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6 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Not a Total Bust, 21 July 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: The spirits are high, even if they fall a bit short in this sporadically funny remake.


SYNOPSIS: More ghosts in the movie machine.

JIM'S REVIEW: Rest assure that the misogynistic rantings on social media about the all-female casting of the rebooted Ghostbusters is for naught. While this newly minted version lacks the overall fun and iconic moments of the original (more on that later), the comedians do it justice, even if they become lost amid endless CGI effects by the third act.

The gang is back to fight evil spirits who are suddenly materializing in midtown Manhattan. Only this time they, being the new estrogen-fueled Ghostbusters, take the form of an all-girl hunting party fully armed with proton zappers and funny zingers. The casting of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, all talented and funny ladies who have incredible comic timing, take a standard been-there-before script and add needed energy and verve to the predictable.

Director Paul Feig never finds the right rhythm as he constantly sacrifices the comedy elements for the state-of-the-arts CGI, which overshadows the hi-jinks. (To be fair, the original film also had that same issue.) The effects are better than average, otherworldly but still ho-hum. The squad battles phantom after phantom...that's the essential plot. One set piece after the next becomes overkill, with little screen time to develop the characters and their relationships. As the film reaches its end, too many ghosts may have lost the war but they have successfully clogged this movie machine.

Of course, the specter of the popular 1984 film haunts this version. It almost intrudes. Feig's walk down memory lane becomes an apt reminder of the superiority of the original. There is an almost desperation to connect both films which upstages this new film adaptation in comparison. While there are pleasant reminders interspersed in this 2016 model, the screenplay never deals much with the personal angle of the group. Most of the original cast members, including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, do make an appearance to earn this film their seal of approval. While the film is heavily endorsed by producers, cast, and crew of the earlier franchise, the numerous product endorsements, including Papa John's Pizza and Sony, are also glaringly front and center.

But the green slime is back in full force, the film's trademark logo and theme song are present, and the quick banter between the quartet exists, even if the sinister Zuul and its demonic body possession is sorely is that fond memory of Mr. Murray and Ms. Weaver's hilarious sex scene was an iconic moment in cinematic comedy. (However, the mere mention of Zuul in the lengthy end credits may be enough to plant another sequel in the minds of filmmakers and producers, even if this film is a bit of a financial bust with the movie-going audience.)

Still Ghostbusters (2016) more than amuses, thanks to the actors involved. The four leads are fine replacements to the cause, especially Ms. McCarthy and Ms. Jones. Chris Hemsworth adds nice support as the dim-witted boy-toy secretary to our crusaders. But the formulaic screenplay by the director and Katie Dippold just doesn't give this assembled crew a ghost of a chance.

NOTE: Stay for the aforementioned end credits to witness a cut 80's dance sequence with Mr. Hemsworth, who has all the right moves. It owes a tip of the hat to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Too bad the entire sequence wasn't in the actual film, a poor decision by its director, Mr. Feig. At least, some of it has been saved for our viewing pleasure.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Pet Tricks, 18 July 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: Too many chase scenes detour a good movie down the wrong path.


SYNOPSIS: Pets' private moments (without their owner) get more complicated for two dogs lost in the real world.

The unconditional love and endearing behavior of a pet infuses me with a giddy sense of outright joy. As a life-time pet owner and an avid dog lover, I realize the importance of a four- legged friend in one's life. A pet will bring out your inner child and my latest member to the family, Zoey, is happiness personified.

In the animated film, The Secret Life of Pets, animals are personified as well, taking on human traits, especially when their master is away. That is the on-going premise of this film and since I may be a tad biased, as my interest in this film was as comparable as my dog's overwrought joy in getting a new stuffed toy, I have decided to let my intelligent and sensitive pooch handle the reviewing. So....

ZOEY'S REVIEW: Hello, dear moviegoers. It's me, Zoey! For those who may not know me, I am a miniature wirehair dachshund with a high I.Q. and I love food, people, playing with toys, and watching cars and movies, in that order. I was asked by my owner, whom I call Daddy Jim, to review a new movie called The Secret Life of Pets, a film that does a disservice to animals in general for spilling the beans about our private moments when you are not around. First off, don't believe it. We are trustworthy creatures who avoid any possible danger. Remember this is not a documentary. It's fiction! That said, I can honestly say that the film was funny and had some nice characters that I enjoyed, especially, the two alpha dogs, Max (Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet).

The story goes like this: One day Max's owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), brings home a new pet, Duke. Neither are overjoyed with the prospect of sharing their time or attention with their human friend. (I wouldn't either, so already I relate to this situation.) So both go about sabotaging each others' place in the house which leads to problems later.

Now some of the shenanigans become too far fetched...did you say fetch?... especially as they are chased by a dog catcher...I know, a cliché....and meet up with a gang of strays led by an angry rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart), who dislike the tamed set...hmm, now that was an interesting development. While I was constantly amused by the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the lovely animation, the screenplay lacked depth and plot development. NO, I wasn't expected Shakespeare, although Hamlet is one of my favorite reads, but I did want something more than one chase after another...and, mind you, I do love to chase rabbits in my yard. (I also did not need a jarring dream sequence that takes place at a meat factory that just doesn't work. Its inclusion gives the film far more filler than any hot dog should endure.)

Still The Secret Life of Pets has many humorous moments and captures the movements and nature of animals very well. It also establishes some strong characters with the other critters in the neighborhood, such as Gidget (Jenny Slate), who loves Max so dearly, Chloe, a cat who loves no one but herself (like most cats I know), Tiberius (Albert Brooks), a hawk who continually fights his true hunting instincts, and Buddy (Hannibal Buress), a smooth dachshund to whom I particularly related. as I enjoy his noble breed so much.

Now I know animals cannot speak human, even though I am very verbal...just ask my daddy. So I was very surprised to hear the animals converse in English...that is, until I saw the end credits and understood. So, there is good voice-over work by most actors in these roles, particularly Mr. C. K., Mr. Stonestreet, that veteran of voice-overs, Mr. Brooks, and Ms. Bell, although Mr. Hart and Ms. Slate's vocal demands are overdone and too intense for my liking.

While the animals in The Secret Life of Pets are not as smart of as sweet as me, they certainly will win you over. The film is fine family entertainment and filled with charm and...oops, gotta go...dinnertime!

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The BFG (2016)
0 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Good but Smogswallowed by Its Own Heavy-Handedness, 9 July 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: Spielberg in childhood mode misses the magic but still entertains.


SYNOPSIS: An orphan accidentally sees a giant and sets off series of events.

JIM'S REVIEW: When I taught third grade, two of the most popular books during read-aloud time, by far, were by Roald Dahl. James and the Giant Peach and The BFG, the latter receiving the most joyous response from my students, were prime examples of the author's macabre humor and imaginative plotting. I don't know if it was the book itself, or just hearing the teacher read gibberish vocabulary and dealing with fart jokes which were aplenty in his story of a little orphan and a big friendly giant. The same effect can be found in this fine movie adaptation by Steven Spielberg, but not the same outcome.

Technically, the film has lovely moments, largely due to Janusz Kaminski's rousing photography. However, unlike the original source, this version has no real heart or emotional bond. Whereas the short novel had Dahl's droll humor and humongous tons of charm, the film adaptation has a lot of filler that edges on a more serious tone. The additional plotting just pads the story into a full length motion picture experience. Spielberg's film relies more on adventurous chases and needless backstories which neither enhance or explain anything.  The BFG stars Mark Rylance as the title character and newcomer Ruby Barnhill as his pal, Sophie. Abducted by the giant late one night, Sophie is transplanted into a world of giants, not as kind as her soft-spoken Big Friendly Giant a.k.a. BFG. This giant is the more sensitive kind, who catches dreams to share with sleeping youngsters later on his evening sojourns to London. But there are much larger and evil giants in the world that pose a danger to little Sophie, like the Fleshlumpeater, the biggest and baddest bully and leader of the whole lot. They would like to eat our heroine, a human "bean", or any other tasty children for that matter. So Sophie and the BFG team up to stop them and enlist the aid of the Queen of England.

The film successfully visualizes many scenes from the book. The opening sequence of Sophie's capture, her visit to the Land of Dreams, and a delightful scene of the BFG having a lavish breakfast with the Queen are spot-on. Mr. Spielberg also keeps Mr. Dahl's wondrous invented vocabulary front and center which immediately establishes the sweet nature of the BFG...words like strawbunkles (strawberries), trogglehumper (nightmare), snozzcumber (a foul-tasting vegetable), frobscottle (a fizzy drink that causes whizpopping (farting). When delivered by the talented Mr. Rylance, the dialog sound like comic poetry.

But the film itself remains inconsistent in tone, logic, and visual look. At times, the scale of tiny Sophie and other surrounding objects, including the BFG, tends to fluctuate. The time frame of this tale varies as well. The production design of the orphanage and London streets seems like Victorian England, yet there is Queen Elizabeth, and not Victoria, on the throne. Later on, a clear mention of the Reagans being in office dates the film to the eighties. A real time warp.

Mr. Rylance does some wonderful subtle acting with his CGI portrayal, but I personally found some of the special effects too artificially produced, especially whenever the side views of the giant came into play. (The head and elongated neck seemed too unconvincing, but the large ears did help complete the character well and matched Quentin Blake's classic illustrations. Frontally and in close-up, the BFG imagery worked very well.) Ms. Barnhill does a good job as Sophie and Jermaine Clement as the Fleshlumpeater provides enough menace. Penelope Wilton as The Queen brings that upper English class to her role.

The late Melissa Mathison's screenplay has many of the components of the book. It just doesn't have the magic that I expected from all the talent involved. The film can be as effervescent as a "frobscottle" but it also go flat, spinning its own wheels. Just as the BFG himself, the film has trouble making up its mind.

Still quite entertaining, this film version of The BFG ultimately becomes "smogswallowed" by its own heavy-handed plot devices

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4 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Dead Man Talking, 5 July 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: An odd pairing produces an even odder film that works very well due to its lead actors.


SYNOPSIS: A lonely castaway befriends a corpse.

JIM'S REVIEW: There have always been odd couples in the history of movies: Felix and Oscar, Harold and Maude, Hans Solo and Chewbacca, Thelma and Louise. Yet I cannot think of a more bizarre coupling than Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) in the thought-provoking dramedy by directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan called Swiss Army Man.

Stranded and alone on a deserted island for some time, Hank is ready to end his isolated existence. Until a dead body washed up on shore. It's Manny, aptly named by Hank, who becomes his guiding force and friend. Manny manifests into Hank's survival multi-tool in many ways...camaraderie, a physical compass (more on that later), a gun, an unique method of travel (even more later). As their days spend together continue, so does this bromance with benefits.

Now Manny is not the best mannered buddy, rotting and filled with gas that releases itself whenever the mood arises, which is often. The flatulence jokes are non-stop, never more central than when Hank uses his dead buddy as a jet ski. A funny sight gag but not that surprising. At one point, Manny's erect penis serves as a compass. Well, that I must admit, was a surprise!

Now, we know from the first scene that this relationship exists in the eternal sunshine of Hank's mind. And after accepting that fact, the moviegoer needs to also feel the connection between the pair and their plight. So the casting of the two leads is essential to make this concept work and their both actors' partnership shows off a wonderful bond.

Mr. Dano shows a vulnerability and poignancy as Hank, a loner who is now forced to be alone. Mr. Radcliffe has the physically more demanding role as the dead man walking and talking. He plays his part as a man-child just beginning to learn about life itself. Both actors are superb in their roles and should be admired for continuing to take on challenging parts.

The film is very well directed and presents well-written characters of which one truly cares. The Daniels (as they are billed) create a wonderful lyrical beauty in their film as the castaways philosophically debate life with all their insightful conversations. Particularly poetic is a lovely segment on a make-shift bus as Hank and Manny question the merits of love. The music score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell blends beautifully with the visual look of the film and Matthew Hannam's editing sets the perfect lyrical tone.

The mood of the film is slightly erratic, switching from silly comedy and slapstick while ending with an underlying pathos that is almost as schizophrenic as Hank's state of mind. Yet it works. That is until the film reaches its unsatisfying conclusion, one of those never-ending endings in which the viewer must decide the outcome. Instead of bringing together all the delightfully absurd surreal moments to a logical outcome, Swiss Army Man just adds more questions without any suitable answer.

Still the film is loaded with imaginative ideas, unlike most films today. even if editing some of these concepts would have only enhanced the result. Granted, this movie is a hard sell from the start, as marketing proves. The overall audience has to have the same strange attraction to the subject and the average movie-going audience are not the target. The mix of quirky humor, raunchy subject, sophomoric sex jokes, and non-stop flatulence can wear one down. But there is enough originality and cleverness to mask the limits of this endeavor due to fine directing and top-notch performances by the two talented actors involved.

Swiss Army Man remains sharp and just as versatile as its namesake.

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Weiner (2016)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Name Game, 2 July 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: An interesting behind-the-scenes look at a campaign and the destruction of a politician's career.


SYNOPSIS: The sex scandal of a once promising politician.

"The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." Oh, how very true! That quote, attributed to Marshall McLuhan, begins this riveting documentary about a politician's fall from grace. Weiner is standard treatment of a compelling subject. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg assemble interviews and archival footage to show the makings of a scandal and the undoing of a promising career. Their access to the politician and his campaign provides many insights into the election process and its toll on his family.

Once the rising star of the Democratic Party and now just a shameful reminder of ego and sexual bravado, ex-U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner suffered humiliation and defeat literally with his own hands (or other anatomical parts). A mix of intelligence and no common sense, the man remains a curiosity. His undoing: First by sexting his bulge (sorry, there's no other way around it), and sending it to another woman online (not his wife) and later texting salacious messages to another woman, Miss Sydney Lathers, a publicity seeker and porn-star, imploded his political career big time. His penis (thinly veiled) was seen around the world, under his code name Carlos Danger, making the entire situation even more absurd and constant laugh fodder for many pundits and late-night comedians.

The filmmakers give us a front row seat to gawk at this emotional wreckage of the politician's failed bid during his New York City mayoral campaign. In viewing this debacle, one wonders about Weiner's unwise decision to allow filming this documentary which becomes a creepy time capsule of his life unraveling. We silently debate if this decision was his best judgment call, among many other poor personal choices throughout his career. Nevertheless, it sure makes for fascinating behind-the scenes journalism.

The scandal is presented factually which proves uncomfortable for all involved, especially for his "good wife", Huma Abedin, the clear victim of her husband's destructive behavior. The tension between the couple is palpable. Her body language, glaring looks, and gestures fill in all the anguish and scorn of a betrayed lover. She becomes the human center of the film for this moviegoer.

Weiner follows the scandal and lets the viewer determine if the cause is due to the congressman's sexual addiction or just his narcissistic impulses rearing its ugly head (no double entendre intended). Still one can only feel remorse for his loyal wife and family members during this self-inflected ordeal. The media has a feeding frenzy on the politician and leaves nothing in its path. Unfortunately, the bad outweigh all of Mr. Weiner's good, which eventually ended a highly productive career.

The documentary depicts a man who shows more regret about his personal loss than about the hurt and humiliation he caused friends and family. At least he now has this film for repeated viewing to serve as a helpful reminder should he feel the need to stray once again. Let us hope the situation became a lesson learned and an even better reason for Mr. Weiner to accept his actions and move on with his life in a more positive way.

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54 out of 90 people found the following review useful:
Going Ape, 30 June 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: A conventional approach to the Tarzan story which swings back and forth, without getting anywhere.


SYNOPSIS: The story of a little boy who goes ape.

JIM'S REVIEW: There have been many incarnations of the Tarzan legend, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs original 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes. Our ape man has appeared in magazines, novels, comic books, movies, radio, cartoons, and television shows, all with varying degrees of success. Various actors have filled his loincloth, from the most famous actor in this role, Johnny Weissmuller in the 1940's, to Gordon Scott in the 1950's and Ron Ely taking hold of those vine reins in the mid 60's. His legend lives on once again in this modern day re-boot, The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård as our muscle-toned hero.

The story adheres to its source and follows the basic outline of Burrough's novel. Told in flashbacks, we learn of an infant left in the jungle without parents and adopted by the great apes. Tarzan, now John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, lived and thrives in his tropical environs until he was rescued and returned to England. Having difficulty readjusting to British society, he finds a comrade in the beautiful Jane Porter (a beguiling Margot Robbie). Upon his return to his childhood home in the Congo, Greystoke (a.k.a. Tarzan) discovers man's cruelty in the form of Belgian huntsman, Leon Rom (a typecast Christoph Waltz, playing, what else, but the villain). Whereupon Tarzan must takes sides to protect his adopted tribe of primates and protect his homeland.

Mr. Skarsgård plays Tarzan as an eloquent victim, more at home with his hairy friends than his human species. No "Me Tarzan, you Jane" monosyllabic banter here, and no loincloth either. This Tarzan mixes the physicality and brutishness of Stanley Kowalski with the sophistication and aplomb of a true noble gentleman, no small feat. If only the film matched his interpretation also.

The Legend of Tarzan is all too proper and seriously-minded which cuts down on the fun and adventure. David Yates directs his film solidly, keeping the action moving. Yet the production design by Stuart Craig seems too well-crafted for its own good, nothing out of place. It lacks authenticity in its detailing. This man-made jungle is just too pristine, so clean and sanitized just like its story. (When the vines look suspiciously like greenish rubber tubes and the cragged rocks like painted styrofoam, something is a bit off.) The special effects aren't that special either. Except for the primates, most of the animal kingdom is obviously the results of CGI, effective but slightly unreal and unsatisfying.

On the plus side, the fluid camera-work by Henry Braham has an acrobatic energy, especially as Tarzan travels from vine to vine, the best part of the cinematic experience. Mark Day's fine editing enhances the effect. The panoramic vistas help to give the film a sense of epic adventure, even if the adventures we witness never attain the grandeur of other epic film tales due to its script.

The narrative structure swings from its more interesting backstories (Tarzan's early life and upbringing, his adaptation to his aristocratic England, Jane's personal journey) which are only hinted, to the standard main story dealing with The Great White Hunter's poaching of ivory, diamonds, and the slave trade...granted all important subjects, but the treatment is painted in the most black and white terms with the widest of brushstrokes. That's the problem...there are no grey stokes in this Greystoke's version.

None of the characters are remotely real or believable, but the roles are well cast. There is a nice chemistry between the two leads, although their beauty reminds us too often of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. Both are gorgeous human specimens who fortunately can act, even if the dialog that they are given by screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, is banal and stilted.

Given strong support is Samuel L. Jackson as the real life George Washington Williams, a political activist and do-gooder, but his character, as written, speaks in anachronistic modern day jargon. Still the actor brings much needed bravado and is amusing in his role. Djimon Hounsou as the avenging chief does some effective underplaying when Mr. Waltz again overplays the menace angle. However he does bring some interesting human quirks to the part. (Nice moment with the silverware arrangement, Christoph.)

All in all, the initial story line remains intriguing, the action sequences entertain, and Mr. S. makes an awesome impression, all swagger, six-pack, and sensitivity in a tight delightful manly package, although his fluent English language skills are never addressed.

This Tarzan has its flaws, but it does keep the legend intact, until the next chapter.

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14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
America on Trial, 19 June 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: A compelling documentary that focuses on a city on fire and the "Trial of the Century".


SYNOPSIS: The O.J. Simpson trial and the many factors influencing the verdict and its aftermath.

JIM'S REVIEW: There is a fascinating 7½ hour documentary that premiered on ABC and ESPN television stations this past week and is currently streaming which is worth your attention. O.J.: Made in America may be overly long and in some need of judicious editing in parts, but it is a fascinating in-depth look back at the "Trial of the Century" and its repercussions that are relevant today.

The brutal murder of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown and her friend, Ron Goldman, on June 12, 1994 immediately made headlines and spawned a media circus, showing the incompetent handling of the case by the LAPD and District Attorney's office, and the unethical maneuverings of the prosecuting team, led by Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran, to free their client and exploit the legal system.

Documentarian Ezra Edelman culled over hours of archival footage, news segments, and interviews (both then and now) to create a timely chronicle of the O.J. Simpson trial and the political unrest of a racially-divided city. He delves into the numerous 911 calls prior to the murder and Nicole's personal diary with many passages about the physical abused she suffered in her marriage to this volatile celebrity. Mr. Edelman astutely assembles new interviews with many of the people involved with the case which brings us access to observe a broken judicial system in retrospect.

The documentary shares a balanced look at the man and equally at the era. It begins with a before-and-after approach, first showing this famous incarcerated man and providing flashbacks depicting an up-and-coming young college athlete beginning his exulted career. The effect is startling. Seeing O.J. in his prime sheds new light of the man and his later fall from grace. We learn about his homophobia toward his gay estranged father, his gift for talking himself out of situations at an early age (which may have given him a false sense of security throughout his life), his lack of involvement with Civil Right issues, his innate kindness to his teammates, and the tragic death of his daughter which ended his first marriage, events that were unknown to this reviewer. We also hear of O.J's constant womanizing, his insatiable ego, his life cavorting with the rich and famous of Brentwood, his sexist and privileged attitude, and his intense jealousy and violence toward his second wife that went unheeded. Fame and wealth brought him the good life and finally corrupted the man.

But the other character in this multi-faceted tragedy is L.A. itself and the racism and injustice by the police force. Mr. Edelman's need to parallel these two tangents with the murder trial itself to make his film more complete is noteworthy, but it also gives his documentary too much latitude into this area. The film meanders into the prejudice and hate that was so rampant at the time, with the Watts riots, the Rodney King beating, and the senseless murders of African- Americans in the hands of the LAPD as the backdrop to the subsequent trial. Perhaps too much time is spent on this topic (and the famous Bronco chase) which is overstated but essential filler. Here is an accused man who erased race from his own life only to rely on it later for his freedom. That is just one irony among many. (Another is Simpson's ability to pay for his legal defense via selling autographed sports memorabilia when still being incarcerated for these murders.)

The numerous interviews and comments with former friends and colleagues are enlightening and seeing the actual cast of characters that played their parts in the trial is riveting. Particularly memorable are the words of attorney Marcia Clark, a still grieving Fred Goldman, former head D.A. Gil Garcetti, prosecuting lawyer Carl Douglas, detectives Tom Lange and Mark Fuhrman, and former friends Robin Greer, Ron Shipp, and Joe Bell. Their personal knowledge adds important details to this complicated story.

Probably the most interesting aspect about the film is the mixed emotions and personal biases felt by the jurors. (Deliberations of the verdict lasted a few hours with one member, a former Black Panther, saluting the plaintiff upon exiting the jury box.) That, and the questionable decisions handed down by the judge, Lance Ito, throughout the trial helped the prosecution play their successful "race card". Unable to see certain evidence (O.J. prior violent activities, the 911 calls, the graphic blood scene photos, the direct DNA blood connection), and falling for the grandstanding antics of that bloodied glove and a pre-staged jury's visit to Simpson's home completely changed for maximum African-American emphasis, the outcome seemed like a sure acquittal from the start. (That latter stunt by the prosecution team alone would have created a mistrial today.) O.J. may have been found not guilty, (no spoiler here), but the LAPD and their botched investigation were the ones really on trial.

O.J.: Made in America is a powerful documentary and one of the year's best films. (One would hope that it would qualify for Academy Award consideration next year, although it eluded any theatrical release as yet.) The film depicts an America filled with racial hate and anger. It shines a spotlight on domestic abuse issues. It highlights our fascination with celebrity worship and a willingness to give free rein to the lifestyle of the rich and famous while two innocent people receive no sign of justice. Mr. Edelman's epic achievement may give these victims their dues and finally a bit of justice as well.

16 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
The Film Works Swimmingly Well, 18 June 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: A fish-out-of-water tale that celebrates family, friendship, and disabilities.


SYNOPSIS: Little Dory goes on a search for her parents and overcomes many hardships along her journey.

The search is on yet again in Disney / Pixar's sequel to its 2003 hit, Finding Nemo. Only this time it's not Marlin hunting for his son, but his lovable and forgetful sidekick on the road to find out. Things go swimmingly in this latest chapter. Finding Dory takes the same initial premise and repackages it into a family-friendly always entertaining computer-generated fantasy.

The same love and care is on display in this finely crafted animated feature as before. The sequel may not be as original as its predecessor, (it isn't), but it is still packed with enough emotion, insightful dialog, and visual awe. Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, Finding Dory finds the right course in telling its tale of a little fish with short term memory loss overcoming the odds in search for her family.

Visually, the film remarkably creates its under the sea universe. The reflections, rich color palette, and lighting effects are rendered with expert details. There is so much to take in with the background photo realism, plus the character animation has subtle textures and expressions that provide an inner story to each character.

Yet, the deeper message in this children's film is its celebration of disabilities. Weaknesses become strengths in overcoming adversity and we moviegoers cheer our characters onward. Their quest eventually takes them to a marine research institute and, once the trio hits dry land, the sense of underwater wonder dries up a bit too. At this point, the script loses its way and starts to take an all too familiar route, introducing new adorable characters (and possible tie-ins at toy stores), leading to another zany far-fetched climactic chase scene and eventual reunion. Still, the predictability of the formula works yet again and tugs at our emotional core.

Behind the microphones are a talented cast of celebrities voicing these lovable characters. Taking center stage is Ellen DeGeneres' Dory. The comedian gives her character a wonderful sweetness and breathless wonderment as Dory encounters new experiences along the way...but then, everything is new to our absent-minded heroine. Albert Brooks returns again as Marlin, and Hayden Rolence takes over as Dory's sidekick, Nemo, and they make a delightful tag team. Providing vocal support are Idris Elba, Dominic West, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, with Ed O'Neill stealing every scene as crotchety Hank, the seven-armed camouflaged octopus.

Not in the same league as the aforementioned 2003 film, Finding Dory essentially tells a familiar (and overly cute) story, although it relies a bit too much on its original source. The film still visually enchants and allows the moviegoer to sit back and enjoy the humorous adventure as one little fish conquers its own disability to find inner strength and happiness. Perfect family fare and beguiling in its under-the-sea eye-popping technicolor beauty, Finding Dory is not a top-tiered Disney / Pixar classic, in the lines of Toy Story, Up, or Ratatouille, but it is a very fine addition to the studio's cinematic resume.

NOTE: Showing with this film is an animated short called Piper. The film is charming and a shoo-in as an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film. Wordless and gorgeous in its splendid details and textures, the film tells a story of a little sandpiper gaining courage against the forces of nature. Delightful.

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12 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Love So Lame, 14 June 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(RATING: ☆☆ out of 5) THIS FILM IS NOT RECOMMENDED. IN BRIEF: There are disabilities aplenty in this sappy screen adaptation, mostly in its politically- correct thinking. GRADE: C- SYNOPSIS: A beautiful caretaker falls in love with her handsome quadriplegic patient. JIM'S REVIEW: There have been much talk and many catchy phrases about the subject of love that have been set to music: "Love will find a way. Love hurts. Love makes the world go round. Love will keep us together. Love the one you're with. True love never runs smooth." These pop ditties are never heard in the insufferable tearjerker of a movie entitled Me Before You. Still they do form the basis for the relationship of two mismatched beautiful people who become soulmates amid love's many obstacles. The story goes like this: Recently unemployed Louisa (Emilia Clarke) becomes a nursemaid and companion to handsome but clinical depressed Will Trayor (Sam Clafin), once a rugged sportsman and successful executive, the whole package, and now a disheartened quadriplegic. Will has no will to live but Louisa, or Lou as she is lovingly called, is Little Miss Sunshine personified, a kooky supposedly adorable waif and perhaps the perfect antidote to Will's bouts of suicide. At least Will's rich parents hope that Lou will be the cure-all to lift Will's spirits and change his mind and mood swings. It didn't change mine. With an abysmal screenplay by Jojo Moyes and based on her best-selling novel (which I fortunately did not read but am told the book tackles more serious themes), the film shies away from any semblance of reality and settles smack dab in the soapiest of waters. I guess every generation needs its own Love Story, but is it too much to ask for some darker moments to help us relate to Will's physical condition? One only hears of, but never sees, Will's pain and suffering. Yet Will isn't the only one suffering here. Any moviegoer in their right mind would want to pull the plug on this claptrap. Truthfully, the whole ethical issue of patient's rights and euthanasia deserves a fair better and more honest treatment. (That was done in a film called The Sessions. View that excellent film instead, dear readers.) But this is suppose to be a love story, the equivalent to a pulpy romance paperback novel. And on its own terms and genre, the movie fails miserably, mostly due to insipid directorial debut by Thea Sharrock, who searches out for the tritest of images and succeeds in making the bad even worse, laughably outrageous "exotic" costumes by Jill Taylor, and the hammiest performance by one of the leads. Try as he must, Mr. Caiflin does bring some poignancy to his poorly written character. How he was able to keep a straight face throughout this film and watch Ms. Clarke overdo her acting in the most ridiculous of outfits and hair styles would be challenging enough for any actor. The actress is not helped by her director or costumers. She is seen in the most garish of garb, from fuzzy colorful sweaters and busy ugly prints, in outfits any fashionable 13 year old would instantly reject. Her hair styles range from braids and pigtails to Frau Brucher Germanic up-dos, which telegraph more emotion than the actress can muster. We are suppose to be enamored by Lou's quirkiness, but the overall effect is an off-putting goofiness. Who could blame Will for ending his life...suicide would be anyone's choice after experiencing Ms. Clarke's cutesy performance! If nothing else, there is fine supporting work by Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, and Brendan Coyle, all distinguished British actors who would be wise to omit this film from their resume. Also, Stephen Peacocke, resembling a young Hugh Grant, literally does some heavy lifting and delivers a nicely nuanced performance as Will's full-time doctor, Nathan, one of the few subtlest contributions found in this film. (By the way, in retrospect, everyone is so inexplicably darn good-looking in this movie.) With all that is said and done here, writer H. L. Mencken's ultimate quote of the subject of love may succinctly sum up everything that is wrong with this silly film: "Love is a triumph of imagination over intelligence." Me Before You has neither of those valued commodities.

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It Takes Two, 9 June 2016

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)


IN BRIEF: A partly successful mix of surreal satire with some very perceptive moments.


SYNOPSIS: A man must choose his fate and form in a dystopian society obsessed with coupling.

JIM'S REVIEW: The Lobster takes an absurd comic premise and reworks it into a dark satire about love and relationships. Set in the not-to-distant future, David (Colin Farrell), a recently divorced Loner, has an urgent need to find a new partner. Why the deadline, you may ask? No, it's not due to his loneliness causing him to go directly into the dating pool to find another soulmate (although he is a sad and desperate man)'s just that he must connect with another human being in order to survive. At least, in his present form. You see, this totalitarian government stipulates that unless he gets a girl, within 45 days, he will be turned into another species..a dog, a lion, a lobster...that, at least, will be his choice in this brave new world.

Director / Writer Yorgo Lanthimos creates a bizarre and compelling film, although he tests the patience of many moviegoers with his purposely ambiguous detours in his plot. The film is quite effective in its first half as David checks into a resort that prides itself on transformation and conformity. Irony is layered in its thick impasto strokes of surreal imagery and intellectual musings about society's obsession with coupling and partnership. Less successful is the film's second section which begins to meander and lose its way (just like its main character does). Yet the talented Mr. Lanthimos brings forth clever insights and a unique narrative to his Orwellian tale.

The international cast works within the limits of their unusual characters. Colin Farrell portrays David nicely as a pawn in the scheme of things while other fine actors, like Rachael Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, and Olivia Coleman bring solid support to this odd yet thought-provoking film.

But it is Lanthimos' screenplay (co-authored with Efthymis Filippou) that relies on the vague notion of obedient submissiveness that remains unclear from the start. The film lacks genuine pathos and subtle humor, never allowing its interesting subject to fully resonate. Characters remain one dimensional and their actions baffling and strange. Except for David, everyone is nameless...Nosebleed Woman, Lisping Man, Biscuit Woman, Limping Man, Short-Sighted Woman, etc. This may be an intentional decision by the filmmaker, but it does give a slight artsy silliness to the whole venture. And let's not even discuss the film's enigmatic and disappointing denouncement!

However, Lanthimos is a far better director than storyteller. His use of slow motion techniques, poetic voiceovers, and mix of classical and atonal music gives his film an eerie otherworldly sense of time and place. He has his actors deliver that lines with flat readings and very little emotion which somehow works to his advantage in creating a loveless universe.

The Lobster is the type of film that will garner critical praise but leave the average moviegoer questioning the film's overall effect. Its characters are a passive and soulless lot, even if this filmgoing experience rarely achieves its complex goal.

Still The Lobster is a noble effort by a gifted filmmaker worthy of one's attention.

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