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Overly epic but watchable

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 26 August 2012 12:11 (A review of Sommersby)

This film has its moments but tries too hard to be epic. The premise is a little thin; that Laurel (Jodie Foster) would wilfully accept a stranger without saying anything or else forget what her husband was like. It was important for her to have a man in her life, back then it was almost mandatory, but Orin was at heart a good man who loved her. If you can look past that, it's an ok date-night film - but make sure there's some nice wine on hand for the silly bits.

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A great tribute

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 26 August 2012 11:42 (A review of Contact (1997))

I saw the film first, then I got the Audiobook read, quite intensely, by Jodie Foster. The film is a little more compact and accessible since Ellie travels alone and the story focuses more on her strong independence and her relationship with Palmer. I'm a believer in the science but I don't discount what I cannot see out of hand (a universe without a purpose would be a singularly unromantic place to be) and Palmer has some great lines and points to make.

Carl didn't live to see the release of his film but it's a great tribute to an important populariser of science and an inquiring man.

And you're wrong Ellie; they did send a poet, fluent in the language of science yet still with romance in her soul. It was you.

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Very difficult to watch

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 26 August 2012 11:21 (A review of The Accused (1988))

Ultimately rewarding but hard to stomach.

As a deep admirer of JF this film is one of the most difficult I have ever had to watch. I've seen the rape scene exactly once and that was more than enough. The scene with Tobias (Jodie Foster) in the ER, after the rape, I'm stuck somewhere between heartbreak for her and revulsion for the circumstances. She looks so incredibly frail and washed out. Jodie's committment to her art is heroic and though I was upset with her for putting herself through this I deeply admire the foundational principle behind her decision to do it.

McGillis supported very convincingly, not overdoing the sympathy she showed Tobias' character. An emotional stomach-churning roller-coaster of a film that doesn't get easier to watch but is rightly highly praised.

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Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 26 August 2012 11:03 (A review of Carnage)

Yasmina Reza's stage play was well adapted for this film. I've seen it a lot because of the seamless skill of the acting, direction and cinematography. It's easily one of the funniest and most entertaining films I've ever seen.

The dialogue is intelligent and the comedy has some very fine moments. The men play well. Most typically complacent, they are faster to shrug off the inconvenient truths about their relationships and views on life. Nancy gets drunk a little too quickly but she is a superb foil for Penelope who is the engine of much of the comedy and Jodie the dynamo delivers with angst and heartbreak through flinty looks, mini-meltdowns and brittle interactions that have such a powerful comic effect. After some misadventures (Flightplan, The Brave One, The Beaver) it's nice to see Jodie doing a stellar job with a great script.

The writing is great and the performances are rock-solid, reflecting the skill of the players. For me the women (actresses I deeply admire) really carry this film.

Nancy: "Bacon?" (of a book on the coffee table)
Penny: "Yes, Bacon."
Nancy: "Cruelty and splendour."
Penny: "Chaos, balance."

Adorably pretentious and a nice way to hint at how the women would like people to think they see their respective worlds. Jodie's reaction to the spew-covered Kokoshka art book is superb, as are her lines "Their son is a threat to homeland security" and her whiny "Awww! The Foujitaaaah!" Winslet is terrific, aside from the drunkenness thing, Reilly delighted me and Waltz worked well with him delivering a top quality performance.

When Penelope finally drops her mask and lets rip to Nancy I thought Jodie was going to pass out she was working so hard.

If you are/have been married, or even in a long-term committed relationship, there may be much familiar territory here that can be the source of many rueful chuckles and perhaps some ear-warming guilt flushes.

This compact and symmetrical film seems to improve with repeated viewings. I wish there were more films like this.

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A charming tale

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 21 August 2012 01:17 (A review of Quiz Show (1994))

Based on Richard Goodwin's book Remembering America, this film pushes the message that in its infancy, Television was to entertain first, sell product and then inform. Thanks to lack of oversight and regulation, companies soon cottoned on to the massive earning potential of the medium.

It's worth remembering that Goodwin was Kennedy's (and later Johnson's) speechwriter so his recollection of the 1950s might show signs of self-serving polish.

Be that as it may, the film itself does not claim to be accurate and as a visual and cultural feast it really does charm by showing us an America that was giddily spinning up after the war to become a superpower, economically and militarily. Living standards went through the roof and America became the wish-stone for the rest of the world.

The acting in this is very fine, but the visuals are the jewel. The Van Doren family picnic scene is just gorgeous (as is Shawn Batten) and warm and the interplay is believable because these people were, mostly, academics full of the charm and grace of their very comfortable lives.

I've seen this film many times and it never fails to charm. A real tonic, unlike Geritol.

"For $64,000 I hope they ask: 'What is the meaning of life?'."

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Charming and gritty

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 21 August 2012 12:21 (A review of Léon: The Professional (1994))

Characterful and entertaining, thought provoking and charming.

Natalie Portman and Jean Reno scintillate, both together and individually. Gary Oldman is tiresome ... I mean, is there a role he can't play? Not so far, apparently.

The European version is really the only one to watch else the close bond between Leon and Mathilda is not correctly developed.

Not terribly realistic in the action sequences, unless there really are people who can walk through walls or have x-ray vision (maybe it's his spectacles), but entertaining nonetheless.

A very good film, surprisingly warm and human.

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Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 20 August 2012 11:16 (A review of Backtrack)

Alan Smithee (i.e. the late Dennis Hopper) must have been walking with a permanent limp after firing this particular bullet into his foot. The quality of shooting was mediocre at best, the dialogue was poor and heavily clichéd. The acting was like watching a group of people, some of them olympic class swimmers, trying to tread water with a sinking battleship tied to their feet. Joe Pesci and Charlie Sheen are missing from the credits, perhaps because they insisted on it. John Turturro has since, thankfully, shown great skill (Quiz Show) but in this he must have been sleepwalking. Jodie Foster was ever pleasant to look at but even her talent couldn't bring the stillborn dialogue and maimed story to life. Hopper's ludicrous accent was at least funny. Vincent Price sat under a fancy hat and greatcoat in a stretch limo and looked suitably glum.

Stockholm syndrome could not account for Anne's (Foster) sudden change of heart toward her captor. Empathy may develop but most people don't feel moved enough by it to start looking for the bedroom. A professional hit-man would never allow him/herself to fall in love with a target, unless they were already thinking of getting out of the game though perhaps that was the point. The final section of the movie, the escape from the mob in a helicopter had me looking at my watch but to be honest I'd been doing that from about ten minutes in. If you find any of it believable there may be a brat of a movielet somewhere within but this version was worthy of going straight to Betamax and thence to the bin.

I'm wondering if qaaludes were involved somewhere. For example Easy Rider was not great because of what it was but because of what it represented and how it resonated with counterculture people at the time. Mr. Hopper probably lived a lot from the fat of that. His best role remains as the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now and that was because he wasn't really acting; everybody was stoned.

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Brilliam Gilliant

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 20 August 2012 07:15 (A review of Brazil)

I saw this film when I was a young teenager and I loved it instantly.

As a Brit the almost all-British cast was particularly good and all were already established and in some cases revered.

Gilliam's pneumatic-tube / post-war-equipment feel with its dingy and idiosyncratic lights, colouring and layout are exquisite and (intentionally) echoed 1984 but with a cartoonish sense.

The entire cast was superb, so many actors I knew and already loved.

This is a film I will always treasure for its visual sumptuousness and the many-layered plot and commentary and the many references it has spawned since.

27B/6: End Transmission from DZ-419

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Fantastic restatement of the medium

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 20 August 2012 06:52 (A review of District 9)

This film was excellent. Yes, action, yes stuff going bang/splat and so forth but for me the brilliance was in the incisive social commentary, about which a book could be written. Despite the simplicity of the plot and the predictable chain of events the attention to detail and documentary filming style with multiple fast-cuts was appealing if sometimes overwhelming.

The weapons implication of metamorphosis was predictable as was the callous disregard for life that MNU subsequently showed but it is still a disturbing metaphor that is all the more powerful because it is entirely plausible. The plot was far from perfect - I winced at the obvious stupidity of Wikus taking a cell-phone when it was certain he'd be tracked by it - but in a high-pressure situation even cool heads make mistakes. But on the aggregate it was pretty enthralling and the quality of cinematography kept my whole attention.

Great cast all round and wonderful to see so many unfamiliar faces though the
two standouts for me were Sharlto Copley and David James who made the rubber meet the road with carbon-steel performances.

The filming style and direction seemed to collapse the wall usually between the viewer and the situation and you were there behind the camera, simply brilliant.

I can't wait to see Blomkamp's Elysium in 2013!

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Poetry in motion

Posted : 5 years, 11 months ago on 20 August 2012 06:36 (A review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

People see this film in different ways. The balletic moves are sometimes scorned by people who expect realism. But this is really a love poem within a dream, albeit a very vivid one. It has interesting nods to the eight-fold path and Siddhartha's struggle but doesn't overdo things. Very watchable.

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