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Parkland [Combo Blu-ray + DVD]
Parkland [Combo Blu-ray + DVD]
DVD ~ Zac Efron
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $16.10
50 used & new from $6.48

7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a few performances aside..., November 10, 2013
The film is called Parkland but it has very little to do with the Dallas, Texas hospital for which it is named. Anyone awaiting the long overdo story of the doctors and nurses who first tended to President Kennedy's body following the horrific events of November 22, 1963, may be disappointed. For anyone aware that the Parkland Memorial physicians were all in agreement concerning the findings of the Warren Commission and the "official" autopsy of the President's body were totally contrary to what they saw with their own eyes, the film may border on insulting. For a film purportedly about facts, Parkland is astonishingly opinionated. It's a fact that Marguerite Oswald thought her son Lee was an intelligence agent framed for the murder of President Kennedy. It's also a fact that Lee's brother Robert, whom Lee looked up to (Lee was wearing Robert's Marine ring at the time of his arrest -- a point strangely left out of the film), never had any doubts that Lee acted alone and was the sole killer of the President as well as Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet. And I suppose it should be noted that it's indeed a fact Lee Harvey Oswald was tried and convicted by the media and the powers that be in the court of public opinion, before he ever stepped foot out of a Dallas holding cell -- all the while professing his innocence and wrongful arrest. It's a shame that Parkland failed to portray that last particular truth with any clarity in its handling of the seemingly exact and lesser known details that tense and gory day in late November, 1963, some 50 years ago this very month. Not entirely unlike it's predecessor, Oliver Stone's JFK, Parkland has an agenda to expound. Whereas the aim of Stone's densely populated film of characters and ideas was to present ALL the theories it could surrounding the Garrison investigation of a likely conspiracy (later confirmed "likely" by our own government), Parkland seems more concerned with passing the research and imagination of one man (writer Vincent Bugliosi) as absolute truth. There's no room for doubt in these proceedings: Oswald was guilty, but the real truth is: his own death kept a lot of white a$$es out of jail (and ostensibly in office) forever crystallizing the mystery surrounding his actual involvement. Otherwise, it's a nearly unwatchable display of amateur theatrics and wasted talent.

Zac Efron looks like he wandered onto the big boy's stage fresh from a teen magazine photo spread. He's completely out of his range playing a young resident physician at Parkland Hospital and thoroughly incapable of portraying any semblance of an internal life. He's simply there to look attractive and pound on the dead President's chest in utter desperation after it's too late to save him. With all due respect, he's a good pounder. Billy Bob Thornton portrays Forrest Sorrels, the man (as far as I'm concerned) who was totally at fault for the Secret Service's epic blunder in not protecting Lancer (as Kennedy was known to his Agents; also not mentioned in the film) as well as the biggest f-up in the history of Presidential protection (which is more or less stated in the film at one point). But who was he? All we are led to believe is that Sorrels was a competent, forthright man whose negligence (or over-confidence) gave birth to tragic repercussions. Billy Bob Thornton seems intent on playing him as plainly and believably as possible, as if he were doing some sort of service to a relatively unknown but flawed man. The flaw is not in the way he is played, but rather in what we know today about the real character: which is next to nothing. I have a feeling that Bugliosi took a great many liberties in conjuring up the way Sorrels thought and acted that historic day, but what he doesn't provide is clear enough evidence that Kennedy would not have died by a sniper's bullet had this one man have simply done his job. And why wasn't he held professionally accountable for not protecting the President? Why wasn't anyone? These are not questions explored in Parkland. Rather, Parkland chooses to focus on good people under extreme duress who were forced to make hard decisions (such as where exactly Kennedy's coffin will be situated on Air Force One) whether they were indirectly responsible for the crime or not. The names of critical figures in the story appear on screen in lieu of actual character development; this is afterall a film on the go with a lot of inconsequential material to get through. Speaking of "development", a great deal of the early action is spent on the efforts by Abraham Zapruder and the Secret Service to develop the 8mm footage Zapruder fortuitously captured while standing not less than thirty feet away from the murder scene. Zapruder is played by Paul Giamatti who (not surprisingly) turns in the most full-bodied performance.

Zapruder starts off giddy to be closing up shop across the street at the Dal-Tex Building, telling all of his lovely-dressed employees that they must all go outside to see the President's motorcade pass. Fate would have it that Zapruder and his secretary would choose the most ideal spot imaginable to take what is widely considered the most important film ever shot in US history. This realization, along with the sickening images he witnessed through the camera lens, are forever engraved on his face thereafter. Zapruder was not a man who held the fate of the President in his own hands, he was simply a guy on his lunch break. He and Sorrels would both etch themselves into history as a result of their choices. It's just a shame that Parkland doesn't draw any real connection between the two. Instead, it just puts them together in several scenes and reminds us that these are names we should all know. Ron Livingston as FBI Agent James Hosty is portrayed as a victim of another sort. Hosty's name should be familiar to fans of the Stone movie, as he was the man who kept a file on Oswald months before the assassination. In the Parkland film, he is not a possible accomplice in a conspiracy, he is simply ordered by his superiors to destroy any evidence that the FBI even knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was, before it makes them look bad for not potentially stopping the President's killer. It's a plausible turn of events I suppose, and one that Hosty clung to for most of his life (he eventually wrote a book) but what we don't get is the context surrounding any of his actions. Hosty was never asked by the Warren Commission anything that could incriminate him or the FBI, therefore he never technically lied about anything, or did anything wrong -- technically speaking. He destroyed the letter that Oswald hand-delivered to him (at the FBI building) supposedly in which Oswald threatened Hosty's life if he didn't leave his family alone, allegedly because Hosty saw it as a personal letter to him, and therefore not an official document. The mere inclusion of Hosty in Parkland opens a whole can of worms that these filmmakers were neither willing nor capable of delving into. It's the only form of cover-up or conspiracy that we are shown on an official level in Parkland and it damns the whole film. The Dallas police are simply portrayed as ignorant and bullying hicks (not likely far from the truth), but the FBI are revealed to be positively traitorous in their actions surrounding the murder investigation of a Commander in Chief. And I can only assume according to Bugliosi and co., that's A-ok simply because no one ever asked them about it on the record. Also of interest, the film neglects to mention the fact that the FBI and the Secret Service already thwarted an assassination plot on Kennedy's life in Chicago weeks before the trip into hostile Dallas territory (Thomas Arthur Vallee among others was apprehended, an ex-Marine with alleged Communist credentials eerily similar to Oswald). Kennedy Secret Service Man Abraham Bolden wrote a book about it in which he also claims that several members of Kennedy's own Secret Service detail on the Texas trip stated in private they would not take a bullet for Kennedy. All fascinating details (and every bit as relevant as the personal beliefs and claims of Robert Oswald) that have come to light and were left out of Parkland presumably because they detract from the outmoded lone gunman tract.

The Oswald family (Marguerite, Robert and Lee) make brief appearances at several stages to help the filmmakers reinforce the official story (official in 1963 anyway) that Oswald was the lone assassin. Marguerite, played here by Jacki Weaver (who was riveting in Animal Kingdom) is the only character crying conspiracy (other than Lee who only hints at it). None of the Oswalds provide a rationale for his actions, only that he is either solely guilty or the victim of something greater. I suppose that's all any of us think today of Lee Harvey Oswald. If you believe the Warren Commission fiction, you must be an anti-conspiracy nut; if you don't buy it, you're just a conspiracy nut. Parkland, the first major film project to put the audience face to face with the President's alleged killer (or patsy) since Gary Oldman in JFK doesn't do much to reconcile these two schools of thought. The scene between Robert and Lee (played adequately by James Badge Dale and Jeremy Strong respectively) excels at showing Lee to be off-kilter and cocky, even in the face of imminent danger, yet it somehow only feels like the intended high point of a low end production.

If you want to know what else the Warren Commission purposely didn't ask anyone about (for their own protection), see Stone's JFK. John Kennedy is not an actual character in the film JFK, but his very presence, or ghost, seems to loom over all the events transpiring. It's a testament to how well the film is made, be it fantasy or not. The ghost of John Kennedy is nowhere to be felt in Parkland, despite his dead body being lugged around from one shouting match to another, and his familiar face being shown from time to time on newsreels reminding us that a real person was killed, not just a public figure. There are other real people on display in the film too, but their connection to reality is still highly suspect.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 12, 2013 8:44 AM PST

Hugo (Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Hugo (Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Chloë Grace Moretz
Offered by ClockworkCornucopia
Price: $18.03
50 used & new from $1.22

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars should have been called: "Georges", May 11, 2012
My favorite Scorsese films (Mean Streets; Taxi Driver; The King of Comedy; Goodfellas) have always felt 'non-Hollywood' to me; my least favorite (Gangs of New York; The Aviator; The Departed; Shutter Island) seem to be the most conventional and reliant on Hollywood formula. Not all formulaic films are bad. The King's Speech is one of the most typical Hollywood films to come along in years and it's still a pleasure to watch (though a bit sappy).

No films are perfect, unless they are perfectly bad. Of course, there is something joyful about watching a perfectly bad film (Plan 9 from Outer Space; Attack of the 50 Foot Woman). When a film tries it's hardest to do more and fails considerably, it can become aggravating. Scorsese's Hugo is not technically a bad film. On the other hand, it's not a good one either. It falls short on so many levels it's hard to even give it a fair estimation without sounding like a cynic. For starters: it's clumsy. It's filled with more CGI than an average live-action outing and if it weren't for the human actors who populate it, I would say it felt almost totally animated along The Polar Express lines. For a kids film, there is little or no sense of wonder or adventure in it. Hugo gets chased by an orphan-obsessed station inspector (with a leg that symbolically reminded me of von Rauffenstein's neck brace in Grand Illusion) and that's about it. There are many symbolic references (intentional or otherwise) in Hugo. So much so, I began to wonder what was actually original about the film. I also began to wonder exactly how and why Scorsese sold out yet again to the establishment.

A rough, challenging film like Taxi Driver or a sweet, introspective one like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore aren't going to do well at the cineplex -- unless they are made by Martin Scorsese. There's the rub. Scorsese has a built-in audience (and critics cheering squad) regardless of what he does. He's also spent the better part of the last two decades making conventional, indirect films that seem like they could have been directed by, well...anyone. When he made Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, it stuck out as an anomaly in his early career because it had a central female protagonist. Hugo is another anomaly, simply because it's a kids film. The big difference between the two movies is Alice seemed to defy convention and refused to be a weepy women's issue picture. Hugo on the other hand strives to be a personal story of abandonment and redemption as well as grand historical fantasy. While it flirts relentlessly with these ambitions, it never really grabs on to any of them. It never really picks up enough steam. Worse yet, the film contains several moments that even an amateur film-maker might have rethought or simply avoided. There is a scene in which Chloë Grace Moretz gets knocked down in the train station and is almost trampled by a hoard of passengers. The problem occurs when her perspective changes to a bizarre camera angle looking directly up toward the ceiling as the shoes of the mob seemingly walk flatly over a sheet of glass on top of her. My only guess is this looked way less-effective in the 2D version I was watching than it did in the 3D manner for which it was shot. The argument for selling out or not seems to end right there. There were obvious '3D moments' in the far superior Tin Tin but they never distracted from that films story.

There is a lot of talk about movies in Hugo. So much so that I began to forget about the titular protagonist altogether. Scorsese injects the film with a kind of remedial silent film history that can only be meant to enthrall an adult audience with the vaguest of notions regarding these staples of TCM and film class syllabi. I don't need a full-blown documentary on the subject (though it is one of the few things Scorsese actually seems to be artistically successful at these days, especially with his George Harrison: Living in the Material World) but I kept wondering: what does this much film history have to do with Hugo's story? Hugo is not the main character of this film like he is in the source book. That's fine, but changing horses like that midstream, from orphaned boy on a quest to bitter old reclusive film-maker (Georges Méliès) feeling unloved or jilted was more jarring than the conflicting CGI environments -- especially when Hugo does very little other than going through motions to inadvertently help the old filmmaker. The film struggles to find it's center and leans too heavily toward the cause of film preservation than it should. By the end, we are beat over our heads to death with it.

The truth is, I still don't know if Scorsese has become a total sell-out. I'm also not going to begin telling you how Hugo could (or should) have been a better film. I will say that had they stuck to the tone of the book (even just in spirit) it might have been a more satisfying experience. Also, there's a little gimmick used in Hugo that I picked up on after seeing a Woody Allen film once -- if a character in a film says something like: "Happy endings only happen in the movies" -- you can best be sure that the film you are watching is going to contain one of those same patented happy endings. If anything, Hugo's greatest contribution would seem it's an excellent primer on the well-known and highly regarded work of Georges Méliès. This film really only acts as a reminder that not all artists are as consistently and vigorously celebrated as Scorsese in their own day. I doubt that I will think too much about Hugo in the future. It's already sort of subsided into that 'curious failures' trunk in my mind. Like the unnatural-looking and awkwardly conceived CGI train-wreck that occurs in Hugo's dream -- Scorsese continues his streak of pure Hollywood hokum. As long as he keeps waving his baton to the masses, the longer his orchestra will seem out of tune.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2012 12:55 PM PDT

Public Enemies - Special Edition [Blu-ray]
Public Enemies - Special Edition [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Offered by amazingwildcat
Price: $8.77
149 used & new from $2.98

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "I was a good fellow, most people said, betrayed by a woman dressed all in red", January 17, 2010
This is a review of the movie -- not the Blu-ray -- and it does contain spoilers...

It seems that a lot of the five star reviews I've read here all seem to admit the film had little or no character development. How can you say a film is "five stars" that has no character development? It's true by the way. Public Enemies had little to no character development. That's fine if you're making a movie about Elvis or Santa Claus. The audience already has some idea who these characters are in their own minds. When you're dealing with men like John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis things tend to get a little more vague for some folks.

I saw Public Enemies in the theater. Loved the book by Bryan Burrough. I've also been a life-long Dillinger fan. Originally I had no desire to see this film half-expecting it to be bad. My curiosity eventually got the better of me. Where Johnny Depp soared in his larger than life take on guys like Ed Wood, George Jung and Hunter S. Thompson he went down like a lead balloon as Dillinger. John Herbert Dillinger was one of the most charismatic and charming criminals the world has ever known. Why then would Johnny Depp play him so tight-lipped? If you agree that Depp was tight-lipped in this film, Christian Bale as Purvis would have had no lips at all by comparison.

In short, this was not the same Dillinger and Purvis that really lived. Okay, I know. Stop right there. It's only a movie. But wait just a minute -- this was a movie based on a beautifully written and meticulously researched piece of nonfiction. So why then does Dillinger appear in the beginning of the film at the infamous Walter Dietrich Indiana State Penitentiary breakout of 1933 when he was serving time himself in Lima, Ohio? Sure, Dillinger helped plan the ten-man escape but he did it from inside a prison cell. Surely writer/director Michael Mann read the book he based his film on. Didn't he?

Why did Mann have to invent a scene like something out of Heat in which Dillinger (caged in a big cell à la Hannibal Lecter) has an actual confrontation with the man employed to catch him? Surely Dillinger and Purvis must have met like this in real-life? It had to be in the book too, right? Wrong. Dillinger was incarcerated in Crown Point, Indiana but he never met Purvis face-to-face. Ever. This was just pure made-up nonsense. Kind of like Purvis requesting outside help from experienced law enforcement professionals to combat the gangsters who were mowing-down his young white-collar agents with relative ease. In reality, it was Hoover (Purvis' boss) who brought in Charles Winstead and the other cowboy cops from Texas and Oklahoma because he thought Purvis was grossly incompetent. Turns out, Hoover was right. Purvis was a colossal failure. Hoover actually had him demoted. In fact, Purvis wasn't even in charge of the Dillinger investigation (Samuel Cowley was) in the final weeks leading up to Dillinger's eventual death. But he's still in charge in this movie. In fact, he's kind of portrayed as something of a reluctant hero; a taciturn stoic agent of the law. Sure he was.

Then we come to Little Bohemia in April 1934. Aside from using the real Northern Wisconsin location in the film, this entire portion of the story is pure fantasy. This is what we know happened: Purvis failed yet again to nab Dillinger but he did manage to kill an innocent bystander and wound two others in the process. This is what is shown in the movie: Purvis guns down Baby Face Nelson in the woods outside the lodge. Shenanigans. Nelson wasn't even shot there. He outlived Dillinger. As did half of the gang members that Mann kills off during his film (including Stephen Dorff as Homer Van Meter). I suppose this was done in an effort to make Dillinger look like the last of the gang and all that. I get it. Shenanigans.

Where in the film was Dillinger's well-known plastic surgery? Why they would choose to leave this critical bit of business out is beyond me. Instead, Mann has Dillinger walk undetected into the very office in downtown Chicago that has been created to catch him. He looks at photos on the wall of his old gang with the word "DECEASED" printed underneath them (even though most of them weren't dead yet in real-life) then he even stops and has a brief chat with some of the Agents who are listening to a ball game on a radio. Talk amongst yourselves on that one.

Don't even get me started on Billie Frechette, Dillinger's long-time sweetheart. Dillinger had A LOT of girlfriends in his day but this movie chooses to focus solely on this relationship. Okay. I'll buy it. But did we really need the standard issue, contrived, Hollywood love story in a shoot-em-up John Dillinger movie? It's all for dramatic effect I would presume. Mann also leaves out the fact that Billie spent the rest of her life capitalizing off her association with Dillinger and touring in a theatrical show with members of Dillinger's own family. She died of cancer in 1969. Juliet Capulet she was not.

After the Little Bohemia incident, the film dumps us right into the final hours. The place is the Biograph theater at 2433-43 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago -- the scene of John Dillinger's death. If you want the real details of the incident, you should read the book Public Enemies or any of the other half-dozen or so books still in print about the life of John Dillinger. They are far more interesting and exciting than this film is. All you need to know is: Dillinger was betrayed by a woman, a madame named Ana Cumpanas (aka Anna Sage) who was in fear of being deported to Romania and cut a deal with Purvis to bring in Dillinger. A deal that Purvis later reneged on.

Special Agent Charles Winstead was the man who was later credited with getting the Dillinger killshot. He is played quite effectively by the underrated Stephen Lang. He and Mann worked together before on Manhunter. Back when Mann used to make good movies. In reality, Winstead went to the Marbro Theater first unlike his showy scene in the film. When determining which of the two suspected theaters Dillinger will be at, Winstead asks which movie is playing at both. He is told a Shirley Temple film and a Clark Gable gangster picture. He replies: "John Dillinger will not be seeing a Shirley Temple movie" or something to that effect. It was a cute line nonetheless.

The final scene plays out pretty much as I expected. Except for it being about 97% inaccurate. In reality, Purvis was sweating and shaking the whole time unlike Bale in the film who is never less than calm, cool and collected. There was a moment or two of chaos as the crowd emerged from the theater and some of the G-Men were fighting with the local cops and the theater manager (not in the movie) until finally Dillinger emerges with a girl on each arm. Despite a completely ridiculous camera shot of an overzealous (and near-retarded) Agent drawing his gun on the street about ten yards away from behind Dillinger (why weren't there any people screaming at the sight of this?) and then practically running toward him, they somehow managed to capture the actual moment of Dillinger's death PERFECTLY. It's by far the most accurate thing in the movie. Since the rest of the movie lumbers along like an old Chevy with four flat tires I can't help thinking this scene was gotten right by accident.

Was the film entertaining? Not nearly as enjoyable as The Untouchables was. At least The Untouchables didn't pretend to be historical drama and it wasn't based on a highly lauded work of nonfiction. The Untouchables was intended to be a Hollywood historical fantasy and it's certainly one of the most entertaining movies of it's kind. It's a modern gangster melodrama. Public Enemies isn't any of these things. To be honest, I don't know what it is.

Put simply: to me, the film has no soul. It is bland and predictable. The action is cluttered, the modern music throws it off and the performances fail to ignite any real depth or emotion. Worse yet, it's as if it were shooting for some level of drab realism yet it fell back on glossy convention every opportunity it had. I had a real hard time trying not to laugh during that cornball ending too with Frechette and Winstead. This film fails to even crack the surface of who John Dillinger was as a man. Dillinger was a charming, cold-blooded killer. He was without a doubt the most notorious and celebrated bank-robber this Country has ever seen. One of the biggest problems with this film for me was Mann hardly showed Dillinger robbing any banks at all. There's no real sense of time in the film or when things are actually happening. In the movie, John Dillinger tells us that he's a bank robber. There's the rub. Don't tell us, Johnny. Show us.

Sweeney Todd/Sleepy Hollow [Blu-ray]
Sweeney Todd/Sleepy Hollow [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
2 used & new from $99.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gothic Horror Lives!, March 17, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Finally, it seems shelling out nearly thirty bucks for Sweeney Todd on blu-ray is worth you get the Sleepy Hollow blu-ray for practically nothing. Actually, since this 2-pack became available the price of the Sweeney Todd blu-ray by itself has dropped about five bucks but really you are paying [..] a piece to own Sweeney and Sleepy together...

Now for the good stuff. If you didn't already know, Sweeney Todd on blu-ray looks magnificent. I thought the standard def DVD was beautiful but the blu-ray trumps it in almost every respect. The soundtrack (which is the true star of the film) is about as perfect as one could expect. This film seems to be "love it" or "hate it" with most people so if you find you are kinda in the middle you will definitely benefit from seeing it in full 1080p glory. Burton may have arguably made some better films (Ed Wood for one) but this one is right up there in the upper echelon of musical theatre and gothic horror, even if some of it may feel a little too conjoined at times.

Sleepy Hollow on the other hand is a different story. The film itself is the perfect late-night horror feature. Depp plays Ichabod Crane as sort of a fey Peter Cushing in Burton's puritan nightmare. The sets (this film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction -- as did Sweeney Todd) and the costumes are breathtaking but fail to truly come alive in Paramount's lackluster hi-def transfer. Much has been debated about "filmic" quality recently and while grain is certainly inherent to film (this picture will not look the same as Pirates of the Caribbean) the transfer here left a lot to be desired. Only a small step up from the standard def DVD, the blu-ray may disappoint some who have come to expect more clarity and detail from even older films on this new format.

If you are a Tim Burton or Johnny Depp fan (in addition to Hammer Horror), this 2-pack of essential Burton/Depp films should be a no-brainer. If you purchased Sweeney Todd on DVD before the blu-ray came out you will not find the rebate offer with this package; it is only available for a limited time on the individual Sweeney Todd blu-ray disc. The two discs repackaged here are exactly the same as the individual ones (minus the mail-in rebate on Sweeney) and offer up a mixed bag of sadistic singing barbers, cowardly constables, murderous meat pies and headless Hessians...sure to thrill & delight apparitions of all ages!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2009 5:58 PM PDT

Sideways [Blu-ray]
Sideways [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Paul Giamatti
11 used & new from $1.04

2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Payne-ful experience, March 13, 2009
This review is from: Sideways [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I have only seen four of Alexander Payne's films: Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways. These four irreverent films share a common thread. They are each in their own way a meditation on hopelessness and despair. Payne's gift, or rather his forte, is to coat most of this misery with a black comic enamel. They are mostly all character-driven stories with what can only be described as 'sometimes-lovable-losers' at the helm.

In Citizen Ruth it's Laura Dern as poor "Ruth Stoops" the glue-sniffing titular anti-heroine; in Election it's Matthew Broderick's poor "Mr. McAllister" who engages in some highly questionable personal and professional affairs including adultery, student council election rigging and revenge among other things; in About Schmidt it's Jack Nicholson's poor "Warren Schmidt" who must come to terms with a life of failed relationships and a future just as worse; and now it's Paul Giamatti (arguably the biggest loser of them all) who portrays poor "Miles" in Sideways as a wounded man who lives in his own little world but soon finds himself on a precipice and is given the chance to stay put or transform into something more.

Like all of these interesting and inventive characters, Miles' journey is not an easy one. There are plenty of set-backs, obstacles, awkward sexual encounters and most of all demons that he must face. Miles seems to like his demons however, or at least he's gotten used to them. I wish we could have learned more about this man other than what he knows about wine and how he responds to his gregarious friend and horny road-trip mate. The only problem I have with Payne's major body of work is -- they are all essentially the same character on the same quest. What makes each of these movies interesting is not necessarily the constant personal misery that the main characters face (or rather resist facing until the end) but the supporting players along for the ride.

In Sideways, it's Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen (both nominated for Academy Awards for this film). Church's "Jack" is a mixed bag. He's equally engaging and completely revolting. It's no wonder for he plays a spoiled playboy and soap opera actor in this. He is a delight to watch. He is also perhaps the only character in the film who knows exactly who he is as a person even though he never really knows what he wants. Madsen plays "Maya", the waitress with a heart of gold. What could have been an easily forgettable female protagonist is saved and graced by Madsen with one Oscar-clip moment that in my humble opinion almost elevates the entire film. If you've seen the movie or watched the Oscars you know what scene I'm referring to. There's no tears, no fancy camera tricks, no heightened drama really. It's simply Maya talking about wine (yet so much more). This brief and wonderful moment made the whole film worth watching for me or perhaps it's the one bright thing that I have taken away from this movie and held onto inside.

Sideways is a sometimes-funny film (I think it was supposed to be a comedy) but it tries too hard to be about 'real life' that it seems more movie-real than anything else. There's enough anxiety in this film to make even Woody Allen or Albert Brooks blush a little and the great Paul Giamatti handles most of it with deft aplomb but like all of Payne's miserable losers his character just runs out of steam by the end. I intentionally stayed far away from this one when it first came out. I didn't want the hype (like near-unanimous critical praise and one Academy Award for Payne's adapted screenplay) surrounding it to effect my viewing and potential enjoyment. I'm glad I saw this film (like all of Payne's films) but he really needs to get a new act. I'm starting to think he's cornered the market on movies with pathetic people resisting the urge to change.

In that respect, I feel Citizen Ruth is his best film. Ruth certainly manufacturers her own problems but she's also being exploited by everyone else in the system and there's the difference. It's also his least cloying and most edgy film to date. Ultimately, I wanted Sideways to be better than what it was. It's the greatest movie about the art of appreciating wine that I have ever seen. Sure there's a lot more going on but that's what I found most successful about it. I think Payne might have been reaching for a little more.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 17, 2010 5:04 AM PST

Girl on the Bridge
Girl on the Bridge
DVD ~ Daniel Auteuil
Offered by Lights Camera Action DVD
Price: $34.99
23 used & new from $13.10

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a work of art, July 3, 2008
This review is from: Girl on the Bridge (DVD)
It's very seldom that a film truly deserves a perfect FIVE star rating; well, at least a film from the past ten years or so. You know that old saying: they don't make 'em like they used to anymore? That's true, except for Girl on the Bridge. This film is simply put: wistful. It sparkles with a peculiar romantic intensity and a vividness that is not often found in contemporary films; whatever the language. It's as if Cukor or Hawks or Capra stepped out of the past to guide this little film along. It would take the French to make a movie this glowing with romantic saturation. The director is Patrice Leconte. That name will probably not mean much to most people outside of France or Europe, but in his native country he is as famous and respected a living filmmaker as there ever was. When you look at the body of Leconte's work it may not seem impressive at first. He doesn't have a mile long list of blockbuster hits to his name (like Scorsese or Spielberg) but he makes the most of every single film he creates and when viewed as a whole, his films mostly share a similar thread: two lonely and desperate people trying to make a connection in a cruel world.

In some of Leconte's films the connection is as simple as friendship (The Man on the Train '02, My Best Friend '06) but mostly his films revolve around the eminent concept of love (Girl on the Bridge '99, The Widow of Saint-Pierre '00) and to some degree obsession (Monsieur Hire '89, The Hairdresser's Husband '90, Intimate Strangers '04). But do not mistake me, Girl on the Bridge is not some weepy romantic tear-jerker. On the contrary, it is something of an anomaly. It is about two damaged people who share a bond that neither one can quite understand or ultimately ignore. How you feel about that bond in question is up to you since some may say it's luck, and others might say it's clairvoyance. Yes. There is an air of mysticism to the proceedings in Girl on the Bridge, but believe me, in terms of the story it's what makes the whole thing click. That and the chemistry of the two stars: Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis (better known as the future Mrs. Johnny Depp).

Auteuil dominates the film with his world-weary eyes and saggy face. There is something brutal about him that lingers caged under a gentle surface; he's like a Gallic Bogart with more spontaneity. In this film he plays a professional knife thrower. When one considers the type of person it must take to have knives thrown at them at high velocity, it's no wonder he finds his would-be assistants on the ledges of Parisian bridges after nightfall. This particular would-be target is played by the delicate, sensual and callow Paradis. Their stormy professional relationship (replete with psychic bond) soon matures into a true friendship and eventual...well, I'll leave the rest up to you to discover. The film is filled with playful yet ravishing cinematography (courtesy of Jean-Marie Dreujou) and a haunting musical score (featuring the unforgettable Marianne Faithfull). It's funny, erotic and above all else a film that fills the senses and leaves you breathless. Legend Films presents Girl on the Bridge in a sparkling anamorphic transfer with pleasing sound. This is the first time the film has been released on DVD in region 1, and believe me, it was long overdue. I showed this film to someone once and all they could say afterward was: "it looked like one of those black and white cologne or diamond commercials on TV." Yeah, I suppose there are some people who could look at Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and sum it up by saying: "it sure went high up." It's so easy for some to miss the point. I think what Leconte is trying to say with most of his films is that love is inherently simple, yet we as human beings complicate the matter every time. Perhaps it's something in our nature. Is it the heart that's responsible? The head? The gut? Maybe it's the whole damn thing...
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King Of The Gypsies
King Of The Gypsies
DVD ~ Eric Roberts
Offered by Serenity-Now
Price: $19.95
18 used & new from $3.98

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long Live the King!, July 1, 2008
This review is from: King Of The Gypsies (DVD)
Peter Maas wrote a book in 1974 called King of the Gypsies. It was the basis for Frank Pierson's film of the same name in 1978. Maas and Pierson are both excellent writers in their own right. Maas also wrote the book that was the basis for the 1975 Sidney Lumet film Serpico starring Al Pacino. Pierson won an Academy Award for Original Screenplay in 1975 for his work on Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon also starring Pacino. There's no doubt that King of the Gypsies is a well written film. It's also a well acted film. This was Eric Roberts' first major starring role (before he became King of the B-Movies) and he delivers the goods. Judd Hirsch plays the bad guy (a nice change of pace) and next to his Academy Award nominated performance in 1980's Ordinary People, this was his finest work on film. Susan Sarandon has never looked better than she does in this film and the great Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather) is perfectly cast as the aging patriarch "King Zharko Stepanowicz". The film also boasts a tremendous musical score (courtesy of David Grisman and Stéphane Grappelli among others). So the writing, acting and music are all excellent; what went wrong?

To be honest, King of the Gypsies is not a bad film at all. It's actually quite entertaining. The problem is it's just not epic enough to suit the material. Google the term "King of the Gypsies" or look it up on wikipedia and you will begin to see just how interesting the subject material truly is. Pierson mainly became a television/cable film director. Gypsies has that unmistakable "TV film" feel to it (despite cinematography by the late, great Sven Nykvist) when it should have felt more cinematic like The Godfather. That is the conflict that went on in my mind the entire time I was watching this film. The first time I saw it was years ago on (you guessed it) Television, and I thought it was a made-for-TV movie. The fact is, King of the Gypsies deserves a wider audience. It has mainly become a cult film over the years (primarily due to it's lack of exposure on home video and DVD). The film has been all but forgotten. A lot of film and TV shows have portrayed the East Coast American gypsy community over the past several decades (Bill Paxton's Traveller and Eddie Izzard's The Riches both come to mind) but none have ever gotten it exactly right; King of the Gypsies does get it right; even if it doesn't quite have the gravitas of The Godfather. I recommend this movie to anyone with a love of American films from the Seventies. Brooke Shields also made the underrated (and problematic) Pretty Baby for director Louis Malle that same year. Coincidentally, both Baby and Gypsies were photographed by Sven Nykvist. It is interesting to compare his camera work with different directors; while nothing compares to his collaborations with master Ingmar Bergman, his style is nevertheless interesting and never less than intimate.

Regardless of how you feel about the film, and for whatever the reasons, King of the Gypsies has become one of those "lost classics" of American cinema. Fortunately it is finally available now in the proper aspect ratio and deserves to be seen. I don't know if it is a great or important film, but I do know it fully deserves it's reputation. Enjoy!
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Some Kind of Hero
Some Kind of Hero
DVD ~ Richard Pryor
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $9.01
15 used & new from $3.32

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not your ordinary prisoner of war movie, July 1, 2008
This review is from: Some Kind of Hero (DVD)
Of all Richard Pryor's films, this one has to rank up there as one of the strangest. To begin with, it's a comedy/drama that's partly set in a POW camp during the Vietnam War. If you think that kind of set-up sounds like Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (97) you would be wrong. The POW camp depicted in this film looks more like it was filmed around some bungalows in the Hollywood Hills. Pryor has some good (albeit minimal) interplay with another American POW (played convincingly by the underrated Ray Sharkey) and a four legged friend he calls "Spike" but eventually he is freed and the film shifts to Pryor's character trying to adjust back to life stateside. This is where the film begins to take a nosedive. One wonders what the film might have been like if it was set entirely in the POW camp and was more dramatic. Pryor was a brilliant comedian and a great actor (see him in his best film performance in Blue Collar from 1978). He was always able to handle the more serious material in his films than people give him credit for. Pryor had a dark side himself and that came through a little in each of his roles. The problem with Some Kind of Hero is that it seems like nobody trusted Pryor to play the whole thing straight. Don't get me wrong, there are a few moments when I was laughing out loud (like the scene when Pryor reunites with his wife in the hotel room and his reaction to what she tells him has happened with her since he's been away) and the movie isn't a complete stinker, but do not expect Silver Streak (76) or Stir Crazy (80) from this one. All in all, The Toy (which was also released in '82) is a better vehicle for Pryor's talents and likability. This movie takes an interesting subplot involving Pryor's character and a prostitute (played excellently by Lois Lane herself, Margot Kidder) and wastes it on a lame denouement involving Pryor stealing some money and encountering some mobsters. I digress, this could have been Pryor's Stalag 17 or to some degree his Midnight Express or The Deer Hunter. Instead, it was just another forgettable dramedy. It's still worth a watch for the performances (including Ronny Cox in a small but memorable role) and mostly for fans of all things Richard Pryor. I myself had been waiting a long time for this one to come out on DVD and I was not disappointed, but I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

Queen Margot (La Reine Margot)
Queen Margot (La Reine Margot)
DVD ~ Isabelle Adjani
Offered by too many secrets
Price: $28.53
36 used & new from $3.30

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patrice Chéreau's masterpiece, June 29, 2008
To begin with, the transfer used for the region 1/US version of the DVD is inadequate when compared to many other StudioCanal and Miramax productions on disc. It is NOT anamorphic and overall the "letterboxed" picture looked terrible blown-up on a 50" Panasonic plasma display. It's a good thing the story is so engrossing and the cinematography is so rapturous or else I would have felt like turning it off and waiting for a better release. Also, this is sadly a truncated and re-edited version of the original French theatrical release; this probably wont effect most people since there's enough sex and violence in this version of the film to satisfy even the most unenthusiastic viewer of subtitled movies. The sound however was quite good and I was jarred a few times by the intensity of the score pounding through my speakers. I only detracted one star for the quality of the picture and conditions surrounding the edit; the film itself is easily 5 stars.

Now on to the good stuff. (SPOILERS AHEAD!) This really is quite a stunning piece of film making. It is based on the Dumas novel which is in turn based mostly on historical fact. If you have an interest in French history (or movies about court intrigue) I strongly suggest you check this film out and read up on the actual events before or after so you are clear on which creative liberties were taken with the material. The acting is uniformly superb: Jean-Hugues Anglade's King Charles IX is so tragic and pathetic that it's hard to not feel sympathy for his manipulated (and manipulating) character; Daniel Auteuil shines again (as usual) as Henri de Navarre, the eventual "Henry the Great"; Virna Lisi is perfectly cast as the epitome of evil schemers, Catherine de Médicis (looking like one of Frank Herbert's Bene Gesserits incarnate); Pascal Greggory as Anjou, one of Catherine's incestuous sons, can reveal more hate and contempt with a single look than most actors can with a whole monologue; Vincent Perez and Claudio Amendola are perfect as sworn enemies turned brothers-in-arms; the radiant Isabelle Adjani (as the titular character, Marguerite de Valois) is the sun in which all of these characters revolve. There are many other performances of note (especially the actor who plays the small part of the executioner who nurses La Môle and Coconnas back to health only to have to do his job and execute them later) and of course the Pièce de résistance of the whole film is the actual events leading up to and including the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in historical/literary films and until a restored, definitive version of the film comes along this one is well worth the twelve to fifteen bucks.

Though it's hinted at in the end, it has been written that Margot "embalmed la Môle's head and kept it in a jewelled casket" to (as she says in the movie) "preserve his beauty"...

DVD ~ Walter McGrail
Price: $14.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh my darlin', February 1, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Suzanna (DVD)
I got exactly what I paid for when I purchased this item: a chance to see the only surviving footage of Lon Chaney's 1918 western with cowboy star William S. Hart, the lost film Riddle Gawne. It's only about a reel's worth of footage (approximately 10 minutes) but it was in good condition and was a little longer than clips I have seen of this before on various Lon Chaney tributes and documentaries. The musical accompaniment was quite good too. It may seem a little silly to some people to buy an entire DVD for 10 minutes worth of footage (and I admit that I haven't even watched the other footage on the DVD which includes several short films and the main attraction featuring Mabel Normand) but for a Lon Chaney fan -- this is priceless. It even came with a small Mabel Normand magnet which is now proudly displayed on my kitchen fridge! Highly recommended for Lon Chaney completists.

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