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First Reformed (2017)
Will God forgive us?
Basically a well done reworking of Schrader's own Taxi Driver (don't even see this if you haven't viewed that classic film first)- this film seems to almost address wrong headed questions that may have been directed at the original piece. "What if Travis was better educated" (Toller is obviously well educated) "If only Travis had good counselling instead of Peter Boyle's Wizard ?(Toller has access to good counsel)- Schrader's point is that it wouldn't make a difference. Rev. Toller, like Travis, is a victim of PTSD and is becoming more and more distanced from society (and,critically in his case, God). Thru his own attempts to help a troubled parishioners husband, he begins to view the church much in the way that Martin Luther (referenced numerous times in the film) did when he struck the first blow of the Reformation. Remember the name of the film is "First Reformed". Much in the way Travis channels his anger into a possible assassination attempt- Toller contemplates a violent action and similarly when it doesn't come off he is relegated to a back up plan. I think all the climate change stuff is a McGuffin-Schrader could have chosen any number of motivating injustices. In fact when Toller posts the sermon title "Will God forgive us?" It made me chuckle- I thought to myself "If he can see his way clear to overlooking a society sanctioning the murder of a full term infant- I think he might be okay with you not recycling your garbage."
The Wife (2017)
Stacking the deck....
Let's get the important stuff out of the way first. The performances in this are fantastic- by that I mean the two leads- hopefully Close will finally get the Oscar she so richly deserved (and was denied) for Dangerous Liaisons (better film and performance). Pryce actually has the harder part, trying to humanize this well worn caricature of the insecure, unfaithful, almost irredeemable husband with hardly a single good trait. He succeeds so well that it is not until you process the film later that you realize how tilted the playing field has been. That is usually the mark of an insecure writer/filmmaker who fears if they don't "stack the deck" , the audience will reach the "wrong" conclusions- have a little faith and maybe let him be a good father or be a shmuck but a faithful one- muddy up the waters and give us something substantial to ruminate on . The premise of the film is embarrassingly simplistic- but it is not without possibilities. As the film drew to its close I couldn't help but think to myself "I can fix this- do you want me to fix this?"
(I don't do "Star" ratings because I'm not a grade school teacher.)
Interesting reimagining with one MASSIVE flaw...
Like many a Suspiria (1977) fan I was horrified to hear that someone, anyone was going to remake Argento's masterpiece. As it turns out , Suspiria (2018) is actually a very fine film- albeit with one gigantic flaw that, while throwing the film off balance, doesn't prove to be fatal. The casting of Tilda Swinton as an 80 year old-ish male shrink is so bad that it's hard to believe that the idea was not killed upon the first viewing of the rushes. I don't know about everyone else but I spotted that 1) the male character was being played by a woman and 2) that the woman was Swinton in the very opening scene. Convinced that it was meant to be a secret I then prepared myself for the reveal to come. Surely there was a reason to have her play multiple MAIN characters in the piece. Very disappointing to find out later that it was all a lark- a vanity turn for the actor. The knowledge really colored the way I viewed every scene the Dr. was in and I never was able to fully engage with the character- as I always could "see the strings".
Aside from that, I can happily report that the film doesn't really try to compete with the original in any way- it is barely part of the same genre. This is a film with little to no suspense , it is a mood piece all about atmosphere with a little pseudo-intellectual message running through it. I don't mind some pomposity and profundity in my horror- so many modern horror films lack any vision at all- and the film achieves its goal of creating uneasiness in the viewer even if it can't manage to hold it together for a monterous two plus hour running time. It could have been so much worse- there is much here to like.
I don't do star ratings for films- I'm not a grade school teacher.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Lifetime Channel Horror
I've been racking my brain to recall a film or miniseries that had a finale so godawful that it ruins all that preceded it. The Sopranos came close- but there once was so much great stuff there (before money won the day) that the ending merely made me feel somewhat conned and not that I had wasted whatever time I spent watching it. Haunting of Hill House, alas, does not have such high points. Halfway through I was thrilled that I cared so little for the main characters that it was possible for the director to kill them all off, if necessary. But, as is often the case in horror, the last act of the story is exceedingly difficult to negotiate- even more so, as in this case, when the writer/director has lost his nerve. Even had he resorted to his "alternate ending" of the red room window behind the final celebration (much better)-
it still would not change the fact that the last episode is an unendurable amalgam of pyscho babble and narcissism more suited to the Lifetime Channel. The final act of a work of horror is not supposed to stop dead in its tracks with you checking the clock to see how much time is left. You can hardly recommend something with the warning "Just don't watch the last part". A somewhat promising beginning with a dismal and dull finish- I hope that doesn't become Flanagan's epitaph.
Interesting, if seriously flawed and sometimes uninformed , documentary about BRITISH and AMERICAN horror films. German and Italian films rate barely a mention (while Japanese films appear as a footnote before the film races off)- Hammer films are overpraised- didn't Nosferatu's Max Schreck have fangs well before Christopher Lee's?- and it seems the docu (like many) is too heavily influenced by those who they were able to get on camera and interview. Thus The Omen gets twice the screen time as The Exorcist, simply unforgivable. One gem is, however, John carpenter revealing his "scariest moment in psycho" and while I believe him to be incorrect it does explain his point of view as a filmmaker far better than an in depth discussion could.
Worth watching but not a masterpiece...
I rarely ever write reviews anymore- refuse to rate films on a 1-10 scale- and NEVER watch trailers (you guys who watch them- do you also answer phone calls telling you you've been selected to go on a cruise for free?). I, however, felt the urge to write a little concerning Eggers' The Witch- since I watched (and enjoyed) it and, after reading such disparate reviews I felt like chiming in with my own take.
I'll let you in on a little secret, if I hear about a film and want to decide if it's worth seeing, I come to IMDB and read the user reviews. If the film has many high AND low ratings from users-it's worth a try. The Witch was just such a film- horror films that are criticized for being "slow" and having "like no plot" in the low ratings are a slam dunk to be good.
This is really a very nice little film- but it could have been so much better. I felt that the director was probably made to compromise his vision of the psychological breakup of a Puritan family due to various issues (religious fervor, isolation, jealousy, insecurity, and most importantly the onset of puberty). I find it hard to believe that Eggers ever really intended for the satanic forces to be made visible to the audience (at least not in the sensational way they are)- the viewing of the witch and the baby early in the film destroys the possibility that what is going on here isn't really supernatural at all- and that is the lens through which this film presents its best face. I'd like to think he merely caved to pressure from "money guys" to "sex up his movie" to please the lower level viewers (and, indeed, he didn't even sex it up enough for those Philistines- who wouldn't know a great film if the screen fell forward onto their laps)- sadly this really hurts the film. I will say, however, that i will be anxiously waiting for his next film with the hope that as he achieves enough success he will be able to present his true vision. Developing.
The Florida Project (2017)
Last person out at IMDB please shut the light....
I don't come here much anymore. Since they took the boards away, the kind of specific information that I usually am looking for about a film (not how many "stars" it gets) isn't available . I did come after seeing "The Florida Project" to get some info on the director and other stars- I decided to read a few of reviews after the one showing on the main page was so negative. Looks like most of the serious film people have left- judging by the reviews I read. To see so many low rated reviews, well- if you are truly interested in film, you NEED to see this one. This is a great film, that's rare, and it's American and great- that's practically impossible! I'm not in the business of wasting my time explaining why a movie is great- when it's this great. You say you love movies, you say you're an avid moviegoer- but the truth is if you don't love this (to paraphrase another famous Dafoe character) "you're not for real." (Don't know what film I'm talking bout? Not surprised. Ever seen Bunuel's "Los Olvidados"? Probably not.) How many stars? If you care about stuff like that you're like one of those robots walking around Disneyland at the end of the film.
classic inspiring episode-
Thanks to all the IMDBers who reviewed this episode, I made sure not to miss it when Encore Movie Channel began running the AH Hours every weeknight at 11. I wasn't disappointed, even though I spotted the twist very early on (actually in the opening credits- or lack thereof).The ending more than made up for twist being ruined. It's quite a brilliant episode and still packs a wallop- and it had an undeniable influence on both Tobe Hooper (if he did indeed direct Poltergeist- and more so on Brian DePalma- the whole dream sequence ending of Dressed To Kill just has to be a reworking of this. Good performances all around- and what the heck is John Kerr doing in here?
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
a personal benchmark
I suppose in a way I owe a debt of gratitude to this film-it certainly ranks on my list of "essentials" for cutting my own critical chops. The "essentials" I'm referring to are films I absolutely despised that virtually everyone I knew (and the Oscars) liked. For years the mere mention of "pan-tees-hang-ing-in-the-bathroom" could sent me into a rage. Listen, I like Neil Simon- probably more than I should-but this film is crap. The by-play between the leads that usually makes Simon funny falls flat with these two truly mismatched actors. Dreyfuss overacts shamelessly (it's his m.o. in virtually all his lead roles- like Bette Midler he's really only suitable for supporting roles) and begs the question: If John Simon could call Streisand "ugly" what do you call a guy who looks like a gerbil with whiskers? He's truly grotesque, and not just when he's playing gay Richard III (his best moment) his Oscar for this smacks of self congratulation on the part of Hollywood. Marsha Mason is mediocre also a career best. Fortunately for me, sanity prevailed and Dreyfuss sank to a level more befitting his talents (he blamed coke- I prefer to take the optimistic view that the world just came to its senses).This isn't the worst Neil Simon film- just the most overpraised. I watch what I can bear of it from time to time when I feel like patting myself on the back for trusting my judgement way back when.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Pretenders from contenders....
When I logged on to IMDb to check out some specifics about The Hurt Locker, I had no real intention of writing a review. I was shocked by how many people didn't "get" the film. I thought the film was a slam-dunk and represented Bigelow finally fulfilling the promise of "Near Dark". Admittedly, I never questioned the films accuracy (though I figured it probably wasn't accurate- few films are). To me, it's more important for the film to be good- and this one is. It's the tightest film I've seen in a long time- simple and straightforward- but with enough depth to merit repeat watchings. I just didn't expect it to be a measuring stick for film knowledge- the kind of film that exposes some peoples' lack of film instincts- much in the way Hitchcock's films did when they were first released (remember that he never won the accolades in his day that he deserved). For serious cinephiles- don't miss The Hurt Locker- you won't get another one like this for a long time.
Just a warning...
Just a warning to maybe save someone else from wasting their time. Seeing that this was on TCM and after having read a number of the reviews on IMDb I decided to give it a watch.I was intrigued by how many people referenced Argento- some even citing Suspiria. Sorry to say this one is strictly for fans of gore. Poorly directed and cheaply made with little to no style- shocking how badly shot when you consider it was made by a cinematographer- (not so shockingly, he has directed little else). Not bad for this sort- but the worst of Bava or Argento is far superior. For those who can't see that, don't be offended- be glad your easily pleased.
How do you say "cliche" in Portugese?
Didn't know anything about this film when I caught it on cable. Started out okay and then degenerated into a jumble of thriller and travelogue clichés. The real mystery for me was not "what was really going on in the film"- but rather "What is this doing on IFC?" Never could figure that one out- very average at best. The underwater chase was slightly less believable than watching martial arts heroes flying through the air to deliver kicks. Good looking cast- great looking country- just wasted- who said there was no torture? By the way, loved the comment that bemoaned the fact that , since the girl was sedated when she was being operated on, she wasn't really in pain- this is IMDb, isn't it?
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Not one word...
I have the utmost respect for Woody Allen as a filmmaker ( I probably own more than a dozen of his films) and was very excited to hear that VCB was so well received by critics. Wow, what an incredible disappointment it turned out to be. I did not believe ONE WORD of this script- not one situation- not one character. Without going into great detail I'll just say I agreed with many of the negative reviews on this site concerning where the film failed: the narration ( jaw droppingly awful, the acting ( perhaps with the exception of Cruz) and the writing ( how badly did this script need a rewrite). If the film could have been saved it would have been by the last scene- but alas, by then the ship had sunk. I'm not giving up on Woody, he's too good a writer (maybe he could write about something he knows- like getting old- it might not be marketable but it could be great). Once Woody's film persona complained about TV audiences taste level "having been systematically lowered"- unfortunately that's where his good reviews are now coming from. Oh , and Penelope Cruz being nominated for this instead of "Elegy" is an act that borders on the criminal.
Wilder and growth...
Saw this when it was released and thought it was "okay"- had a little problem with the story's European morality- but I was only a teenager at the time. Over the years I've caught the film on a couple of occasions (not always seeing all of it, after all it is a long film) and I would normally say the film had grown on me...but I have the feeling it's me that has done the growing. A real pleasure- from the performances to the locations- I find it now oddly affecting. Wilder's last best shot is an absolute must for anyone who has had to sit through Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. At his best Wilder is as good as anyone at film-making and, though Avanti is just shy of his best, it's a far sight ahead of what we call film today.
After viewing Edmond I logged onto IMDb ( as is my customary ritual) to view comments on what was a very difficult film. I logged off after reading every single comment and , I must say, I was flabbergasted. Some people liked the film, some people hated the film (par for the course) but, near as I can tell, no one really understood the film. That didn't particularly upset me because it is a tough film and sometimes people just can't agree on what a film was "about". What disappointed me was that no one bothered to figure out what the film was about. I'll give you a hint: it's not about a man's descent into madness- it's about transformation. If you don't believe me google "bible 1:15", or rewatch the tarot card scene and look up the meaning of each card (they're making it easy for you)- another clue:the characters name. For those who hated the film, I understand, but if you liked it and wrote on it I think you owe it your readers to DO THE WORK! If we get lazy about our passions, how do we live the rest of our lives? I found the film fascinating, but I'm a sucker for Mamet's work. I really need to watch it again, like pretty much everyone else.
Baby Mama (2008)
It's hard to say which is worse, this so-called comedy or the people who extole it on this site. Have our youths comic chops been so dumbed down that they really think this kind of clichéd crap is funny. It wouldn't be such a big deal if not for the fact that films like this one are produced at the expense of innovated and experimental work. I saw this while in the hospital ( so it's like seeing a film in a POW camp- you're grateful for anything you see) and it was impossible to watch. Boring, predictable and most importantly...not funny. Here's a message to young people today: If you don't laugh, it's not funny. It seems a simple thought but people today have set such a low bar for entertainment that they have lost the ability to judge- they expect nothing for their admission. Too bad we all have to live with the result. P.S. What did they do, kidnap Greg Kinner to get him in this film?
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Was amazed at Paul Anderson's "There Will Be Blood". It was a quantum leap for a director who has always had the audacity, if not the material, to be great. It really pains me to see so many negative reviews- anyone truly serious about film that doesn't "get" this film needs to go back and watch it again. Sadly, some people probably still won't get it...oh well that's what makes good taste good...not everyone has it. I found it riveting from the first frame and I don't care if it doesn't follow the Sinclair book exactly- read The Shining sometime- none of what makes the film brilliant is in the book. A great director has the right to read the book and throw it away- Anderson has shown himself worthy to do so here.
what if a writer woke up one day....
What if a writer woke up one day with a premise for a scifi project and then became trapped hopelessly by the idea with no way to bring it to completion? Such is the dilemma in "Cube". Although perhaps I'm underestimating this film: maybe the idea that the people spend all this time and effort to end up in the cube they started in (and, indeed,should simply have stayed there all along) is an analogy for the audience having just wasted the last 90 odd minutes and, indeed, should have not bothered with the trip at all. Terrifyingly like something I wrote and later threw away when I was in high school. Two points for retro creativity in set design.
Boccaccio 70 (1962)
do not miss!
Specifically for film lovers,like myself, who only ever got to watch this collection (minus the first segment) on late-late night commercial TV- run out and get a copy of this remastered version. To watch this as it was originally intended- the work of some of Italy's finest directors- is a joy. As for which segment is the best... it's hard to say...Fellini's segment is better than I remembered it...and who could ever forget Anita Ekberg...in truth I have a fondness for all these Italian films I saw in my youth that makes objectivity hard.P.S.: Of course, the same must be said for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow-also reissued- I nearly cried at how good the print was.
Man of La Mancha (1972)
Judging from the reviews here there are obviously two camps the reviews fall into- people who saw some production of the play on Broadway(as I did) and those who have not. The people who have are admittedly a little harsh on the film- i myself would never have actually watched more than twenty minutes of it had I not been recently been laid up for a week and a half in the hospital. I watched it to try and remember what it was about the story that I loved so much when I was young impressionable boy. While the film did allow me to recall what it was that grabbed me so long ago- it has a gigantic obvious flaw. I always felt that of all the musicals that benefited from the immediacy of the theater-La Mancha was at the top of my list. It was magical and otherworldly and yet I suspended my disbelief readily and was swept away by the story and songs. The films big flaw, to me, is that it's "flat" and never really comes alive- I can live with bad-dubbed singing or miscast performers- but a flat LaMancha makes for a hard recommend. The question then becomes: Is it better for someone not to ever see it at all if this is their only alternative? Very tough call. It might be best to wait for a new production- it depends on if you're the kind of person who can have an inferior production ruin a better one that awaits down the road. The people who have never seen this done well on stage don't know what they're missing- sadly. But it's not as tragic as Camelot the film with Richard Harris as compared to Camelot on-stage with Richard Burton- when I think of it I could actually weep- there is no way to rescue the play without him. Lamancha is a play best seen in person, I think.
There must be a pony....
You know the old joke- the one about the optimistic kid thrust into a room full of manure- later he is found immersed in the manure, wildly thrashing around, when asked "What are you doing?" He replies "With all this manure there must be a pony in here somewhere!" This film is all manure and no pony- I don't exactly know at what point I realized that but it was well before the end. Still, it is interesting manure or should we say manure that at least smells interesting- the mark of a true auteur. Shainburg fails thoroughly here, as real artists often do (especially after a success) but it's certainly no reason to write him off- like all good artists he believes in his work, that allows him to succeed at a high level (as in Secratary)but when the work is crap it sometimes causes them to fail to rein themselves in. This is crap- an embarrassment for all concerned- I sat through a good deal of it with my mouth wide open like someone in the audience for Springtime For Hitler. Favorable comparisons to Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast border on heresy- Careful...you could lose your critics license for saying stuff like that.( Closer to Borowczyk's La Bete, if you must, though not as honest.)
The Fountain (2006)
worth the wade...
Just when I had begun to think that maybe I really DON"T like film all that much- after sitting through dozens and dozens of so-called award winning fare that I found mediocre and a waste of time - or watched gimmicky "art" films recommended here and by friends only to find no substance once the secret of the film was deciphered- after having to be satisfied with films that I considered "very good" despite (usually) one major flaw- I happened upon The Fountain. It's worth wading through all the drek that's out there if once in a great while you find a film like this.The Fountain is amazing. Ambitious and truly felt it has a cathartic feel to it. Full marks to all involved. I can't say I'm surprised that Aronfsky was capable of this- it's just that I'm surprised anyone is this good. Not a film for everyone- it demands that you give yourself over to it. And you will probably find you either get it- or you don't...(you know, kind of like life).
Indie Sex: Taboos (2001)
I was so enthused when I first heard that IFC was doing a four part series on the history of sex in the cinema that I couldn't wait to see it. What a monumental disappointment! The series fails on so many levels that I only ended up screening two of the episodes ( the last two)...they were enough to send me screaming into the night. If this subject is truly of interest to you and you have a fairly large frame of reference, you too will be maddened by the wrongheadedness and general lack of knowledge put forth by the so-called critics on Indie Sex. Imagine HBO's Real Sex combined with the intellectual complexities of one VH1"s "100 Best..." series... the shows are an hour long and I found myself constantly checking the clock. Landmark films and landmark scenes either are completely missing or go begging for coherent analysis. Perhaps this is best viewed as an essay on the state of film criticism in the new century (deader than the 8 track tape). I think Jami Bernard of the times ( a legit critic) had the shows highpoint when she said that she had a problem with the oral sex scene in "Brown Bunny" because she "really didn't like Vincent Gallo's character" and she didn't want him to be getting that act performed on him. Very professional indeed! Yeah, he was yucky!
Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006)
I did this film a great disservice, deciding to watch it while in a particularly foul mood, but it didn't matter. After twenty minutes or so, I was howling with delight. Seeing Argento fully engaged again for the first time in so long gave me such a rush. If you are as big a fan as I am, run out and get this episode of MOH. Though the ending is a little weak, the first 40 minutes or so is horror at its finest. Violence and gore not just done for the sake of making the audience squirm, but presented in a way that works within the storyline. It's truly delicious! Is it too much to hope that this and Jenifer are heralding a rebirth of Argento's career? Even should it turn out not to be so, that doesn't diminish what he has achieved here.
The Departed (2006)
separating the pretenders from the contenders...
I kind of love films like The Departed. With its big name talent, long running time, and compelling (if somewhat hard to swallow) story it sends many wannabe film critics off to their pc to rave about using words like "classic", "brilliant", and even (gulp) "masterpiece". Let's start with the positive...the story, basically adapted from Infernal Affairs (which I purposely have not seen yet)is interesting and draws you into the film. Matt Damon and Mark Wohlberg were very good. Damon is so good he throws the film out of balance, since he is supposed to be the "mirror" of DeCaprios character. DeCaprio, alas, is not up to the task of holding up his end. He seems to be growing up (applause) but he has really grown little as an actor. Some of his scenes here were painful to watch: the "rat" scene with Nicholson (in which he was "acting" all over the place) and one scene where he pistol-whipped someone was only slightly better than Donald Trump vs. WWF. But don't blame Leo- the blame must fall directly on Scorcese for letting him get away with such an amateurish performance that even the academy (which is rarely too embarrassed for anything) was too embarrassed to nominate. And you can't say Scorcese doesn't know good acting from bad. It's too bad that he seems to have lost some of his passion for film-making, he was one of our very best edgy directors. This film looked like it could have been directed by just anyone. On the plus side I did remain interested until the end, unlike Gangs of New York and the Aviator,but on the minus side the last fifteen minutes of this film are so bad it makes you leave thinking the film is worse than it really is. It isn't a bad film, it's an over-hyped mediocre film done by big names. Just the kind of film that trips up...the pretenders.