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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll state right off that I'm a pastor. So I certainly have a bias in
favour of faith, God and miracles. I've seen miracles happen - people
who recover from illnesses after being told that there's no hope, with
doctors who can't really explain why. And in all honestly, the vast
majority of the time there is no miracle. People die of diseases after
being told they have no hope. And as Christy Beam (played by Jennifer
Garner) said as this movie came to a close - I don't really know why
one person gets a miracle and so many others don't. I just know that
they happen. I'm grateful for them. They do reveal to me that there's
more to life than what we can see or touch. There's a dimension beyond
anything we can fully understand, and whose workings are a mystery to
us. So, in a sense, there's my disclaimer; a clear statement of my
bias. And having said that, the strange thing is that I don't usually
like these faith- based Christian movies. They're generally too
formulaic, with the people of faith trying to convince the people
without faith to have faith, and there's always some obnoxious atheist
character who has to be convinced. But this movie went beyond the
formula. Maybe that's why I liked it.
The main characters in this true story are Annabel and Christy Beam. Mom and daughter. When just a little girl, Annabel was diagnosed with a terrible disease that caused her great pain, made her unable to eat, and basically left her slowly dying while she suffered. Annabel was played by a young actress named Kylie Rogers, who was superb. She portrayed Annabel in pain so believably, and yet she also captured a little girl's innocence in the midst of it all. I was extremely impressed. Garner as Christy was also very good. I liked Christy. Bursting out of the normal formula, Christy doesn't just believe that a miracle's coming. She questions faith. She questions God. She gets angry. She gives up on belief. She was real; a genuine person dealing with a horrible situation as best she could and as most people would. Garner has been credited with a great performance. I agree with that assessment - although, frankly, I thought Kylie Rogers was the highlight of the movie.
What to make of the miracle? I honestly don't know. Kylie fell down the centre of a hollowed out old tree and landed head first. When she woke up, she was fine. Not only uninjured from the fall, but with her disease gone. While she was unconscious after the fall she says she had some sort of vision - visiting "heaven" and being told by God that she'd be fine. And she was. The specialist she was seeing in Boston said that it was possible that the fall essentially re-booted her central nervous system and got her digestive system working again. Could be. That could also be a miracle in itself. As far as her claims to have spoken with God are concerned? Might have been real; might have been a dream or hallucination. Only Annabel knows. All that really matters is that a little girl who wasn't supposed to get better got better.
Researching the story, I found that for the most part the details of the movie are accurate. A few things have been added for dramatic purposes, and perhaps to acclimate the viewer to the possibility of miracles. For example, Christy and Annabel did in fact have an appointment with Dr. Nurko in Boston. They didn't just show up unannounced. But it all still comes down to this - a little girl who wasn't supposed to get better got better. Who can argue with that. How you believe it happened is a matter of faith.
This is a decent movie. It drew me into the story and touched a chord with me. (7/10)
There is so much going on in this movie. It's about the struggles of
being blind in a sighted world. It's about the challenge of being black
in a white world. It's about abuse and alcoholism. It's a romance of
sorts. It's interesting social commentary. Fifty years later it runs
the risk of being dated - because society has changed so much - and yet
it didn't feel dated. It felt relevant. It got a reaction out of me.
It's an absolutely marvellous movie; almost flawless. I came across it
basically by accident, noted that it starred Sidney Poitier and thought
I'd take a chance on it. It was one of the best decisions I've ever
Mostly, this movie works because of the spectacular performances from basically all the members of the cast. I watched the movie because of Poitier's name - and he was superb - but the real standout of this movie was Elizabeth Hartman. As Selina D'Arcy she plays a young, friendless, naive and lonely blind woman who's basically trapped in an apartment with her abusive mother and an alcoholic grandfather. Hartman makes Selina wonderfully vulnerable - a sad character; one you can't help but feel protective toward, even just watching her on the screen. One day Selina gets to go to the park - against her mother's wishes. And she meets Gordon, played by Poitier. They become friends - very close friends, in a very innocent way. Gordon bonds with her, also protective toward her and generous to her and kind to her, and with absolutely no ulterior motive at all. It's a relationship between two vulnerable people - a black man and a blind woman. Selina doesn't know Gordon is black, and he doesn't tell her, but that means that even though she can't see, she sees him for what he is - kind, generous, sensitive. "Beautiful" she tells him eventually, even after she's discovered that he's black. She falls in love with him. He loves her in return - whether he was "in love" with her is left as an open question. In some ways his feelings come across as more fraternal, or even paternal, and eventually Gordon sets himself to the task of getting her out of her mother's apartment and into a special school. The movie doesn't have a "happily ever after" ending. We're left not knowing what would become of their relationship - but the relationship between them was fascinating to watch as it developed. They shared a tremendous chemistry, and both put on spectacular performances. This was actually Hartman's acting debut. She was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress - deservedly so, and it's hard to believe based on this performance that she never really made it big in Hollywood. Perhaps her brilliant performance as the troubled Selina was a by-product of the fact that she was herself a very tormented young woman who suffered from severe depression and eventually committed suicide at the age of 43.
Poitier was his usual excellent self as Gordon, and Shelley Winters put on an outstanding performance as Selina's mother Rose-Ann. Rose- Ann was abusive toward Selina, treated her more like a servant than a daughter with a barely disguised contempt. My sense from the dialogue is that she was a prostitute, although I don't think that was stated outright. Toward the end of the movie, before Gordon helps Selina escape before Rose-Ann moved them with a friend to a new apartment, the impression was that Rose-Ann was going to use Selina as part of her business - presumably wanting to turn her into a prostitute as well. Winters was so convincing in the role that she heightened the sense of sympathy and protectiveness you feel for Selina. Forget Gordon. I wanted to reach into the screen and drag this girl out of that apartment and to a place of safety. Winters actually won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role. Wallace Ford had a lesser role, but was also very good as Selina's grandfather "Ole Pa" - and the fight scene between Ole Pa and Rose- Ann was caustic. As this was Hartman's first film, it was also the last film of Ford's career, that had stretched back to the late 1920's. Ironically, Poitier won nothing for "A Patch of Blue," and yet it was the biggest box office success of his career.
This movie is almost perfect. Why "almost"? Well, my only quibble is that aside from a few stares there really didn't seem to be much reaction from anyone (except Rose Ann) to this very public relationship between a black man and a young white woman. That just didn't strike me as realistic. It's a minor thing, perhaps, but I kept waiting for someone to confront them with a "get away from that white woman" sort of comment - and it never happened. It is a minor quibble, but it was on my mind. But - almost perfect! (9/10)
Don't expect this to be uplifting. It has a kind of romance involved
with it - one that's even a bit touching in some ways - and it has a
few scenes that cause you to chuckle, but by and large this is a pretty
sombre, downcast movie that deals mostly with mental illness (not a
happy subject) and mathematics (not an exciting subject - at least not
to me.) But what it has going for it is Gwyneth Paltrow, and even if
you find the movie a bit of a downer (as I admit I did) you can't ever
let your eyes wander off the screen because of Paltrow's performance.
She was brilliant. I can't say that I've been a devoted follower of
hers. I liked her in "Shakespeare In Love" and to be perfectly honest
nothing else she's done really stands out for me. But I can't imagine
she's offered a better performance in anything than she did in "Proof."
She was called upon to portray a whole range of emotions and she did so
with complete authenticity. In fact, if there's a word that could be
applied to this, it might be just that - authentic. It felt real.
As Catherine, Paltrow has been the caregiver to her mentally ill father, played by Anthony Hopkins, who in his past had been a brilliant mathematician. The question we have right from the start - and it follows through the whole movie - is how much of her father Catherine has inherited - both in terms of his brilliance and in terms of his mental illness. Catherine does come across as a bit unbalanced to be honest. She's isolated and withdrawn; she's unhappy; she has no friends. There are various scenes in the movie that cause you to wonder if she's really in touch with reality. But does that mean she's mentally ill? Not necessarily. It might actually be expected of someone who's literally had no life beyond caring for her father. But there comes a point (and we don't reach it until near the movie's end) when we start to wonder if she's ill, if she's normal - or if she's brilliant. And in the midst of it all she has to deal with the aftermath of her father's death, the attempt by her sister (Hope Davis) to take control of her life, and a budding if apprehensive romance with one of her father's former students (Jake Gyllenhaal.) It was a powerful performance, and the main supporting cast, who I've mentioned, did a fine job as well. But they were the supporting cast. This was Paltrow's movie. And it was a good thing she was brilliant.
The movie itself didn't do a lot for me. As I said, it was sombre and downcast and even in the end it was hard to really tell if Catherine had achieved redemption. At best, there was the possibility of redemption. And there is the satisfaction of seeing Catherine choose to escape her sister's clutches, but - again - it's left as an open question whether that decision led to any happiness for her. But Paltrow's performance carries this, and if she can't make this a great movie, she can make it a movie worth watching. (6/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To give credit where credit is due - those special effects people
managed to put together a pretty good depiction of this massive
earthquake that strikes Los Angeles. And it goes on and on for quite a
long time. And buildings collapse and houses explode as gas lines break
and a massive dam is threatened and people are buried in the debris,
and they tumble to their deaths or the elevator that they're on crashes
down, and ... and ... and ... By the standards of 1970's special
effects that was really well done. Unfortunately, you also have to sit
through the rest of the movie, which ... well ... ain't so well done!
We get almost an hour of soap-ish type filler before the actual earthquake hits. Yes, I know that's mandatory in these kinds of films. It's as if somebody in the 1970's decided that adding all these personal subplots about the characters would make viewers more interested; maybe we'd get to know the characters and their lives better and we'd care more. Uh. No. I just really wanted to get to the earthquake and its aftermath. I didn't really care who was having an affair with who, or any of the other numerous subplots that got going in that first hour - although it was rather fun to watch one cop punch out another in an apparent dispute over jurisdiction and - believe it or not - Zsa Zsa Gabor's hedge (not that she makes an appearance.) Basically, I spent almost an hour thinking, "can't we just get to the earthquake. Please. PLEASE!" And then it comes - and it's great, and it lasts for a few minutes - and then it's over, and we get back into many of those soap-ish subplots, through which we see the aftermath of the earthquake. This was perhaps a little more interesting than the lead-up. For example, although it wasn't graphically depicted, I was a bit surprised to see a movie from this era depict a soldier apparently trying to rape a young woman. But really - the movie had telegraphed for a long time that the real suspense was going to eventually come from the dam bursting and how many were going to be saved and who was going to die as a result. So in that second part of the movie, we waited for that to happen. There was a lot of waiting for things to happen in this movie.
This had a decent cast. These 70's disaster movies always seemed to be able to attract well known names, and even a few truly big stars. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner are in this, for example. There were secondary movie stars like George Kennedy and Walter Matthau (in an inexplicably and totally unnecessary role as a drunk at a bar who basically just wants another drink no matter what's happening around him.) There was Lorne Greene (much better known for his TV work as Ben Cartwright in "Bonanza.") And there was Victoria Principal (still a few years away from TV stardom as Pam Ewing on "Dallas") as the almost rape victim - who I didn't even recognize, as she was made up in this really far- out curly sort of hairstyle. (I had seen her name in the credits and was actually looking for her and didn't recognize her until the closing credits revealed which character she was. I had to go back and look. Now - knowing her character - I could recognize her.)
Some of those 1970's disaster type movies are a lot of fun, and pretty well done. I'd say this one doesn't exactly rank at the top (or even near the top) of that list. But the actual earthquake is fun. No doubt about that. (3/10)
The most unfortunate thing about "Non-Stop" is that it's 1:46 long.
That last :46 was just too much for me. Seriously - I was enjoying this
for the most part for the first hour or so, and then it just lost me.
Not that I didn't understand it - it just stopped interesting me. Too
much that was happening just wasn't making enough sense. Sure, I get
that in an action movie you sometimes have to suspend your disbelief -
but I was being asked to suspend too much disbelief.
First was the rather - shall we say - convoluted plan that the bad guys had hatched. The story revolves around a plan to extort $150 million from an airline - or someone - and a threat to kill one passenger every twenty minutes unless the money is paid. Or the plane is going to be blown up. Or it's going to be blown up anyway regardless I guess. Whatever. This plot depended on so many little details going absolutely right. It depended on things happening to the split second. Or, if it didn't depend on that, still so many things happened right on the split second that it was bewildering. Like the twenty minute thing. Liam Neeson's Agent Marks could literally set his watch by this timing. The deaths happen literally at the 20 minute mark - not 20 minutes and 30 seconds, or 19 minutes and 45 seconds, but literally at 20 minutes - even though there was no way the plotters could have possibly controlled everything that needed to happen so precisely. And how did these guys plan to escape anyway? Sure they had parachutes. So they were going to jump into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? (This was a flight from the US to London.) What would they do then? And how did they set up all these bank accounts - hundreds of them apparently - all around the world? What? And how did they know that Agent Marks was going to be on this specific flight? Because a lot of their plan seemed to revolve around their knowledge of some of the troubled personal details of his life. And - if his superiors trusted him so little that they wouldn't believe him when a crisis on a flight came up and would readily accept that he was actually a suspect, why was he still an air marshall in the first place? It was all mind-boggling.
And it worked for a while. Convoluted? Unbelievable? To the point of ridiculousness? Sure it was, but I could hang in for about an hour in the hope that some sense would be made of this. But it never was. After about an hour I just started thinking how long it was taking this movie to end. Which is never a good sign.
There were things I liked about it. Liam Neeson was pretty good. Generally speaking I like Liam Neeson. He worked in the role of Marks - the air marshall dealing with a lot of personal demons. Julianne Moore was pretty good as Marks' seatmate on the plane - the one passenger he seemed able to trust and so he brings her into the circle and she starts to help him get control of the situation. I appreciated the fact that no one decided to introduce a romance between these two. That would have made me roll my eyes a lot sooner than I did. I appreciated the fact that the only Muslim on board the plane was a good guy. I did wonder about his medical knowledge. He identified himself as a molecular neuroscientist or something. Why? Why not just call him a doctor? There seemed no particular reason to make him a molecular neuroscientist if he was going to be providing medical care. But at least he wasn't one of the bad guys.
This worked for a while. There was just too much going on that made the whole story implausible. (5/10)
I honestly wasn't too sure what to expect from this movie, but it
turned out to be one of the better suspense/thriller type movies I've
seen in a long time. It doesn't have a big-name, star-studded cast. The
best known name (for me at least) was probably Jason Bateman, but that
just proves that good acting doesn't have to come from the mega- stars.
All the performances in this were excellent, and the story was complex
Bateman played Simon, and Rebecca Hall was his wife Robyn. One day in a store, they unexpectedly encounter Gordo (Joel Edgerton) - a former schoolmate of Simon, whom Simon claims to barely remember. Edgerton does a fine job as Gordo. Gordo comes across as obsessed with Simon and Robyn. He latches on to them, pushing his way into their lives. He seems unbalanced. It's impossible to know when and where he's going to show up. As Simon notices, he seems especially interested in Robyn. Simon tells everyone that back in high school, Gordo was known as "Weirdo." Gordo's actually a pretty nerve- wracking character, and there are more than a few suspenseful moments along the way as we follow him, wondering what he's going to do.
And there is a really good twist in this - the extent of which I did not see coming, even for a moment. Gordo is weird. There's no doubt about that. But Simon isn't as innocent as he first seems either, and along the way we learn a lot about Simon's past, the nature of his relationship with Gordo back in high school and the fact that he hasn't really changed all that much over the years either. By the time the movie ends, while Gordo is still a strange character, we understand his motives a lot better and watch as Simon and Robyn's previously happy marriage and successful life crumbles under a cacophony of lies.
Edgerton also wrote and directed this movie, and proved to be quite adept at both, crafting a very suspenseful story and putting together a movie that was compelling and interesting. (8/10)
Parvez Sharma (who made this movie) is a gay Muslim. That, in itself,
made this interesting. It seems contradictory. However what really
appealed to me was the promise that this film seemed to make to give
the viewer a look at Mecca - the holiest city of Islam, located in
Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia itself seems strange and distant enough.
Mecca is actually closed to non-Muslims, which gives it a sort of
"forbidden fruit" appeal even to me, as a Christian. I can't go there,
but what would I find if I did? Sharma's film promised to give me a
glimpse of this off-limits city.
Some of the film is shot in New York, where Sharma lives with his boyfriend, and it depicts a bit of their relationship up to their marriage. I really didn't find that particularly interesting. Some of the film is also set in Sharma's birthplace in India. Some of that is interesting. But for the most part the movie is set in Mecca. Sharma travels there for the Hajj - the pilgrimmage that every Muslim is required to make to the Holy City. I assume that filming in Mecca is discouraged if not illegal, because Sharma uses only a cell phone camera and seems to be filming clandestinely. We do get to see a lot of Mecca through his cell phone. Some of it is very beautiful. I appreciated the look inside the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque and at the Kabbah, traditionally the first house of worship for Islam, built by Abraham. There's something transfixing about watching the ritual of pilgrims circling the Kabbah. I can understand how that could actually be a powerful spiritual experience for some. Some of the other rituals, including the symbolic stoning of the devil, are shown. This gave me a better understanding of the Hajj - what it's about and what it tries to accomplish. At the same time it's rather jarring to see the commercialism that now accompanies the pilgrimmage (the shopping centre apparently connected to the mosque struck me as very un- Islamic) and the reflections on the amount of garbage the pilgrims leave littering the street and the question of how that shows respect for Allah was interesting.
I could appreciate Sharma's courage - in filming things he wasn't supposed to be filming, but also simply in being a gay Muslim in Mecca - which likely would not have been well received if anyone had known. It seemed clear that Sharma also struggled with being a gay Muslim and was trying in some ways to come to peace with his own faith. Personally, I thought there was too much filler revolving around his relationship with his boyfriend in New York. That didn't interest me at all. But I did come away from this feeling as though I had a better understanding of the Hajj.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Somehow, I feel let down. That's strange because overall I enjoyed this
movie that I hadn't really expected to enjoy. I thought it had good
atmosphere, passable if unspectacular performances from the leads and a
decent number of moments that made you jump at least a little bit. In
other words, it has more going for it than a lot of horror films do. I
even learned something from it. The movie is set in the Aokigahara
Forest in Japan. What surprised me is that this is an actual place, and
as in the movie it's also known as the "Suicide Forest" because of the
large numbers of suicides that take place in it. Apparently it's one of
the top 10 (is it right to put it that way?) locations for suicides in
the entire world, and perhaps not surprisingly it also has a reputation
as being filled with the spirits of the dead. In other words, it's a
perfectly logical place for a horror movie to be set!
In fact, aside from the first few scenes the entire movie is indeed set in Oakigahara. Sarah (Natalie Dormer) gets a phone call telling her that her sister Jess has disappeared while teaching in Japan, and Sarah goes there to find her - a search that leads her to Aokigahara. Teaming up with Aiden (Eoin Macken) - an Australian reporter - and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) - a Japanese guide - Sarah heads into the forest.
I thought the forest was used fairly well. In some ways (mostly because of the setting) this reminded me a little bit of "the Blair Witch Project," except that it thankfully didn't employ the now incredibly overdone "discovery of lost video" routine. It's mysterious and the point is made that it's very, very easy to get hopelessly lost in it. As with most forests, there are a lot of strange sounds (especially in the night scenes.) Your logical side says that the sounds are being made by animals - but are they really? The forest plays tricks on you somehow. As Michi told Sarah, "if you see something bad - it isn't real. It's in your head." Sarah begins to see bad things, and she starts to come a bit unglued, and even paranoid. She's suspicious of Aiden, and her suspicions get transferred to the viewer. Did he have something to do with Jess's disappearance? Does he want to kill Sarah? What we do find out is that Sarah and Jess have their own demons that have nothing to do with Aokigahara, dating back to the deaths of their parents when they were children. All in all I thought the movie had a pretty good flow, and built up nicely. Unfortunately, I thought it built up to an ending that was disappointing.
I wasn't sure that we needed what appeared to be the supernatural element at the end, as Michi (part of a search party that entered the forest to try to find Sarah and Jess) finds himself apparently staring into the forest in the final scene - at Sarah's spirit. I really didn't think that was necessary. I would have been much more satisfied with this if it had simply ended with the message that Sarah had basically lost her mind while lost in the woods. The supernatural element played into some of the legends around Aokigahara, but - for me at least - didn't really add anything to the story.
Still, overall I found this enjoyable - and it taught me about Aokigahara, which I had never heard of before. So it was definitely worthwhile watching. (7/10)
My first impression of this film from director Tim Burton is that it
was pretty slow to get started. Indeed, it takes quite a while before
Mars attacks anything or anyone. But once things get started (about 30
minutes or so in) this turns into a decent comedy-action movie that's
fun to watch. Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but
fun and witty, including some decent political commentary that seemed
to skewer conservative and liberal alike, as the general (Rod Steiger)
takes a "nuke 'em" position before there's even contact, while the
professor (Pierce Brosnan) is convinced that it's all just a
misunderstanding that can just be talked out, even as the Martians are
busily incinerating the entire human race! And no one seemed especially
upset when the entire Congress was wiped out!
This has a truly stellar cast. Aside from Steiger and Brosnan, there's Jack Nicholson as the President, Glenn Close as the First Lady, Martin Short as the press secretary. There's Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Tom Jones, a young Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker. There's more. The credits that open the movie go on and on and you know all the names. And they all take this just seriously enough, while also clearly understanding that it's all tongue in cheek stuff.
I liked the Martians. They're cartoonish - in a creepy kind of way - which fits Tim Burton perfectly. I also thought that the action (once it got going after that slow start) was pretty well done and the special effects weren't bad either. It's ending is a clear and well done spoof of "War of the Worlds," as the Martians fall before a power they couldn't cope with. (You'll have to watch this to find out what that power is.)
It's not great, but there are worse ways to kill a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon. (6/10)
I watched this movie a while back and when it came to an end I was
puzzled. Usually, I have a pretty strong reaction to a movie: I know if
I've liked it or not, or if I've been bored with it, or if I've been
bothered by it. I know something about my reaction to it. When I
watched this a while back, I had - honestly - no reaction. I didn't
know if I had liked it or not. So it faded into the distant past and I
moved on, until the opportunity came up to watch it again. I decided to
watch it again. Sometimes a movie that doesn't really strike a chord
with you will do so on a second viewing. So I watched it again. And I
have exactly the same reaction - I'm not really sure if I liked it or
It's a schlocky monster story, where a scientist invents some sort of cure for a disease that a multi-millionaire wants, but he forces the scientist to try it out first - with really bad results. The mutated scientist then encounters a maintenance crew in underground tunnels where he was forced to try the cure, there's a lot of blood and gore and death. What else is there? Really - not much.
It wasn't horrible. I'll say that. It's a basic, run of the mill monster story - and those can be OK as time wasters. Aside from Tom Sizemore, who played the head of the maintenance crew, the cast was pretty anonymous. And, as far as Vince (played by Sizemore) was concerned - how in the world could he have been a POW in Vietnam? Sizemore is nowhere near old enough to play a guy who would have been a POW in Vietnam. That grated on me a bit, even though it's a throwaway part of the story.
I guess I'll give it a 5. Right in the middle. Because I honestly don't know if I liked it or not.
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