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Rating History

Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Ivan Grozniy)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

On one hand, this two-part masterpiece, which should have been composed of three parts, was a complete departure from director Sergei Eisenstein?s early revolutionary dramas ?Strike? and ?Battleship Potempkin.? As in 1938?s ?Alexander Nevsky,? the hero of the story has switched from embodying an entire mass of people to simply a single man, in this case, a man who has such an overwhelming determination to reunite the Motherland that he is willing to do literally anything.

It is perhaps Ivan?s single-minded thinking that remains his curse ? he is perpetually lonely in his time of rule ? while he attempts to fill in the immensely vast holes in Russia?s borders with his solitary might. It is interesting to see his character, played memorably by the great Nikolai Cherkasov, slowly develop from a defiant ruler full of potential to a hellish tyrant who has lost all earthly embassies of love and is crazed by paranoia. Clearly, Stalin knew where Eisenstein was getting with this rather operatically conceived biography, and swiftly prevented the completion of Part III.

The large scale sets and battle scenes in the first part show how the young Tsar was not shy about presenting the military might of Russia before the entire world, while the more introspective second part revealed a hidden dark side to the strikingly egocentric ruler. Vertically integrated camera angles, ?boogie-man? ? like shadows rampaging up the walls and ultimately the use of color film in select scenes provide the director with an ingeniously conceived character study that show not only the true colors of the main subject, by the filmmaker himself.

Eisenstein most likely was counting on the Communist ruler to halt the production of his trilogy of glory, paranoia and hollow triumph at some point. If anything, I would think he was either waiting for the tyrant to kick the bucket so that he could resume production, or if he himself passed, that someone else would find he means to complete the films. Sadly, only a brief few minutes of Ivan the Terribly, Part III exist today.

The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Fans of the late director Robert Altman should under no circumstances be unaware of this truly fine work of art by one of cinema?s greatest craftsmen. Jean Renoir?s ?La Regle Du Jeu? (The Rules of the Game) got off on a bad start, originally opening to a non-receptive audience in 1939. The film?s negatives were also considerably damaged during the war, only to be completely restored in 1959.

This belated release during the French New Wave movement allowed different classes of society to succinctly admire a work that was created far ahead of its time.

With the foundation of an old 19th-century comedy of manners by Alfred de Musset, Renoir (son of the impressionist painter) chose to make a subtle yet contemptuous comment on the senseless conventions of pre-war French society in the face of grave crises.

Now cleaned up with a new digital restoration, we are first introduced to an exhausted Andre Jurieax (Roland Toutain), touted as the next Charles Lindberg, as he lands his bi-plane in heroic fashion after crossing the Atlantic solo. He is met by his friend Octave (Renoir in one of his more memorable cameo roles), French diplomats and a media frenzy, but not by his beloved Christine. She is also a close friend of Octave?s, and whom he says was the impetus behind the journey.

Not put out, the now-married Christine switches off the radio broadcast and continues to prepare for her group?s pleasure trip to their countryside estate La Coliniere. While Christine?s husband attends to his own outstanding relationships, Octave convinces them to invite Andre along with them to their estate. Hilarious allegory ensues as the group heads out on their hunting/adulterating excursions (largely referenced in Altman?s ?Gosford Park?).

To the casual viewer, possibly expecting a quaint portrait of the 1930?s French lifestyle, the film is quite deceptive in that it does not beatify or denounce any of the characters outright ? for instance painting their faces in hard shadows or filling their mouths with adversarial dialogue.

Instead, the filmmaker made the conscious decision to outwit the viewer, even incorporating many of his own personal attributes into the characters, especially Octave. The whimsy creatures of this theatrical anecdote are also in a perpetual state of uneasy happiness throughout the picture, creating the dark underbelly that no one on the stage at La Coliniere wants to admit exists.

?La Regle Du Jeu? was dedicated to the still-influential film critic Andre Bazin, rightly so as he encouraged the realization of many directors? creative fruits, especially during the New Wave.

In many ways, this film was a culmination of those talents and can be timely for every generation due to its universal conclusions.

For one, almost no screen time is wasted here, with the constant rigmarole of the debutants and their hubbies acting out their confused understanding of love. Only during choice moments, like on the hunt when a terrorized rabbit meets his slow, agonizing end, does the audience have a chance to take a break from the sensation of their anti-reality game and reflect on its repercussions.

Frozen River
Frozen River (2008)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If you are one who is used to seeing low-budget independent films, then you will act accordingly with writer/director Courtney Hunt's impressive debut feature, "Frozen River," which essentially paints a fresh coat over the reasons why distributors continue to allow only a sliver of films like these through to exhibition. See this one while you can, because it will not be out long, and before you know it your Netflix queue will be inching nearer its max.

The star of the picture is Melissa Leo (Ray Eddy), a powerful actress with many dramatic notches on her belt, including the groundbreaking cop-drama "Homicide." Her character here is a struggling mother eternally stuck in a figurative rut ? physically at one point ? in a small town near the New York State border with Quebec, which also happens to be right alongside a Mohawk Reservation where smuggling illegal immigrants stateside is a common practice.

The film's timeline is brief, covering only the span of the couple days leading up to Christmas, and all the while Ray's fragile family fabric is slowly tearing amidst the unpredictable absenteeism of her childrens' father, (who is not seen once throughout the film) and the oppressive cold that has frozen over the St. Lawrence River. This natural occurrance provides ? for better or worse ? Ray with an unexpectedly convenient source of income, as the immigrant smuggling superhighway occurs over Mohawk territory, outside State police jurisdiction.

Desperate to move her kids into a new, more luxurious mobile home (for reasons curiously unexplained), Ray takes to the criminal life with a six-shooter at her side that she's "not afraid to use."

At first the plausibility of a basically single-mother taking up the vigilante lifestyle seems far-fetched, but after spending time in this no-future town and witnessing the perpetual depression that sets in along with the unceasing cold, one can begin to understand rash measures being taken in forgotten towns where opportunity comes only to the fortunate or the criminal.

As a study on the modern plight of poor and lower-middle class families struggling in America, (a subject Hollywood tends not to dwell on) the film is enlightening to the extent that its production took on fully the true grittiness of that environment, and capitalized on the need for engrossing performances from the actors, especially Leo and the Native Americans.

"Frozen River" will not recieve much critical attention outside of independent film awards centering on Leo's performance and perhaps Best Debut Direction for Hunt.

The Dark Knight
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

[FONT=][FONT=Tahoma]I?m not used to paying the price of admission multiple times at the many
local megaplexes for a single film, but there are those rare occasions that warrant at least a second viewing. The release of The Dark Knight is such an occasion, and even more so, since after my third viewing (the most recent being of the ?Hollywood IMAX Experience?) I have gleaned at least some new perspective on the re-energized Batman franchise:

1) The inevitable loss of Bruce Wayne?s love interest Rachel Dawes immediately makes necessary her replacement in the next film. My best guess is that Catwoman will at least make some sort of appearance.

2) As for the possibility of Johnny Depp playing a role in the next film ? possibly The Riddler ? the problem becomes, with any villain really, that it is going to be near impossible to meet, let alone top Heath Ledger?s Joker performance. I?m sure whoever plays the next villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman has also come up in discussions) will do admirably, but the brilliance of the Joker?s character as he relates to Batman?s will be the most difficult to overmatch.

3) The Dark Knight will receive Oscar nominations, of that there is no doubt among anyone. The question is, does Ledger have a real chance? At this point in the year, I think so, but Oscar contender season has yet to begin, and when late-September-October comes around, the real test will begin, with films from Charlie Kaufman, Fernando Meirelles and the Coen Brothers contending. Nevertheless, it will go down as the most financially and critically successful comic book fi[/FONT]lm to date.

Lake of Fire
Lake of Fire (2007)
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

?Lake of Fire? is British director Tony Kaye?s engrossing 2006 documentary that covers the issues surrounding the American woman?s right to have their child aborted safely and professionally. It has been in production for 15 years, ever since Bill Clinton took his new job in the Oval Office, and after touring the Toronto and Cannes Film Festivals, has finally gotten limited release.

While being unique as the only feature length film to date to seriously tackle the issue in a broad, encompassing scope, as well as having been filmed while much of the turmoil was in progress, ?Lake of Fire? falls short of being entirely inclusive as some might hope it to be.

Early on, Kaye shows segments of footage from pro-life/pro-choice rallies all across the country, some of them shocking in their extremity. While mingling with the protesters, we are first introduced to some of the brilliant thinkers of our time, including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz; to whom Kaye returns for elucidation several times throughout the film.

After about two hours (yep, it?s a long one ? 152 min.), we know about all there is to know about the two extremes on each side of the debate, and with some input from more moderate voices such as the Catholics for Free Choice political organization, Kaye seems to conclude the discourse with a sentiment by Chomsky. In such an emotionally charged debate, probably more so than any other, the MIT professor emeritus explains how some decisions must eventually be made on ?where human life begins ? somewhere between the skin cells you wash off your hand in the bathroom and the extermination of an innocent 3-year old.? The range of possibilities, like all the varying opinions, is as vast as all the oceans put together, and Kaye, in a brilliant stroke of Cinéma-vérité, closes the film with an unsettlingly candid, yet emotionally complex visit to the abortion clinic.

One may recall Kaye?s 1998 film ?American History X? that travels down similarly windy roads of acute beliefs and emotions. The difference here between fiction and non-fiction is made more severe by the fact that according to the press packet, he failed when originally trying to develop a fictional script on the issue, but realized in the early nineties that nothing could cover all that needed to be.

The most shocking reaction to this film would be the snubbing of it on account of the film not spending enough time on every single perspective. True, it may be that any moderate pro-life voice is pretty much unaccounted for, but never before have people had an opportunity to see in glowingly contrasted black & white footage this issue presented so objectively.

Some of the film wavers a bit too long while discussing the most obscure of fundamentalist anti-abortion extremist groups, collectively called by one speaker as a trend of ?Christian Reconstructionism,? where a quiet revolution is under way with the goal of turning the USA into an Iran-like theocracy. While intriguing, these elements take away from the heart of the debate, and though perhaps Kaye did this intentionally, this is certainly one of the problems tied to the near impossibility of the two sides having a civil, intellectual deliberation.

There will be many other attempts to do what the filmmaker has mostly done here, and they may be more successful at offering audiences a more complete review of everyone?s positions, but until then, the artistry and expansiveness of Kaye?s immensely important work is the superior to date.