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The Flick Chick
Films with titles beginning with "E" and "F"
Here are some good (and not-so-good) films. Probably not in any of your nearby theaters, but very likely in your video store. They're labeled, good, pretty good, and some we can live without. If you hate my picks, write me a nice letter and defend your opinions. Or not, if you prefer. In any case, the snack bar remains open. . .
Not kitsch. Not cloying. Not overdone. Not resistable. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you haven't seen it again, see it again. To be truthful, the Chick has never been wild about the flying-bicycle scene (it strained the willing suspension of her disbelief) but she's sufficiently wild about the rest of E-T to make up for it!(3/21/02)
The Emperor and the Assassin,
Chinese, with English subtitles
If you like Oriental flicks, let me mention this visually stimulating film, which is now on tape. Not at all a kung-fu picture, it deals with political murder and betrayal in ancient times, plot and counterplot, secret within secret. Although its pace is a little slow at times, the acting and filming are excellent, and there are several deeply interesting minor characters. At one point, I was so taken with the play of expression on the face of one actor that I had to re-run that segment because I had forgotten to read the subtitles! One of the stars, the very beautiful Gong Li, was also in Farewell My Concubine. (10/00)
The Emperors' Club
Prep School. Brilliant teacher. Rebellious, but brilliant student is saved by dedicated educator . . . only not quite. And then, of course . . .
Kevin Kline's performance improves this otherwise predictable picture. Rather than playing it as a way-too-perfect Mr. Chips, Kline (or more probably the screenwriter who created the character) gives us a slightly pompous, slightly stuffy, and humanly vulnerable character with enough compassion and good will to retain our sympathy. It's also beautifully mounted and shot, with excellent performances by the young actors who play the preppie kids. If you hate this kind of film, stay home by all means. But if you see it, you'll find it sound, and it will hold you throughout its entire 109 minute length.
Truly, though Kline should stick to comedy, as in Fish Called Wanda
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Don't care much for Jim Carey. Not a rabid fan of Kate Winslet. Do love SF though. What is there about speculative fiction that sets us . . . speculating?
Like several recent films (Memento is a very brilliant example), much of the storyline of Sunshine runs backwards, so that we first meet the characters as they have become, rather than as they have been. The story opens on Jim Carey, neurotic, driven, shaky, terrified of life, encountering Winslet half-crazy, twitchy, love-starved and we see the two drawn together without understanding what in the world it could be that they see in each other. Only late in the film do we reach their first meeting deeply nuanced: She was a free spirit, burning like an eager flame. His manner was touchingly cautious as he was drawn to her warmth, yet fearful of being burnt. Only then do we understand what we have been seeing. As their shared past unfolded and we saw the long body of their life together, we realize that their maturity has been chipped away along with their memories. Their later selves are only parodies of the real, three-dimensional humans they once were.
Is it not only experience but the collected memories of that experience that help us to become human? Could it be that memory makes us what we really are? (2/05)
Michael Moore has produced a sobering and scarey film. If you intended to see it, you've doubtless seen it by now, if you don't intend to see it . . . you won't. Either way, you're familiar with the film's content and whatever your own feeling about the subject, you are aware that the content takes a fervent political stand.
Another word for that is bias.
So let's talk about bias. Politics, by its very nature, involves a struggle of conflicting ideologies. There may have been a time when only the editorial pages of newspapers took an obvious political position, though a recollection of how presidents Jefferson and Lincoln were lampooned in the press suggests otherwise. But it is certain that right now we're in a period of deeply partison reporting. Nobody gives us just the facts. Sound bites show us what their producers want us to see and hear. Character assassination is common, and any retractions appear after irreparable damage may well have been done. Even the most conscientious reporter sees things through his or her own eyes and experience.
Then what's to do? Whom can you believe?
Well, nobody can decide that for you. Or for me, either. All any of us can do is try to keep an open mind, look at both sides, and make an effort to calculate the ratio of manipulation to fact. How? Look for solid evidence. Find out who owns the medium presenting the story. Decide who stands to profit by convincing us. Try to sort out information from emotion, and compare the validity of data offered by various sources. (The New York Times is more likely to have accurate reporting than, say, The National Enquirer although even that sometimes seems like a close call! And remember that they're both trying sell newspapers!)
Whatever you do, remember that politics is one long commercial. So it's up to us to be responsible "consumers" of the news. To do that, we have to evaluate, rather than simply accept what we see and hear. Sift through the spin and the emotion, pal, see if you can find any grains of truth.
Good luck to you!
Far From Heaven
Set in 1957-58, this lushly shot film pulls out all the stops on a story that deals with the emotional tangles of both gay (Dennis Quaid's) and interracial (Julianne Moore's) love affairs. Told very much from the woman's point of view, it movingly portrayed the cruelty that marked race relations at the mid-century point. However, according to what little I know about the social stigma evoked by gay behavior in the fifties, it downplayed the difficulties that would have been faced by the typical "Organization Man" that Dennis Quaid portrayed.
But bring along your handkerchiefs; the acting was powerful. Moore was both voluptuously beautiful and eerily accurate in the almost Stepford Wife perfection of her good manners and control. Quaid was so thinned down and buttoned down as to be almost unrecognizable. Here, he turns a corner from his hitherto wild man character. Very effective.
If you like this sort of film, this one will be a keeper for you. (12/29/02)
The Fast and The Furious
Not long ago, I got tired of not knowing what the word jejune means, so I looked it up. I'm glad I did because that knowledge now provides me with the perfect descriptive adjective for this film. Plot development, characterization, motivation, and story resolution were uniformly, yes, meager and unsatisfying. Its saving graces were few: good-looking cars; good-looking ingenues (male and female); and the very compelling star presence of the appropriately named Vin Diesel. See it only if you are mad for cars. (7/01)
Farewell My Concubine.
In Chinese. English Subtitles
This lovely film is now on video. There are touching performances by the principals and by the charming children who played their younger selves, but the real power of the story lies in the contrast between the narrowly political world of theater and the frightening violence of China's outer world. A fascinating aspect of the film is its glimpse into the rigorous (not to say cruel) training that groomed performers for Chinese opera. An unexpected side benefit was that, although my ear is completely untrained in the very different tonalities of the music and singing in the film, by the end of the narrative, I could actually distinguish between the protagonist's voice and the less pleasing singing of the Communist Party patriot who replaced him!
The other night, two great classic films directed by Federico Fellini (1920-1933) ran back-to-back on Turner Classic Movies: 8-1/2 and his brilliant La Strada. They are arguably among Fellini's greatest, and he was the top of the tops. Both were shot in B&W, very grainy & w/bad production values by today's high standards, but they are immensely powerful.
Marcello Mastroianni had already made La Dolce Vita and become a constellation. 8-1/2 made him a legend. In La Strada, Tony Quinn did the best work of his career he was a half-baked Mexican actor when he walked on the set & he came away an international star. Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife, who carried the other starring role, was a great actress and an icon of Italian film.
What happened once could happen again, so keep your eyes open for another sighting. Over the years, Fellini won four Oscars for Best Foreign Film, so even if you're not a film nut like me, be assured these are flicks worth seeing.
Some Fellini films to look for: Masina in Juliet of the Spirits, the very moving Amarcord, and the little-known, but brilliant Casanova, which starred Donald Sutherland (Keifers's father, and a big star long before his son was born). Also, if you can find them, try: The White Knight, which was one of his earliest films and one I found very funny; and Roma, which may now be X rated for nudity. Many of these films are on VCR, and at least some should be on CD by now. Any time you have a chance to see any Fellini film except perhaps Satyricon which can be one-too-many for some tastes be aware that they exist, and that they're strange, surreal, cynical, exciting . . . worth watching!
The Fifth Element
Gotta say that this is one of my fave films: Bruce Willis, in his persona as master of derring-do (flying taxicabs upside down!); a beautiful avatar, hulking wart-hog types with fancy guns, wonderful BEMS in general, including a fantastic 8-foot-tall blue semi-serpent that sings opera like you never heard, super baddies, gorgeous goodies . . . all the elements you could desire. Oh yes!
Curiouser and curiouser there
were moments when you almost forgot it was an anime you were
seeing. It was a very beautiful production and visually compelling (and I do have a weakness for fantasy), but the characters were (pardon the
obvious) entirely bloodless, the plot was same-old same-old
SF Nebulous-fantasy-evil and Save-the-world-with-Soul stuff,
complete with the gunner who dies fighting. And the final
World-is-saved-now scene was obviously patched together out of
leftover graphics from The Fifth Element. See it? Sure.
Enjoy the aesthetics. Pay no attention to the story. (7/01)
This close-to-historical fictional portrayal of the Lafayette Escadrille really captures the courage, the fears and hopes of the young American volunteers who went to France to learn to fly near-suicide missions during World War I. The story line may be well-worn and predictable, but the emotion it evokes is fresh as the young faces on the screen. Go with your kids. Go with your buddy. Go with your honey to this charming and enjoyable film. (10/06)
This is certainly Julianne Moore's film, and she does with it pretty much as much for it as could be expected. If you like chase scenes, this has chase scenes. If you like emotion, this has emotion. If you like bullet-proof guys, this has a bullet-proof guy. If you like a big sell for Mother Love you're in luck on that score, too. (Although personally I think you should not count out Father Love, buddyolas.) But if you are looking for a really big PUNCH in the punch scene . . . you might be just a tad disappointed.
Nice film. Nice actors. Nice action . . . nice enough way to while away a Saturday afternoon. But it didn't quite punch my ticket. Sorry. (10/04)
Well, yes, the central character of the film is as described in the title, but to judge by the dialogue they're none of them over twelve years old, because you never heard so much sixth-grade-dirty-talk in your life! And as to its portrayal of women . . . oh gag me with a spoon!
And yet these characters display so much moronic good will, so much innocent joie de vivre, so much stumblebum amiability that it is impossible to hate this film. Steve Carell as the longsuffering nerd of the title does eventually Get a Girl, after numerous failures too painful and too humiliating to narrate here. And we are glad. I guess. But if you're looking for any socially redeeming traits, forget it.
And yet . . . and yet . . . the Chick must reconsider once again. These lame-brain dudes (and chicks) display real loyalty, and patient forgiveness, and amazing forbearance. They persist despite difficulties that might well defeat those with more delicate sensibilities. And although no thinking person would deny that true happiness is based on a whole lot more than the physical side of love . . . it's that final embrace that assures us there's a happy ending. So go figure. (8/30/05)
This is a great flick for history buffs and for all those who Remember When. Not especially flattering to either protagonist (the Chick kept looking at "Frost" and thinking
"Tony Blair"), and there are those who remember the interviewer as something less of a lightweight. It is certainly a powerful and somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Nixon although there are still those who remember him as less vulnerable and more menacing siccing the IRS on those who made his Enemies List. And of course some still consider Nixon a great statesman. Whatever your age or your politics, there's plenty of built-in suspense and a couple of surprises which may or may not have been authentic. Anyway, Frost-Nixon is one to see.(2/09)
The Flick Chick Reviews New Films
More Film Reviews. Click the appropriate letter for films whose titles begin with . . .
A few choice foreign films (subtitles)
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