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Terrible movie
16 October 2014
I saw this movie many years ago at a private studio screening. It was so terribly bad and self-indulgent that I remember well just how horrible it was. In scenes set in a junkyard, Neil Young imparts his "wisdom" in rambling bits of nonsense. Thinking that he had something of import to say showed both his arrogance and his shallowness. I remember being appalled that Carrie Snodgress, freshly off the very good "Diary of a Mad Housewife," thought he was worth spending time with. Even in the hippie era, when people were prone to blathering on about their philosophy of life, this was insufferable. Clearly the studio thought it was pretty bad because it didn't get a theatrical release until two years after I saw it.

I feel obligated to write this review to save people from thinking this is worth watching, which the current 7.1 rating might lead them to believe.
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As good as they say it is
24 February 2007
I don't like violent movies and held off for a long time before finally succumbing to all of the good press and the Oscar nomination this movie got.

I did have to cover my eyes in a couple of places, but it was totally worth it. Most of the movie is not violent, and you can pretty much tell when the ugly parts are coming.

I wondered how a movie could be both violent and a sweet fantasy, and how the light and dark moments would come together. But they do.

You can understand how a good mother might be willing to suspend disbelief in order to become involved with a man who turns out to be a total brute so that she can escape the hand-to-mouth existence that she and her daughter had been living since her husband's death.

You can understand the girl's desire to escape her mother's decline and her stepfather's brutishness. Is she really the long-lost princess of an underground world? Are the fairies real? What is real? I was never quite certain.

Onc criticism I would levy is that it seemed that the movie was making a good guy/bad guy, two-sided war out of what was a very complicated, many-sided war full of treachery on the right and the left. But maybe I should just look at it as a small piece of larger picture.

That comment aside, the movie is very well acted and engaged me throughout. I highly recommend it, which is remarkable given the reservations I had going into it.
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Barely OK
24 February 2007
I really like Diane Keaton, and unlike some of the reviewers, I didn't find her annoying here. Certainly the mother is over the top, but I can live with that. Why is she so hysterical about getting her daughter married off in her 20s? The girl's history of bad choices isn't much explanation. I've seen Mandy Moore before where she came off as charming and pretty, but here she does not charm. She's boring. The sisters are more interesting, although we don't see much of them.

All in all, if you really need to go to the movies and you want to see something light, this is tolerable. You might laugh heartily a couple of times. I did. But mostly you'll just sit there, not quite bored enough to want your money back.

I never rent movies because I love to see them in theaters, but if I did, this would definitely be a rental.
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An unheralded gem
24 February 2007
This movie is getting very little press, but it is a remarkable and compelling film with outstanding performances and excellent direction. It takes place just before the end of the cold war, when the Berlin wall came down and East Germany was no longer isolated and terrorized by the Stasi--the secret police. The main character is a Stasi agent and a professor of a class for incoming agents. He teaches his students to be suspicious of everyone and outlines techniques for breaking down a suspect, such as months of sensory deprivation. He couldn't appear to be much more of a cold-hearted drone.

Politics of the most venal kind shape the plot, wherein the head of the Stasi wants to get rid of the boyfriend/playwright of an actress whom he (and nearly every character in the movie) finds captivating so that he can have her to himself. He orders that the couple's apartment be wired in hopes that the boyfriend will reveal himself as an enemy of the state. Our agent/professor takes 12-hour night shifts in the attic in front of a bank of recording devices and a front-door video feed, listening in on everything that goes on between the actress and the playwright.

Sound dreary? It isn't. The playwright and his friends are alive--real people. You see what goes on in the apartment, and in the rendezvous of the playwright and his friends, and his now-blacklisted director. You come to understand how much is at stake for an artist who loses state sanction. You see the love and respect that the playwright and the actress have for one another. You see the politicking behind this attempt to find some evidence of subversiveness that would knock the playwright out of commission. And you see glimmerings of humanity begin to develop in our drone-like agent/professor.

I'll say no more of the plot, other than that the tone of the movie is consistent and the acting is impeccable throughout. The plot advances at its own pace, and the director avoids the heavy-handed or sappy ending that most directors would have been tempted to employ.

This is without question one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time. I strongly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind subtitles or a leisurely pace.
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