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Shadows and Fog (1991)
An self-consious attempt at an "art" movie.
Easily one of the worst films by a major talent in the history of Cinema. To Allens credit it must have been a difficult subject to get the cash for and how or why Orion agreed to pay for it god alone knows. Filmed in black and white without any grain at all. An expressionist movie with a realist hand-held camera. A film set in a non-existant unspecified country of which, as Orson Welles once said "a movie set nowhere must be really bad." The cliches pile up thick and thin, only made worse by the presence of Fred Gwyn and Donald Pleasence. The jokes are thin, the philosophical content is low and Malkovich does his usual anti-acting routine. Even the music by Kurt Weil fails to make the borring images come to life. This film was based on a one act play called, I think, "Death" writen around 1975. The play is a gem, very funny and far more profound than the movie, it's just a shame Allen left out all the decent jokes and made up the diffirence with trash. Perhaps this movie is best seen as the peak and merciful end of Allens late 1980's indulgent & pretensious "serious" period.
Topio stin omihli (1988)
Contrived social metaphors, but has some emotion.
A broad social criticism on contemporary Greece of the 1980's. Some scenes more successful than others, and it does drag a bit and is, as is usual for Angelopoulos, a bit contrived. Worth making the effort for anyway. The most intense scenes are the rape scene which happens out of sight and consists of one long slow dolly shot, and the wedding scene in which the future of the bride is given metaphor by a dying horse being dragged down the road by a truck.
This movie is far from perfect, but there are a few scenes here and there that are absolutly hair-raising : Kinski in a state of total exaustion at the begining, the scene in the woods when he starts to hear voices and the unbeleivable murder scene consisting of two shots disguised as one that last about 5 minutes in slow motion (it has to be seens to be beleived). The use of music is fantastic, the photography impecable. Herzog does as usual and captures another world while Kinski is plainly living in it. There are a few off scenes and some of the dialogue gets a bit obvious in it's openly nialistic cliches, but most of the movie holds up. One of those movies that you simply have to see at least once.
A belated challenge for die-hard Blair Witch fans.
This film would be the test for all those people who loved The Blair Witch Project to see if their imaginations really are as active as they make out or just pea sized. If ever a film required audience participation to provide the emotional intensity, this would be it. So I challenge anyone reading this who thought Blair Witch was a major piece of cinema to find and watch Gertrud and see if it does anything for you or if your emotional capability is as limited as we already know....
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Great idea totally wasted.
I never saw this movie at the cinema, wasn't around for the hype and hopefully was able to approach it with an open mind. What I want to know is how anyone can be scared by this movie ? The concept is clever, lot of potential but none of it realized. It takes more than wicker handicrafts and a bit of goo to convince me of authentic witchcraft. I know it's all supposed to happen in the imagination of the viewer and I like those kinds of movies, but I would like to have something beleivable to get my imagination working in the first place. The psychology of the girl with the camera and her pathological need to film everything (and justify the concept) is not made convincing enough. The brats in the film look too amateurish to care about in the slightest and it would have been nice to have a more complicated display of emotions that just the perpetual use of swear words, or perhaps, being in my 20's, I'm just too old for this kind of movie. The bigest problem for me was that I just didn't get the feeling that the film makers had really constructed much of a story outside of what's on the screen and concequently instead of having my imagination going into overdrive from all the subtlties that were absent I instead just couldn't make the leap to taking the film seriously. The sequel is supposed to be awful so that should say something about the film makers.
White of the Eye (1987)
Impossible to analyse, so don't. Just enjoy the movie.
There's a lot going on in this movie, I just look forward to the day I can finally decode it, which doesn't sound like a good sign. There seems to be something vaguly supernatural at the core of it and something about love. On the subconcious level it seems to make sense, I just can't get anywhere when I try to analyse it consiously. For those put off by the accusations of style over substance, have faith, this is an fascinating movie. There's one moment that is absolutly hair-rasing, the moment when we finally realize that Keiths mind is living in a diffirent world. The only thing that lets the film down is the ending, which looks like a Hollywood style tag-on but probably isn't. Once the car chase starts it's time to leave.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Comedy, fantasy, tragedy, philosophy, nostalgia, realism... Undefinable.
This really is one of the better Woody Allen movies, made just before he went into his awful "serious" period in the late eighties. Very simple and to the point, very economical in the editing with no excess baggage. Probably also the closest Woody has ever got to the spirit of Bergman, only this time in his own voice and it works. It's a comedy yet it's full of tragedy, but the tragedy isn't melodramatic nonsense as in movies like "crimes and misdeamenors" or "september" and the like, instead it's totally non-judgemental and the director keeps his distance. Plenty of classic one-liners. A clever story with the perfect hook (six viewings till I finally realized that the projector would have been cut off after the reel ended, all of 10 minutes later). Probably a good movie for people who don't like Woody Allen movies.
A great romantic epic.
Great photography, great production values, great acting, decent directing, but what brings the film together is the excellent editing. This film looks as if it was made in the editing room and probably was if the stories about Beatty as a director were true. Highly emotional at moments, a great love story above all else. But not quite there historically (on the Russian side), mainly because there is so much condensing (even at three hours running time) and at times it shows in the dialogue which has the odd cliche here and there. Someone further down the review list was banging on about it being a "poem to communism" or something when it so obviously is not. If anything it lingers on the lost opertunities and the betrayal of the socialist ideal. As for the "genocide" that reviewer mentions, this is pre-Stalin Russia and had just undergone being the victim of genocide courtesy of Germany which it was fighting against with the Allies. But as said, this really is a love story more than anything else and of romantic epic proportions not seen much in American movies.
Demon Seed (1977)
In the words of Donald Cammel...
Possibly the best description of this film was provided by the director himself around the time of it's release : a four letter word starting with the letter 'S'.
The story may have been an interesting idea but the script never seems to have been developed past embryo stage and Julie Cristie for all her talent cannot save this 'S'.
Classic Paul Morrisey Comedy.
It's a shame some people consider this and it's companion pieces to be Andy Warhol films when they really have very little relation at all to the Warhol style and Warhol himself had nothing to do with them. The credit goes to Morrisey and his superstar weirdos. What's even more shocking is that these films are considered to be such works of intellectual art when this movie at least is unashamed pure comedy and not much else. A very funny comedy at times granted, but not a great intelectual work, though it has some social relevance of course. The final scene with the social worker is one of the best comedy scenes in movies, or would be if it weren't for the amateurness of the actor playing the social worker. On the minus, you do have to wonder about the ethics of Morrisey since this film is also, to a small degree, a freak show.
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Excellent Novel + Bad Director + Hollywood = Awful Movie, as usual.
The original novel is one of the classics of American literature and it's a shame the film bears so little resemblance to it. The soundtrack is good but the acting is a joke and the directing is utterly unremarkable. Perhaps it has some historical significance due to the subject matter but it's just a shame Mr. Preminger doesn't get beyond the "Reffer Madness" mentality. As for what's left of the story : simplistic cliche ridden melodrama of the fall asleep from boredom variety (except you don't because the music is a pleasure to listen to) Don't bother with the movie, read the book by Nelson Algren instead.
Ivan Groznyy (1944)
A technical classic, but emotionally dead.
A silent film with a great music score made ridiculous by comic book dialogue (or is it bad subtitles ?). If it had been made 20 years earlier maybe it would be easier to appreciate but as a film from the sound era it's a little hard to digest. The acting is also best suited to the silent film. Part two is better than part one, and the one brief colour sequence (in part 2) stands out so much that it's a pity both films weren't made with that advantage, not that the photography isn't good, but the colour helps bring the melodramatic style a little closer to acceptability. The film also lives firmly within the shadow of the politics of the day. Taking everything else into account, the only real complaint I'd throw at this movie is that the story seems to move along on such a simplistic level that it seems to have been written for a pre-teen audience, or perhaps it's just the Russian variation of the Hollywood philosophy of treating the audience as if it were made up of idiots...
Safar e Ghandehar (2001)
Closer to Tarkovsky than documentary
Watching Kandahar after the 9-11 event tends to distort the film and has lead to a lot of disapointment and misunderstanding from some of the western audience (myself included, first time around). The expectation seems to have been that it would be some kind of stark politically motivated condemnation that would have fitted in nicely with the war-rhetoric of late 2001 - early 2002. The film is not that simplistic. Neither is it quite the documentary people may have expected either. Now that I've seen a couple more of Makhmalbafs films I can finally tune into this movie and get rid of the baggage, and the passing of time since the bombing of Afghanistan helps too. This film is more concerned with humanity than politics, and is not out to condemn anyone (which some westerners may have been expecting in abundance). I don't mean that the Taliban are made out as good guys, anything but. The film just isn't propaganda, that's all. And Makhbalmaf's style is closer to Tarkovsky than documentary. Infact the movie could hardly even be called 'semi-documentary,' just because of the subject matter.
However, some of the criticisms of the film are valid : a few technical problems with the sound in the opening scene (which really does throw the audience from the begining, and it takes a while to get back into the movie) and the lead actress is extremly wooden, at least when acting in english (Maybe there's an Arabic & Farsi version that's more convincing...).
The golden rule with this movie is don't expect from it something which it is not going to deliver, and you'll be able to appreciate it.
Mashgh-e Shab (1989)
Children tell it best.
A nice little documentary about parenting in Iran, from the child's point of view, in as much as it presents the parents attitudes to their children reguarding education. And the children infront of the camera say more than any adult could, as is always the way. Unfortunatly the director spends a little too much time explaining himself at the begining, talking about what kind of film he might or might not make in a slightly pretentious way. And the continual cutting from child to camera man (the director himself, looking directorly) doesn't quite work. But when the children are left to just get on with it the film flows along nicely. A useful insight into Iran, a country that, despite the recent wave of movies, remains shamefully unknown to the average European or American.