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Four Brothers (2005)
Starts out big, ends up small
2 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has some great things about it. In its story of four adopted sons of a passionate dogooder ("lost causes" loved by no one in the world but her; she's as true a saint as any of Rossellini's or Von Trier's) returning home for their mother's funeral after she is murdered as a witness to a petty robbery, it is nearly Shakespearian in its tragic scale. But when these brothers in everything but blood lose sight of everything their mother stood for and the movie dissolves into a macho (and egregiously sexist) revenge caper, all of that early power is sacrificed. The mother's "ghost" appears to each of them in turn (more Shakespeare), but only--get this--to warmly remind them of their table manners. Singleton abandons this audacious device when it could do the most good: where is she when her sons are ignoring everything she ever taught them, and executing in cold blood the men they believe to have killed her? This tragedy of failed character is not acknowledged by anyone, least of all the director John Singleton; instead it is celebrated. After the adrenaline ride Four Brothers took me on--the nighttime carchase/shootout in an urban blizzard is absolutely stunning--the movie ended leaving me feeling sad. Sad for the boys, and sad for the mother.

The sacrifice of one of the brothers, and of any character and honor the mother's love might have helped these boys build, for a murderous campaign carried out in her name, is the true--but overlooked--tragedy of this story. It could have been a much larger movie if Singleton had continued to use the mother's "ghost" as a device to show that the brothers were at least aware that what they were doing was out of anger and revenge, and would have been against her wishes. There was none of that kind of dialog. What could have been grand tragedy in the tradition of John Ford, becomes instead a hollow Charles Bronson fantasy. No; THAT'S the real tragedy.
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Dahmer (2002)
So it doesn't tell the story; it examines an unexamined part of it
22 May 2005
Most of the reviews I've read of this have complained because it isn't sufficiently horrifying; that there's not enough blood.

That's another approach to this story, sure, and quite the obvious one.

This director chose to take it for granted that everyone knows WHAT happened, and instead attempts to meditate on WHY it happened.

Others complain that this approach is ridiculous; plenty of people had much worse experiences than Dahmer's and didn't go down the path he traveled.

Again, so what? the director is ASKING why, not answering it. The fact that at the end of the film we're still not quite sure why the young Jeffrey's history led to such horrors is part of the point: we can only examine, and ponder, and meditate, and any insistence on concrete answers is simplistic and irrelevant.

This is a very valuable film that acknowledges the essential HUMANITY of all the people involved: these are not cardboard cutouts. But it leaves some people dissatisfied because it's not an indulgent gorefest, and others because it only asks without answering.

Want a gorefest? Make one; review the picture you've seen, not the one you wish you've seen. Want answers? supply them yourself. Don't fault the one asking the questions.
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An astonishing document.
6 March 2005
An astonishing document.

A documentary shot with a surrealist aesthetic; images of unimaginable horror and violence--all perfectly real and unstaged--filmed with a languid and beautiful poetry. The images in this documentary about the slaughterhouse--the "abattoir," in the language of the narrator--are filmed with an almost cavalier, deadpan, unflinching clarity. The images of the lingering struggles of a decapitated calf; the satiny musculature exposed beneath the skin of a butchered cow, and the horrible but poetic moment when we see that the heart still beats beneath the sinews; the bored whistle of the beret-capped worker tapping the steaming spray of a horse's heart's blood; and then, the canal-concealing camera angle that shows us a barge bisecting a field of grass: "Blood of the Beasts" is a breathtaking celebration of the visual philosophy of surrealism.
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Time to Kill (1989)
brief synopsis and criticism
22 April 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Odd little film, though not as odd as it wishes it were. Unsubtle allegory: Nicolas Cage, in a surprising but successful casting choice (it's clearly an entirely Italian production; Cage is the only cast member who lacks an Italian or African accent), as Enrico, a lieutenant in Mussolini's army ("anti-fascist" is used as an insult), takes a SHORTCUT through the JUNGLE and LOSES THE PATH. While lost, he rapes Maryam, a native girl who then (get this) falls in love with him, and they spend a blissful honeymoon night in a cave. Awakened by hyenas, Enrico fires wildly, and a ricochet pierces Maryam's belly. His guilt is manifested, in the screenwriter's universe, by his growing suspicion that he has contracted Leprosy from Maryam. Hiding from his superiors, whom he believes want to shut him forever away in a leper colony and prevent him from returning home to his wife, he stumbles upon what he believes is Maryam's village, whose sole surviving occupant, Johannes, he believes to be Maryam's father. The disappointing thing is that his assumptions about the village and the old man turn out to be true, so the rest of the film deals with Enrnico atoning for his guilt in a very concrete--and therefore limited--way: the film has left the metaphoric and entered into the literal, so what began as Enrico's journey to self realization becomes, in the end, a simple payment of debt.
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