Reviews written by registered user
SteveMierzejewski

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64 reviews in total 
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The Arroyo (2014)
The Good, The Bad, and The Mediocre, 13 February 2017
6/10

OK, so this is a B movie. It lacks the textural depth of a first-rate Hollywood production, but it's watchable, which is more than I can say for a lot of B movies. Whether you like this movie or not will depend largely on which side of the political divide you stand on. It's unlikely that any lefties will choose to watch this movie, but if they do, it will probably only be to give it a negative review. In fact, it's somewhat refreshing to see more conservative values featured for a change. Hollywood would never do it.

As in most B movies, some actors perform better than others. For the most part, the acting is tolerable. The bad guy is bad and in the mold of the 'No Country for Old Men' villain. Some scenes are actually quite nicely directed.

I don't live on the border so I have little idea how true this story could be, but my guess it has some truth in it. For those seriously interested in this topic, I highly recommend the Oscar nominated documentary, Cartel Land, which is a real eye-opener. But The Arroyo will do as an introduction to the topic.

Paterson (2016)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Poetry of Everyday Life, 10 February 2017
8/10

For those not familiar with Jim Jarmusch's work, you may find this movie puzzling. There will be no explosions, shoot outs, or car chases. Jarmusch doesn't just focus on a slice of life. He focuses on the crumbs of life. These crumbs are often organized around a simple, sometimes absurd, theme. This could be anything from driving to see Lake Erie (Stranger Than Paradise) to traveling to visit ex-girlfriends (Broken Flowers). The pace is non-existent. In Paterson, the earth spins around day after day but everyone still comes back to the same point in space. The theme is the poetry of everyday life.

As usual, Jarmusch comes up with a group of quirky, somewhat deadpan characters. The main characters are a husband and wife; a bus driver poet and a homemaker designer. They are perfectly suited to each other, but only to each other. Big tragedies occur over insignificant things that are not insignificant for those experiencing them. We don't learn much about either of the couple's past except for the photo of Paterson (Adam Driver) in a US Marine uniform which is placed beside his bed. His wife, Laura (expertly played by Golshifteh Farahani)is obsessed with incorporating black and white, and only black and white, into all of her designs. You can make what symbolism you want of this, but I'm surprised Jarmusch doesn't put some black and white scenes in the film. We do, however, see the couple watch an old black and white film.

Those who know Jarmusch will more than likely enjoy this film. It lives up to the standard that he has set for himself. It is a collection of mundane and oddball events that range from being poignant to amusing. The characters are well acted and realistic, without being exaggerated. There are lessons to be learned here, but, like the interpretation of a Pollock painting, you'll have to interpret these things for yourself.

Definitely not for everybody, but for those who want to experience someone else's daily routine and, in so doing, see the poetry that may be already present in their own lives.

9 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
A Good Film for Viewers Contemplating Suicide, 24 January 2017
3/10

This is the least uplifting movie of the year. It may even make the all-time top 10 of movies guaranteed to make you contemplate jumping from a bridge. Moody, depressed people have bad things happen to them which make them even moodier and more depressed. it is a very thick slice of life film that has grown moldy.

I'm not sure why Affleck is praised for his acting skills in this movie. He played much the same role in the film, Out of the Furnace, only that film was interesting. He seems to be type-cast as a perpetually, psychologically disturbed individual. In truth, I found none of the acting compelling. I was simply annoyed by the teenage Patrick played by Lucas Hedges. I really hoped Affleck would get as annoyed as I was at him and drive his depressing car into a psychologically disturbed tree. But, alas, we had to wait over 2 hours to watch everyone have bouts of depression and a variety of psychological breakdowns.

So, if you watch this film, make sure to carefully lock away all handguns and stay off of bridges for a couple of hours. On the other hand, if you are teaching a class on elementary psychology, this is the film for you. Academy Award material? I don't think so, but that probably means it will get several. Such is the credibility of the Academy committee these days.

Snowden (2016)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Stone's Snowden is Rock Solid, 24 January 2017
8/10

I was never interested in seeing this film. This may seem surprising as I spend much of my time investigating cybersecurity. However, I had my reasons for this. First of all, I had already watched Citizenfour, the documentary on the Snowden incident. I found it mildly interesting but not compelling. Why would I want to watch a Hollywood production on the same topic? Secondly, I was suspicious about a film created by Oliver Stone. Stone seems to have an agenda that is too visible in many of his films. He's not as bad as the pseudo-documentarian, Michael Moore, but I was worried that I would get too much of Stone and too little of Snowden. Finally, why would I want to watch a movie for which I already knew the ending? I call this the 'zen of movie watching". This is a movie you watch to enjoy the process rather than the conclusion. It can usually only be pulled off by a well-constructed movie. Death of a Salesman, for example, tells you the ending in the title. The play (or movie) shows you what events led to that final moment. Would I really be interested in seeing how Snowden ended up in Moscow, especially since I already knew the story? To get right to the point, my doubts were not justified. This was a good film. It is not simply the events shown in the documentary but more the story behind the story. The film's success largely rests on the performance of the lead actor's portrayal of Snowden. In this regard, the often under-rated, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, does a remarkable job. It has been reported that even Snowden's family praised the similarities between Gordon-Levitt's portrayal and Snowden, himself. Gordon-Levitt claimed that he repeatedly listened to Snowden's speech patterns in Citizenfour so as to get them correct. Whatever; he managed to bring the Snowden character to life.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the acting of Shailene Woodley, who played Snowden's romantic interest, Lindsay Mills. For the life of me, I could not fathom how Snowden could become so interested in such a two-dimensional woman. It was difficult to see any on-screen chemistry between the two and Woodley's stilted, robotic performance didn't help matters any. I kept hoping he would dump her and get on with his life, but, sadly, she kept interrupting the flow of the film. I can only assume that the real Lindsay Mills was much more charismatic.

In contrast, the relationships between Snowden and his superiors and colleagues is quite well done. This and Snowden's battle with his own conscience make for the most compelling elements of the film. Stone may have an agenda, but he also shows both sides of the security vs. privacy debate. If he did not, we would never fully understand the dilemma that Snowden was cast into. It is this, and not the romantic relationship, that kept me interested throughout the film.

For the average, cybersecurity-naiive viewer, much of what you see will be eye-opening. I'm sure many will not believe that what they see is true, but be assured it is. Most of all, this was an unexpectedly entertaining movie which I think most people will enjoy. I especially liked the extra touch at the end, which I will not reveal in this review.

La La Land (2016/I)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
High School Musical Meets West Side Story, 24 January 2017
7/10

Hmm, that was something different. This is kind of like two movies in one. The first half was surprisingly amateurish with respect to the singing and dancing. I give Ryan Gosling a pat-on-the-back award for trying both of these skills, but anyone who is expecting Fred Astaire or Gene Kelley will be sorely disappointed. I get it. I get the fact that the film inserts stylized re-enactments of old Hollywood movie scenes. That's nice, but it didn't sell me on the film. For the first half of the film, you will see performances that can be matched by performances at your local high school. What I don't get is Emma Stone. Sure, we all have our personal preferences but she seems completely unsuited for the role of Ryan Gosling's romantic obsessions. However, if they ever decide to film ET's Revenge, she has my vote.

Just as I was ready to write this film off completely, it turned around. This happened, it seems to me, during the observatory dance scene. That was creative. Around this time, the film begins to develop some angst and the relationship between the two characters suddenly becomes much more complex and intriguing. Some will like the ending, some won't, but, for me, it did seem a little forced. Still, the second half of the film brought into focus more serious points about relationships and life, in general, to save it.

Should you see it? Well, watch the opening scene. If you can take that, you can survive the film. Trust me it gets better. Should it receive a best picture award? Well, it's at least something different, reminiscent of the award winning, The Artist. Let's just say that if it wins, I will grudgingly accept the Academy's verdict.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Batman vs. Superman vs. The Audience, 8 October 2016
5/10

This is the first time I've ever blamed the failure of a film on the editing. The movie jumps randomly and disconnectedly from scene to scene leaving the viewer in a state of constant bewilderment.

First of all, you have to figure out why Batman has it in for Superman. Apparently, in a misguided attempt to save his unremarkable girlfriend, Lois Lane, Superman manages to inadvertently kill several hundred people. Well, mistakes happen. Unfortunately, among these victims is Batman's father. What are the odds! Then come a series of flashbacks interwoven with a number of story lines that try, and often succeed, in baffling the viewer. The actors themselves seem vaguely confused with their roles and look as if they're not sure what emotions are required in certain scenes.

The movie is, unsurprisingly, targeted at teens, so I watched it with my 14-year-old son. When he frequently asked me what was happening, I could only respond with the look of a dog having the principles of the door knob explained to him. I told him that artistic films frequently had no discernible plot. He didn't buy it.

When the audience is finally on the ropes, the filmmakers tighten the screws by concocting an unending series of false endings. It becomes a battle of wills between the audience and the filmmakers. Who will break first? The deathblow comes when the filmmakers have an ending that threatens the audience with Batman vs Superman 2.

If you want to watch this film, it might be best to try to re-edit it yourself. The good news is that no matter how you put the scenes together, you won't do worse than the original version. You may even produce Batman vs. Superman 2 in the process.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Gritty Father, 7 September 2016
8/10

Well, this was much better than I expected it to be. What did I expect? An action movie with numerous unbelievable action scenes strung together with a weak plot and supported by poor acting. I thought it would be a movie that Mel chose to act in because he needed money to pay his alimony.

Yes, it was an action movie, more or less, and maybe a few scenes stretched credulity. However, there was much more depth to the plot as Mel, the gritty, ex-con father of a troubled teen, tries to do what he can to get some redemption. I have to say one thing about Mel, the guy can act. I had my doubts after watching a few of his more recent flicks, but this character seemed perfectly written for him. The supporting cast was also good and gave the movie more depth than most action films. And, what we all want in such films, the bad guys were bad.

It's a compelling watch and a good way to spend an evening.

13 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
See the trees. They'll be more interesting., 28 August 2016
5/10

I lived near Aokigahara when I taught at a private institution on Mt. Fuji. One day my friend and I hiked into it hoping to find adventure. We found no dead bodies, no skeletons, no signs of any humans having been there, and our compasses worked fine. Basically, it is an area of lava tubes, some partially collapsed leaving numerous holes of a variety of sizes. Our conclusion was that amateur hikers probably stepped in a hole and broke their legs and couldn't get out. It is geographically confusing as one tube looks more or less like another, but the place is not far from a highway and it would be nearly impossible to get lost there despite what the movie may make you believe.

Oh, yeah, the movie. Despite a rather good cast, the film simply falls flat. The actors basically go through the motions to pick up their paychecks. The best, or a least most believable, part is the relationship between the Matthew McConaughey character and his wife, played by Naomi Watts, and even that is inconsistent. It's a movie that tries to bring up deep themes but falls short. The adding of spiritual and religious elements just muddies the water even further. The movie suffers from the worst fate that can afflict a movie that attains to be philosophic - some parts are absolutely laughable.

I'm not sure I really cared about what happened to any of the characters. There was never any angst built by the plot and you will not be sitting on the edge of your seat. In fact, you'll miss nothing if you do the laundry while the film is playing. If this was a ploy for the local area to stimulate suicide tourism, it probably failed, though suicidal thoughts may have crossed the minds of some who were forced to watch the movie to its conclusion.

Although some scenes may produce unintentional humor, I would not recommend watching it. Too bad, because there really could be a good movie built around the place.

20 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Confirming the Value of The Confirmation, 3 June 2016
8/10

This is one film where the synopsis does not do the film justice. If I had only read that, I doubt if I would have watched the film at all. Even though the summary is correct, it fails to elucidate the subtleties in the plot and the fine acting that underpins the storyline.

First of all, I hate films that feature kids. The kids are all stereotyped in most films. Either they are too cute or too cynical, spoiled, and arrogant to be compelling. You can be sure that 1) they will be the one that cause the problems or 2) they will be transformed into 'good kids' by the end of the film.

Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the main kid role, is believable. Clive Owen, who I think is often underrated as an actor, does his usual solid performance as a recovering alcoholic-father. But it is the supporting actors who bring this slice-of-life drama to perfection. The emotional fine points in the plot could not have come through without them.

After watching it myself, I decided to watch the film with my 13-year-old son. Normally, he likes the action movie, super hero, special effects-laden films, so this was a bit of a transition. The verdict? He could associate with a lot of the interactions that went on in the film from a kid's point of view and enjoyed watching it. Adults will like it for the insights into adult relationships.

It will not be for everyone. I would guess most kids will be waiting for the next exploding car or 15 minute fight scene, which will never happen, just as they never happen so frequently in real life.

I know this film will pass largely unnoticed, which is why I felt obliged to write a review of it. There are those filmgoers out there who still appreciate a good film in its purest form.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Rational Irrational Man, 14 January 2016
6/10

Basically, I'll watch any film that Woody Allen makes. That said, it doesn't mean I think all of his films are top rank. His best films blend comedy, psychology, and philosophy with a good storyline. His worse fall short in one of these areas. When I first started watching the film, I thought it had all the potential of some of his better films. A charismatic, somewhat famous, professor comes to a small college. His questionable reputation intrigues and titillates students and colleagues alike. The professor (Joaquin Phoenix )is in the throes of mid-life angst and burdened by the expectations others have of him. In an attempt to recharge his life, he heads down some questionable trails.

The psychological aspects of the plot evaporate into a crime drama. For a moment, the professor becomes a Raskolnikov-like character and I began to think the psychological aspect may once again come to the fore and make this an interesting movie. Instead, this potential plot twist is brushed aside and, sadly, the rest is more or less predictable.

The acting is good enough, though the romantic relationships among the characters are shallow and not well-developed, making them somewhat difficult to believe.

Woody Allen fans may find the film interesting enough, but don't expect another Midnight in Paris or a crime story as good as Manhattan Murder Mystery. If Irrational Man was more in keeping with its title, it would have been less predictable and more interesting.


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