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Where the mystery of aging is perhaps not so mysterious, 3 December 2014

Who has not fantasized about living forever? Could we even hack it?

This movie is intellectually stimulating, philosophically fascinating and medically interesting; and, it's quietly entertaining to boot. While watching, it occurred to me the mise en scène - where a group of eight people meet to bid farewell to one of them, with 95% of the 'action' in one room - reminded me of 12 Angry Men (1957), My dinner with Andre (1981), The Sunset Limited (2011) and a few others.

The stand-out feature is the script: written by the late Jerome Bixby (writer of Star Trek episodes and others), he explores the possibility of living for thousands of years and perhaps - theoretically - forever. This is not complete nonsense: other animals on this earth live for many hundreds of years, while flat worms and a type of jellyfish are in fact virtually immortal (according to scientific articles I researched).

So, how would you react when one in your group announces he's been walking the earth for 14,000 years? How would you begin to tackle the truth of that claim? Could you prove the claim false? Would you - mortal, vulnerable, with limited years - feel angry, cheated, or thwarted? Would you even lash out to the point of wanting to kill?

The actors do an adequate job of presenting that scenario as their reactions play through all of those emotions, and more. All the while, John Oldman (David Lee Smith) maintains his cool, calm exterior, adroitly fielding all the questions, accusations and admonitions. Hence, the script, as constructed, hangs together quite well. Towards the end, though, the discussion gets into the most sensitive areas of the human psyche - religion and spirituality - and presents a situation that will definitely offend many believers. And, if that's not enough to swallow, Bixby then adds an incisive twist which, given the scenario, is entirely logical, psychologically harrowing and cleverly convincing.

Oldman, at one stage, says he's not a "superman". Yet, to live forever, or even a mere 14,000 years, would require a "superman" intellect and perfect body. Well, the first is already possible, obviously, when considering history. It only remains to be seen whether science will eventually solve the mystery of aging. I think science will.

Given the subject matter and the presentation, this is a nine out ten movie for me. See if you agree. Recommended for all.

December 4th, 2014

Where the puzzle of a small town murder creates a bigger mystery...., 9 November 2014

There is a brief scene in series one showing Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) entering a motel reception where we also see a guest, at the reception desk, with a fully gown pet llama; and while Agent Cooper is talking with sheriff Truman (Michael Ontkean), the guest with the llama walks between Cooper and the sheriff and then exits. Cooper hardly blinks an eye; and the character with the llama never reappears. Nobody comments about the llama. It's as though the animal never existed.

Only David Lynch could get away with doing that in a serious, dramatic show for prime time TV; only David Lynch has that sort of moxie. And only he and Mark Frost - co-creator of the story - could fill a tediously dense and dull satire with similar outrageous scenes and characters and still get paid by ABC, the TV company which desperately needed to get better ratings at that time.

The complex, convoluted plot has already been examined to death by other reviewers; no need for me to go into that detail, except to say viewers do get to know who the murderer is. I doubt even Fiona Banner, for example, would attempt to describe TP in text art; it's actually beyond sensible description, I think. What's more important, instead, is to comment upon the setting - the mise en scène - and the main characters who are all involved, directly or indirectly, with solving the mystery of the death of local beauty queen, Laura Palmer.

The setting is well-known small-town America - somewhat reminiscent of, say, Picnic (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), Peyton Place (1957) and a few others; Twin Peaks, though, is 1980ish, but with a patina of the 1950s. Everything shown - houses, autos, trees, buildings, the sky and landscape and the lustrous colors - is just beautiful, magnificent, alluring, appealing, brilliant and definitely good-looking. It's the characters who are ... well, let me just say....

Considered objectively, Dale Cooper is arguably a caricature of an FBI agent, almost goofy in his manner of speaking, and his bizarre use of investigatory props e.g. a map of Tibet for one, and throwing stones at a glass bottle for another, both to help determine Laura's killer; the receptionist at the police station is the proverbial dumb, dumber blonde; we meet the inevitable fumbling, bumbling cop who can't do anything right, the wholesome, down-to-earth town sheriff and the gruff but fair local doctor; the whole town seems caught in a 1960s time warp of multiple sexual affairs; with some exceptions, characters are beautiful, clean people - and every bit Bold and Beautiful clones. I'm sure the scenes of couples having extra long kisses in medium to extreme close-up exceed the number of scenes about the actual murder investigation (at least in series one); and, for the cherry on top, all the TVs in Twin Peaks (series one again) show the same daily TV soap opera - and sly parody of the Twin Peaks narrative, I think.

And there are sight gags galore if you look closely at props and people used. For example, Sheriff Harry Truman has a framed photo of President Harry Truman on his office wall; and the popular coffee shop in Twin Peaks has an enormous, exterior sign which has just one word: Café. With the final frame of series two, Lynch ensures a captured audience with an exquisite cliff-hanger to keep tongues wagging for years, and years, and....

The quality of both series is topnotch; the color photography is brilliantly over-saturated; direction is typical Lynch, as is the deep-bass, twangy, background music supplied by Angelo Badalamenti; the acting by all is generally good, sometimes excellent; the script, however, often borders on the banal or absurd - although it sharpens up in series two.

Don't get me wrong: TP is a magnificent achievement by Lynch and Frost because it finally brought their names to mainstream American - and eventually global - TV audiences. Prior to that, Lynch was better known by those who had seen Eraserhead (1977), Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990) - basically films for Lynch fans only (and Dune was box-office poison). TP is also magnificent because Lynch was given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted (legally, of course) in the story. If you have seen Lynch movies then you know he subverts viewers' expectations in every one of them. Twin Peaks is no different.

On the other hand, and bearing mind that Lynch has been quoted as saying it's the visual experience that matters - the story is secondary - consider this: why would a writer/director develop and produce a prime time TV drama series stuffed with clichéd scenes and stereotypical characters we've all seen in other TV shows, and then throw in bizarre events, actions, dialog etc at random times and for no discernible reason? And in the process, confound critics and viewers alike....

See the series and decide for your self.

Just remember Lynch is a unique movie maker, his intelligence beyond question, his movie and music art now world famous. And Twin Peaks is the quintessential, prime-time, dramatic TV show - especially for mainstream America.

Give this series eight out of ten for sure. Recommended for all except kiddies. And, hey now, I'm looking forward to series three in 2016 ... perhaps? Hope so.

November 4th, 2014

Not so much a party as a parting...., 15 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having seen many of Pinter's efforts on screen (The Servant, The Pumpkin Eater, Accident, The Last Tycoon, Sleuth etc) over many years, it was a great pleasure to finally see this early work which entertains and tantalizes in equal measures. From a Pinter-written play first produced in 1958, one of my favorite directors, William Friedkin, briskly directed a handful of brilliant actors in a story which has puzzled viewers and critics for over forty years.

Recognizing that every viewer's experience of reality is different, let me describe what I saw and suggest a possible theme: A typical, sea-side boarding house owned by a less-than-middle class, middle-aged couple (Dandy Nichols, Moultrie Kelsall) eking out their daily drudge; a lone, youngish boarder and apparent musician (Robert Shaw) who looks and acts like a rude, lazy bum; and a mysterious pair of men (Patrick Magee, Sydney Tafler) who arrive at the abode to visit the young border and celebrate his birthday.

The action - talk-fest is a better word - takes place in the front dining-sitting room over the course of the day, the evening and the next morning. Initially, Stanley (Robert Shaw) is verbally battered and intimidated by Nat (Sydney Tafler) and Shamus (Patrick Magee) with conversation which oscillates from the banal to the insidious; at one point, Stanley even punches Nat. Meanwhile, Meg (Dandy Nichols) goes out food shopping; her husband, Pete (Kelsall) is out at work as beach deck-chair supervisor. Shamus, significantly, has the unsettling habit of tearing a page of newspaper into precisely ordered strips; and then arranging them as a 'page' again. Over and over again....

As evening arrives, there is a birthday 'party' of sorts which gradually degenerates into a drunken altercation between the three men, leaving Stanley mentally bowed and beaten - but not physically so. The party includes the infantile game of Blind Man's Bluff, a long toast to Stanley's birthday, binge drinking, and ends with Stanley smashing bottles, glasses and finally screaming for help in the darkness. Fade to black.

The next morning, with Meg and Pete out of the house, a fresh-looking Nat, looking every bit The Organization Man - including sleek, smart, black briefcase - discusses Stanley's condition with Shamus while he, once again, proceeds to tear newspaper into orderly shreds. It is during that exchange where we learn the nature of Stanley's problem and why they need to take him away. At which point, Stanley now enters as the New Man after his Birth Day: showered, shaved, and suited up appropriately - looking and acting like a condemned man. As the three prepare to depart, Pete arrives, concerned for Stanley, but is told by Nat to leave it to them to handle it all. As the front door closes, Pete calls out after them: "Stan - don't let them tell you what to do!"

Pete goes back to his newspaper reading. Meg returns and, when assured by Pete that Stanley is fine, they simply continue with their new day - thus cementing their implicit acceptance of Stanley's fate. Fade to black.

In my view (no pun intended), this play is a metaphor, showing how modern capitalism squeezes the young - including the artistic Stanleys of the world - into a sleazily-suited life of mindless, office sludge. Hence, it could be compared to, say, Patterns (1956) which is all about raw corporate ethics. Or, better still, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) - a somewhat less strident critique of modern man's self-made commercial trap which ensnares most into pointless paper-pushing - and the self-destructive consequences thereof. Is there more than just a touch of Pinter in Stanley's dilemma which Pinter wrote when only 28? Perhaps.

The acting, direction and cinematography are simply brilliant; as is the dialog, which must be followed closely to enjoy to the fullest. Sure, it's a claustrophobic setting for some viewers, being in one room for most of the time. All the better to concentrate on the characters, surely? Are we not, ourselves, always in one room much of the time, anyway?

Highly recommended for all. Nine out of ten.

Flight (2012/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Where we learn that success in life sometimes requires a near-death experience., 15 September 2014

This story is, essentially, a one-man show, about a crack commercial pilot who is also an alcoholic and cocaine addict, maybe even a crack-head. In taking on the role of Whip, Denzel Washington delivers a cracking good performance about a character that you eventually almost love to hate. But, not quite....

In a nut shell, the plot begins with Whip's hangover as he prepares for his next flight. To cope, he snorts some coke before he leaves the hotel, and after manhandling his passenger plane on takeoff like a P51 Mustang, he hands the controls over to the young copilot while he covertly mixes a double screw-driver in the galley and as his crew is calming passengers after the turbulent takeoff.

Then: disaster. Something breaks in the rear elevator mechanism, the plane goes into a dive, Whip whips back to his seat, grabs the controls which he uses manually (overrides the computer systems) to perform a miraculous maneuver to prevent the plane from drilling for oil - and instead glides it to a belly-flop in a lush green field where the plane breaks up and everything goes black for our hero....

That sequence is the best part of the movie - the first twenty minutes: great CGI, excellent editing, fast paced, exciting, even thrilling and entertaining BS. And, it's worth seeing. Arguably, the rest ain't.

You recall Denzel in Training Day? Sure, he was a bad guy, but he was so cool, soooo likable, right? Well, Whip's a totally untrustworthy, no-good, dirty, rotten, drunk liar. In his personal flight from reality, he knows it, he denies it to all and sundry, and you can see he's heading for his own hell. Unless something happens to change his ways. Well, your mission, should you want to proceed, it to watch the movie and find what that something is.

And, if you do, then think about this also: why on earth was this story ever made into movie? I'll tell you what I think. Instead of some production company making a documentary about all the real-life stories we hear/read about pilots with certain problems who still fly daily, let's put it all to fiction to avoid any possible law suits from a dozen real airlines. But ... but we still get the message across, see: hey, you pilots, listen up - toe the line or, no matter how good you are as a pilot, you are expendable, you are a criminal, and you are going down even if you do save every sorry passenger's life!

Hey, now ... it's not often we see an important, pertinent, societal message masquerading as passably good entertainment.

There's a good supporting cast with familiar faces. The direction and editing are top-notch. The music's too loud. There's a lot of cussing, and a lot of alcohol and coke, both of which will turn off some viewers. Still, I give it six out of ten and a qualified recommendation, mainly because I like Denzel's (and John Goodman's) acting and his courage for taking on such a lousy, stinking role. Ugh!

September 15, 2014

No Return (2010)
Where three families learn about the truth - and where it lies., 8 September 2014

Slow-paced, quasi thriller which examines the effects upon three families when a member of one runs down and kills a member of another family while a member of a third family - because of bad timing - is accused and arrested to face trial.

The perpetrator, Matias (Martin Slipak) concocts a stolen car story for his parents who, at first, believe him; later however, Matias breaks down, tells the truth to his parents who then compound the felony by going along with the lies. The father of Matias even retrieves the abandoned car, drives it to a secluded spot and torches it completely. The family hunkers down, keeps a low profile - but emotions are raw.

Meanwhile, the father, Victor (Frederico Luppi), of the victim, Pablo (Augustin Vazquez) sets out to find the hit-run driver. The police, with nothing to go on (they think), are not much interested: there are many hit-run crimes, many unresolved. Victor begins a door-knock campaign in the area of the killing and eventually finds a witness who recalls a fast car which nearly creamed him in a pedestrian crossing, for Pete's sake, on that night! Victor makes enough noise in the media for the cops to start looking for that car.

And so, eventually they find the car driven by Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who'd left his car with a dentologist (aka auto body repair shop) to fix the banged-up front of his car which occurred when, hurrying to get home, he hit Pablo's bicycle. Pablo was angry, of course. After a colorful exchange of heated words, Federico drove off - leaving poor Pablo to take the hit, less than a minute later, when Matias didn't see him in the darkness.

Blissfully unaware, Federico had gone on holiday with his family; on return, however, he was immediately arrested for the hit-run, charged and tried. Federico's final fate is entirely believable, even inevitable. Old Victor thinks he achieved justice for Pablo, his dead son. Matias lives on, riven with guilt, unwilling to face up. The denouement, however, when the three men meet in the final, tense, ten minutes, is entirely unexpected - but, entirely believable also.

You don't get quality story and cinema like this much, any more. Acting, direction and editing are simply excellent; and there's not a wasted frame, in my opinion. Story construction and plot are cleverly interwoven to keep viewers' interest. Some critics, however, might suggest the over-use of coincidence for plot development; ignore that. Just enjoy an excellent, contemporary drama that could happen in any town, any day, anywhere.

Give this eight out of ten. Recommended for all.

September 7, 2014

Where a cop in distress becomes bogged down in...?, 5 September 2014

Terribly Happy - a purposely reflexive and ironic title - begins by drawing the viewer into the world of Robert (Jacob Cedergren), the young constable who has been transferred to a tiny town in a remote part of Denmark. He is guilty of ... something. "So - you snapped, eh!" remarks his superior officer. Hence Robert's transfer is implicitly a punishment of sorts....

The town - situated on a bleak, boggy, barren plain - is peopled with a community who quickly show Robert he must adjust to their way of handling troublesome situations: help for a local domestic violence plight of a woman, Ingelise (Lene Christensen), in fear of her husband, Jorgen (Kim Bodnia) and who doubles as the town bully; Robert slaps a young shoplifter to the ground at the urging of the shopkeeper, instead of charging the young offender; he is forced to accept the cat left behind by the previous constable who apparently disappeared - as did the owner of the bicycle shop where Robert goes to have his flat tire repaired. Moreover, washed clothes must hung out only in a certain way.

Such confusion just gets worse when the apparently beaten wife seems to want an affair with Robert. He tries to resist, but an unaccountable drive spurs him on to an illicit relationship. Add to that the little girl dressed in red who, every evening, walks her dolls in a squeaky pram up and down the main street. And while the customers at the local bar seem to regard him with reserve, even disdain, a local trio of card players urge Robert to join in to their almost perpetual card playing.

Throughout all of this, Robert also attempts to solve the mystery of those who disappear into the local bogs ... or somewhere. A murder, although accidental - or was it? - occurs; and finally Robert tries to protect Jorgen, who is absolutely innocent of the crime, from community retribution....

So, what sort of a community would resort to such a litany of oddball actions? Where, exactly, is this troubling town anyway? And, why does Robert comply - so readily, it seems?

The bizarrely confused nature of Robert's situation strongly implies more than simply a lone copper up against a bunch of feral farmers. Exactly what that is, I leave up to each viewer to decide. For inspiration, I'd suggest thinking of Psycho (1960), Spellbound (1945), particularly Lost Highway (1997), Bug (2006) and Shutter Island (2010), all of which center upon a character in the grip of a psychological nightmare.

The acting is adequate, as is the production. Kim Bodnia is always effective in creepy roles - or any role, in fact. The structure and direction are suitable for the development of occasional suspense and muted terror. Only the ending lacks real punch, but does provide adequate resolution for me.

While I'm not terribly happy about this outing, I still recommend it for those who like, as I do, Danish drama. Give it six out of ten.

September 6, 2014

Pandorum (2009)
1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Where I nearly died from laughter...., 26 July 2014

This movie is a scream - I mean screamingly, ridiculously funny.

The plot steals from a long line of other movies: 2001, Alien, Aliens, Star Wars, Predator, The Abyss and others. The story also takes from all those movies. All of which adds up a mishmash of a romp that - thankfully - is so dark (poorly lit) you can't see what's going on for a lot of the time. Oh, you can hear so many groans, gasps, howls, grunts, growls, hisses etc etc, there's not much need of dialog. Come to think of it - there's not much of that anyway.

All of the main actors are wasted in an effort that's just a muddled chase sequence through a giant interstellar ship that's got a sinister secret. Wow, how original, eh? The best part is watching the stunt men go through their paces - at least they put out a lot of effort to make up for the lame story.

Don't bother to see it. I wasted my time. Give it 2 out of 10, at best - and that's for the CGI. A sequel is implied by the enigmatic fade out. I'd give that a miss too, if it ever emerges.

July 26, 2014.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Where we learn it's where you don't want to be., 6 April 2014

The title was intriguing and sufficient for me to see this movie. An added impetus was a review I'd read in a major online media outlet. The bonus was - once again - seeing Gael Garcia Bernal: now as Alex, a back packer paired with Hani Furstenberg as Nica, his companion and soon wife-to-be. The overarching pleasure was the sublime scenery of the Georgian steppes where the movie was made.

This is a visual story. There is minimum dialog, much of which is in Georgian (or some other language) that remains un-translated for viewers; which means you must carefully watch body language and context to elicit meaning. Only Nica and Alex maintain sporadic discussion and conversation (in English mostly) about what they are doing, thinking and planning. The remainder - much of the movie - is silent except for the sounds of solitary silence and an enigmatically plaintive score which is most often used with long static takes where little happens. Or so it would seem to the unwary viewer.

After much walking, watching, listening and occasional talking, the back-packers and their guide, Dato (Bidzina Gudjabidze) suddenly meet another party of local people. A long conversation ensues between Dato and an older man of the other group. Suddenly and violently, a shocking act occurs which fundamentally alters the relationship between Nica and Alex. Thereafter, the mood, tone and truth of their relationship remains in visually serious jeopardy until the enigmatic end. Indeed, one could argue their relationship was gone, lost, even dead absolutely. But, the viewer cannot be certain.

There are few movies like this one; which means very few will watch it through - perhaps in a similar way that few viewers found favor with Gerry (2002) in which two guys get lost in a wilderness and walk, and walk, and walk... but where one dies. Which metaphorically mirrors the perilous strain of the Alex-Nica relationship during the second and final act: Is mutual trust destroyed? Is love gone? Will the couple marry? The final scene leaves much to each viewer's interpretation and opinion.

For me, the best aspect of the story is that much is said without words; which attests to excellent acting and direction. That should not disappoint the viewer - simply because in our each-daily interactions with others, we all rely at times upon a look, a gesture, a hint, a murmur, a cough or other non-verbal signal to communicate with a loved one. And look - truly look: if the walking tests your patience, just take in the gorgeous grandeur of the Georgian geography. And enjoy....

And why The Loneliest Planet? Well, surely, that's the planet where you're all alone. Who ever wants to go there?

Give this one eight out of ten. Recommended for all.

April 6th, 2014.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Where we learn, instead, what Richard did not do…, 23 March 2014

This is an actor's movie and the first of Lenny Abrahamson's movies I've seen. It might be the last, given the somewhat well-trodden story and plot coupled with the slow pacing of the entire narrative. On the other hand, it gave me an opportunity to see just how good an actor Jack Reynor (as Richard) is. Reynor is a natural, perhaps, and worth watching; but what also should be noted is the acting of the core ensemble of young students - consistently high quality.

So, I have mixed feelings about the whole effort. The acting and direction are tops. The Storyline on the main page for this movie is sufficient for any viewer's needs. The dialogue is true to life with mostly a quite strong Irish lilt - naturally - but which is often so quick, this viewer found some difficulty to understand. Put it down to my advanced age, maybe (but I hope not).

There is a long first act which provides the setup for the equally long second, during which the tragedy develops and unfolds i.e. a fight between Richard and Connor (Sam Keeley) over Lara (Roisin Murphy), Richard's girl friend. The boys are separated but Connor dies the next day from injuries.

The shorter finale provides the viewer the opportunity to ponder a number of moral issues, the chief of which is surely: who was responsible? I don't intend to read the book, but Abrahamson and the screen writer (Malcolm Campbell) obviously decided to allow ambiguity to rule which, ultimately and ironically, shows us what Richard did NOT do: the right thing, in my opinion; but, he was not alone. When you see this movie, you can judge for yourself.

Overall, though, this is an average night at the movies with no great outcomes - no pun intended. Five out of ten. Recommended for all.

March 20, 2014

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Nothing much here, folks, just move along to the next movie…, 27 February 2014

There has to be a worst western ever made. In my view, this is it. Let me tell you why...

First - the story. It's another banal hunt for a lost gold mine, a line that's been done to death already, and long before this movie was ever thought of. The producers should have thought of that.

Second - the plot. Even though there are claims the movie was ruined by lousy cuts, there are too many inept jump cuts, too many holes in the narrative, too many bizarre changes of landscape (it's all supposed to occur in a desert), and way too many unnecessary characters.

Third - the photography. Granted the desert scenery is imposing and impressive, but I've already seen better in Koyannistqatsi (1982). Unhappily, the director ruined it all when he insisted on placing the camera, too many times, on horse so that we "look through" a character's eyes. And, most egregious, the not-so-special effects guaranteed the ending was no where near as good as that I've seen in any Japanese Godzilla movie from the 1950s.

Fourth - the acting. Even at best of times and in his best movies, Peck was usually quite wooden, but adequate; in this, he's just dead wood. Sharif was totally miscast as Mexican; where was Anthony Quinn, or Eli Wallach? Oh, sorry, Eli turned up in this turkey as just another gold digger along with Lee J. Cobb, Burgess Meredith, Anthony Quayle, Keenan Wynn, Raymond Massey, and Edward G. Robinson - all great actors and who all get killed off within twenty minutes or so. Telly Savalas at least managed to stay alive until near the utterly absurd end. Good job he missed it, in my opinion. And, to cap it all, the sub-plot of the rivalry between the two women, Inga (Sparv) and Hesh-ke (Newmar) simply weighs the story down with unnecessary non-sex. On the other hand, it's inadvertently comedic.

Finally, the music and voice over (the latter by Victor Jory, an actor I admired) should have been removed entirely - the first because it's worse than a Roy Rogers outing, the second because it's totally unnecessary in a movie that's beyond resuscitation.

Considering all the good or great westerns of that time - A fistful of dollars (1964), A few dollars more (1965), The good, the bad and the ugly (1966), Once upon a time in the west (1968) and The wild bunch (1969), there was absolutely no need for producers to spend the estimated seven million to finance this waste of time and resources.

This movie is so bad, I'm sure it will never get back the money invested. And it shouldn't.

Not recommended at all - except for those who actually want to see the worst western of all time.

Give it one out of ten - and that's for old Prairie Dog (Eduardo Ciannelli) for suffering so much for being in it.

February 23, 2014.

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