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Rating History

In the Year of the Pig
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

And It Only Got Worse From There

For some reason, Rotten Tomatoes shows two versions of this movie, one of which is only some twenty-five minutes. I didn't think there was a twenty-five minute version of this, but it's clearly intended to be this movie--it has this movie's poster. I am, therefore, going to assume that it's screwed up in the way certain of the things in the review system are still screwed up even all this time after the "improvements" were put in place. I've come across similar problems several times, which leads to the fun, fun game of "now, where do I put this review?" IMDB, for example, goes directly to the page for this one if you enter its title into their search criteria. So if this review is in the wrong place, I'm sorry; blame the vagaries of the website.

At any rate. Filmmaker Emile de Antonio starts with the French occupation of Vietnam. He uses no narration, only primary sources. The imagery is complex and varied, though shown almost entirely from the US perspective. Even when people are speaking in favour of the North Vietnamese government, they are all Americans. This seems rather to make even the people speaking for the Vietnamese paternalistic, and the people speaking out about the Evil Communist, Ho Chi Minh, are obviously so. The phrase "the Free World" comes up with depressing regularity; there is, naturally, ranting Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. There are all sorts of the more determined Republicans interspersed with the Vietnamese dead, wounded, and captured, including a woman with distraught eyes and a group of Americans destroying rice rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

Now, it's good that de Antonio admits to his bias, because it's pretty obvious. (I note he's also done a movie about JFK and that ignorant idiot, Mark Lane.) However, I suspect he doesn't notice his bias toward American source material. There's an interview on the DVD wherein he says that the Vietnamese don't speak English, but obviously, some of them do and did. You get Americans saying how the Vietnamese tell them this or that, but no one seems to talk to actual Vietnamese people. I'm not saying the average Vietnamese person spoke English; at the time, the more popular second language was French, given how long the French were the invaders. However, there were certainly plenty of English-speaking Vietnamese, and there's probably stock footage of them.

There is this belief, in the US, that not wanting to be in a war means hating the people fighting in it. For some people, of course, the Military is a symbol of The Man and all that is evil with the world; we don't actually have to be at war for that to be true. However, I think most members of peace movements in any war are actually supportive of the actual people. There's the recurring theme of "support our troops; bring them home." How much body armour they had or needed wouldn't be an issue if they weren't somewhere getting shot at all the time. (Though studies indicate that hardly any soldiers actually fire their guns, not if they can avoid it.) However, I think that ties into an American need for all issues to be black and white. The reason a lot of Democrats are considered weak is that they're able to see more than one side of an issue. Also to change their minds upon further information, which we look down on as well.

The film cuts off in 1968. I am curious as to how de Antonio might have dealt with later developments. There is footage of a North Vietnamese prisoner being beaten, but I think John McCain would testify, has testified, that the North Vietnamese were not exactly nice to their own prisoners. (Indeed, John McCain was actually a POW when the film was made.) And, after driving the Americans out, the Vietnamese turned on their own, with purges not uncommon in Communist countries. There was Nixon's "secret plan" to get us out of Vietnam, so secret that he didn't tell his advisors. He shows the collapse of Dien Bien Phu; he does not mention that hardly any of the French soldiers survived to return to France. Slowly but surely, the American people turned against the war, and he doesn't really touch much on the anti-war movement anyway. It wouldn't mesh with his point, I suspect.

The Hideaways
The Hideaways (1995)
13 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Lauren Bacall and Brian Krakow

First, let me tell you one thing--IMDB lies. Under "Filming Locations," it informs us that this was filmed (at least in part) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Boulevard in LA. This is, I can most assuredly promise you, not true. At all. LACMA is housed in a very modern-looking building, I believe from the sixties, and looks nothing like the classic architecture of the museum presented herein. (Which is also not at all like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which it's implied to be and which it is in the book, but is obviously not because of how obviously the movie was filmed in LA and not New York.) I happen to know, in fact, that the long case the kids walk past a couple of times does not house art. In point of fact, it houses a coelocanth. This is because the museum shown isn't actually an art museum at all. It is the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which is in a much lovelier building. The part of the building they show most often was built in 1913. I also happen to know that the entrance they show the kids using most often assuredly does not open onto the street. No entrance of the museum does; it's in the middle of a park. This is why the walk sign wobbles visibly. It's a fake.

Claudia Kincaid (Jean Marie Barnwell) feels put upon. This is largely because she very clearly is. She has two brothers, the older Steve (Devon Gummersall) and the younger Jamie (Jesse Lee Soffer), but it is Claudia who seems to do all the housework. One day, she decides she's had enough of this, and she makes up her mind to run away. She brings Jamie along as part of her plan, largely because the little bugger's such a cheapskate that he has managed to save up quite a lot of money. (In the book, it's about $24, but it's clearly much more here. Inflation, you know.) Claudia has decided that the best place to run away [i]to[/i] is the museum. There, she can live in comfort. There's no danger. There will be a roof over her head, it will be warm, and there will be access to all the amenities to which she is accustomed. Jamie, who wants to live in the woods, is hugely disappointed. (They'd have to travel an awful long way to get to the kind of woods he's imagining anyway.) However, when they get to the museum, Claudia becomes fixated on a statue of an angel that may or may not be the work of Michelangelo Buanarotti.

This is, frankly, a dreadful adaptation. Oh, I heartily approve of the casting of Lauren Bacall as the eccentric titular character, for all she's too beautiful still. Most of the rest of the casting is pretty good, too. However, for one, I am deeply annoyed that Mrs. Frankweiler puts in an appearance so soon in the movie. As in, before Claudia and Jamie. Admittedly, she's the narrator of the book, and Claudia knows about her quite early in their stay at the museum, but she doesn't physically appear in the book until (in my copy) page 125. Certainly the ridiculous scene where Jamie rescues her from stepping on gum in the museum is unnecessary. The angel looks nothing as described in the book, not least being that it's too big. (The quarry mark under the statue's missing the "M," too.) The children leave Mrs. Frankweiler's files a mess. There's the pointless addition of the nosy guard (M. Emmett Walsh), who seems to be on duty at all times. And the parents get too much time.

Honestly, the museum layout doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, as is not surprising given that none of the exhibits belong in that museum anyway. We pass on the notion of Amy Robsart's murder bed--it's so described in the book and may well be so described in the museum as well, for all it's ridiculous. Amy Robsart, first wife of Robin Dudley, fell or was pushed down a flight of stairs and did not die in bed at all. However, the contents seem all crowded together without any kind of order. The line to get into the museum and the line to see the most prominent new exhibit are the same line. The drawers and such of the furniture aren't fastened in any way, despite the fact that a museum director would know the public's insatiable interest in knowing what's in those drawers. Even though, logically, there shouldn't be anything. (Do they expect to see poor Amy Dudley's underwear?) Oddly, it seems implied that there are only two bathrooms in the place. Movie-Claudia also fails to note any possibility of security beyond the guards, who are frankly kind of incompetent.

I also happen to know that, at least at the time this was filmed--I understand there's been some remodeling since--one of the galleries was just one big vault which is sealed off at night. More than that, I'll admit, I don't know a lot about the security, and I suspect how museum security works now and how it worked in 1967, when the book was published, may well be different. Actually, I've walked the halls of that museum--and, as it happens, LACMA--over and over again. You see, my mom has memberships to both museums. I was pretty sure, early in the movie, that it was the natural history museum, but when they showed that lovely statue of three of the Muses, I knew. It's unmistakable. I have always loved that statue, ever since I was very small indeed, and it has always amused me how many cities they've pretended it's in over the years.

The $1,000,000 Duck
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Disney Parenting Strikes Again

Gene Siskel walked out on three movies in his entire career; this was one of them. I present you with this fact in minor astonishment. Doubtless if we searched his past reviews, we could find much, much worse movies. Indeed, the relevant review does not appear to be available online, more's the pity, because I would really like an explanation. I have Roger's review around here somewhere, though it isn't on his website, either. People are more than willing to tell me that it's one of the three, and they're certainly willing to link me to his review of [i]Black Sheep[/i], the last of the three (you may have seen it before, when it was called [i]Tommy Boy[/i]), but I am unable to find an explanation on this one, just the bare fact. It perplexes me, because while I cannot in honesty call this a good movie, I've seen worse, and I've seen worse from Disney. Possibly there is worse from Dean Jones--I haven't seen [i]The Ugly Dachshund[/i] all the way through in some time. But no, this is it.

It is true that Our Hero, Professor Albert Dooley (Jones), is a rather unpleasant sort. When he was young, he dreamed of all he could accomplish, all the fame and glory due to an up-and-coming young scientist in the field of behavioural research, perhaps missing that there is very little glory in the field of behavioural research. At any rate, he is now married to Katie (the eternally dippy Sandy Duncan) and the father of a son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery). It's not that he doesn't love them. It's that they're spending beyond his means. A friend of Jimmy's offers him a dog--for $50. Jimmy does not understand that this is more than the budget will stand--but Katie later says a dog can't eat more than a duck, so it probably runs in the family. At any rate, there is that duck, a former research animal in Albert's lab. It is stupid even for a duck. It fails its last test, and Albert takes it home rather than have it killed. Only the duck has been irradiated in such a way that it now lays golden eggs. Hilarity, poor spending habits, law-breaking, and bad parenting, in no particular order, ensue.

The thing is, Jimmy has one each of a type of bad parent. Because Katie is just so dumb, he can get away with a great deal. She is ferociously devoted to her child, and woe betide he who gets in her way, but she is still awfully dumb and pretty permissive. On the other hand, despite his claims that he and Jimmy are best friends, Albert seems more interested in his work and, later, the duck. Midway through the picture, Katie says that he should close the window, because it's getting cold in Jimmy's room and they don't want "him" to catch cold. Albert agrees, closes the window, and covers the duck. This is supposed to be the ultimate sign, I think, of how the idea of fabulous wealth has filled Albert's mind with avarice and made him have the wrong priorities. We are, for one, supposed to think of "Charlie" (the kid doesn't seem to get that only girl ducks lay eggs and refers to it as "he" throughout) as being just a kid's pet, but by age ten, I had a pretty clear view of being poor, and if I had a duck which laid golden eggs--well, the cats would have killed her. But you get the point.

More worrisome to me, actually, was that both women in this movie--and there are really only two--are total dingbats. Albert and his friend, Fred Hines (Tony Roberts), take it for granted that Katie can just go into a refinery office and inform them that the gold was laid by a duck, and while they'll think she's crazy, it won't seem out of character. She shows a minor trend for malapropism which seems just a kicker on her wackiness quotient. Similarly, we have Eunice Hooper (Virginia Vincent), wife of grumpy neighbour Finley Hooper (perpetually sour Joe Flynn), who cannot understand that there might be a cause for the reactions she sees her husband have. There are a couple of stupid teenagers (Arvin, played by Jack Bender, and Orlo, played by Billy Bowles), and they're good for a minor laugh in their hippie teenage ways, but mostly, we're laughing at Katie--there are no women who are not jokes.

You know, for all its failings, it's a harmless little movie, really. I don't think most people would even notice what is arguably anti-feminist subtext. And, of course, the Wadlow brothers are just Disney hippies, throwing the term "bigot" where it isn't appropriate because someone is doing something they don't like. Not to mention how they recklessly put Jimmy in danger, and not just by driving him around on their terrifying dune buggy. When I was seven, though, I thought this movie was incredibly funny--though I think I still recognized the stupid lack of foresight on the part of the Wadlows. If you look too closely, it's offensive, but if it were that which drove Gene out of the theatre, there should have been far more movies which did. It's dumb, but even without trying, you could produce a very long list indeed of even dumber movies between 1971 and 1999. (Notably [i]Black Sheep[/i]!) I honestly cannot determine any reason for the severely negative reaction which could not have been produced by dozens of other movies, often in similar combination to what we have here. Maybe he was just allergic to apples or duck feathers or something.

No (2013)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Marketing Democracy

I don't have a lot of sympathy for the belief that this film puts too much emphasis over the television marketing end of the story. It's true that there was more to the story than that. It's true that the movie even hints at some of the other aspects of the campaign but not does spend much time on them. However, that's because the other parts of the campaign are not the story that the movie is telling. This is not intended to be the story of the whole of Chile's progress back to democracy. It isn't even the story of the whole of the referendum which made democracy possible. It is the story of the television commercials. That's it. The whole story would be much busier than the narrower aspects of it that we have here. That's okay; most human stories are large and complicated, especially when they involve as many people as this story inevitably would have. However, there are other arguments to be made against this film, and we'll get to them.

It is 1988. For fifteen years, Chile has been under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet following the coup in which he and other military officials overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Now, the junta has agreed to hold an election with but one thing on the ballot--will Pinochet remain in power for eight more years? The "yes" side has the support of the government. The "no" side has the support of the seventeen political parties hoping to take over if Pinochet steps down. Each side will get fifteen minutes a night for the twenty-seven nights before the election to present its side on national television, and then, there will be the vote. The "no" side recruits commercial director--and son of a man who went into exile--René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to make their series of TV spots. Saavedra has to fight against the various leaders of the political parties to get commercials that he thinks will actually help.

The more cogent argument against this film is that it glorifies the commercial makers, not the people making things different. And if convincing people to vote is making things different, which of course it is, why did a TV commercial--or series of them--have so much influence? The spot which makes Saavedra decide that he will help them after all is a somber series of declarations about the evils of the Pinochet regime. They are, of course, all true. Doubtless most of the viewing audience was aware of that. The issue is not so much convincing people about how to vote; it is convincing them to vote at all. The implication is that it is not apathy but fear that will prevent it, though apathy doubtless also plays a part. It really, really bothers me that Saavedra's commercials probably overcame more apathy, and it worries me that they might have overcome more fear. The study of the influence of media on voting patterns is worth doing, though that isn't the point here.

The way we can tell that the only point of the movie is the commercials is that we barely even dip into Saavedra's own past. We know his father is in exile, because that gets used several times as something which adds weight to his position as the right person to make the commercials. It seems there is some history between the regime and the mother of Saavedra's child (Simón, played by Pascal Montero), or anyway that's who I think she is, but it isn't completely clear. It is, in fact, probable that each and every person who is part of the No campaign knows someone who has disappeared, who is in exile, who is actually known to be imprisoned or executed. (That last possibly the most rare, given what I know of the Pinochet regime.) They know that know few of the people watching have had similar experiences, but they also know that those are not the people who need convincing. At least, not those who would be convinced by a simple TV commercials.

I still have not seen [i]Amour[/i]. However, I was slightly disappointed when it won for Best Foreign Language Film, because I wanted this to win. Not that I had seen any of the nominees, and indeed, I still have not seen any of the others. Foreign Language Film is one of those categories where it is hard to see the nominees before the ceremony. It often takes a very long time for them to be available in this country. This often leads to a certain amount of fuss that other films, ones actually available on DVD, are not nominated. The nomination procedure for Foreign Language Film is complicated, possibly to the point of being arbitrary. Still, I do at times wish that we'd start being more interested in films about other countries' histories. After all, the events in [i]Argo[/i] were in some ways not so different from the events in this film, or anyway plenty of parallels can be drawn. In filming style, too, come to that; if I were to talk about that, it would be about the effort made to make the film look to be filmed in 1988, not just set then.

Powaqqatsi (1988)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Only So Much You Can Say

I think this movie exemplifies most the difference in how I see the world versus how the filmmakers see the world. Despite the awful nature of some of what is filmed, I really still see most of what appears in this movie as inherently hopeful. Maybe I'm romanticizing. It wouldn't be the first time. However, I see beauty in much of the environment shown in the film, even the urban landscapes that we're probably supposed to see as inherently less than the natural ones. Yeah, there are also some places that are pretty awful--mines and so forth. It's not even as though I think there's something great to just the sight of seas of neon. What struck me about it was more the fact that we are able to create beauty out of things that aren't necessarily beautiful on their face. We are able to find beauty in places that aren't beautiful by themselves. Even if it's only for a moment.

As with the other "Qatsi" films, there's no plot to summarize. It's all about imagery and music. The imagery in this one is mostly human, ranging from the Serra Pelada gold mines of Brazil to Mombasa to Cuzco to Cairo. Some of it is a bit depressing, like for example those gold mines. An injured man is carried out on the backs of his fellows. In the film's only staged shot (which was just repeating something they'd seen but not caught on camera), a boy walks by the side of the road and vanishes in a dust cloud as a truck passes him. There is a boat, possibly a dhow, with a beautiful, multicoloured sail. We see African villages, mosques, and people praying by the banks of the Ganges. The film primarily focuses on the Third World, but there are also shots of people such as Christie Brinkley and John Paul II. There aren't the financial landmarks of [i]Naqoyqatsi[/i] or the sweeping panoramas of [i]Koyaanisqatsi[/i]; this is, I think, the most human of the trilogy.

However, my viewing of the trilogy is out of order and over an extended period of time. I must confess that I can't really compare them with any degree of certainty. It's a powerful series, but I've seen four movies of this ilk, if you include [i]Baraka[/i], and after four movies, remembering exactly which one any specific moment is from, assuming I can remember specific moments, is far from a certainty. And that's leaving out the fact that I see something like four hundred movies in any given year, counting movies I watch and don't review, either because I had nothing to say or because I've already reviewed it some time in the past. The images are floating in my head somewhere, and I've loved the music of [i]Koyaanisqatsi[/i], at least, since something like seventh grade. But perhaps because these are non-narrative films, they don't remain in the brain in the same way. This is not to say that they're forgettable; I watch a lot of forgettable films. But they are a lot more disjointed than other films.

I suppose the theme I see in the Qatsi trilogy is that humans must find their place in the world, and what that place is must balance somehow. We cannot take everything out of the Earth and put nothing back. We cannot take everything from each other and give nothing back. Our lives in the industrialized world are built on the backs of those men in Brazilian mines, for example. The third movie of the trilogy, as I mentioned in my review of it, features the Enron logo. This one is, I believe, the only one of the three not to feature a mushroom cloud. As I said, there's a pretty negative attitude toward progress through the series. The movie seems of the opinion that all progress is necessarily at the expense of the natural world and the balance of humanity. I'm reasonably sure that the very idea that technology could improve the life of those miners would be shocking to the filmmaker, but I'd certainly prefer a machine to lifting all that dirt out of the pit by hand.

I am a firm believer that there is a balance between science and nature. I believe that we need both. Filmmaker Godfrey Reggion felt guilty about using high-tech cameras to make this movie and had to convince himself that technology is just a part of our lives now. I find that perspective a little bewildering. Technology has been part of our lives as long as we've been recognizably human. We may not call it that, but even when it was just stone tools and control of fire, we were using technology. I am reminded of [i]Cave of Forgotten Dreams[/i], actually. Werner Herzog built his own 3D camera to film in a cave that had been important to people who were among the first to capture imagery using paints. The people who decorated the walls of that cave wouldn't have recognized the tools Werner used, but I believe they would have recognized the drive to do it. The same is true of flint-knappers and the people we see in one of these movies building cars on an assembly line. There's a difference between roast mammoth and Twinkies, but it's all the same drive.