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The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
Slow but interesting
The scenery of the coast of Ireland is breathtaking and director John Sayles makes good use of it. A little girl, Fiona, comes to live with her grandparents and learns of the legend of her ancestors and seals with mystical qualities. The film moves very slowly but the innocence and belief of Fiona in magic make the fairly tale atmosphere almost believable. Jeni Courtney is perfectly cast in the lead role and she effortlessly displays a natural ability to seem like a real ten year-old kid. Sayles lets her appear in virtually every scene of the movie and it is a wise choice. The sea and its creatures are the other major element and it all works to make The Secret Roan Inish worth a 7.5/10.
Bad Words (2013)
Jason Bateman is good
Jason Bateman is forty year-old Guy Trilby, a single man competing with kids in spelling bees. Bateman is smooth and makes the movie worth watching. His counterpart, a ten year-old Indian boy and he have excellent chemistry. A reporter follows him around the country in order to write a human interest story. Some of the humor is in bad taste, but is funny nonetheless. Bateman looks like a big kid when he is on stage sabotaging his fellow competitors. One scene, in particular, involving a pair of panties, is hilarious. The soundtrack is diverse and well chosen to match the mood of the film and Bateman does an efficient directing job, keeping the pace quick and wrapping things up in an hour and a half. A well done comedy.
Brendan Gleeson alone makes Calvary worth watching. Here he is Father James, a rural priest who really wishes to make the world a better place for his parishioners. It opens with the good father listening to a man in a confessional explaining how he was raped at the age of seven by a man of the cloth, and how he now wishes to have vengeance by now killing a good priest. Father James will do just fine, and he has one week to get right with God, before meeting his maker; so to speak. A troubled young lady, Fiona, appears, and it turns out that she is Father James daughter from a previous marriage. He took vows after his wife's death. Along the way we meet everyday people with life's usual problems, from alcoholism to adultery. The story is deeply Catholic, and as a former adherent, I would say that the target audience are those with an understanding of the church's teaching. Others can appreciate it, but it may seem a bit foreign to their sensibilities. A fine cast support Gleeson's magnificent performance, and the ending is quite memorable.
God grew tired of us is a line used by one of the lost boys of the Sudan, as he describes the horrible conditions of his homeland. Thousands of refugees traveled by foot over one thousand miles to escape the killing by tribes from the north. It begins at a camp where the boys are surviving, while a lucky few are chosen to fly to America for new lives. The young men are shown in Syracuse, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and culture shock is an understatement as the Africans are introduced to electric lights and refrigerators and modern plumbing. The men do adapt, and even as they struggle to survive, working two and three jobs while attending college, they are a triumph of the human spirit. This is a magnificent film with people who make you stand up and cheer. A solid 9/10.
Shanghai Belle (2011)
Shanghai Belle is an aspiring model turned prostitute, who is surrounded by cocaine addicted, party going young women who wander aimlessly in this disjointed mess of a movie. The only saving grace is an excellent soundtrack which is not available anywhere. Hand held camera shots alternate between color and black and white, and we are taken from scene to scene at random, as if we are watching a one hour and forty minute music video. Xin Wang is quite beautiful in the lead role, and she is frequently naked, which, along with the soundtrack is the only reason I am giving this film a 3/10. This could have been a contender, with better editing and a more structured story line; but as it is, it is just an exhausting effort for the unfortunate viewer.
Mother of George (2013)
Mother of George begins with a traditional African wedding ceremony which takes place in New York City. The bride and groom are toasted with wishes for a baby boy in the near future which will be named George, in accordance with the groom's mother's wishes. After a prolonged period, the hopeful mother to be does not conceive and she attempts various methods to become pregnant. After more time passes, she visits a fertility specialist, but her husband refuses to be checked out by American doctors. Her mother in law tells her that she should allow her husband a mistress in order to have a child. This idea does not go well, nor the next one of having his brother try to father a baby with her. The movie moves slowly, and while the acting is solid throughout, and the clothing beautiful, I was bored by the time it finished.
Another Haunted House
I am not a fan of time shifting movies, and so this one drove me crazy. It opens with a woman awakening on the floor of a Gothic house with a cut on her face. She is holding a piece of broken mirror(triangular, of course). She runs through long hallways, much like Danny from The Shining, and finally ends up in a basement, finding a dead guy on the floor. Next stop, thirty years in prison for murder, and upon release, back to the haunted house. We are taken back and forth from 1981 and 2011, with the detective work coming from the local Catholic priest; holy Father Sherlock Holmes. He miraculously pieces together the puzzle here and it takes an hour and forty minutes to get there. I do not believe in ghosts or possessed houses or people, and so I was mostly bored by this film. The saving graces are the fine acting and an excellent ending. It is a shame that getting to the finale isn't worth the time.
Blue Ruin (2013)
Hatfields and Mccoys
This one starts slowly, but if you stick with it, the story comes together in time. A man is released from prison and a relative of his victims seeks revenge. Macon Blair is Dwight, the would be avenger, and his low key performance is just right in this low budget, independent film. The violence is of the Sam Peckinpah, in your face kind, so stay away if bloodshed upsets your inner peace. Macon both dishes out the bad and receives it in an equal dose. Bullets, arrows, knives are all weapons of mass destruction along the way. I would best describe this as a modern day Hatfield vs. McCoy with the addition of cellphones. The pacing is good, as is the cast, and it moves by quickly in the ninety minute running time. The only drawback is that in the end, there is no one to route for. Even so, Blue Ruin is interesting enough to recommend.
The Selfish Giant (2013)
Working Class Britain
Two adolescent boys in working class England travel together with a horse and cart and gather up scrap metal to sell to a local dealer. The kids are extremely resourceful, and figure out ways to steal cable and set it on fire to melt the covering for the resulting copper. The guy who buys it all has no morals whatsoever and eventually it results in a very bad outcome which shocked the hell out of me. The only problem I had is the very Cockney English accents which I had trouble understanding. British audiences will get more out of this film than I did as an American. I could have used subtitles to get every line. Even with that caveat, I would recommend The Selfish Giant for the excellent cast and interesting story.
Big Bad Wolves (2013)
Excellent Crime Drama
Quentin Tarantino called this the best movie of the year, and it is definitely one of the top ten. A school teacher is suspected of abducting, killing, and beheading little girls. What follows is a mixture of brutal torture blended with a sardonic humor you would expect from either the Coen brothers or Tarantino. Top notch acting is combined with a script which keeps the viewer wondering whether or not the accused is a monster or a victim. Be forewarned that a hammer, pliers, and blow torch are used as tools of coercion on the alleged pedophile; so a strong stomach is required to survive this film. Also, it is in Hebrew, so be prepared to read many subtitles throughout the one hour and fifty minute running time. Big Bad Wolves is well worth the journey.