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Reviews Written by
Doug Anderson (Miami Beach, Florida United States)

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Saragossa Manuscript (Widescreen Restored Edition)
Saragossa Manuscript (Widescreen Restored Edition)
DVD ~ Zbigniew Cybulski
3 used & new from CDN$ 21.26

5.0 out of 5 stars labyrinthine surreal funny mysterious ... haunted, Jan. 20 2003
I adore this film. It is made by a Polish director with Polish actors based on a Polish novel but the look of the film is decidedly Spanish surrealism. Its a film best watched late at night when one is most receptive to surrealisms night time agenda which speaks to and from the subconscious illogic of dreams. Each storyline vanishes into another storyline until characters from separate storylines begin to appear together as the various storylines wind around each other like snakes round the limb of a tree--an oft repeated visual in the film. The opening sequence follows a soldier during the Napoleanic Wars as he takes refuge in a house where he finds the Saragossa Manuscript full of surreal drawings and stories. This book fascinates its reader so much the deafening sounds of the surrounding battle disappear as he begins to read...A Spanish Count with two escorts rides through deserted foothills towards a mysterious Inn. All around the Count are clues, pieces of stories that will later be told. He leaves his two escorts beside a gallows where two men hang dead and rides to the Inn. The Inn is built into the face of a cliff and within its recesses is a cave to rival Ali Babas. In the cave are two lovely Muslim sisters who seduce the Count and feed him wine from a skull...the textual games get more and more complicated. Each new character met tells his tale to the Count and though the Counts goal is to return home he is sidetracked time and again by ever more elaborate tales and locations. The characters met are all archetypal Spaniards and all fabulists. They are intoxicating characters all of them and intoxicating storytellers. It is an absolute pleasure to surrender to the heady spell of being told tale after tale by such characters. Its a world one never wants to leave--sophisticated and complex and mysterious, sometimes funny, sometimes haunting. If you already like Polish cinema you will recognize all of its stars from the 1960's here including Zbigniew Cybulski(Ashes and Diamonds)who plays the Count. And if you like surrealism and classic as well as modern literature you will thoroughly enjoy the way this story blends the classic and the ultra modern and the way it is illustrated like a book with the most amazing etchings and engravings. A real book and art and film lovers masterpiece.

Underground [Import]
Underground [Import]
4 used & new from CDN$ 49.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A Black Comic Epic, A laugh in the farce of history, Jan. 18 2003
This review is from: Underground [Import] (VHS Tape)
I think some sections of this film are very funny and some sections comment very poignantly on events of the last 50 years. Its a parable in some parts, an all out comedy in other parts and a satire in still other parts. I think maybe there is enough in this film to make three films. Its not the most tightly structured film, in fact its a sprawl. Viewing it one begins to believe no idea seemed too ridiculous so they eliminated nothing. As result you get a kind of everything and the kitchen sink entertainment. Its easy to get lost in this film or to lose your place. You almost have to analyze different scenes or sequences separately because anything you say about it may hold true for this part and not for that part. Its one of those films I am glad to have watched but was glad when it was over. Covering so much history the film is a kind of all night dance marathon and at times it seems the only point to it is to remain standing or if your the viewer to stay awake. By making its lead characters a kind of slapstick act, a black comedy team to be more precise, the film is driven by a gusto and verve which laughs in the face of history. In fact these two characters seem larger than anything history can throw at them. That is until the WW11 Nazi occupation phase of the story ends. Once communism takes hold the characters no longer perform together and the film loses its appeal and its edge. That edge is replaced by a darker kind of movie, a darker kind of black comedy. Under communism a different tactic must be deployed --the comedy team splits up--one half of the team performs a political charade above ground, the other remains tied to his Yugoslav roots below ground. This divisive schizophrenia is a clever tactic but the division imposed on the team zaps the joy out of the film. The communist phase just isn't fun, its like the comedy slowly oozes out of the film.
Fascism provided a common enemy for Yugoslavia to unite against while Communism turned citizens againt each other. The message is clear enough but the films zany antic strategies seem to get misplaced especially during this sequence which could be funny but isn't. The film within a film sequence which takes much too long to make a fairly simple point is one example where the film could have been cut. I think the film loses momentum and focus more than once as ideas are developed which feel more like tangents which veer away from the main story. By the final sections of the film the viewer will have fallen asleep at least once and when he/she awakens it will seem like he/she has awoken to another film altogether--which is perhaps the film makers desired effect. The final scenes deal with some recent history that has yet to be digested fully, however, and I'm not certain the film even knows exactly whats its saying in those final scenes.
The film works best if you just surrender to its methods or its madness(which are impressionistic and surreal not literal) but some people like myself will find themselves wishing for more method and less madness. In the final scenes the party goes on, the band plays on, the dancers dance, but there is no joy nor comedy in those scenes because people have taken sides against each other and there is no longer cause to celebrate nor any country to celebrate in. Its poignant and moving but its been so long since the story began one mourns but is uncertain just what one is mourning for. What was Yugoslavia? Maybe it was only a fiction after all, a stage where the farce of history was acted on. And now the play is over. Maybe every country, however brief, is only a fiction that once undone ends in madness for the thinking and a mindless kind of joy for those who accept that life is irrational. Maybe comedy is the only coping tactic left to deal with such a series of tragedies.

Capitaine Conan [Import]
Capitaine Conan [Import]
2 used & new from CDN$ 37.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warrior and the Poet, Jan. 12 2003
This film comes at you like a sneak attack. The central character Conan is always on the move and this film does not bother with formal introductions, we get to know Conan by watching him do what he does best--he leads a select band of men who make guerilla raids often at night sneaking up on the enemy then surprising them with a volley of grenades and then while the enemy is still in shock they rush at them and finish them off with knives. The fighting is absolutely brutal and Conan as his name suggests is an absolute brute but for this time and place he is just what is needed to make the difference. Conan instinctively understands tactics which combined with his instinct for killing makes him the most valuable player on whatever front he is on. He is respected by both his subordinates and his superiors. So long as there is war Conan performs like a man made for such a task. As the war ends Conans band of fighters do not take well to the transition to civilian life where petty authorities(in most cases men who never saw any action)call all the shots and reap all the rewards. In war things were quite clear and the band of fighters knew what they were good at and they were admired for doing it but in peacetime the army has no more use for them. Many of the men in Conans band were recruited from prisons and in peacetime many of them return to their criminal ways. Tavernier is doing several things at once with this film. He is telling the story of Conan himself but using the story to illustrate large social themes. Tavernier loves Conans earthiness and through him we experience the exileration of life being lived with a kind of barbaric lust. There is something of the French love for the Noble Savage in Taverniers depiction of this warrior but he shows the "Savage" in Conan is not always "noble". In fact as a contrast Tavernier gives us a character who has all the lofty attributes that earthy Conan lacks in Norbert who in civilian life was a literary professor. One man shines during wartime, the other will shine in times of peace. Their curious friendship underlines the many sides of human nature. The two men are fascinated with each other as they are such opposites. Conan is the man who did heroic things on the battlefield and is absolutely inept and unfit for life during peacetime and Norbert is the man who sees through the word "heroic" to the real story of the man capable of doing such things. Norbert both admires and is repulsed by Conan. Both men share a hatred for hypocrisy in all its forms. Norbert voices his disgust with words while Conan knows only how to vent his rage by killing(often one imagines he is channeling rage directed at his own superiors toward the enemy and it is a fierce rage indeed). Both men are however in some ways fighting the same battle. Tavernier's vision of civilization is that it is hopelessly hypocritical and compromised. With these two characters he gives us two possible reactions to that state of things-- Conan earthy simplicity only capable of expressing itself with violent outbursts and highly educated Norberts lofty attempts to reconcile mans conflicted state by understanding it. This is as exciting as any war movie and yet deep as any novel. Highly recommended you view this more than once.

Dark City
Dark City
by J.K.Rowling
Edition: DVD
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Visually interesting blend of sci fi classics...., Dec 15 2002
This review is from: Dark City (DVD)
If you're looking for a moody dark science fiction film that entertains pretty consistently you will be pleased with Dark City. The eclectic borrowing and blending from classic sci fi films(Brazil, Blade Runner, Dune, Nosferatu, Angel Heart) is interestingly done. We see some things that are familiar and yet the atmosphere of Dark City does not seem familiar. And that is the star of the show, the atmosphere. The acting is adequate enough. Perhaps the greatest performance given is by one of the Stangers(a band of aliens come to earth to experiment on humans) who is played by Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror fame--he has one scene with Jennifer Connelly which is truly creepy. In that scene all of the various concepts/elements of this film come together but for most of the film they don't. William Hurt does a fine job as the noir detective. Less impressive is Rufus Sewell, though it may not be his fault. He is supposed to be the central character around which this sci fi mystery revolves but he is not a very strong presence and as a result the film doesn't have a very strong center. I say it may not be his fault because his character is not supposed to have anything in the way of identity, just strong human instincts with which to counteract the Strangers influence--the Stranger(Richard O'Brien) who tries to understand Rufus Sewell by injecting himself with Sewell's memories has much more character than Rufus Sewell. Kiefer Sutherland gives a very sophomoric performance which just makes you wish Hollywood still had great character actors. Jennifer Connelly looks great but she isn't given much to do or say and when she lip synchs 40's songs you just scratch your head and wonder whats this got to do with anything--it would have worked if these lounge act scenes would have forwarded the plot in some way but they don't. She and Hurt play noir archetypes in a city that looks like a noir nightmare, Sutherland does a bad Lorre impression, and Sewell just does the best he can within the limits of his role as confused man acting on a hunch that things aren't quite right in Dark City. The most interesting acting is done by the Strangers. The best dialogue of the film is when the Strangers come up from their underworld lair and discuss among themselves just what humans are. The dialogue between them is sometimes very funny and their peculiar mannerisms of speech really well written giving them a dimension and individiuality that they lack when they are filmed in their own underworld lair where they all act in collective unison. The Strangers were the great piece of originality this film offered and my favorite part of the film. My problem with the premise of the film is that we just don't know enough about the Strangers, we don't know exactly what they are hoping to accomplish with their experiments, apparently they need us humans(or knowledge of us) to live but why? No answer is ever given. The films premise sets up some very interesting plot possibilities but being a film which features special effects these plot possibilities and all of the characters take backseat to the computer graphics which are good and do offer plenty of entertainment value but don't make up for lack of those missing elements. I think for the undiscerning fan of science fiction this is a classic in the same way the Matrix is a classic as it really is a visual fantasy that is fun to take part in and anyone can enjoy it for that. For the more discerning sci fi fan of films like Brazil and Blade Runner this might come as a disappointment, however, as Dark City's story line is not quite up to that level nor are its characters. In fact the film is admired almost exclusively for its look not its substance. If you are someone who can enjoy a film strictly for its visual atmospheres and special effect theatrics you will love the ending but if you've been thinking while watching the films ending will be a letdown and a downer as Proyas "vision" is not all that flattering to us humans. I agree with others who say this is a film that could have been great.

Charlotte Gray [Import]
Charlotte Gray [Import]
Offered by WonderBook-USA
Price: CDN$ 131.04
9 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Visually stunning but weak story, Dec 8 2002
This review is from: Charlotte Gray [Import] (VHS Tape)
This film is not that strong though it has some strong points. The strongest being Cate Blanchett and the lush and splendid cinematography. Those two strong points are blended to great effect as Cate Blanchett's extraordinary beauty is presented against several breathtaking backdrops. Cate Blanchett conveys a very rich poetic substance which makes everything else around her seem prosaic and that is the problem with this film, everything except Cate Blanchett and the beautiful landscape seems prosaic. The supporting cast is not bad but they just do not compare with that central actress. The male actors who play Cates respective lovers seem to have been chosen for their profiles moreso than for their acting talent as neither are any kind of match for Cate so we don't believe she would look twice at either of these men she is supposed to be in love with. There is one other actor in the movie that is good and thats the grandfather but his character remains merely a background figure. The story is also a little unlikely. Sending a young girl with no discernible talents except her ability to speak French into a dangerous situation without any real task to perform seemed ridiculous. The whole time she is in France I was trying to figure out what her mission really was but could not figure it out.
Visually this movie will entertain you and Cate amid those great backgrounds will please your eyes and poetic sense as a painting would but the various elements of this story just didn't ever come together.

Y tu Mamá También [Unrated] (Widescreen Subtitled) [Import]
Y tu Mamá También [Unrated] (Widescreen Subtitled) [Import]
DVD ~ Maribel Verdú
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 37.04
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Very nearly a perfect movie, Dec 7 2002
Y Tu Mama Tambien is a solid film about the bond between two teenage boys and how that bond is challenged when a woman comes between them. The two boys meet one of their(unhappily)married female cousins at a family function and just on a whim the boys ask her to join them for a week at a remote beach. To their surprise she agrees.
One thing that keeps the story interesting and gives it its unique perspective is that the movie is spiced throughout with little narrative asides which comment on the course different lives take. The boys are young and full of energy and enthusiasm. The slightly older and very sexy cousin at first seems like the summers big score but soon the boys are at odds with each other as they each try to win her attention and then they are odds with each other when they must confront the "truths" of their own friendship.
As the movie progresses the two boys story of innocence and the end of it is contrasted with the cousins story of experience and her desire for a last taste of the innocence the boys will soon be losing. The film feels very loose and free capturing the boys in moments of fun as well as moments of conflict but it is very well constructed. Many films try to capture youth and never seem to get it right but this one gets both the passion and the pain of being on the cusp of adulthood just right. It also gets the pain and passion of early adulthood just right as well as the cousin and her unique situation and how she deals with it is just as memorable and central to the film as the two boys story is.
It has the feel of a light and breezy comedy in parts and yet in other parts it offers the insight associated with a serious drama. A rare and honest and bold study of what youth feels like. Very nearly a perfect movie. And a great soundtrack. And great cinematography. And yes it is very very sexy! Offering interesting insight into the different forms passion can take.

The Piano Teacher (Widescreen) [Subtitled] [Unrated] [Import]
The Piano Teacher (Widescreen) [Subtitled] [Unrated] [Import]
DVD ~ Isabelle Huppert
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 555.48
7 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars the exalted plane of art and the sad refrain of one life, Nov. 18 2002
Isabelle Huppert is in one great movie after another. A couple of years ago she played the mysterious and apparently selfless wife of a famus composer in Claude Chabrol's Merci Pour Le Chocolat. This time she plays a piano teacher in yet another role filled with subtlety and mystery. The role is in many ways reminiscent of the earlier one as Huppert reveals clues to her characters troubled psyche with odd and disturbing actions which offer a sharp contrast to her calm and collected exterior. She does much of her acting with the same expression which makes her one of the most interesting performers to watch for what she conceals with each performance is what fascinates and keeps us attentive. The performance Huppert gives as the piano teacher is a disturbing one for beneath her reserved exterior and her very high reputation seethe the passions of an unhappy woman. Whether her mother has caused her daughter to grow into the person she has become or not is perhaps a matter for debate. It appears the mother is over protective but then as the story progresses one sees the mother has good reason to be over protective. Huppert's piano teacher loves her mother it seems but also wants to torture her mother. For her students the piano teacher wastes no time with feelings it seems but again the performance is subtle and layered and offers clues that perhaps she does care for them in her way. It is possible to interpret some of her actions in more than one way. Ultimately we find it is only she herself she wants to humiliate/torture as we see her act out in various circumstances-- most notably in her actions toward a young student who has an infatuation with her-- her own self-degradation. Frame to frame the story is exquisitely shot and told. The music is used to incredible effect. In one particularly fabulous scene the director allows the high plane of music of a previous scene to follow Huppert into the next scene where she enters another plane,one that is not high.

Temptress Moon (Widescreen) [Import]
Temptress Moon (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Leslie Cheung
Offered by TUNESUS
Price: CDN$ 49.28
9 used & new from CDN$ 36.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Chen Kaige's most subtle work, Oct. 19 2002
I think this film is in some ways an improvement over Chen Kaiges breakthrough film Farewell my Concubine. In the earlier film Kaige waters down a very good story with too many references to history. In Temptress Moon Kaige remains focused on his characters and keeps the tone of the film an intimate one. In fact the film rarely leaves the intimate corridors of the Pang family estate. It is within those mossy walls that Kaige tells this tale of three childhood cousins/friends/lovers whose intimate bonds to each other become poisoned by their changing roles within the family structure. History does play a part in this film but it is interwoven only very subtly. The family estate is isolated from the big cities but the corruption finds its way into the estate. In fact Chen Kaiges suggests by the nature and course of this story that corruption is built into the very nature of the old ways as well as the new. And this, in the end, becomes the theme of the picture. But this theme is so quietly fleshed out with such nice performances that by pictures end you find yourself amazed at what Chen Kaige has conveyed with his very intimate story. This is a much better crafted piece of filmmaking than Farewell My Concubine or the later Emperor & The Assassin.

"Farewell, My Concubine (Widescreen) " [Import]
"Farewell, My Concubine (Widescreen) " [Import]
DVD ~ Leslie Cheung
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 48.17
12 used & new from CDN$ 25.51

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story overwhelmed by "history", Oct. 19 2002
This film looks impressive. And I still enjoy watching it for the way Chen Kaige recreates the China of the early part of the last century. Some of the scenes at the beginning of the picture are very exciting and the children who play the two performers who will later grow up to be famous stage actors are very appealing. The two actors are trained as youths to act on stage together and a symbiotic relationship develops between them which is the real focal point of the film. The problem is that their story of mutual dependence becomes less interesting the older they get because Chen Kaige is not content to just tell their story instead he feels the need to interweave a lot of historical significance into their relationship. Every time there is a revolution or counter revolution in China the two actors relationship also goes throough a corresponding change. The link between the personal and professional lives of the two performers is well drawn and is plenty to keep our interest and Chen Kaige crafts this part of the film well but when he tries to draw connections between this partnership and wider historical circumstances the link just seems forced. In some instances the only reason you know something is happening outside the intimate circle of performers is because a note is flashed on the screen ie: "Communists surround Bejing". I think the story is weakened each time "history" intervenes. It would have been fine to acknowledge that great historical happenings were taking place during the span of these two actors story but the history overwhelms the story. As a result what should remain an intimate study becomes yet another generic look at Chinas cultural purges. This is unfortunate. Gong Li gets her picture on the cover of the film but she is only a supporting player in this film.

The Emperor and the Assassin (Sous-titres français) [Import]
The Emperor and the Assassin (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ Li Gong
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 57.29
16 used & new from CDN$ 12.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist Epic, Oct. 3 2002
This is the story about the Emperor who unified China's separate provinces into one country, but it is not a celebration of that moment in history, its quite the opposite. Chen Kaige turns history into a kind of puppet show-- where there is the illusion of whats real and there is the reality behind the illusion. Unification sounds like a nice word but in order to unify all of China much violence must be done to it. This is the reality. Also the Emperor must convince people not just by force but he must make them believe it is somehow his destiny to unite China once and for all. This is yet another illusion that must be presented though the reality behind that illusion is quite another thing. I think the movie is quite good at presenting its characters as complex people and not as historical dramas often do which is present historical figures as singleminded and one dimensional. So if you come to this film expecting an exciting historical epic you might be disappointed because its more a revisionist telling of events with its focus on characters not scenes of epic grandeur. The most famous scene in the movie has the two title characters finally face off and it is quite a memorable scene. It is a long long movie though and it takes a long long time to get there. This one is for the patient, the historical minded. Not for those in search of a battle drama. Gong Li plays a relatively small though important part. Its her character who is married to the Emperor and yet her sympathies fall to the side of the Asssassin. A small but integral part. To western audiences there are no other stars in this picture and that may have hurt this pictures reception. The actors are very good however and if you stick with it you'll be glad you did.
Another film which may interest those who enjoy revisionist history is Robert Bresson's Lancelot of the Lake.

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