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Darling (2015/II)
4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
And now for something completely different...., 11 April 2016

Darling is HORRIBLE! ....But in a good way.... Well, mostly....

Briefly, the story revolves around a rather odd young woman (whose back story we unfortunately know nothing about) who takes a job as a house- sitter in an old New York City mansion reputed to be haunted.

I ordinarily hate blood and guts in my horror, preferring my horror to be of a more "psychological" nature. (I would rather have a "horror" movie get into my head and work on my nerves than have it punch me in the stomach and work on my viscera.) But although this movie has gore aplenty, I can almost overlook it (not easy in this case) in favor of the aspects of the film that got to me on more of a cerebral level.

I've always maintained that what you DON'T see is infinitely scarier than what you do see, and this is why I give this movie pluses as well as minuses. I would give is a much higher rating if it had toned down the gore factor. As someone who has always had a taste for horror, I can honestly say that this movie had tremendous potential, but alas it was just too gory for my tastes.

That being said, what I did like so much about this movie is that it has elements of many of my favorites: It is reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby in its setting, Carnival of Souls in the internal isolation of the protagonist, Psycho in its black & white format, The Haunting in its creepy use of sound effects and lighting, and The Innocents in its raising of the question "Is it her or is it the house?" Moreover, it fits right into the current trend in horror movies whose strength lies in their sense of tension and foreboding. One scene in this movie where a door slams in a deadly quiet bedroom nearly gave me heart failure. I know that doesn't sound terribly exciting, but THAT is the kind of horror I love!

Even though I feel that Darling borrowed from many of the greats, I still feel that it was something very unlike anything I've ever seen before in its minimalist, stylistic, artsy rendering: The flashing lights and hallucinogenic imagery (which you are actually warned about after the opening credits, something I've never seen done before in a movie), the music (sometimes just eerie, at other times spine-tingling), and the editing (spliced with lightning fast, almost subliminal scenes of horror). Honorable mention goes to the lovely, ghostly, "haunting" images of New York City which pepper the film.

There are scenes from this movie (some gory and stomach-churning, others just plain creepy and genuinely frightening) that will be indelibly etched in your memory.

Although I was, for the most part, impressed with the basic artistry of this film, my biggest gripe is my feeling that the movie can't decide what it really wants to be. It's almost like two movies in one, straddling the line between two sub-genres of horror: slasher/gore horror smack dab in the middle, sandwiched between two slices of strictly psychological horror toward the beginning and again at the end.

Another fault I found is that while I have no problem with "open-ended" movies, or movies that leave the viewer wondering, there were just too many unanswered questions to the plot, chiefly concerning the identity of Darling's oh-so-unfortunate victim. Was he just some random pick-up that the protagonist was merely "projecting" onto, or did he have an actual history in her past? Was the house really haunted or is our star just a psychopath, or both? I actually viewed it twice, thinking that I would glean more the second time around, to little avail.

Oh, a word about the acting. There are few characters in the story, and little dialogue, but the movie is carried by the excellent acting ability and facial expressions of the lead. There is a scene where she opens up a door to a hitherto forbidden room, clutches her hair and screams in horror - at what, we don't know, but I thought that scene was great! There is another scene at the end where you can almost see the circles darkening under her eyes as she grimly contemplates what she ultimately does (which I won't give away, but suffice to say I also loved the scene where she tells the owner of the house over the phone that she's going to become her next ghost story. Chilling!)

Despite the aforementioned (not insubstantial) gore factor, I was pretty impressed with Darling and would love to see more movies like this from this director.

Delirium (2015/VII)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
wtf?!, 20 November 2015

Well, looks like I have the ignominious and unfortunate distinction of being the first victim to review this one.

Second worst movie I have EVER seen. A hot, stinking, holy mess.

Atrocious acting and a thoroughly incomprehensible "plot."

Just wasted $4.99 watching this on On Demand. Wish I could get my money back from my cable company.

So bad, it's got to be seen to be believed. But then you'd waste good money like I just did.

I give this a negative number of stars; yes, it was really that bad.

Avoid at all costs.

Still Life (2013/I)
6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A Cinematic Eleanor Rigby (*may contain spoilers*), 19 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

OMG, this was one of the saddest, most depressing movies I've ever seen.

That's not to say that it wasn't a good movie, or even that I didn't like it, but this movie is definitely not for everyone.

John May is a nebbish, a cipher, an anonymous clerk in a ministry office whose job it is to settle the affairs of those poor souls who die without family or anyone to see them off to the great hereafter. I suppose his job might be considered to be the equivalent of the American public administrator. But John goes beyond the bare necessities of his job. If he is unable to track down any family members of the deceased, he sees to it himself that the deceased has a decent funeral and burial, even if that means that he and he alone is in attendance at the service. And if no family is found, John makes that individual part of his own (seemingly non-existent) family, painstakingly and reverentially placing photographs of the deceased in his own family album.

Seeing John in his daily life I could not help but call to mind Henry David Thoreau's famous quote to the effect that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." John May personifies that quote. We see him every day at work in the same drab office, and then going home to the same drab house and eating the same drab meal. His only interactions are with those in his job capacity, as there are no family members of friends in sight. He is quite well on the way to becoming one of the lost individuals he himself serves on the job.

He is a male Eleanor Rigby.

After John is terminated from his position (for being too "slow" and "inefficient") and things begin to look even bleaker for him, there is one ambiguous scene where it appears that he may even be contemplating suicide.

Toward the end of the film, one of his cases brings him together with a possible love interest and John – someone who appears never to have taken a chance or risk in his life – reaches out his hand (and his heart) and tries to forge a connection with this person. But just when it looks like his life may turn around for him…..Wham! Well, I won't give away the ending, but there is one scene that literally made me gasp "Oh no!".

I saw life in this movie: the absurdity and unfairness of life. It certainly does not present an optimistic point of view. And if you're looking for a happy ending, this is not the movie for you.

Although this is a quiet, slow -some (not I) might even say boring - movie, the final scene brought everything to a head, calling to mind the final scenes in both "Titanic" and "Schindler's List." Extremely moving. Extremely poignant. Bring your hankies, folks.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
An unforgivably wasted opportunity to tell a remarkable story, 5 April 2014

Several months ago I was fortunate enough to discover the 1984 movie "Solomon Northup's Odyssey" among my local television listings. To my great surprise, I had never heard of this fascinating true story and sat enrapt while the compelling plot line unfolded of a free black man in 1841 Saratoga, New York, a talented fiddler, who was hoodwinked into traveling down to Washington, D.C. for a paid musical engagement and then kidnapped into slavery.

After all the Oscar hoopla, I caught "12 Years a Slave" on "On Demand" and I hate to have to say this, but I was exceedingly disappointed.

For one thing, if I had not seen the prior movie, I would have had difficulty following the finer points of this story line. Right off the bat, I knew I would be frustrated by the disjointed manner in which this movie unfolded. The use of flashbacks can be a very effective instrument, but here it was over-used, leaving the movie with little coherence.

Accordingly, there were small - sometimes important - details to the plot that I simply did not grasp.

More importantly, AND THIS IS WHAT IS SO EGREGIOUS: The director jettisoned a golden opportunity to tell a truly compelling and largely unknown story in favor of the opportunity to wallow in sadism and brutality.

We all know that slavery was a cruel, barbaric institution. But enough already! This movie was far too graphic in its violence. Was it really necessary to watch the skin being flayed off Patsey's back while she is being whipped? Was it really essential to the plot line to see Solomon hanging at the end of a noose for the length of time that the camera dwelled on this scene? Isn't it possible to get a point across without bringing the audience to the verge of nausea? One review on this site likened this movie to "The Passion of the Christ," and I think that's very apt.

I must say the acting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon was phenomenal. He was well deserving of his Oscar nomination. However, and I know there will be disagreement here, but I thought the rest of the acting was atrocious (the other exception being Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey). Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps was little more than the stereotype of a cruel and downright depraved slaveowner. Sarah Paulson as his wife was little more than an overly theatrical evil stepmother. And Brad Pitt? What the heck was that all about?

The ending was a sore disappointment. For one thing, Solomon's reunion with his family fell absolutely flat. Granted, it gave Mr. Ejiofor another opportunity to shine in his acting ability, but why so little joy on the part of his family upon his reunion with them?

Also criminally lacking was the background story of how Solomon came to be rescued. The behind-the-scenes machinations of his wife back in New York to find his whereabouts were simply swept under the rug.

In actuality, the movie gave short shrift to BOTH the before AND after of how Solomon was tricked into slavery, all in favor of the chance to bring stomach-churning brutality to the big screen. And that is a shame.

Very disappointing after all the press that this movie has generated. In the past I have painstakingly avoided movies that were presaged by the prospect of graphic violence, and if I had known that this was one of those movies, I would have avoided it as well.

Three out of ten stars, only for the stellar acting of the lead.

My best advice to anyone who reads this review is to try to get your hands on the aforementioned "Solomon Northup's Odyssey," a far better movie.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Stupifyingly sad; superb acting. Bravo, Colin Firth!, 10 March 2013

I like drama. A comedy is good for a chuckle. And a musical is great for a hummable tune. But what I really love is something to "sink my teeth into." I like something that moves me, something that makes me think (or feel), and something that plays upon my heartstrings. If that movie happens to be sad, that's par for the course.

A Single Man is not just sad, it is STUPIFYINGLY sad. It ranks right up there in my book with Sophie's Choice in its sadness quotient.

The movie takes place in 1962, a much different time from our current "open" society and concerns George, a forty-something seemingly proper straight-laced college professor. Although I don't think the word is ever once spoken in the film, George is a homosexual who had been in a 16-year relationship with another man. When Jim dies in an auto accident, George is overcome by grief to the extent he feels like he's drowning, a recurring image in the film.

Charley (presumably short for Charlotte), played by Julianne Moore, is his only outlet. Charley and George were one-time lovers, or - it would probably be more accurate to say - sex partners. While Charley continues to hold a torch for George, George loves Charley, but only as a friend, in fact, his best friend. Upon learning of Jim's death in an impersonal phone call from a cousin who "feels he should know," and being shunned by Jim's family, it is to Charley that George rushes and there follows a scene of his crying on her shoulder that is so sad as to be painful to watch. Charley, bitterly divorced from another man, regrets that she and George never married and had a family of their own, and even speculates out loud to George that Jim was a "substitute" for something else in his life, which engenders an angry outburst from George. Even Charley simply does not understand.

There are two other unspokenly homosexual characters in the film with whom George dances around a dalliance, but nothing ever comes of them, as in both instances, neither one is able is "come out." The things that go unspoken in this film make even the viewer feel like he's ready to burst; pity then poor George.

Colin Firth is simply and utterly amazing in this role. He plays it as the epitome of repression. In fact, the mood of repression in the entire film is palpable. But one must remember this is 50 years ago, and although arguably relatively recent in our history, when one considers the various cultural and social revolutions that have taken place only SINCE that time, one can appreciate George's sensation of drowning and feeling like he can't breathe. Many of the cinematic shots are in close-up and Mr. Firth's controlled facial expressions have got to be seen to be believed. This is one of the best acted movies I've ever seen. Bravo, Mr. Firth!

George is so grief-stricken and bereft and lost, he contemplates suicide. I won't give the ending away, but this is a four-hankie movie. If you're looking for a happy ending, stay away.

6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
High expectations; extreme disappointment, 6 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," while perhaps not the worst movie I've ever seen, was certainly one of the most disappointing.

I went to see this movie with great expectations, together with a friend who was "brave" enough to want to see it with me, another friend refusing to attend, fearing that it would be too emotionally wrenching. As it turns out, this movie was anything BUT emotionally wrenching. While aiming to be emotionally affecting, it was in fact just plain FLAT. I saw the film in New Jersey, an audience with close connections to the 9/11 tragedy, and while I could hear some viewers crying softly afterwards, I couldn't help but think that an audience that lacked the same nexus to the actual event could never have had such a visceral reaction to such a manipulative story.

The movie revolves around Oscar, son of the Tom Hanks character who dies in the World Trade Center. (Hanks plays a lowly jeweler in a run down neighborhood who owns a shop with pull-down metal security gates; it's a stretch to think that he would be having a "business meeting" at Windows on the World, but that's just one small implausibility in a movie chockful of them.) A year after "the worst day," as he refers to 9/11 throughout the film, Oscar cannot come to terms with his father's death and tries to maintain his link to him by obsessing over his personal possessions. One day while rummaging through his father's closet, he comes across a mysterious key in an envelope labeled "Black." Without going into too much detail, this discovery sends him on an odyssey through New York City to solve the mystery that this key will unlock, some clue that will hopefully bring him closer to his father.

I am all for suspending belief in the context of a motion picture (after all, what's wrong with pure entertainment?), but what follows is the most implausible, unbelievable, ridiculous storyline you can possibly imagine. For one thing, that Oscar's mother (played by the always sympathetic Sandra Bullock) would allow a mentally challenged young boy to traipse around NYC on his own is simply inconceivable. When we learn later on that she had figured out his bizarre, off-the-wall strategy and was actually shadowing him all along on his wild pursuits, it becomes even more absurd.

This movie had no climax and positively no resolution. My companion said she spent the entire movie "waiting for something to happen." Alas, nothing ever does. At the point in the film where the audience discovers what the key unlocks (which should have been some grand revelation), we hit a brick wall as the plot does not even disclose what is contained within the mysterious box! There is a tender scene where the owner of the box covers Oscar's hand with his own in an attempt to calm the distraught boy, which leads you to expect that perhaps the man will become an important part of the fatherless boy's life (a mentor, if you will) - which I think would have added nicely to the storyline - but nothing of the sort happens.

Similarly, you might expect that among the literally hundreds of people the boy meets in his quest, he might forge a few meaningful friendships that would bring him out of his neurotic shell, but that doesn't happen either.

Likewise, the concluding scene of Oscar swinging on a playground swing leaves potential untapped. In the wake of an earlier scene with his father, you would have expected something significant to happen at this point. Nothing does.

There is also a subplot about a mysterious, mute "renter," who turns out to be the boy's biological grandfather. But what was the intent or purpose of this character to the plot??

And all those references to a "sixth borough"?? What was THAT all about??

This movie went absolutely nowhere and had absolutely no resolution, or at best an unsatisfying one. I can only hope that the book on which this film was based fleshes out some of these themes and fills in some of these gaps.

The only redeeming features to this movie (and the reasons why I didn't give it fewer stars) were the excellent acting by the young actor in the role of Oscar and the cinematography.

One of the reviewers on this site dubbed this movie "Extremely Dull and Incredibly Pointless" and I would have to heartily agree with this assessment. I keep hearing that this is "the best movie of 2011." If this is the case, I think I'll skip the next Oscars presentation.

41 out of 58 people found the following review useful:
One of the finest productions I've ever seen on television, 10 April 2011

The Kennedys, the 8-hour mini-series that just aired on ReelzChannel, was one of the finest productions I have ever seen on television.

I have always said about the tumultuous and tragic story of the Kennedys that even a fiction writer could not have fabricated it. This series took a saga that we all are already familiar with - at least for the most part - and synthesized it into a gripping drama. Moreover, points are brought out in the story-line that are downright eye-opening. In particular, Joe Kennedy Sr. comes across as a real S.O.B., someone who was utterly ruthless and who would stop at nothing to achieve his ends, and if this story WERE fiction, it would make for an epic cautionary morality tale. In all fairness, I must say that some of the scenes were so shocking in an ethical sense, I had to take them with a grain of salt.

Watching this program, it certainly comes to the fore that the Kennedy administration was so very much more than "Camelot." For such an "innocent" time, JFK was dealing with domestic and global issues that would make any man turn gray overnight. Not only was this series entertaining, but it served as a condensed history lesson, touching as it did upon topics such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Berlin Wall, the civil rights movement, and the beginnings of the Vietnam War.

The acting here was nothing short of extraordinary. Greg Kinnear as the President was downright eerie to watch as he looked SO much like JFK. As for Katie Holmes as Jackie, I must say I have a new-found respect for her as an actress; she was perfection in this role. Barry Pepper in the role of Bobby Kennedy was an absolute revelation. And if Tom Wilkinson, who played Joe Kennedy Sr., does not win an award for his portrayal, it will be a travesty. The actresses who played Rose and Ethel were likewise excellent.

I am gratified that the assassination was handled with such tact. We did not need to see anything more graphic than we've already seen dozens if not hundreds of times.

My only complaint is that the legendary wit and charisma of JFK did not come across as strongly as I would have expected.

I was also left feeling utterly baffled as to why Ted Kennedy was completely absent from the story-line.

Kudos to the writers, to the make-up artists (who did an amazing, AMAZING job in making the actors almost indistinguishable from the real-life personages we know so well), the set designers who captured the period so accurately (right on down to the scene of Jackie smoking while pregnant with John Jr.; let's face it, we've learned a lot over the span of 50 years...), and most especially the actors who did such a superlative job with the look, accents and mannerisms of JFK, Jackie, Bobby and Joe Sr.

If The Kennedys doesn't sweep the Emmys, it will be a miscarriage of justice. Bravo to all involved in this magnificent production.

Insidious (2010/I)
65 out of 122 people found the following review useful:
Got to be one of the scariest movies of all time, and coming from me, that's saying a lot!, 4 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As soon as I heard about the new movie Insidious, I said "Oh boy, this is a MUST-SEE." For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of this genre. I'm not talking about the Freddie/Jason slasher-type films or the torture/amputation sicko-flicks, but the truly psychological twisters that do a number on your head.

This is the story of a young family whose oldest child, Dalton, after a seemingly minor household accident, slips into a mysterious coma that medical science is unable to explain. Doctors and hospitals not being able to do anything for Dalton, his parents are forced to take the not-quite-living-but-not-quite-dead boy home where he lies in his room completely unresponsive. Spectral entities are soon haunting the house, or so it seems, but when the family moves to a new home, the haunting continues; hence the tagline: "It's not the house that's haunted." Turns out little Dalton has entered The Further, a sort of nether-world where evil spirits vie to inhabit his body. At some point his grandmother (played by Barbara Hershey) hires a psychic who sends the boy's father into The Further to search for him and hopefully bring him back via some sort of astral projection or out-of-body experience.

Insidious did not disappoint. Although highly derivative, that is not a bad thing here. It has elements of every one of my favorite ghost stories: The Haunting (haunted house, unexplained noises), The Innocents (possessed child, ghostly apparitions, eerie weeping), The Others (creepy climactic séance), Flatliners (crossing over into another realm) and Carnival of Souls (pale-faced ghoulies coming to get ya).

Very much like the aforementioned The Haunting, most of the early scares in Insidious rely on sound, lighting and camera angles. Because of the way tension builds up (like in Paranormal Activity), the sight of a face eerily appearing in a window, or a sudden loud noise, can make you jump out of your seat. The beginning of the movie is all about suggestion, mood and atmosphere, and what you don't see, which are the elements of the very BEST ghost stories.

Special commendation for the excellent editing. As much as you might want to shield your eyes in anticipation and dread while watching this movie, you won't want to miss some of the split-second spine-tingling images.

My only complaint is that the last one-third or so of the film was almost over-kill. The scares were so relentless toward the conclusion of the story, you barely have time to recover from one fright before another is foisted on you. Nevertheless, there are some truly frightening images in this movie.

I have seen many many such movies (and have read even more such novels) and I consider myself pretty jaded and not easily frightened, but I am a little embarrassed to admit that one scene in particular actually made me scream out loud in the movie theater - a first for me! By film's end, my heart was literally pounding.

If you are highly suggestible or prone to nightmares, do not see this film, but if you are truly a fan of a good ghost/haunted house story, do not miss Insidious. Got to be one of the scariest movies of all time.

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Excellent documentary about an over-looked talent, 16 January 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"There But for Fortune" is an excellent documentary on the life and career of the over-looked folk/protest singer Phil Ochs.

Overshadowed by his contemporary (and idol) Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs never received his due. And this is greatly surprising since his music was more melodious and more "palatable" than Dylan's.

Watching this movie, I am astounded that he never achieved greater notoriety. For someone who seemingly had everything going for him (good looks, a gorgeous dulcet voice and a rare gift for writing songs that alternated between beautiful and biting), it's amazing to me that he never became a bigger name.

His songwriting was masterful, often touching upon topics of the day (e.g. "A Small Circle of Friends" being inspired by the Kitty Genovese story). His voice was haunting and beautiful. Songs such as "Changes" and "Pleasures of the Harbor" are simply exquisite.

Phil Ochs spent the 1960s writing and performing protest music, much of it targeted at the Vietnam War ("The War is Over," "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," etc.). Tragically - and ironically - upon the ending of the war, he became un-moored. Perhaps feeling that he had lost his purpose, he sank into a deep depression and, within a few years, was dead by his own hand.

This is a very well put together film - including interviews with his brother and sister, his wife and daughter, and numerous friends in "the cause." And, luckily, there is a surprising amount of footage on this individual who never really reached a great measure of fame.

Even I, someone who was always "into" popular music, had not become familiar with Phil Ochs until after he was gone. If you ask me, why this supremely talented individual was not a bigger name in American popular music is one of the mysteries of the ages.

The producers of this film have done the viewing public a great service. It's just unfortunate that only those people who already know of Phil Ochs will likely go out and see it. On the other hand, this movie paints a portrait not only of Phil Ochs the singer, but of America in the 1960s. So, by all rights this film should have wider appeal as a piece of history, with Phil Ochs at the center of a very tumultuous period. One can only wonder in sadness what kind of music he would be writing today at the age of 70, given the fact that we find ourselves once again embroiled in another questionable war.

172 out of 216 people found the following review useful:
Excellent cinematic adaptation, 25 October 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I just recently finished reading Never Let Me Go. I have very rarely been so intrigued by the subject matter of a book and at the same time so bored by its style. Never Let Me Go, the book, was deadly dull. Still, I was so intrigued, as I say, by the plight of these characters, that I was compelled to see how the book translated to the big screen. You might say I felt this novel and original storyline deserved a second chance.

All in all, I give the movie adaptation a thumbs up, with one big caveat: I think those who did not read the book first would be left scratching their heads. While the book was slow and plodding (and devoted MUCH too much detail to certain occurrences in the storyline), nevertheless it offered the opportunity for reflection on the subtleties of what was taking place. Given the pacing of a typical movie, if you blink, you might miss something momentous and I think that was the case with this movie, so it certainly helped to have read the book prior to seeing the film. The screenwriters did an excellent job of condensing the book, and I felt, after having read it, that condensing was precisely what this otherwise compelling and poignant story required.

Never Let Me Go was a lyrical and visually beautiful production. The accompanying musical score was appropriate to a sad and heartbreaking story. The acting was terrific - especially by Cary Mulligan whose sad eyes reveal the melancholy of her character, and Keira Knightly, especially in the hospital scene where she portrays a nearly depleted "donor." I didn't care much for the male lead, but his one outbreak of emotion upon having his hopes of a "deferral" dashed was very significant. And the character of Miss Lucy comes across as more sympathetic in the movie than in the book.

My criterion for a good movie is this: If it stays with me once I hit the sidewalk in front of the theater, rather than evaporating like smoke, well, that's a good movie. Never Let Me Go has stayed with me. The ending left me with a feeling that although these fictionalized characters were little more than lab rats, we all, in a sense, share a similar fate. Life is short, loss hurts, live and love while you can.

It rarely happens that I enjoy a movie adaptation more than the book on which it was based, but I would have to say that was the case here. Bravo.

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