problem separating that from his movies.)

The movie is pretty in some parts, but I found the acting to be clichéd and hackneyed. The dialogue was worse and was aggravated by the fact that the actors were apparently all directed (or at least allowed ) to SHOUT LOTS OF THEIR LINES (to show that they are a heartfelt peasant folk wearing their emotions on their sleeves? Or maybe just to try to keep the audience awake.) The fact that most of them do it with a Lower East Side New York accent is just a bonus. Except the lead, who somehow picked up a Greek-ish accent (it starts to sound more Latino as the movie goes on) in a village where his parents and neighbors sound like Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks (no wonder he wants to go to America.) But he doesn't talk so much -- his specialty seems to be long, dark smoldering looks. I guess the looks are meant to substitute for motive -- while he is obsessed with getting to America, it's hard to believe that his desire to do so overwhelms the other opportunities he's presented with in Constantinople ------ frankly, he ends up seeming a bit simple-minded throughout the film.

I agree with the commentator who noted that there aren't a lot of movies that deal with the Armenian genocide, but I don't see where that means you should celebrate a bad one (especially one that is really about the Greeks anyway, not that they were treated well by the Turks either). I certainly don't think that a movie that perpetuates every dumb stereotype about Greeks and Turks and immigrants (and Americans, come to think of it) is anything worth getting excited about. I'd say the only reason to rush to get this one on DVD is that it'd be easier to fast forward through it than on VHS.

The Informer

Only for those who like their scenery well-chewed
Well, I'll start by admitting I'm not a John Ford fan. (I watched "The Informer" only because I'm trying to work my way through a list of the "greats.") So if you are, just move along, 'cause you're not going to agree with me.

What an overwrought and dated piece of silliness this is! I will say that there is a good idea for a movie here (it made me think about how few films there are about the Irish Revolution) but, as usual, Ford is determined to bury it under over-acting and cheap sentiment. I suppose it's somewhat interesting to watch for a while in order to see the less-than-seamless transition that was being made from the silents to the "talkies" -- the acting styles of some of the principals have that overbroad quality endemic to early films and movie does feel as if it might play better with title cards than spoken dialogue. (Of course, title cards would prevent Ford from restating every bit of emotion six times.) What dialogue there is usually has a "They're always after me Lucky Charms!" quality that is aggravated by the fact that each actor seems to have been allowed to use his or her own personal version of an Irish accent. Of course, as bad as they are, the accents are helpful in reminding us we're in Ireland because the sets mostly look as if they were dragged in from from some German expressionist piece being filmed on the next soundstage over. (It feels as if, with an eagle eye, you might see some villagers off to torch Dr. Frankenstein in the background.)

Techniques change. Tastes change. So I won't go off on how crazy it seems that this film was so acclaimed in its day. But it's not one of the classics that hold up --- more just "fair warning" about the kind of over-simplified malarkey to which Ford was going to devote his career.

The River

Tedious and offensive - Watch the Apu Trilogy Instead
I'm at a loss, frankly, to understand why people rave about this film. I saw it this evening and was aching for it to end.

The picture seems to alternate between being a Cooks Tour Indian travelogue and a tedious domestic drama in the worst of the British Raj tradition. The white people are all very serious and say things that I think are supposed to be profound but, for the most part, simply sound ludicrous. (There's actually one mother-daughter scene where daughter is told that the pain of childbirth is nothing compared to the joy of making a child for the husband you love. I expect that the "close your eyes and think of England" line ended up on the cutting room floor.) The tedious story is aggravated by some of the worst acting you're likely to have the chance to see in a single two hour sitting and an endless voice-over narration that seems to substitute for actual filmic storytelling. (Plus there are a couple of unbelievable moments -- like when the 13/14? year old English girl is apparently free to wander about the town by herself. I'm not saying she wouldn't have been safe, but I find it hard to believe she would be allowed to do that.)

But rest assured that all the Indians we see are seen only through the lens of how picturesque their impoverished lives are --- especially when you're watching from the veranda of your big English house. Everyone seems to spend the day playing music or bathing in the river or preparing for a festival. How fun!!!

I can only think that the supersaturated Technicolor was overwhelming to audiences in the 1950's and that people hadn't really seen anything about India before. To me today, it comes across as a garbled mess -- like a Powell/Pressburger film made on a $2.95 budget. Ugg.

If you want to see some wonderful film-making about the real India of roughly the same period watch any (or all) of Satyajit Rey's amazing "Apu" trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar) instead.

Cool Hand Luke

The "Hogan's Heroes" of prison movies
Neither the prison, nor Luke's decision to try to escape from it, makes much sense and, for me, that spoils the rest of the movie.

NOW, I don't think it's any fun to be on a prison road gang, nor to spend any time in prison, no matter what the conditions. But up until the first time Luke tries to escape, it seems that, as a prison goes, this one is pretty mellow -- all the prisoners seem to get along, the guards (while clearly not nice guys) don't seem to bother anyone who follows the rules and, while you spend your days doing awful road work, everyone still seems to have lots of free time to play cards, strum the guitar, sing, have silly egg-eating bets (apparently it's no big deal to have the cook prepare 50 eggs to settle a bet) and chat. In many respects the place comes across as a really really strict summer camp. Even when Luke is put "in the box" after his mother dies, it seems unpleasant but not horrific.

So all-in-all the prison feels a little too much like Stalag 17 on Hogan's Heroes -- where the camp seemed like a pretty mellow place to pass the war.

Therefore, given that Luke seems to fit in well with his fellow prisoners and that he ONLY HAS A TWO YEAR SENTENCE, it seems a complete surprise when he makes a run for it. Part of the surprise is that Luke doesn't seem like an idiot (why run when you haven't got a lot of time left), nor are we shown or told of any frustration to get out that he's feeling.

Now, of course, I don't believe that prisons were or are anywhere near resembling the relatively tolerable world we're shown here. And once Luke does start bucking the system, I believe what happens. But I find it hard to believe the central character's initial motives when there doesn't seem to be much to be running from and, from what we know of his backstory, he's got nothing in particular that he's running to.


I think I understand what Cassevetes was after here, but I think this film is just awful. Bunch of drunken alcoholics talking 60% nonsense. Not listening each other. Basically-- it's terrible to be a lonely middle-aged drunk in the 1960's. In case you didn't know that. All in black and white, so you know it's "art." What makes it worse is the often over-the-top ACTING. Everybody YELLS A LOT because they are ACTING - trying to show us how drunk lonely people would be. Except that the dialog is often pompous and not at all how anyone talks, let alone very ordinary drunken folks. And they all LAUGH A LOT at nothing, presumably because they're DRUNK but it's really not at all how drunken people behave -- just a bad parody of it.

To try to avoid some of the flamers, I will happily admit that after seeing a couple of his movies, I am REALLY not a Cassevetes fan and I'm not saying that others might not enjoy the film for some reason, nor that the film wasn't, in its own way, important and influential in it's day (and maybe even now). But, for me, it was mostly artless and self-important and I'd rather stick a pin in my hand than watch it again.


I didn't like it much, but with the poor reproduction, who can really tell for sure.
I can't say I agree with the praise heaped on this movie. I really enjoyed Open City, but here the amateurish acting, I feel, really hurts the movie. In the first sequence, in particular, I had to resist just turning the movie off, it was so bad.

Moreover, the structure of the film, while an interesting thing to attempt, didn't really work for me. The characters are only briefly limned and (spoiler coming) there's a tragic/weird twist to the end of each story, so that you just start anticipating the twist. I ended up feeling as if I were watching a series of poorly filmed O. Henry stories after a while.

I will also add my voice to the complaints about the quality of the tape I watched. Regardless of what I think, this film is considered an important one by an important director. The awful visual and sound quality -- and the poor translations/lack of full translations certainly are a sin. Who has the DVD rights and why haven't they acted on them?

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney

Fun, if you like this sort of thing (which I do)
SPOILERS BELOW ===================== So many criticisms here on the board, but most of them seem to focus on things like bad "ahhccents" and Production Code compliance. To me, such elements are just part of watching a movie from the 1930s -- (sort of like heavy-handed social welfare themes and hyper-realism in films from the 1950s.) If you know such stuff bothers you, you shouldn't be wasting your time on a 1930's pic (just as I tend to avoid those black & white issues pictures from the '50s.)

But, if you can see your way past those endemic elements, this is not at all a bad film. The plot's sort of interesting (I was completely taken in before the big twist about 1/3 of the way into the movie), it has a nice amount of 1930's "isn't it just lovely to be rich?" fantasy, the acting is first rate and it's nice to see Crawford playing a (sort of) nice girl and Powell playing a (sort of) bad guy. In the trivia section it's said that Myrna Loy was originally supposed to play Crawford's part. Now, I ADORE Myrna Loy, but I actually think it was more effective to see Crawford here. With Loy and Powell in the movie, you would have known throughout that everything was going to end up light and cheery and romantic because that's the universe those two inhabit. But with Crawford, you just never know exactly where you're going -- is she going to be a good girl? Will romance overcome greed. Is she suddenly going to shoot someone? Will she go insane? I think she actually added some heft to the storyline.


Dull and dreary
What a tedious few hours this film makes for! I enjoy Shakespeare and Hamlet is (obviously) one of his great plays. But not if you only knew it from this version.

As others have said here, it's difficult to understand all the acclaim this film received in its day. Quickly looking over the list of "Hamlet" films on IMDb, it does seen that this 1948 production was the first filmed version since the silents (or at least the early talkies) so maybe that was part of it. And I suppose at the time the staging and set might have seemed unique (?). But it just came across to me as VERY stage-y, and far too dependent on clouds of dry ice smoke for atmosphere.

The setting also suffers from an odd combination of not enough people (many scenes where nobody else seems to inhabit this big castle except Hamlet) followed by too many people (rooms suddenly fill up out of nowhere with hangers-on and courtiers). The castle is just WAY too big and full of odd, useless spaces that were probably meant to give you a sense of Hamlet's confusion and isolation but instead had me thinking about how big the soundstage must have been to build all these sets and what a pain it must have been to film and the tracking shots as the actors moved around. And the matched set of 6 trumpeters appearing out of nowhere to play elaborate fanfares every time the King walks by felt like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. I kept expecting them to turn sideways and be playing cards.

The age thing? The fact that Olivier was 41 is not the problem. It's the fact that with the heavy theatrical makeup and bad blond dye job/wig he looks 52. Part of what Hamlet is about is the problem of being a young adult confronting big issues for the first time in your life. In this version, you keep wondering why this middle-aged man can't get it together.

As for Olivier's talents -- well, he certainly does have the technical ability to speak Shakespeare in a way that generally makes sense of the words -- but good phrasing is NOT the same thing as being able to ACT it well.

In all, there was not one aspect of this film that made me think it was worth watching it. It gets a "3" from me only on the strength of it being Shakespeare's text (or at least some of it.)

Ma vie en rose

A disturbing film that's more about the trauma of bad parenting than anything else
I find myself at an unusual loss trying to decide how to rate this film. All in all, I think I don't think I liked the film, but some of that is due to problems in the film while some stems from problems in the characterizations and the degree to which I was bothered by how the parents of the child related to him. I also think that it is ultimately a sad film that is hurt by the attempt to attach a sort of sunny "everything's gonna be OK" ending.

In parts, I think this film does a great job of portraying how a young boy, who might be effeminate or who might be gay or who might be transsexual, experiences the world as his personality begins to come into conflict with the ways in which a the world expects a young boy to behave. I think it captures well the sense of confusion and panic that can occur to any child when the sense of a warm, safe family environment is suddenly punctured when it bumps up against societal expectations --- when YOU aren't doing anything different than before, but suddenly everyone is unhappy with you.

I do feel that the reactions of the community to this child seemed over-the-top and unrealistic. The idea that the whole neighborhood would band together to ostracize a family who has a 7-year old boy who likes to wear dresses and play with dolls is hard to believe. Of course, we live in a world where in the same week, the Texas legislature can vote 135-6 to ban gay foster parents while the Connecticut Senate votes 26-8 to allow allow same-sex civil unions, so geography may be destiny, and maybe there really are parts of France where parents would sign a petition to oust an effeminate 7-year from his school and the school would agree.

To me the emotional heart of the movie was in how the parents behaved, rather than in how the child was reacting. I was horrified by many of the things they said and did (or didn't say and didn't do) to their son as the movie went on. One of things in this movie that left me sad is that, while I think we are supposed to believe at the end that all is well and that the parents have accepted their son as he is, there is really nothing in their behavior throughout the rest of the movie that helps you believe this. They both reject him so thoroughly and are ultimately so MEAN to him (especially the mother, who on more than one occasion blames him to his face for their troubles) that one has to think they will continue to do so. They seem to under-react to the freezer incident (which was, after all, a SUICIDE attempt by a 7 year old (!!!!) And, the fact that the family appears so loving and supportive in the beginning of the film (and that the other "straight" children appear happy and well-adjusted) only underscores the horror of what the their other son must be experiencing as HE is rejected by these otherwise supportive parents. But, I also felt that all of the parents' bad behavior was out-of-character given what we are otherwise shown about them in a way that suggests there is a problem with the script/characterizations.

(As an aside, I also found it odd that many conversations in the film that I would expect to take place privately took place with a larger audience - i.e. the child is present when the shrink talks about the boy's behavior, the other children are present when the parents fight about the boy, etc. But I don't know if this is bad writing or if these are just US/France cultural differences in play.)

Either way, and no matter what the end of the movie would have you think, the boy has been pretty battered by how he's been treated (especially by his parents -- it's one thing to have the world against you, but if at any age, let alone 7 years old, you don't have a safe secure home world, you're really screwed) and I don't think you get over that very easily. Heck, he MOVES OUT at the age of 7 to live with his grandmother because everyone recognizes he'll be better off there. And then is effective forced back home because the family is moving. He's lost the innocent security of childhood years before the age that most people are forced to go through that.

So, I didn't hate the movie and it had moments that felt very truthful (I loved when the psychologist tells the boy that there just may be things that his parents will never understand -- I'm just not sure he was at an age to really hear her) but there is a lot of stuff in the movie of which I am suspect and which feels contrived. If it is contrived, there's a problem, but to the extent that it's just reflecting a reality other than what I think exists, then maybe it's good. But, either way, I am bothered by the suggestion in many reviews that this is some sort of "feel-good" movie. At the end of it all, you still have a boy who has been traumatize by this family and neighbors and who is likely to continue to face similar problems for years to come.

Beau travail

Don't be fooled! The "eye candy" isn't worth it, either
Dull, dull, dull.

I will admit I decided to watch this film for the purported "eye candy". But I kept watching because I was promised an meaningful interpretation of "Billy Budd" in the Foreign Legion. (I had also watched Dietrich and Gary Cooper in "Morocco" earlier in the day and was intrigued by the idea of watching 2 films set in the French Foreign Legion in the same day.) The film pretty much fails on both counts. There are some interesting looking guys who are filmed at times in various states of dress looking hunky and hot in the Mediterranean sun -- but this is not a flesh feast or even a good old-fashioned war movie. You can do better in that regard with a documentary about the Navy Seals. As for the storyline - I think I understand what the director was going for --- a sort of stripped-down minimalist storytelling that echoes the minimalism of the North African landscape and architecture. But it really doesn't work. Instead, one just feels that nothing is really happening and that the few incidents we are shown seem unconnected and often pointless. (And, of course, maybe that is deliberate and meant to evoke the pointlessness of military existence, but, even if so, it's not very entertaining and it doesn't really teach us anything we don't already know.)


Another "gay cinema" mediocrity
Wasted my time, yet again.

Yes. The boys are cute and the film is (in some parts) kind of sexy.

But, if my only goal is to watch sexy boys on film, I have a couple of boxes of porn in the house. I sure don't MIND seeing David Sutcliffe stripped down to nothing getting into the shower or watching hot Latin boys making out, but why waste an hour and a half just for 8 minutes of that?

It's not just the boys that serve as a misleading draw -- the story itself seems to promise intrigue it never delivers. The "hook" of the story is the suggestion that there is some deep mystery behind Pablo's disappearance -- but, as it turns out, the "mystery" isn't so mysterious and there doesn't seem to be any reason that Pablo, or his mother or one of the other characters wouldn't have disclosed it to Dean early on. In fact, the entire set up ends up being incoherent and silly. It's one thing to have some mystery about people's motives, but much of every characters' behavior makes no sense here.

As others have pointed out, the tone of the film jumps all over the place, although the story is pretty clearly a noir that should have had a consistent line of increasing darkness. The film also felt as if it were made up of 25% filler -- transition scenes that went on too long, characters who spend too much time standing in a window looking off into the distance after a dramatic moment. It felt edited much like a last minute draft of a 15-page term paper that needs to be 20 pages long --- big font, extra deep margins, wide spacing, etc.

The biggest problem probably is that in the lead Mr. Sutcliffe was (other than physically) either miscast or out of his depth. His character clearly is supposed to be edgy and deeply troubled. But he seems unable to subsume his genial boyish affect sufficiently to make the audience believe that there is any real danger in his character, even when he's waiving a gun around and threatening people. What should feel like anger and desperation comes across as sulky churlishness.

Oh...and, even if he doesn't speak Spanish, don't you think that somebody who was in a relationship and living with a Latin man named "Pablo" would have stopped pronouncing his name as "Paaaablo" after a couple of months?

Or maybe that's the real reason Pablo left him.

Fatty's Tintype Tangle

Arbuckle is the funniest
Y'know, usually silent movies drive me a little batty. Charlie Chaplin makes me crazy -- he had to do every joke twice and he's too busy making a social statement. Buster Keaton is more interested in showing off the stunt than making you laugh. Harold Lloyd's character always seems a little too sad to be really funny.

But there's something about Fatty Arbuckle that just works for me. He's just silly and he doesn't seem to go over the top just to show off. Most important, I think, is that his characters don't seem lonely the way Chaplin Lloyd and Keaton's do.

Whatever, the reason, Arbuckle meets the real test...he makes me laugh more than the others. Particularly in this film, which has a nice little narrative and, like most really good silents, needs almost no text cards between scenes.

A Thousand Clowns

I watched this film mainly because "A Thousand Clowns" is one of those classic American plays that I had long heard about but never seen.

Now, it may well be a great play (though I have my doubts) but it is assuredly a terrible movie. So "stage-y" that I kept looking around for my Playbill. Its message feels dated and obvious (although to be fair, it may have had more emotional heft at the time it was made.) Jason Robards was a very good dramatic actor (and, yes, I know he played this part on Broadway to acclaim) but he's never had an particularly appealing affect and it seems to me here that one of the keys to trying to make this play work is that his character needs to be terribly charming. The best Robards can manage is a sort of grumpy kookiness. The kid, as played by Barry Gordon (and, to be fair, as overwritten by Gardner) comes across like an adolescent Woody Allen -- and I mean that in all the bad ways. Barbara Harris' character is a disgraceful and absurd portrayal of a modern women -- even given that the film is set in the early 1960's. (Apparently we are to assume that a women who recently earned her Ph.D. is ready to drop her nascent career to move into a one room apartment with some grizzled ne'er-do-well and his bastard nephew only 12 hours after meeting them).

All of the foregoing notwithstanding, what really makes this film painful to watch is the pseudo-"hip" filming and editing style where jump cuts occur without warning or purpose and where we go back and forth between a 1950's urban realism in one scene and a surreal "we're the only two people in Manhattan" empty city pastiche the next. Perhaps it felt interesting and experimental when it was made, but now it just comes across as odd and VERY over-mannered.

In retrospect, I would have been much better off just buying a copy of the play and reading it, rather than wasting 2 hours watching this. I find it hard to come up with any reason I would suggest someone watch the film.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

I don't quite understand the high rating for this film. It felt very ordinary to me.

McNamara is obviously a bright guy and leaves one hopeful that old age does not always cause a reduction in ones mental faculties. (Or, alternatively, that if you start out with a whole big lot of mental faculties, you're still gonna seem smart at 85, even if you've lost some.) Other than that inadvertent point, however, the documentary doesn't really tell a reasonably well-informed viewer much that one doesn't already know. McNamara is wise enough to recognize that he had an important role in the Vietnam debacle, but canny enough not to volunteer to take on more responsibility than he can comfortably shoulder. His conversations have the feel of having been well-honed in many an academic debate and cocktail-party social hour. Nothing too gruesome, nothing too righteous and always willing to acknowledge (with a genial smile) the possibility that he is wrong.

The frustration is that McNamara refuses to engage in any discussion of the moral/personal issues raised by his actions and that the interviewer lets McNamara get away with this refusal. Ultimately, therefore, the film sometimes feels like little more than an "insider-y" history of the war, narrated by a sort of "war celebrity." Ultimately, what's the point? I suppose McNamara has the right to keep his own counsel as to his personal feelings (and as to what was going on with his family -- he hints at all sorts of problems, including a FIRM assertion that all of his family benefited from his move into government...that just cries out that the opposite was the case) but if he's not going to open up, what we're left with feels like something one could have read more quickly in a magazine article.

The other problem with the film is that it ends up feeling both over-edited and padded with endless clips of bombs falling and meaningless close-up shots of tiny bits of text ("houses destroyed", "troop strength", "warmonger" etc. etc.) that are clearly there just to add color, with no real value of their own. The interview feels stretched-out and the "11 lessons" feel forced into the film as a pretty arbitrary framing device...they certainly weren't part of McNamara's thinking and they don't really help organize the material.

Still, this isn't a complete waste of time. McNamara is an engaging speaker and it is interesting to hear some of the thought processes of one of the "best and brightest" who has run large parts of US policy for a long time. But the film stops well short of being great.

Bad Influence

"The Fight Club" but without the mystery or excitement
Could have been the inspiration for "The Fight Club" in some ways -- it has the same dynamic -- wimpy yuppie boy inspired to greater strenghts (and pulled into the darkness) by footloose mysterious stranger who seems to have it all together.

The reason this movie doesn't work, I think, is interesting. I think they "mirror-imaged" the casting. Rob Lowe should be the yuppie wimp and James Spader the mysterious stranger who exudes both strength and danger. When you consider the types of roles these actors tend to play today, it seems bizarre that they were cast the way there were in "Bad Influence."

My Architect

Don't try this at home!!! Use a trained architect to design a building ... and a trained director to make a film.
A frustrating documentary. Louis Kahn's son, who saw his father only minimally during his childhood because he was a member of just one of the three separate families his father had created, takes on the task of trying to learn more about his father through an exploration of his architecture and his life. It sounds like a great idea for a documentary, but it ends up flat and uninteresting.

Sadly, the basic problem is that Kahn's son, Nathaniel, is not just one of the film's protagonists --- he is also director, writer, producer, interviewer and narrator. Nathaniel seems both too inexperienced and possibly too close to the material to function well in any of these roles. Further, while he seems like a nice enough guy, he doesn't have much screen presence, so the fact that he is the only constant in the film becomes wearing.

Nathaniel also comes across as an unprepared and amateurish interviewer --- there are several points where an interviewee makes an interesting or provocative statement and the camera cuts to a shot of Nathaniel offering little more than a blank stare and a sort of timid "uh-huh," as if he's a little panicked that he's going to have to come up with something to say in response. At times, I felt embarrassed watching people who might have had truly interesting things to say about Kahn (or at least better things to do with their time) seeming to realize that they were in the hands of an interviewer who was going to rely on them to direct the conversation.

Nathaniel's dual role as both documentarian and lost son seem to do more to hurt the film than help. One senses that some of the interviewees are a little reluctant to really open up about negative aspects of Kahn's personality and career, presumably because it's not clear from Nathaniel whether he's looking to dig into the truth or simply wants to hear nice stories about his Dad -- preferably ones that will confirm his hope that his Dad really did care more for Nathaniel and his mother than seems likely. His passive approach as an interviewer may stem directly from this conflict. The only person Nathaniel does push is his own mother, but those conversations tend to feel a little like bad teen drama (Aren't you ANGRY, Mom?") and don't offer much in terms of helping us (or Nathaniel) understand Kahn or the loyalty he evoked from those around him.

What the film desperately lacks is shaping by an experienced and independent hand, not to exclude Nathaniel, but to balance his subjectivity and inexperience. An independent director could have stood away from the material, given more thought to what the interviewees could contribute and, one hopes, cut out those portions of the documentary process that just don't work, such as the weird segment with the guy who claims to have see Kahn die (which made it look as if Nathaniel was just being taken in by some loony) or the entire bit about hooking up with Kahn's first cousin, who had nothing to add about Kahn or Nathaniel. Too many times Nathaniel makes us watch him standing in or near a Kahn building buttonholing strangers to tell them that his father was the designer. (Ahhh… huh. Thaaat's nice, sir. Umm…I gotta go now.) I understand why these things might be important to Nathaniel and that showing the documentary process is sometimes interesting, but this is one of those examples of when a documentary can be TOO personal.

As an aside, I thought the score written for the film was great! (But, one of the oddest moments in the entire thing for me was when, during the tour of the Kimball Art Museum, the voice-over quotes Kahn as making a comparison between architecture and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The music being played at the same time? Beethoven's NINTH Symphony. A mistake? A miscue? Who knows? It did make me laugh.)

Kahn was a great architect and it's clear that he was an unusual human being and had an intriguing life story. There's definitely a good documentary to be made about him. One is sympathetic to Nathaniel's search for the father he didn't know, but I'm not sure whether THAT is an interesting story. Neither works so well in this film.

The Twilight of the Golds

Much better and less didactic than I expected...
I have avoided watching this movie (or seeing the play upon which it is based) because I expected that it would be sort of low-quality and very "preachy." But, somehow I ended up with a VHS copy and fortunately in working my way through my VHS shelf, I got to it and threw it in the VCR for a look.

To my surprise, the film is actually pretty good. The number of strong actors in the cast helps a lot. I expected the storyline to feel mechanical but (although it is not wildly original and doesn't veer too far from where you'd expect) it actually is a step or two better than the the normal family-in-crisis-TV-movie. The actions and reactions of the characters feel reasonably realistic and not simply designed to create drama or lay out a series of points of view. And the author seems to assume that his audience has some intelligence, making his points without having any characters stand in front of a camera and "speechify." There are a couple of sort of annoying gay clichés that I would have loved to edit out, but nothing too wildly stupid.

And, of course, the underlying questions raised in the film about the coming problem of genetic engineering are both interesting and scary (and are related to any number of human characteristics beyond sexual orientation.) All-in-all, not a movie to set the world on fire, but a pretty solid and reasonably engaging piece of entertainment.

China Dolls

Offers some interesting insights.
This film offers commentary on the place of gay men of Asian background within the contemporary gay community. While in some ways the film is slight (only 30 minutes long and primarily consisting of "talking heads" interviews with a small number of gay Australian men from an Asian background) it makes some interesting and valuable points. (The fact that this is an Australian film does not take away at all from the applicability of the issues raised to gay life throughout Western society.)

The discussion of a "hierarchy of desire" within the gay community is a topic not often broached and it is interesting to see it addressed here. What was more intriguing to me, however, was the discussion of the difficulty that many Asian men have had in working with the issues that come up because of the difficulty in sorting out when they are rejected because they are Asian versus when they are actually being rejected .... well, on their own merits, if you will. I also was interested in the degree to which some of the interviewees acknowledged that they have found themselves discriminating against choosing Asian partners and the great sense of self-discovered a few of them felt when they actually did partner with another man of Asian descent.

The only objection I had to the film was that there is a sort of "drag" framing device (at several points between scenes we see a man making himself up with makeup and wearing what looks like a geisha or other classic Asian female outfit) that also seems to be used in the key art for the film. However the film itself has nothing at all to do with drag and introducing this element, I think, confuses the other issues that the film is really addressing (and, in fact, helps to perpetuate the gay-Asian-men-as-feminine stereotype that is being complained of.)

All-in-all, nothing that's going to change the world, but worth a look. One must also commend a documentary filmmaker who resists the temptation to try to make a feature film out of a short essay topic. At 30 minutes, this is just right.

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