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Time Trap

Interesting concept squandered
The technical strengths and conceptual potential of this movie are squandered in dull affair with incurious characters and no theme.

The medium of film, used well, leverages a maxim of "show, don't tell," but the characters here are constantly spouting exposition and verbally describing every single thing that happens from start to finish. Every interesting action happens off-camera for at least the first two thirds of the runtime--and arguably all of it. They introduce a literal Chekhov's gun, but the character carrying said gun serves exactly no other purpose in the story. Internal logic is inconsistent even within the bounds established by the film. In a science-fiction movie, the (all-white) characters ask no questions, follow no arcs, and never actually confront their central problem, from which they are saved by a deus ex machina. Many reviews point to the actors, but I think the real issues are the direction and scripting.

Still, it's an interesting concept that could be reworked into several interesting stories in the hands of someone who actually sought to tell those stories. A couple of well-staged shots near the end. Good use of lighting throughout, and the special effects are generally solid. But the potential was wasted on what comes off as a well-funded student film.

Jakob the Liar

A terrible, disgusting, festering sore of a Holocaust film.
This will include ***SPOILERS***, but take my advice now and don't ever see this movie. Jakob the Liar is based on the Jurek Becker novel "Jakob, der Lügner" (the same title, but in German). The 1975 film with an untranslated and identical title was the first film adaptation and actually the original idea for the text. The East German film production companies at the time would not make the movie, so Becker wrote a novel. The novel was published in both Germanies at the same time and was huge, so the movie idea became a reality and was also published in both Germanies at the same time. Stick with the originals on this, please, I cannot stress this enough.

The 1999 Jakob the Liar is an affront to the memory of the Holocaust. This COMEDY focuses around the character of Jakob, a Jewish café owner who now lives in an unnamed Jewish ghetto in Poland, about 400km southwest of Bezanika. Jakob is portrayed by Robin Williams, who, of late, has tried to shift the stereotype of his quite length string of goofy comedies to more serious roles (Patch Adams, Insomnia, One Hour Photo, etc.). It brings me no pleasure to say that he fails in this film. His goofy smile, jokes in pitiful context, and even some work with crazy voices all seem immensely out of place. The film is about bringing hope to the hopeless and doomed to die, not about bringing an occasional laugh to a viewer who couldn't bear to actually take a movie seriously.

Apart from the many pointless changes in this movie from the original film, there are quite a number of rather detracting changes that succeed only in making the whole tale much more unbelievable. Max Frankfurter (Felix in the original) seems to have kept a sizeable portion of wealth with him while most of the city fell into absolute squalor. In addition to hiding a radio (as he did in the original), he also has a working German revolver as a prop he used in his days as an actor, but he also has hidden a fine chess set (checkers in the original) and what appears to be a couple of sets of china and crystal. Professor Kirchbaum (just Professor originally) also has a rather large and well-decorated home (for the ghetto), and has managed to hang on to some medicine, a large set of crystalware, and a bottle of fine brandy. Jakob himself--while he doesn't have a radio--has managed to keep a turntable in pristine condition down in his café. Apparently, in this ghetto, the Nazis didn't even bother opening a closet to confiscate contraband from the imprisoned Jews.

Comical music plays every time the Jews are lined up to be fed, and they apparently dance around in line under orders before eating. Either this is some bizarre Nazi custom that has simply never before been addressed, or it just makes no sense whatsoever. Jakob's friend Kowalski also seems to have a wonderful time giving Jakob his free shave every day, regardless of any work that he or anyone else at his shop might have to do. Work days in the ghetto weren't exactly short, and didn't leave one happy and ready to go play.

During one work day, Herschel (Herschel Schtamm in the original) is shot for talking to whomever is imprisoned in the train. In the original, he sneaks up behind the car and the rest of the Jews carry on work to avoid suspicion. In this new version, the entire freaking work crew steps up and stares at Herschel as he makes a break to tell news to the train prisoners. Way to work together.

In the original, Jakob tells Mischa about the radio so that Mischa will not try to steal potatoes and get himself killed before even reaching the crates. He only speaks of news later in passing, and even then very rarely. In the new version, Jakob indulges the lies, making them grand and ridiculous. Yes, this plays on the peoples' need to hope, but it also makes the news much more comical and out-of-place.

Jakob finds Lina outside the walls, and insists on sneaking back in instead of chancing it outside. They had a better chance of living if they were out, as all ghettos were eventually liquidated; they were fortunate to have lasted until 1944. They sneak back in through a hole in the fence. If they knew about such an easy way to escape, why not tell people so that at least some could flee? In any case, it was more real than the radio.

In this film, Jakob is tortured and martyred, refusing to destroy the hopes of the ghetto prisoners. The Nazis could easily have shot him sooner, but they first attempted to break the morale of a ghetto that was going to be shipped off to the death camps in less than twenty-four hours anyway. How brilliant. The prisoners are then loaded onto the train and shipped off, only to be saved 50km outside of town by a Russian tank division who, for some reason, had a small band traveling with them (the accordion and accompaniment, not the dream sequence). What a nice and happy and TOTALLY UNREALISTIC ending to a comical movie about the Holocaust. In the original, Jakob, Lina, Mischa, Rosa, and everybody else are all shipped off in the trains and the film fades to black. Any ideas about a Russian division saving them are simply naïve. They all died, and that was the reality of life in the ghetto. Jurek Becker (the author, remember) spent eight years in the camps himself. He survived, but he wasn't part of any majority. It wasn't an unlucky few that were gassed and incinerated; it was six million people, and that was just the Jews. That's like killing everyone in the state of Washington and then making a movie about an entire city that survived by some random stroke of luck. It didn't happen that way, and that's not how it should be remembered. Hollywood needs to open its eyes if it thinks that this is any kind of representation of the Holocaust.

1/10 It might deserve more as a solitary film without any context at all, but this is a movie about the Holocaust. Disgusting.

The Matrix Revolutions

Maybe not what you wanted, but exactly what it should be.
I'll try to steer clear of SPOILERS, but no guarantees.

"Matrix Revolutions" is NOT some overblown techno-war movie full of nothing but explosions and Kung Fu. It is not a film filled with blinding action sequences to the point of ignoring the fact that people think and feel. It is not the original Matrix movie, though it does finish the story started therein. It doesn't have a sappy love-story ending, a suave Bond or Indiana Jones ending, an explosive Star Wars ending, a Highlander final-battle ending, or any other overused stereotypical hyped up Hollywood ending. In other words: this movie is probably not all of what you hoped and dreamed and wanted it to be. That being said, IT'S A VERY GOOD FILM. Just because it's not what you wanted it to be, just because the Wachowski brothers took it in a direction you didn't want it to go, just because characters have dialogue and don't just blow stuff up and fight the entire time does NOT make it a bad film. Your expectations were wrong, get over it and enjoy this movie for what it is and not what you wished it were or thought it should be.

I'll also let you know that I am a Christian man and I saw this movie in that context. If you think that you're the almighty king/queen of objectivism, you're an idiot. No one is completely objective; it isn't possible. You (or I) might be able to attempt to see something from alternative viewpoints, but that just means that we're not so subjective as to be blind. As a Christian man, I thought that Revolutions and indeed the whole Matrix trilogy was a marvelous story with better religious imagery than should even have been expected. If you didn't think that the religious imagery in this movie followed suit with the storyline, then you were fooling yourself by ignoring it in the first two. If you are offended by religious imagery, you probably won't like this film. You're also missing out on a number of the best movies ever since you'll have to strike off "Cool Hand Luke", "Shawshank Redemption", "The Godfather", "Star Wars", and many others for their use of religious symbolism (at least a dozen of the top 25 on this site, including all of the top 5).

Many people are digging at this film for having some rather corny, predictable dialogue. Those people are hypocrites. Most of the best movies ever are full of corny dialogue. Watch "Seven Samurai" or "The Godfather" or "Casablanca" again and shut up.

Revolutions has several sections where characters dialogue instead of battle. If you'd rather see nothing but explosions and combat, go watch "Rambo III", "XXX", or something equally mindless. The dialogue is deeply philosophical, concerning issues of choice, freedom, peace, existence, purpose, causation, and natural balance. In combining the action and the intelligence, the reality with the normative and meta-ethical consideration, this movie appeals to senses and minds instead of focusing on one and being devoid of the other.

"Matrix Revolutions" has action, but not too much. It has deep--albeit occasionally corny--dialogue, but not too much of either. It has a great deal of religious imagery, but it does so without being offensive to other religious beliefs (insofar as I understand). It has CGI, but it's used more delicately than the Smith battle in Reloaded. It is by no means perfect, but it is even less what many (dare I say most) people wanted it to be. The Wachowskis could have appealed to the masses and brought in more money and gone down in history as the makers of an innovative series of movies that represented the same braindead entertainment provided within their Matrix to keep the masses happy, but instead they went out on a limb and stuck to what they wanted the story to be: a combination of technology and theology that cinema hasn't seen before nor is likely to see again for a good while without being a copycat project.

I reiterate, this is a very good movie so long as you watch it for what it *IS* and not simply what you think it should be. 9/10

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Just wow.
A cinematically beautiful work by Tarantino without the flashy CGI effects and realistic gore that plagues contemporary film, the main thing that stands out about this movie is the absolutely ridiculous amount of bloodshed. All the (rather bloody) gore in the film is meant entirely to be over the top, and at that it succeeds. It's just that the bloodshed is over the top to the point of being one of the most memorable things (if not *the* most memorable thing) about the film.

Wonderful camerawork, extensive use of color, visual irony, beautiful women (from Darryl Hannah with one eye to the jaw-dropping Chiaki Kuriyama), a killer soundtrack, marvelous swordplay, but above all, enough fake blood to fill a lake. There's even an incredibly bloody anime sequence thrown in for good measure. It's entertaining enough to keep your interest, but bloody enough to make you feel like showering afterwards (so long as you're not too much into "Doppelganger", as that would just continue the trend). I personally have a very active imagination and am quite open to sympathy pain, so I probably won't watch this one but perhaps once more (right before vol. 2 comes out).

8/10. It would be 9, but you honestly don't understand how freakin bloody this film is until you've seen it.

Aus einem deutschen Leben

A very different sort of Holocaust movie.
"Aus einem deutschen Leben" (literally "from a German life", but titled "Death is my Trade" in the subtitled version) is a Holocaust film like none other that I've seen. Where "The Gray Zone" focused on life in Auschwitz, and "Jakob der Lügner" (aka "Jacob the Liar") focused on life in a Jewish ghetto, "Death is my Trade" centers on the life of Rudolph Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz II-Birkenau for the majority of its existence.

The main character's name in the film is Franz Lang. This name change was deliberate to ensure that the character is not automatically viewed as being some sort of villain or demon. Franz is an average German kid growing up during World War I. The film follows Franz as he grows up and becomes a hard, efficient, organized worker who eventually joins the National Socialist party in Germany. Impressionable young Franz takes orders as one of the utmost points of honor and duty, so when he is eventually asked by Heinrich Himmler to become commandant of the largest extermination camp built during WWII he barely hesitates to consider how heavy such a burden will be.

The film is based on the memoirs written by Rudolph Höss during the last few months of his life in a Polish prison before his execution in 1947. This is a beautiful look into the life of a German caught up in the Nazi "revolution" in Germany. It is beautiful because it does not demonize the Nazis as being inhuman; they were just as human as you and I. This film shows how it could have been anyone, but it just happened to be Rudolph Höss. A good piece of history even if it isn't the greatest work of cinema for the time. This movie wasn't made for entertainment; it was made to inform the ignorant.

7/10 for a film, but a true look into the humanity of the Nazis.

Shichinin no samurai

Ground-breaking, absolutely incredible film!
Seven Samurai is easily one of the greatest epic movies you can find on shelves today, and that's before you consider the fact that it is (as of this commentary) half a century old. One of this film's biggest claims to fame in western society is that the spaghetti western "The Magnificent Seven" was based completely around it, which is saddening as this is truly one of Akira Kurosawa's best works. A classic among classics, one must keep several things in mind when watching this movie to fully grasp how good it is.

First of all, don't forget that this movie was made in the 1950's. Don't expect flashy special effects, explosions, blood and gore, or a huge symphonic opening number in THX. They didn't have computers to help editing go perfectly, and fancier transitions (wipes, fades, dissolves, etc.) had to be done by hand, cutting the film up and putting it all back together. It's not up to today's standards, but it is by no means poorly or carelessly done.

Next, remember that this was filmed in Japan less than a decade after the end of World War II, with the country having been decimated by the most destructive weapon ever actually used in war. The Japanese economy wasn't exactly at its peak. The film didn't have the multi-millions of dollars that are budgeted for action movies today, but it is still seamlessly beautiful.

Lastly (off the top of my head)--and most important of all these--don't go comparing this movie to others you may have seen and think "oh, they got that shot from such-and-such". No they didn't. This is a true original, and various camera angles, filming styles, scenery setups, plot traits, character traits, and many, many other details of cinema are still mimicked after this film. This is, at least in part, the very foundation for a huge portion of spaghetti westerns, late westerns, and action movies.

A rare and beautiful 10/10. WATCH THIS MOVIE.

Lost in Translation

"Lost in Translation" is the first movie I've seen in a long time for which I didn't regret paying full price at the theater, especially after the brain-blistering acid trip of "The Hulk". Note that this movie is not fast-paced; it's more the pace of "Cast Away" than "The Fast and the Furious". It's also not Bill Murray as the total goofball we all know and love; this is a serious dramatic role for him, with just a lick of humour in the right places, careful not to overdo it.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a past-his-prime American movie star who is in Japan making some commercials for a whiskey. Though translators help him well enough to get by with conversation, he is lost in a search to reclaim his identity amidst the flashy technology and neon lights of modern Tokyo pop culture. His wife and children back home miss him, but they've grown used to their father's absence.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is two-years wed to John, a photographer on the job in Tokyo who is often away from the hotel room where he and his wife stay. Charlotte has a degree in psychology but is also searching for who she really is (or at least who she's supposed to be) in Tokyo's wealth of karaoke bars and arcades.

Their paths cross from repeated sightings of each other in the bar at all hours of the day and night, since neither is having much luck getting any sleep. They develop a warm friendship quickly, but each fights internally with sexual frustrations, loyalties, and choices that will shape their lives.

Bill Murray proves himself as a dramatic actor in this film, and the makeup artists do a wonderful job helping him along with how aged and tired he looks through most of the film contrasted against how youthful and bright he appears at certain points. Scarlett Johansson steps up as a precocious actress and tackles what had to be a difficult role for a 16-17ish year old (during filming) to play; it may not be hard to pull off 60 when you're 50, but it's really something when an actress can seem to be in her mid-20's with college and marriage behind her when in reality she's still of high school age.

Many bizarre parts of Japanese popular and underground culture are showcased in this movie. Perhaps some were played up a bit much, but that's part of the movie's charm as it sends protagonists and audience alike careening into a new culture.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but--personally speaking--this movie was a full 180 degrees from "The Life of David Gale", as the more I thought about that one the more I wanted to flip the switch myself. "Lost in Translation" left me wanting something else at first, but the more I thought about it the more I felt it couldn't really have ended better. As a final thought, I think the idea was not to be able to understand all of the last lines, and just to take it as was shown.

9/10, and it would be higher if it could appeal to a larger audience. This isn't a movie for everybody; it's a love it or hate it thing.


Poor even by typical "teen fright movie" standards.
Swimfan is a remarkably predictable tale of a swimmer who cheats on his girlfriend with a cello-playing swimming enthusiast with a too-late-to-be-surprising history of obsession and stalkeresque activities with any male into whose pants she can get. Next to this film even the likes of "The Faculty" (1998) seem to be well done. At least that one could fall back on science-fiction as a reason for how unrealistic it was; Swimfan has no such excuse for being so warped from reality.

This has a few ***POSSIBLE SPOILERS***, but who cares? If you've seen it then you already know it's bad, and if you've not seen it then take this as a notice to either save a few dollars or to rent something better, such as "Scream 8: It's Still the Same Movie" or "Rocky 19: Guess Who Wins This Time".

-Bad lighting. There are enough lights turned off in this film to make the X-Files look bright and cheery. Who turns off the lights in a school during classes? Or how about in a hospital EVER? And how many cellists do you know who perform to a crowd of withered old ladies with nothing but the dim, oddly bluish light from the "sun"?

-Painfully generic plot. How many times do I get to see a skanky sleep-around stalker lady with a history of obsessions and violent behavior go crazy over a generic jock with single-digit IQ? You'd think the movie cops would have a WANTED poster up for these kind of stereotypical characters.

-Ridiculously unbelievable plot. Schools with doors unlocked 24-7, nunneries where you can just walk into any room housing a comatose person at will, cops who read in the dark while drinking coffee with their guns on the wrong side of their belt and who sit in the back next to an accused murderer, an antagonist who can magically produce doctor's coats and scalpels at will and wander around a dark hospital under heavy security alone without being questioned or even seeing another conscious person, an antagonist who magically has a spare set of keys to her one-night-stand's car, a police force who absolutely refuses to believe any single thing that the protagonist says, a police force who will fully mobilize to capture a single person based on enough circumstantial evidence (and false evidence with obvious alibis) to fill a truck, and an unfolding of the plot as a whole as smoothly as dismantling a Rubik's cube with a submachine gun.

-What resolution? The movie just ends after the skanky-stalker-lady dies. It's that quick.

-Terribly typical dialogue. Amidst awkward "I love you"'s flying off in a very teenage manner, we get this subclassic gem: "No one will ever love you like I love you!" That's because no one else will ever try to prove they love me by getting me fired and kicked off the sports team, murdering a friend and my girlfriend, and trying to pin the murders on me!

Run from this one. Run fast, run hard, run now.

2/10, and that's only because I've seen some of the truest horrors of cinema. Films from the Polonia brothers should be the baseline for absolute garbage. Check out "Feeders" (1996), or "The House that Screamed" (2000) if you want to know what a 1/10 should be.

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