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All reviews - Movies (9)

Beauty and love in the world of consumers

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 24 June 2013 05:10 (A review of The Girl from Monday)

This is a very unusual movie; an indie movie with respect to all indie movies. Formally, it is sci-fi movie plus a political satire. The political premise is a common point: we are all valuable to the extent we are valuable as consumers. The director-screenwriter added to it a twist: sex increases the desire to consume something, but only if it is sex without any attachment (true or not, this is a scientifically established fact in the movie). So, sex without any attachment increases the value of the personal stock of any citizen, an attachment decreases this value and, moreover, is a crime. All this is monitored by special computers.

Another thread, the more sci-fi one, seems to be hardly related with the political line till the very end and the connection may go completely unnoticed. This is about the Girl from Monday, played by Tatiana Abracos (what happened to her after this movie?). She appears from the ocean in the beginning and usually is in distress and is incredibly beautiful. The second girl, played by Sabrina Lloyd is no less beautiful (and, apparently, much more beautiful in this movie than in others; still, I must admit that I didn’t saw her in any other movie) and is not distressed more than one would normally when dealing with her problems in the second half of the movie.

All lines of the story (a simple one, at the first sight) are connected at the end. No spoilers.

If you are going to watch this movie, you should keep in mind that it was filmed in a rather unusual manner, switching from bright colors to black and white, with frames occasionally frozen for a second (probably, less), and almost no frames positioned horizontally. The story isn’t told directly, despite the narration of Jack (Bill Sage). If you are ready to digest all this, you will be amply rewarded, at least if you share to some extent the director’s concerns about the consumerism. The issue of constant surveillance, which is just the natural background of the movie, is very relevant right now (June 2013).

And no matter what do you think about all this, the movie is visually very beautiful.


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Can you escape?

Posted : 4 years, 8 months ago on 10 April 2013 04:42 (A review of Lightning Bug)

This is a good, but hardly appreciated movie. It is based to a big extent on the life of its director Robert Hall, a special effects makeup designer whose work includes “Teen Wolf”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel” and many others. He clearly likes (to work on) horror movies.

Imdb.com gives two taglines for the movie: “Sex ... Bugs ... and Rock'n'Roll”, and “There are monsters standing in his way”. The first one is very misleading; the second one is as close to the movie as possible without being a spoiler. All the problems the main character faces have two sources: he has a gift but was born in an obscure town where nobody is allowed to stand out. The director of “Lightning bug”, as we see, managed to escape. How many did not?

There are some elements of gore in the movie. But the scariest scene is without even drop of blood in it. It could be the last one, but the American tradition requires giving the viewers some relief. This scene, and only this, is very depressing and should be close to so many people... But only if they are able to ask themselves why they live the way they live and was this way the only or the best one before them in their youth.

A natural choice of a movie to compare is F. Coppola's "Rumble Fish" (1983). Coppola's movie is a work of a great master, brilliantly executed. As such, it is very dense, explores the main characters deeply, but gives the viewer only clues, and it is even filmed in black and white except one scene and parts of the screen in a couple of others (there is a good reason for filming it this way). "Lightning bug" is more straightforward and does not use any "artsy" tools. Of course, the big plus of this is that its audience could be very wide. Apparently, it wasn’t. I failed to find any information about its box office success, if it had any (the movie was very cheap to produce, I believe). Was a wide release at least attempted? Who was scared more by the abovementioned scene: the distributors or the moviegoers? Or nobody paid attention to it?

P.S. The listal.com description of the movie, apparently lifted from the imdb.com, manages to be at the same time quite misleading and giving away almost everything. It is a spoiler and deserves to be removed from listal.com (and even erased from the web :-)).


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Compliance without a reason

Posted : 4 years, 9 months ago on 18 March 2013 02:59 (A review of Compliance)

“Compliance” grossed $318,622 in the US, which basically means that nobody watched it or even knows about it. It had very limited theatrical release, but now it is available on Blu-ray. This movie is not a good choice to watch with your beer-buddies or with your date. It is not an entertainment, it is about serious and, as you may realize right after the end titles start, really scary stuff.

The movie tells the story of a call to a fast food chain restaurant. The caller presents himself as a police officer, orders the restaurant manager to conduct a search of one of employees belongings, then to strip search that employee, then... The caller’s orders escalate and the manager and other employees, except one, comply with them, and even manager’s fiancé complies. The further events may be guessed by some, but most of the non-professional reviews on the web consider everything to be stupid. For them, “Compliance” is a stupid badly acted movie based on a stupid premise.

First of all, the movie tells a true story which deserves to be known by everybody. Moreover, there were more than 70 such cases across the US. One cannot dismiss this particular incident as resulting from an exceptional stupidity of the manager. The title is quite direct: this is a film about compliance with orders of an authority or somebody who presents him/herself as an authority. Nobody and nothing in the film is stupid. The fact that such behavior as depicted in the movie is quite common at least in the US was demonstrated by the famous Milgram experiment in early 60ies on obedience to authority figures. Later on the experiment was replicated in the UK, and, in a non-scientific manner and only once, in France, but, apparently, nowhere else. (For the details, see Wiki or Milgram’s book.)

There is a significant difference between the Milgram experiment and the story told in “Compliance”: the caller wasn’t in any position of authority; he was just some anonymous guy who presented himself as a police officer. The instinctive compliance is so deeply ingrained that people do not even question the legitimacy of orders. If this is not scary, then I don’t know what is. The incredible level of compliance is present everywhere, although rarely in so dramatic manner. For example, the voluntary compliance with the MPAA movie ratings (MPAA has no legal authority at all) is 100%.

The results of Milgram experiment were so disturbing that such experiments were more or less forbidden. Similarly, the story told in “Compliance” is so disturbing that the film got a ridiculously limited release.

Speaking about the movie as simply a movie, one should first of all say that Craig Zoebel, who is both the screenwriter and the director, did a brilliant job. The dialogue is perfect and convincing to the smallest details. He managed to avoid a common claustrophobic feeling encountered when almost all action is happening in the same small building and even in the same room. The ensemble cast did a superb job. There are no stars, in a sense all characters are minor ones, and despite this, the acting is perfect.


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This is not a thriller!

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 22 January 2013 04:16 (A review of Deception)

This is not a recent movie. So, my review will be to a big extent a response to what is written about it already (by ordinary moviegoers, not by professional critics).

Almost every review I saw on the web is negative or very negative. Also, the movie failed at the box office. The latter is the fault of distributors; the proper way to distribute it was the platform release or the limited release. In plain language, the movie shouldn’t be marketed as a thriller, should be initially released on 6-10 screens (it was released on more than 2000) and then gradually expanded as people learned about it by the word of mouth. The most negative reviews come from viewers who wanted to kill some time by watching a typical thriller and got something different.

“Deception” is not a thriller! It only has the form of a thriller. A lot of people complain about the predictability of the plot and the ending; here two reviewers complain about too convoluted plot and too twisted ending. It is impossible for both points of view to be correct. I think that, as usual, the truth is in the middle and the plot is neither very convoluted, nor entirely predictable.

Another common complaint is that Michelle Williams is a wrong choice for her role. Well, a thriller would have a femme fatale as her character. Michelle Williams does not look like one but she is so good actress (some even apologize: “I know that she is very good, but for this role...”) that I will not risk to say that she cannot play a femme fatale if asked. Definitely, she does not play a femme fatale. Her character, known only as “S”, needs to seduce only one very special person, Jonathan McQuarry, the character of Ewan McGregor, and S does this by doing exactly what is needed to seduce McQuarry. Once this is realized, the whole idea of the movie being a thriller starts to fall apart.

The thriller-like plot serves mainly as a background (but not only – see below). The movie tells a love story and a story of a transformation of a nerdy top-notch accountant Jonathan McQuarry into... – I will not tell, this would be a spoiler. Ewan McGregor’s performance is nearly perfect, as is the performance of two other leads. There is no twist ending. In response to the second reviewer here, I would like to note that “someone managing to show up in another continent and finding an exact location” is not a twist and is not convoluted. That “someone” knows the exact location, and it is not hard for him to guess that he should go there immediately after... (no spoilers!). In fact, he doesn’t need any guessing. The very end of the movie was originally filmed differently, then it was decided that it would be better if changed and the movie ends in this new way. I may suggest going a little bit further in the same direction; this would require about 20-30 seconds of new footage (can be done!). The point is that how the movie ends is not very important.

But there are few “twists”, indeed. A transformation of a person in movies usually involves a love story, no twists here. But in “Deception” the love story grows out of some criminal activity; there would be no love story if someone did not concocted a complicated crime. The transformation starts with McQuarry getting an access to an elite anonymous sex club; something usually considered to be morally objectionable. But McQuarry does not end up being an ashamed devastated person, quite the opposite. Another “twist”: McQuarry seduces his love interest by refusing to have sex with her. So, the movie is also about the role of sex in love and in happiness. It raises more questions than it answers.

One should mention the brilliant cinematography of “Deception” with its cold blue palette for New York and sunny yellow tones for the final scenes in Madrid. Also, a lot is told not directly, but by many unbelievably precise details. Watch for a smile of a girl in a hallway; she did not appear in the movie before this moment and will not show up again. Her smile means a lot. At least one such detail left me speechless: how did they know that such things do happen?!

I highly recommend to watch the Blu-ray disc with all its extras (among them is the original ending). There is a more than one hour and a half discussion of the movie by the director, the leading actors, the producers and some other members of the crew. It is already quite amusing to learn why Michelle Williams is wearing a white coat at the beginning of the movie. In fact, this is important! The word “thriller” is pronounced only once, and reflects only the initial impression of Ewan McGregor about the script and the whole project.


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The real Coppola

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 24 December 2012 01:13 (A review of Tetro)

F. Coppola said about [Link removed - login to see]">Tetro (according to [Link removed - login to see]">imdb.com): "I think [Link removed - login to see]">Tetro (2009) is the most beautiful film I've ever done in terms of how it was made". Apparently a little bit earlier, [Link removed - login to see]">he said that his favorite movies from his own personal filmography are [Link removed - login to see]">The Rain People (1969), [Link removed - login to see]">The Conversation (1974), [Link removed - login to see]">Apocalypse Now (1979), [Link removed - login to see]">Rumble Fish (1983) and [Link removed - login to see]">Youth Without Youth (2007). Note that the most popular and acclaimed "The Godfather" trilogy is missing from this short list, and only one big production is present, [Link removed - login to see]">Apocalypse Now. But even "Apocalypse Now" is not a big studio production. It was produced by his company "Zoetrope Studios". "The Godfather" movies were produced by Paramount Pictures (starting with the second part, Zoetrope also participated).

Moreover, [Link removed - login to see]">F. Coppola claimed that [Link removed - login to see]">Tetro is the kind of film he set out to make as a young man, before he was sidetracked by fame and fortune.

All this should be taken into account. If you are a fan of "The Godfather" movies, then it would be only natural to respect the opinion of their creator, and watch his own favorite movies.

As a result of browsing the web, I watched recently [Link removed - login to see]">The Rain People. I was stunned. It happened to be much better than I expected, simply perfect and terrific, a true diamond gem (while "The Godfather" movies, if compared to "The Rain People", look like monstrous skyscrapers out of steel and glass). I turned to other small Coppola projects. First of all, I watched [Link removed - login to see]">Rumble Fish for the 3rd time, and concluded that I hardly understood it for the first two times (would I grew up in a place like Tulsa, Oklahoma, I, probably, would understood the movie at the 1st viewing). The next one was [Link removed - login to see]">Tetro.

Watching “Tetro” was as spellbinding as watching “The Rain People”. It is a wonderful movie. Right after watching, I gave him 12 stars out of 10. Now, few days later, I agree to 10 out of 10. The movie tells a rather mysterious and twisted story of a family, but it does this not in the “epic” style, but rather through a very tense interaction of two estranged brothers. The story is twisted, but entirely realistic. Even if nothing like this ever happened, the story is possible and tells us a lot about the human nature. The excellent acting, cinematography, and directing turn this story into a highly emotional experience for a viewer. [Link removed - login to see] (playing the main character, Tetro) is superb. Not too many Oscars-winning performances are up to his one in “Tetro”. I must admit that I underestimated him. But so did and still does almost everybody.

As of now, I value “The Rain People”, “The Conversation”, “Rumble Fish”, and “Tetro” orders of magnitude more than any other Coppola movie I had seen (which include, of course, all “The Godfather” movies and “Apocalypse Now”).

I wonder how any movie by such an acclaimed director can get so limited release as, say, “Tetro”. Of course, it is not summer blockbuster and not a blockbuster at all. Still, most of the movies on the screens of any multiplex are not blockbusters either. But the studios, or, in this case, the distributors and the owners of the movie theaters have their own idea of what is allowed to be seen on the big screen. They believe that the target audience of every movie should be teenagers. S. Spielberg discovered and promoted (his choices of what to film are quite sufficient) this idea. Fortunately, the Blu-ray technology ameliorates this problem substantially. Still, the quality of a presentation in a movie theater is about 10 times higher than of a Blu-ray disc on a Full HD TV.


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River Tam, who is she?

Posted : 5 years ago on 3 December 2012 12:16 (A review of Serenity)

I haven’t seen the “Firefly” series, which was pulled out unexpectedly by Fox and for which “Serenity” is a conclusion, or, as many hope, a continuation (there is enough room left for sequels). The writer-director Joss Whedon perfectly solved the difficult problem of making a movie interesting for “Firefly” fans and understandable by newcomers.

As a standalone movie “Serenity” may be considered as a short, low-budget, and better version of all 6 “Star wars” movies together. It is not overloaded with CGI, and does not suffer from a very convoluted plot as “Star Wars” does. Special effects are not “dubious”, as Roger Ebert wrote, but brilliant and show how much you can get without CGI. And “Serenity” is more human. Most of the characters in the movie are humans like us, just more willing to fight for their freedom if forced. Only River Tam (Summer Glau) is somewhat crazy at the beginning and... I stop here; I hate to give the plot away. Thanks go to Joss Whedon for the total absence of discussions in a galactic parliament and even the parliamentarians themselves (although they play a role).

Surprisingly, in addition to non-stopping action, spacecrafts, a computer geek and other necessary attributes of a space war craft movie, “Serenity” contains a quite important political message. It is packed in few phrases in just two episodes, but it is tremendously important. Roger Ebert tries to dismiss it by saying that “Serenity” contains “a little political satire”. No, these few phrases are about a key aspect not just of the world of “Serenity”, but of our world. Watch for them. And in “a little political satire” one does not expect indirect references to A. Huxley through W. Shakespeare (you will understand everything if you miss them; they are a sort of watermarks).

“Serenity” did not performed as expected at the box office. Well, if you give the director 200 millions instead of 40, actors, known to everybody (Harrison Ford or Russell Crow would fit in nicely), you well get a blockbuster, but a superficial one. If you give 40, you will get a good movie.

Even if you not a sci-fi fan, but still can tolerate nearly steam punk spacecrafts, give it a try.

By the way, “Serenity” is a rare western movie where a futuristic city was filmed on location in the USA and not in Shanghai.


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And now he is not going to die?

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 25 October 2012 01:15 (A review of The Fifth Seal)

This is an extraordinary movie about... About what? Different people will give different answers. The story takes place in Hungary near the end of WWII, during the German occupation of Hungary, his ally. Everybody faces the same problem: would you survive the war, and how? Would you die from hunger, shoot by Germans, hit by a British or Soviet bomb? And some people face additional problems: they are Jews.

Some people face a problem of a different nature: to keep their integrity, decency, honesty. This is not easy even if you a ready to die for this, because if you a really decent, you will try to help people who are in a worse position than you. In practice this meant doing good deeds as a part of underground resistance; and appear to be not quite scrupulous person to others. The main story line is driven by this problem.

The title, "The fifth seal" (a quote from "Apocalypse") hints at the only solution: you have to deal with this till the end (of the world in "Apocalypse", the end of the war in the movie).

One of the characters often says "And now he is not going to die?" It seems that the meaning of this is not immediately transparent, but this is another central part of the movie. To explain this would be a spoiler.


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Our beautiful scary future

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 21 October 2012 03:28 (A review of In Time)

I am astonished that all reviews here are negative. My impression is that all their authors assumed that they are going to see some other movie, some of these movie are even mentioned, like "Planet of the apes" or "2001: A Space Odyssey" (the last one is one of the most boring and pretentious movies I ever managed to watch till the end).

People complain about such irrelevant things as how the guns and cars will look in the future. [Link removed - login to see]">pvtcaboose91 complains that the movie does not include a treatise about science, medicine, and politics of the depicted future. Perhaps this is just his type of humor (see his profile page), but then he miscalculated the effect. [Link removed - login to see]">moviemaniac126 seems to believe that the movie takes [Link removed - login to see]">"it to Bonnie and Clyde proportions with both leads male and female". I am not sure if this is good or bad for him. Anyhow, it is not a shame to learn something from “Bonnie and Clyde”. Following [Link removed - login to see]">Richard Rush I believe that one cannot have a good movie without a good female lead. Enough of polemics.

The movie is not about future (it is set up in the future in order to more easily get its message across, as is the case with all good sci-fiction). It is about our times and our society. The slogan “Time is Money” gets its ultimate realization: in the depicted society money and the time (left to live) are literally the same thing. The movie hints at possible consequences of such a situation. Fortunately, it hints without lecturing about them.

This is already happening now, only without the precision shown in the movie. Nowadays, almost everybody trades her or his life expectancy for temporary pleasures, like drinking, smoking, driving, for example. My employer decided to do this more directly. Instead of cutting the salaries (for the sake of the argument, let us assume that it got in a very bad financial situation; in fact it is prospering), it is cutting step by step the coverage of prescription medications, and *encourages* employees to switch to cheap and dangerous junk. Well, outdated medications mean a shorter life. We punish some people by incarceration (taking time from them), some others by huge fines. We are putting people into jails for cheating on the stock market (time for money), or order them to pay a compensation for a botched surgery (money for time).

There are other things already present, like the borders and the border guards between zones where poor in time live their short lives and zones where rich in time live being practically immortal. Doesn’t it resemble something? By the way, the suicide of such a rich person, which initiates the main story, may also initiate your own thinking about immortality. While in high school, I once conducted a non-scientific poll which showed that most of my classmates do not want to be immortal; one girl added “I may go for it if I will look young forever”. The authors of the movie seem to be aware of this; her condition is implemented.

So, the movie may stimulate you to think, but it will give you no answers since nobody knows them.

On the other hand, you may not pay attention to these aspects at all. “In time” is gorgeously filmed. If you are indifferent to visual aspects of a movie (compared to the story or the message), you don’t need to watch it. I don’t know why to watch movies in such a case at all (since then one would be better by reading books), but such people do watch a lot of movies too. In contrast with most of sci-fi movies, which are usually filmed mostly in the dark and enclosed sets, “In Time” is filmed mostly in the open and in the sunlight (it may be still a soundstage; I don’t care).

Justin Timberlake is great despite he wears a look which is already overused. Amanda Seyfried is absolutely gorgeous.





How can one miss the beauty of, say, the above shoots?

No review here shows any real appreciation of Amanda Seyfried’s performance. Performances by both Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried are subtle and understated. The gradual changes in Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried’s character) are mostly only hinted at (in contrast with the common yelling about them).

The villain is an agent of an all-powerful partially secret service, which can take or give any amount of time=money from you. I hope that you can guess what agencies play this role now. Since the movie is not about him (it is about characters of Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried), no character development is to be expected. Cillian Murphy brilliantly plays a person madly determined to achieve his goal (wrong even by the standards of that futuristic society). Again, the movie avoids main platitudes associated with such characters, and one may say that even his part is somewhat understated.

OK, this is not a 10 stars movie, but it is a very good one. I gave it 8 stars. I missed it in the theaters, yesterday I watched a record of it from a satellite channel, and now I am planning to watch its Blu-ray version (usually, I watch movies only once).

Highly recommended, if you are ready to watch it without any prejudice and are not going to compare it to the "2001: A Space Odyssey" afterwards. It is different from the others sci-fi flicks, and this is good contrary to many opinions.


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Guns, girl, and the joy of life

Posted : 5 years, 2 months ago on 17 October 2012 03:15 (A review of God Bless America)

I wonder why it had so limited theatrical release. It is fun to watch, it has guns, a lot of shooting, a lot of good jokes, etc. It has all ingredients of a blockbuster except of zillions of computer generated images. But more or less nobody had a chance to see it in a theater.

There are not only guns, but also knives and killings and a lot of blood. All this is to be taken at the same time lightly and seriously. The main characters, Frank and Roxy, kill only bad guys, but for them the bad guys are not the usual blockbuster villains, but fairly common people. If you cannot stand a lot of blood, stay away from this movie.

Tara Lynn Barr plays Roxy with charming spontaneity and joy. Joel Murray plays Frank a little bit heavy, but probably, the script is at fault, not he.

The movie is definitely not about a killing spree of a middle-aged man and a teenager, although it is fun enough as just such movie. On the first sight it is a modern remake of [Link removed - login to see]">“Falling down”. But “Falling down” is about an insecure, threatened man; Frank is neither, and this is what makes the movie funny.

For me, the movie is about a person who lived long enough to be fed up with the society, and cannot take it anymore. It looks like a lot of people are fed up. The only unrealistic assumption of the movie is that they act out their discontent in a very bizarre way, but the movie is not realistic in the first place. There is an old French movie about the same kind of person in a similar position, [Link removed - login to see]">“Demons of the South” (1979). The storyline is quite similar. It is hardly accessible now. I wonder if the writer-director is aware of this movie. Is “God bless America” simply a sort of remake of “Demons of the South”? Or two directors come to these troubling ideas independently?

There are flaws. All prolonged moralizing speeches by Frank, and all current at the time of filming politics should be cut out. Such things should be implied or just hinted at by a few words. The satirical version of the TV programming should be replaced by the real programming. Actually, all this still can be done, and some director's cut can be released. I am not giving it the 10 rating only because of these flaws.

Highly recommended, both as a pure entertainment and as an occasion to think if something is wrong about all of us (not just in America, [Link removed - login to see]">“Demons of the South” is a witness).


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