Mark Peploe

Mark Peploe

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The Last Emperor Review


Good
Toy trucks and accessorized dolls are common props of the wide-eyed two year-old's wonderment. While Puyi, who was appointed China's last emperor at that tender age, might have substituted fine silk curtains for plastic as he explored the Forbidden City -- toddling the breathtaking, empty rooms and splashing in bathtubs -- the veil of childhood was quickly lifted to reveal a solitary life of duty and responsibility. Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor deals with many false truths, but the most disappointing is that the film, itself, doesn't live up to its grandiose individual efforts.

Despite its bold opening of Puyi's attempted suicide as a prisoner in a reeducation camp in his late 50s, The Last Emperor is your standard biopic, complete with the framework of the aged character telling the story of his life. Of course, Puyi's peculiar childhood is the most interesting half of the two-and-a-half-hour film, and it's there where Bertolucci's grip on the material is the strongest. From the seven-year-old Puyi's desperation to connect with the mother he was separated from six years prior to the teenage Puyi's pet mouse. Bertolucci's poetics seem to transcend the film's immaculate design and execution. It helps that the material is inherently interesting -- we are all bound by duty in some regard and are constantly looking for an escape. Still, Bertolucci takes chances, even shocking us with a seven-year-old Puyi nestling in his mother's bare bosom or the pet mouse meeting its demise against the Forbidden City's gate at the hands of a frustrated Puyi. These are not mere exploits, however, but sad moments where it's clear that Puyi's childhood and foreshadowed adulthood needs and desires are controlled by others.

Continue reading: The Last Emperor Review

The Passenger Review


Good
The ads for Volkswagen declare that "on the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers," the gist being that there are people who lead and take charge and others who are content to stare out the window and let things happen.

If the passenger became a driver, could he or she handle all the metaphorical responsibilities that go with it? That question is central to Michelangelo Antonioni's re-released The Passenger (1975) and the answer provides a sobering glimpse into the souls of the contenders who foolishly wish for that second chance, that empty stretch of road, and don't have any idea where to start.

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Afraid Of The Dark Review


Grim
Sure, I guess blind people can be scary to a little kid, but this baffling attempt at using that setup as the premise for a horror film goes utterly nowhere. The problems begin with frame one, with a kid (Ben Keyworth) who lives with cop dad (James Fox) and blind mom (Fanny Ardant), who teaches at a school for the blind. There's some kind of serial killer on the loose (preying on blind people), and it ends up being Lucas -- a budding voyeur -- to try to solve the case. Er, sort of. Wandering and overly symbolic, this is one mess of a film that ends up making little sense at any point along the way.

The Sheltering Sky Review


Weak
Bertolucci's grand desert epic gets stuck in the sand right at the start. Its idling husband-wife leads practically assure us of that: They're headed to Africa -- to nowhere in particular -- to while away a year or two. They aren't tourists, they're travelers. But, are Debra Winger and John Malkovich actors you'd remotely associate with such a grand adventure? Or getting lost in "sensual" overload and the pleasures of the flesh? Winger as the concubine of an Arab traveler? The plot is so strange and absurd -- all to get to the point that the desert makes you crazy -- that we're left with nothing but staring at the dusty landscapes, which, as usual, Bertolucci has quite a knack with. Still, we've seen the lovely desert many times before in the movies, and those films have much better stories attached.

Victory Review


Grim
Fairly pedantic and plodding, this period piece, set in 1913 in the Dutch East Indies (ah, I remember the Dutch East Indies...), this film has all the makings of a sultry romance (think The Piano) but never amounts to much more than a watery day-trip.

The convoluted story has a female violinist (Irène Jacob) shanghaied from her indentured servitude by a semi-wealthy island-dweller (Willem Dafoe). Naturally, the woman's owner becomes a bit miffed and sends some goons (including Rufus Sewell and Sam Neill in a rare bad-guy role) after them. Imagine the hijinks!

Continue reading: Victory Review

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