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Engaging & Stimulating, but Flawed
Great artists aspire to transcend the confines of their ordinary existence. Their art is their escape. Thanks to this worthy effort by the French, it is clear Vivaldi had a surfeit of stress to escape from. But this film does not demonstrate how that stress was the impetus behind the music.
Recall for a moment the highlights of Vivaldi's vast oeuvre. There is a trio sonata that gracefully rises up, evoking a better world; an aria from Moctezuma that hovers peacefully above a far-less tranquil world below; the opening chorus of the Gloria, which ascends to the heights of nobility, without even acknowledging the ignoble. These, and many more pinnacles of his accomplishments were omitted from the film, literally and figuratively. The meaning behind the music is not made clear.
By way of analogy, I might lend clarification from my own experience. For many years, I worked in an open office with several associates. Much to my dismay, I soon found that they chatted incessantly in the intervals of work about the most vulgar and abhorrent topics. There was but one escape: good music via earphone, of which Vivaldi was a cornerstone. Invariably, when the quiet was adulterated by obscene chit-chat, I found a lofty refuge in the red priest's contemplations. His compositions were, no doubt, intended to dispel the very same ennui. His was a delicate, noble constitution, incompatible with the cannaille.
Towards the end of the film, the word "Amsterdam" had been spoken often. I realized that it was a siren-call for this poor composer, kept forever under the thumb of a philistine patron. And I was moved profoundly, not by the film, but my recollection of having once toured Amsterdam for hours, to the accompaniment of Moctezuma, among the greatest of Vivaldi's 40+ operas. I had taken his music physically to the place he could only reach in his dreams.
Unusual Indictment of Suburban Isolation
It was thanks to the Big Sur short film festival that I had the chance to see it. A lonely couple appears to be the only inhabitant of a vast new subdivision. The silence is deafening. Humans were not meant to live this way. Psychological malnourishment is their lot, thanks in part to overzealous builders in cahoots with myopic financiers.
There is no overt commentary on that political slant. But one can easily draw the conclusion. One drawback is a slightly too graphic depiction of amorous activity. I wonder why movies drifted away from off-camera suggestions, towards overt imagery. It seemed so much more tasteful in the classics.
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Remake better than French original
After seeing this movie, I consulted the reviews and was pleasantly surprised to hear of a "superior" 1982 French version. The surprise was short-lived. It is not better.
There are interesting points of contrast: the French have more artistic cinematography, better gastronomy, and less formulaic denouement. A particular shot of the leading man lying on a couch with clothes and upholstery perfectly synchronized was unquestionably tasteful. But the Americans deserve credit too.
Kahn lends her character far more depth than her French colleague. She undergoes a moving transformation that is not evident in Pere Noel. Martin equals L'Hermitte's commendable effort. Wilson surpasses her predecessor in both charm and feeling; she's more deserving of our sympathy. Sandler is funnier and far less nauseating than his French counterpart. And the real surprise is Lewis. Her rendition of the crazed pregnant lady is far more dignified than the Frenchwoman's, who was as unlikable as Lewis in her earlier turn as a Griswald in Christmas Vacation.
But the real fork in the road is the conclusion. Whereas the French plunge into macabre darkness, the Americans end on several high notes. A Christmas movie must be jovial, and this version leaves me feeling better. Sometimes, even the worst catastrophes and deepest despair are followed immediately by pure jubilation.
Unsatisfying Depiction of Bach & Gould
Let me preface this review by saying: the music of Bach permeates my existence. Over the years, I've listened to nearly every recording there is, repeatedly. That said, I had trouble watching this movie. The first time I tried, I quit after five minutes. Last evening, I made it all the way through. While at times moving, the film disturbs.
For one, it does not do visual justice to the music. Bach's compositions are not about waving hands in the air, geometry animations, or men walking off into infinity. They're complex literary statements. This variety of music is akin to the best silent cinema; it says volumes, but without words. Like pantomime, it tells a nuanced story, weaving multiple plot lines together into an evocative fabric. Few of the 32 vignettes approached that ideal. Could it be that some of Bach's greatest admirers fail to grasp the deeper meaning within the music?
In addition, Gould's personal faults grate on the nerves. It's clear he wasn't an ideal specimen. He mistook music for life. Music is a condiment, a catalyst perhaps. It frames life, drawing attention to worthy matters. It spices and enlivens life, making it savory. But it is not life. His mind was filled with picture frames, but no pictures. He fell in love with music in the same way that parrots sometimes mistakenly bond with their human owners. They are not parrots, and music is not a woman. One wonders how Bach might greet Gould in heaven: "So, the bachelor thinks he understands the man with two wives and twenty children? Let's see what kind of music you'll play after we give you a well-rounded life."
Bunny O'Hare (1971)
Patriarchy and Parasitism
This film belongs to an enigmatic category I refer to as Extinct. No VHS or DVD release. Only a TV broadcast now and then. It deserves more, as do most extinct films: they should all be available for streaming or download on the web.
After seeing it yesterday on THIS, the new CBS digital broadcast sub-channel, I found Delaney's performance to be the highlight. Her ambivalent, playful acquiescence must epitomize the fate of countless intelligent women, even to this day. I'm no feminist, but I can empathize. She's clearly the superior cop. But the best she can do is gently nudge her male boss in the right direction. And when he errs, she can't correct him, lest he lose face. Civilization would probably be a hundred years further along by now if we humans weren't so rigidly patriarchal. Too many great women have been relegated to the sidelines. Including Delaney, whose film career apparently ended here.
Davis and Borgnine, meanwhile, help us understand the unfortunate issue of exploitative adult children. They've grown up, but they don't want to be independent. They happily parasitize their aging parents, who in Bette Davis' case, actually risk life and limb to procure infusions of cash in response to concocted, irresponsible excuses. Her progeny's utter lack of conscience was bewildering to me. I shudder to think how many elderly grandparents sympathize with Bunny's futile situation. There are probably millions of real-life parent-parasites in the world, preying upon their progenitors' unconditional affections.
This is a multifaceted film. Thanks to its stars, it's engaging too.
Der schönste Busen der Welt (1990)
Engaging, Hilarious at times
This is a short film that got distributed in the states as a preview ahead of "Makin' Up" on the same VHS tape.
A young male engineer keeps bumping into a well-equipped young lady. He can't keep his eyes from her monumental assets. One day at last, something hilariously unexpected happens after yet another collision in an elevator. I rarely laugh out loud when watching movies, but this was one of those times. I'll never forget the words of the doctor tasked with fixing the engineer's emerging problem.
I suppose there's a social commentary component. Something along the lines of: men are defined by their thoughts, women are defined by their bodies. There's also some inter-racial analysis, a la: Europeans prefer their women buxom, while Japanese like flatter chests. Parallels can also be drawn to "Bedazzled"-style "be careful what you wish for" themes.
Silver Streak (1976)
On the whole, an agreeable film
Like "Three's Company", this film gets better with time. I don't know what it is, but something about the train, and the adventure, and the music... it just amuses. The antagonist, McGoohan, is humorously pompous. The country sheriff's naivety is otherworldly. Moreover, it's the first pairing of Pryor and Wilder, so it's definitely comedic at times. But there's more.
It's the train. This movie captures the essence of train travel. You never know who you'll meet, what you'll see, or (nowadays, especially on Amtrak) WHEN you'll finally arrive at your destination. If more Americans saw this film once in a while on TV, who knows? Maybe interest in train travel would pick up.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Fanning The Flames
One less-obvious didactic accomplishment of the film: take all things in moderation. Stroud's initial devotion to cold, indiscriminate inclemency is what sealed his fate. Waiting twelve years before even once saying "thank you" to his prison guard, Stroud must have been trying to stay for life. His less-than-gregarious nature may have been the motive. Regardless, he would have accomplished far more science on the outside, where wardens have no jurisdiction. Had he not fanned the flames of prison simpletons, an early release might have resulted in cures to human diseases, as well as avian.
The film is reminiscent of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, another fine Hughes film. The touch of introspective melancholy towards the end; the odd couple traveling; the disastrous clashes of personality -- all of it is in tune with the earlier Candy/Martin film.
How does it differ? New subtleties of character are examined. We are treated to a portrait of a young man as an intractable nemesis, turned good-natured at last. And, we see the great Al Bundy in a more respectable guise. Entertaining.
Opening Scene Spectacular
This film is worth seeing if only just for the opening scene. I was fairly captivated by the leap off the Eiffel tower. When Serafim attempts suicide, the protagonist throws himself right after her, so taken is he.
That his bungee cord was not yet tied mattered little to him. Faith, only, in his friends made it work; they dutifully grabbed the end of the line in time to save his life. In true James Bond fashion, he managed to plunge faster to the bottom than her to effect a rescue.
Every filmaker should benchmark this film's opening. It is so effective that I couldn't help but sit through the rest of the film's effusive violence in spite of myself.
Deep Impact (1998)
This is the kind of movie that can alter your life. What are the world's most substantial problems? I've often wondered. Environmental plundering? Exponential growth rates in the human population? Elusive world peace? No. None of those. This movie lends perspective.
The most obtrusive problem for our world is fragility. We are ants in a child's sandbox, awaiting certain destruction -- unless, that is, we acknowledge our blinding myopia and start thinking about bigger issues than the last shootout on the 11 o'clock news.
Yes, it's true that a cosmic event like comet impact is unlikely to occur in our lifetime. No, it is not something we can relegate to inevitable act-of-god status. We are thinking, conscious beings -- of far more value than the ravens and lilies that share the earth with us. And as such, we must make use of our cognitive abilities to ensure that we have a more secure existence.
Astronomy and mathematics could one day pinpoint every single cosmological disaster in our planet's future. Quantum mechanics and physics could one day allow us and our biosphere to simply move to another planet. Out goal is sophisticated existence, perpetual in nature. If we don't get moving on this fast, it will be the greatest insult to our scientific forefathers, from Galileo to Einstein.
Now that's what I call a good movie.
Club Paradise (1986)
Funny and provocative
Ramis has exceptional talent. The eclectic selection of humorous scenes is well woven.
O'Toole lends a great deal of sophistication to the film. His thought provoking words on government and island life stirred my imagination.
Williams seems to have been at his comical best early in his career.
Moranis proves himself to be a true oddball.
Certainly, this is a picture you should not miss seeing.
The Millionairess (1960)
Not Bad At All
Rather memorable on the whole. Not a great deal of laughing to be had, but certain vignettes are tasteful and entertaining, e.g. Epifania's three-month poverty-to-riches test, the doctor's futile three-month 500 pound give-away. Placing in the top quartile of my movie experiences, it's a light comedy well worth seeing.