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126 reviews in total 
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The Architect (2016/I)
The House of No Mirth, 24 February 2017

It's tough to watch Parker Posey trudging through this sit-com sludge when she's created so many idiosyncratic characters from original material. Unfortunately 'The Architect' exemplifies blandness, which never reaches the level of either drama or comedy. This feeble tale unfolds with the zest of a soggy blueprint, as a prosperous pair of married suburbanites try to paper over their differences by commissioning an avant-garde architect to design their dream house. In the real world, a village idiot would require only the briefest glimpse of this pretentious poseur and his pompous pronouncements before dismissing him as a fraudulent narcissist. Worse yet, the credulous couple are never fleshed out to anything more substantial than cardboard cut-outs, while their dilemmas become increasingly shallow and predictable.

Ms Posey possesses a unique set of acting skills, and hopefully she'll soon be offered more distinguished projects - consigning memories of this tepid trifle to oblivion. At this point in her career, she seems far better suited for the role of a scheming seductress in a noir-ish mystery, than that of an artsy airhead housewife in a lame comedy.

Julieta (2016)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Odyssey of Julieta, 22 February 2017

In his late 60s, Almodovar has composed a moving saga about a woman's journey through life and love. At first sight, the heroine of his new film 'Julieta' is an attractive widowed academic preparing for retirement with her boyfriend. However, it's soon revealed she's burdened with guilt over an estrangement from her daughter Antia, who has been missing for more than a decade. After a chance encounter with Antia's former BFF Bea, Julieta impulsively breaks up with her lover and moves back to her old apartment building in Madrid.

Julieta starts writing a memoir intended for the eyes of the absent Antia. She begins this account with herself as a young teacher of classical literature, describing her initial meeting with Antia's fisherman father and how a child was conceived. After this life-changing event - accompanied by potent omens - she moves into the man's waterfront home. For several years, Julieta appears relatively content as she raises Antia, but fate intervenes and this chapter comes to a sudden end. She returns to Madrid and tries to put her life back together, as her daughter embarks on an intense teenage relationship with Bea. Some time later Antia mysteriously disappears after going on a spiritual retreat.

'Julieta' is beautifully constructed, acted and directed. The various passages of Julieta's life resemble Ulysses' adventures in The Odyssey, as random currents of fate toss her around like a cork in the ocean. When Julieta's memoir brings her back to present-day Madrid, patterns emerge from apparent chaos and understanding arrives when secrets are revealed. The resolution of her story turns out to be as satisfying and thought-provoking as a great myth.

La La Land (2016/I)
9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Lack-Luster Land, 5 February 2017

It's hard to understand how this lifeless musical has done so well at the box office, and swept up so many awards and nominations. The film goes downhill fast after an impressive opening song-and-dance routine on a gridlocked Interstate overpass. As soon as the traffic starts rolling again, this love story between a jazz pianist and wannabe actress gets underway with a prescient gesture. Thanks to interruptions for musical numbers, it takes the two leads almost an hour and several coincidental meetings before they're sufficiently motivated to kick-start their tepid romance. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much glue holding them together, and they soon have an unconvincing argument about chasing their respective dreams. This leads to a brief break-up, followed by a half-hearted reconciliation.

Later it's revealed they parted - presumably because they weren't all that into each other in the first place - but the script doesn't bother to show how this separation occurred. As the narrative approaches its conclusion, LA's infamous traffic congestion facilitates yet another coincidental meeting and a final chance to ignite some drama. The biggest mystery is why so many critics and viewers admire this drab love affair between two people who seem unable to communicate either affection or passion.

Blackway (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Avenging a Murdered Pussy, 30 January 2017

'Blackway' is a dreary failure, wasting the talents of a decent cast on a banal fable about revenge. Its story is as threadbare as an old dishrag, the direction routine, the dialog lifeless, the performances wooden and the cinematography colorless. Apart from a paycheck, it's hard to imagine what drew any of the participants to this pointless project, with little sign the actors, director or cinematographer were inspired by the mundane material.

As far as the plot of this contemporary Western is concerned, the villain is unveiled as a cold-blooded killer of domestic cats and would-be rapist within the first five minutes. What follows is pitifully weak as three misfits go in search of a bully-boy crime baron among the local lumberjack community. There's minimal character development as the paltry posse pursues their prey around the overcast mountain landscape in a rusting pick-up. From time to time their inquiries result in tired fistfights, until the film thankfully concludes with a night-time showdown at the bad guy's forest hideaway. A predictable conclusion winds up the proceedings as another dank day dawns.

Lion (2016)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Prodigal Lost in a Teeming Labyrinth, 20 January 2017

Apparently 80,000 children go missing in India each year - 'Lion' is the story of one of these lost multitudes called Saroo. One evening, this 6YO boy accompanies his older brother who is searching for work in a nearby town. Left alone at a deserted railway station, he wanders into a stationary carriage to sleep, and awakens to find himself locked inside an empty moving train. One thousand miles later, he disembarks and quickly loses himself among the swarming masses of Calcutta, ignorant of his own full name and that of his home town. For a while Saroo exists on the streets of this vast megalopolis, surviving human predators and perilous dangers, before he's taken in by a sinister orphanage. Eventually he's sent for adoption to Australia, and twenty five years later, he begins the search for his original family.

Like so many biopics, 'Lion' is hemmed in by facts. Most people are well aware what kind of 'real' stories appeal to producers and mass audiences. The conclusion of Saroo's tale has a certain inevitable predictability which robs the film of any suspense towards the end. It's saved by excellent acting from everybody concerned, but it does leave one wondering about the destinies of the other 79,999 lost souls.

Passengers (2016/I)
43 out of 85 people found the following review useful:
Romantic Disaster in Space, 25 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Several hundred years in the future, a spaceship encounters comet debris a quarter way through its 120 year journey to another solar system. The vessel sustains damage and starts to malfunction, but unfortunately its designers had made no contingency plans for mechanical breakdowns. When fallout from the incident awakens one of the 5000 hibernating colonists aboard, this unlucky Jim faces the daunting prospect of spending the rest of his life alone on the vessel. Unaware of the growing crisis in the ship's vitals, Jim passes the next year discussing his dilemma with a supercilious android bartender, playing solo basketball and unsuccessfully trying to break into the sleeping crew's quarters to seek help. Eventually he begins to lose his marbles and selfishly decides to wake another colonist - a vacuous, egotistical journalist called Aurora - for some company and romance.

'Passengers' has a nice set-up, but within 30 minutes it's clear screenwriter John Spaihts has dived in the deep end, is hopelessly out of his depth and the film's most appropriate destination would be a Black Hole. The 'Prometheus' debacle should have been sufficient incentive to purge Spaihts of his obsession with smug androids and interstellar basketball, but apparently not, because Jim and Aurora's banal romance is portrayed through another round of condescending chats with the android bartender, extra basketball practice and some disco dancing classes. For a while the film resembles a tasteless Jennifer Aniston Rom-Com until it U-turns back into Sci-Fi thriller mode when the ship's system failures become impossible to ignore. This prompts a half-baked 'nail-biting' climax and syrupy epilogue which bring the curtain down on this juvenile melodrama.

6 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
A Creature with Two Tails, 18 December 2016

'Nocturnal Animals' has two strands to its single narrative arc. In the first, a wealthy art dealer called Susan (Amy Adams) envisions the end of her marriage when she realizes her distant spouse is having an affair. Distressed by this discovery, disillusioned by her profession, and isolated in her modernist mansion, she starts reading the manuscript of a novel which she had recently received from a previous husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she'd coldly betrayed and rejected when he'd failed as an author.

The film's second strand follows the harrowing events depicted in this novel, where a man, his wife and teenage daughter are car-jacked by a trio of young thugs during a nocturnal road trip through the remote West Texas desert. Initially the two narratives have little in common, but connecting points soon begin to appear - and this convergence is emphasized by the casting of Gyllenhaal and Adams-lookalike Isla Fisher as the terrorized couple. The novel's fictional events take over the film as Susan immerses herself in the nightmarish desert fable, becoming increasingly impressed by its intensity, and disturbed that its violence is a threatening message. Eventually she contacts her former husband to arrange a meeting, and this appointment reveals the hidden purpose of Edward's re-connection with his ex-wife.

The end result is sophisticated entertainment, stylishly written, directed, acted and photographed. The film has been widely construed as a bleak revenge thriller appended to a cautionary tale, which warns materialism is no substitute for love. At first viewing, despite flirting with Lynchian themes and using a similar noir sensibility, Ford's project appears to lack a strong element of mystery. Further investigation reveals a variety of interpretations and some deep emotional content.

23 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
Love and Loss in Lobsterland, 12 December 2016

'Manchester by the Sea' is set in a similar demographic to Lonergan's earlier film 'You Can Count On Me', which depicted a couple of New England siblings struggling to deal with emotional turmoil caused by some of life's standard problems. Manchester's plot is simple enough - a reclusive, short-tempered handyman called Lee is entrusted with the unwanted guardianship of a teenage nephew after his brother's sudden death, and this upheaval delivers some complications to his dismal existence.

Michelle Williams and the support cast do a fine job creating the Massachusetts coastal community surrounding Lee, but Casey Affleck's one-note performance is too stubbornly dour to sustain interest in his lead character over a two-hour film. The camera trudges after Lee throughout the proceedings, revealing a monosyllabic, hard-drinking sourpuss. Eventually, through flashbacks, it shows how various intoxicants combined with a minor oversight cost him his sense of humor and much else besides. By the time this revelation has arrived, it's become hard to care overmuch for the surly protagonist, his sorry tale or how he glibly resolves his current dilemma. Probably it would have been a more memorable story if Lonergan's script had chosen to follow the path of Michelle Williams' sharp-tongued Randi.

Arrival (2016/II)
8 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
First Contact! Close Encounters with Clichés, 26 November 2016

'Arrival' begins well, but ends up a major disappointment after twelve huge egg-shaped spacecraft arrive on Earth and hover a few feet above the ground at various locations around the globe. Initially it takes a novel approach - instead of ray-gun battles, the world's finest linguists are corralled by national authorities to enable communication with the aliens, who resemble an octopus/elephant hybrid. Each host country competes to unravel the Octophant language, selfishly hoping to acquire advantages over rival nations. Unfortunately the meetings between extraterrestrials and linguists aboard the vessels quickly become repetitive, thereby squelching any sense of awe over humanity's first contact with intelligent life from beyond our solar system. This loss of dramatic tension becomes a serious problem as 'Arrival's' plucky heroine struggles to decipher the aliens' complex circular hieroglyphics.

The actors' performances are more than adequate for the material, but the narrative arc becomes increasingly predictable. As the story unfolds, it leans stubbornly upon the old Sci-Fi cliché of mankind's paranoia and xenophobia. The Earthbound military powers foolishly adopt a threatening attitude toward the ETs, who obviously possess more advanced technologies. The screenwriters deploy some equally foolish plot devices as the film charges headlong into a formulaic Hollywood cliff-hanger climax, before it winds up wallowing in sentimental hokum.

10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
An Over-Cooked Crustacean, 10 June 2016

'The Lobster' comes out of its shell with a preposterous premise - that a society exists where people who fail to maintain a relationship with their spouse are sent to re-education camps. This rehab for singles takes the form of a regimented bourgeois hotel where the guests must find a replacement partner within 45 days. If they succeed, they are permitted to return to a dreary urban existence with their new significant other. If they fail to hook up with anybody, the hapless losers are exiled to the surrounding forest where they are hunted down with tranquilizer guns, prior to being surgically transformed into an animal.

This fatuous fable is delivered with all the vitality of a robot's daydream. The expressionless acting style and wooden script produces only profound tedium, punctuated by some random episodes of theatrical silliness and unpleasant cruelty. It's hard to see the point of this pretentious allegory - it could be a critique of regimented societies or a caricature of transmigration, but then again, it might not. It's excessively generous to spend even one minute considering whether it possesses any meaning at all.

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