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239 reviews in total 
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Premonition (2007/I)
Loose Plot Strands Bigger Than a Mac Truck, 23 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sandra Bullock gives a standout performance as housewife Linda Hanson experiencing extreme paranormal behavior. But the plot of "Premonition" includes holes that are larger than the semi that figures so prominently in the story.

The film title is misleading, as Linda is not merely having a premonition. Rather, she is moving in and out of time during the week in which her husband died in a tragic auto collision with a truck. As Linda moves backward and forward in time, she pieces together the story about her husband's affair with an office worker, then desperately tries to save his life before the wreck.

The problem with this scenario is that on the one hand, Linda is successful in going back in time in changing the past in her forgiveness of her husband. But the screenplay is so convoluted that it is difficult to take away any message about the meaning of this strange experience. The ending seemed smug in attempting to tack on a theme about "faith" and "miracles." In the end, "Premonition" never achieved the potential of the film's premise.

The final stretch of the narrative needed to synthesize all of the critical plot elements (the electrical storm, the dead crow, the child's accident, the meeting with the psychiatrist, the encounter with the "other woman"at the funeral). Instead, those aspects of the frantic week of Linda Hanson that were inconvenient for the uplifting ending, were left dangling or were simply ignored.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, 20 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Nice Guys" had pretensions to be a slapstick-style film like "Naked Gun." Unfortunately, it fell flat with a convoluted plot, weak laugh lines, and poor chemistry among the actors.

Films like "Naked Gun" or "Airport" can be great fun, as they build farcical scenes around star actors playing inept cops, pilots, and criminals. But Russell Crowe and Ryan Gossling failed to meet the threshold of performing in the broad comic style. Their characters, who were two incompetent L.A. private eyes, were far too understated. They needed coaching in the broader style of acting.

The scripting of "The Nice Guys" also foundered on poorly delineated secondary roles, such as that of Kim Basinger, who plays the "heavy" as the corrupt official from the Justice Department. Her scenes brought the film down to an even lower depth of dullness.

The filmmakers should have started their work by simply taking the time to view the "Naked Gun" series and to study how Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker found the ability to put together a decent film farce.

Snowden (2016)
5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Snowden: Lost in the World of George Orwell, 17 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Snowden" is directed by Oliver Stone with a stylish approach to a story that could have been written by George Orwell. Stone transports the audience visually into the world of underground security facilities and inside the computers themselves. The result is the nightmare of a national power elite that controls human freedom and civil liberties not by the Constitution, but by modern technology.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is outstanding the role of the self-taught computer prodigy Edward Snowden. Gordon-Levitt hits all the right notes in bringing complexity and an arc of development to an idealistic young man, who throughout his young career and his whistleblowing experience is naive about his goal of making a difference in the world.

There is a stunning scene in the home stretch of the film when Snowden is having a conversation with his CIA mentor, Corbin O'Brian, who is brilliantly played by Rhys Ifans. It is no coincidence that the fictional character O'Brian is the namesake of the villain of Orwell's dystopian novel "1984," who is also called O'Brien. At the beginning of the scene it is appears that O'Brian and Snowden are in the same room. But as the dialogue progresses, it becomes clear that O'Brian is speaking to Snowden on a large projection screen, informing the young man that he has essentially used the technology Snowden has helped to perfect to inform on the personal life of Snowden's girlfriend. The chilling effect of the scene is that of recreating Orwell's concept of "Big Brother."

Another strength of the film was the thoughtful screenplay that effectively portrayed Snowden in his own words in conversation with journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. There was a cinéma vérité approach to the story that seemed perfect for the film's theme of the abuses of the law by the United States government.

"Snowden" is a story that needs to be told. The unanswered question of the film is whether or not the case of Edward Snowden will bring about reform. Can we get some sanity in the uses of technology in the intelligence community? Or will we continue to descend into the vortex of the totalitarian world described by George Orwell over sixty years ago?

Modest "Road" Picture is Fun & Light-Hearted, 16 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The strength of "Dear Eleanor" was in the scripting that included clever dialogue and situations filled with nostalgia of the early 1960s. From start to finish, the scenes were lively as two teenagers take to the road for a cross-country trip from California to New York to visit Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962.

The film starts in the breadbasket of California in Manteca. A young girl's mother dies tragically in an auto accident just before she could deliver a short speech introducing Eleanor Roosevelt. To honor her mother, the main character enlists her best friend to make the trip to New York. Along the way, there is a series of improbable events. While most of the scenes are silly, there is nonetheless good humor and charm throughout the film.

Part of the charm of the film derives from the screenwriters' references to movies and culture of the early 1960s. While serious events are introduced, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the writers keep the mood light, constantly interjecting humor and silliness. The most absurd situation was a traveling companion picked up by the girls, who is an escaped convict, who bails them out of difficulty when they are arrested. Later, the convict inexplicably drops out of the plot by boarding a single-engine airplane and flying off into the sunset. Without a doubt, the scenes with convict are the funniest in the film, especially the banter that implies that the man might be one of the felons from Alcatraz, who made a daring prison break at this time.

While the character of Eleanor Roosevelt was not developed in much depth, she was still given a fine tribute for her many humanitarian achievements, not the least of which was delivering her own speech about civil rights in the face of threats from the KKK. This was a thoughtful film with both humorous and touching moments from writers with excellent potential.

Risen (2016)
Earnest But Slow-Moving Biblical Drama, 13 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Upon its release in 2016, "Risen" was a great box office success. The film is stunning in its photography and the location settings. There was also a strong lead performance from Joseph Fiennes, who plays a Roman tribune surprisingly converted to Christianity. An excellent supporting cast rounds out the film with Peter Firth playing the "heavy" in the bureaucratically obsessive Pontius Pilate. María Botto is good in the highly underdeveloped role of Mary Magdelene. Stephen Hagan brought a Puck-ish, wisecracking dimension to the small role of Bartholomew.

While the simplicity of the story is admirable in the awakening of the fictional Roman patrician, Claudius Aquila Valerius Niger, the pacing of the film was laboriously slow. The conversion occurs at the midpoint of the film, and the second half primarily consists of a trip of the merry band of apostles to Galilee, a fishing expedition, and campfire chats with Yeshua, who has risen, and subsequently returned to fraternize with the apostles to do some mind-reading of the world-weary Claudius, who is seeking "peace."

Writer-director Kevin Reynolds was successful in focusing on the conversion story, as opposed to sensationalizing the risen Yeshua. The uplifting quality to the film was supported by the beautiful cinematography, music, and scene locations in Spain and Malta. This could easily have been a 60-minute History Channel drama. Instead, it was a decent feature film.

Marauders (2016)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Far-Feteched and Convoluted, 13 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set in Cincinnati,"Marauders" weaves multiple plot strands together in a confusing and unsatisfying action-thriller.

We see the action unfold primarily from the perspective of an FBI agent (Christopher Meloni) investigating a string of well-executed bank heists. The expert and well-drilled team of robbers clearly has had special ops training, and Meloni's investigation is compromised by either a corrupt or rogue police detective. The trail eventually leads to a tycoon bank executive played by Bruce Willis. But who actually are the Marauders? Here is where the film stumbles badly and never recovers.

The script for "Marauders" was nearly impenetrable with confusing relationships among the various task forces and characters that were not fully fleshed out. It seemed as though each character was struggling with a traumatic incident from the past. But the script never completely coalesced into a compelling and credible narrative. The result was that a ridiculous ending was tacked on in order to resolve the loose plot elements in Mexico!

The most interesting performance in "Marauders" was turned in by Meloni, who was haunted by the violent death of his wife, who was also involved in law enforcement. But, once again, the scene where Meloni confronted his wife's killer in prison was not believable. Much of this film involved gratuitous violence and unpleasant characters. In the end, the only really engaging scenes were those of masked figures creating mayhem and madness in banks.

All-Too-Familiar Story of Greed and Corruption, 8 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed by Jodie Foster, "Money Monster" rehashes the cliché film dramatization of Wall Street fraud and the commonplace Americans who are the big losers in a tycoon's greed.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts have good chemistry as the star television talking head Lee Gates and his hard-working producer Patty Fenn. The simplistic story is that of a "hostage drama" when Gates is held captive in the studio by a crazed investor who has lost his fortune due to a Wall Street scammer and the advice given over the air by Gates. The plot unfolds with the Gates and Fenn actually bonding with the terrorist to get to the bottom of malfeasance on the part of the CEO of a company called IBIS.

With the primary setting a television broadcast studio, this film might have worked better as a made-for-TV movie, as opposed to a feature film. Most of the action was predictable, and much of it was also unbelievable. The relationship of the young terrorist and his wife was entirely unconvincing. And the inaction on the part of the SWAT team, who had successfully surrounded the terrorist both in the studio and outdoors, was equally improbable.

In the end, "Money Monster" was a formula film that should not provide any surprises to viewers. The only cliché that was missing from the film was a slow crawl across the screen that reads, "Based on a True Story."

Genius (2016)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
As a Film, "Genius" is Stupid, 6 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the bonus track for the DVD of "Genius," it was indicated that this film project was in the works for fifteen years. Adapted from the book by C. Scott Berg, "Genius" tells the story of the nurturing relationship of the book editor Max Perkins with famous writers of the "lost generation" of the 1930s, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.

Unfortunately, the film was dry precisely because the relationship of an editor with a writer is not very interesting. The film's director was a first-timer with a background primarily in the theatre. In many ways, this project would have been better suited to a stage play produced for the New York intelligentsia.

SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS: In perhaps the oddest choice of the director, the editor Max Perkins wore his fedora hat everywhere. The hat was worn while working in his office and when he was walking around in his home. It was even worn at the dinner table! For the viewer, it made no sense that Max never removed his hat. The "payoff" of this odd behavior did not come until the very end of the film when the hat was removed after the death of Perkins's beloved client Thomas Wolfe. The hat was a perfect example of a technique that would have worked on the stage, but fell completely flat in the medium of film.

Another major problem with this film was the over-the-top performance of Jude Law in the role of Wolfe. It was never believable that this character was a writer. Law is a good actor, so, the problem was with the direction that allowed the performer to move almost into the area of farce with his consistently manic reactions that appeared as though he were mugging for the camera. Once again, the performance might have been effective in the theatre, but not in the more naturalistic form of cinema.

A nice performance from Nicole Kidman was wasted in the role of Aline Bernstein, the long-suffering lover of Wolfe. It was never made clear why she felt so jealous of Wolfe's relationship with his editor. Conversely, it made no sense why Perkins's wife Louise was completely patient with the time her husband Max spent with Wolfe.

While there was good design work in costumes, sets, and the recreation of New York in the 1930s, "Genius" never shed light on the creative process of the greater writers of fiction, and it offered no new perspectives on their lives. Those should have been the goals of this project, as opposed to the superficial focus on a schlub of a book editor.

"Roots" (2016)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Kunte Kinte, Son of Omoro Kinte, 3 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As told by Alex Haley, the thriving nineteenth-century city of Juffure is a Mandinka kingdom of Niuni in West Africa. Located on the banks of the Kamby Bolonga, the great river of the Gambia, slaves were kept in households. The Koros were a rival family to the Kinte clan, and the Koros began selling slaves to the British merchants. The great ancestors in the multi-generational story are Omoro and Binta Kinte, whose son, Kunta, is kidnapped and placed on a slave ship, enduring the brutal "middle passage" to North America.

One of the great themes of the epic is the refrain of "Your name is your spirit; your name is your shield." Hence the importance of the name Kunta Kinte, which will be kept alive over the many generations of the family. The name is closely tied to family, and the first responsibility of a Mandinka warrior is to raise a family.

The film graphically portrays the unspeakable horrors of the middle passage, then the 1767 landing at Annapolis, Maryland, where Kunta is sold at auction to the Waller farm in neighboring Virginia. The plantation owner's wife, Elizabeth, names Kunta "Toby," and the struggle ensues for Kunta to fight for the dignity of retaining his true name and heritage.

Kunta bonds with Fiddler ("Henry"), where he is instructed in methods of survival with the "toubab" (Caucasians). Ten years pass, as Kunta fights in the Revolutionary War on the side of the British, yet is mistreated by the British just like the toubab colonists. After the war and multiple failed escapes, Kunta's foot is cut off by one of the slave catchers. When nursed back to health by the slave Belle, Kunta finds his soul mate, who will continue to the Kinte family line. Their daughter Kizzy ("stay put") will in turn recall the family history to her offspring. She learns from her father that "they can put chains on your body; never let them put the chains on your mind." At Tom Lea's farm in North Carolina, Kizzy is raped by Tom, and the son named George (after Tom's father) becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the epic, known to all as "Chicken George." Kizzy has a brief relationship with a freedman, Marcellus, who eventually flees to the north. George assists Tom in winning a bloody duel with a neighboring plantation owner, who looks down on Tom's Irish heritage. George eventually is sold to an English aristocrat and remains in England for twenty years.

When George finally returns to America, it is the eve of the Civil War. His wife, the daughter of a preacher, is now slave to the Murray plantation. George's grown son, Tom, is recruited by the wife of the evil son of the plantation. She is a northern spy and recruits Tom. But their plan is foiled, and the wife is summarily hung by her husband.

George joints the union army, but fatefully fights at Ft. Pillow in April 1864, where the Nathan Forrest massacre of a black regiment occurs. Finally George reunites with his family, after Tom has miraculously discovered his whereabouts in fighting "bushwackers" harassing the recently freed slaves. In the family reunion at the Murray plantation, the leave-taking occurs with the freed slaves seeking their independence. As Frederick is about to shoot Tom, George gets the drop on him and kills Frederick with the gun his "father" Tom had given him. In the final montage, Alex Haley reviews his family heritage in the preparation of his book: "The truth can never be known. It can only be told in story." This remake was storytelling at its finest with outstanding production values as a stellar cast. All of the performances were credible and moving. While it is easy to want to compare this remake with the original, there was nonetheless great care in skill in preparation for this unparalleled story that has to be told and retold.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Story of Barbarism and Survival, 1 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In Iran, the city of Shiraz has traditionally been associated with great cultural achievements in poetry, literature, and magnificent gardens. Set at the inception of the Iranian revolution of 1979, "Septembers of Shiraz" focuses on the tyranny of the oppressive rule of the Ayatollah Khomeini, as directed against a businessman.

The focal point of the film is a Jewish merchant of precious stones and jewelry, who is summarily arrested, tortured, and extorted of his fortune in order to survive. Adrien Brody delivers another complex and moving performance as the jeweler named Isaac. Salma Hayak-Pinault is outstanding as Isaac's wife, Farnaz. The action is taut and the pacing is deliberate, as Isaac's long period in captivity and his ordeal of torture are chronicled in lurid detail.

One of the best scenes in the film is the moment where Isaac's captor named Mohsen, as played by Alon Aboutboul, engages Isaac in an extended conversation. The climax of the scene is when Isaac persuasively points to the circularity of their relationship and how Mohsen's extremism has made him captive to his obsession for revenge. Mohsen is no less a prisoner than Isaac. In this area, the film could have developed more completely the background on the repressive regime of the Shah of Iran and the barbarity of the methods used by his secret police, the dreaded SAVAK.

Another key relationship in the film was that of Farnaz and the household maid Habibeh, given a remarkable screen interpretation by the husky-voiced Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. In the ebb and flow of this relationship, Habibeh begins to side with the revolutionaries, yet is deeply conflicted due to the kindness shown to her by Farnaz and Isaac. In a moving scene near the end of the film, Habibeh comes around to support Issac and Farnaz, rejecting her son, who has turned informant on the family. In an ironic twist, however, the last we hear of the son is that he has been arrested by the new theocratic regime for his personal greed in looting precious stones from Isaac's business.

In the DVD "Behind the Scenes" segment, it is clear that the film artists approached this film with great intelligence, including the screenwriter, director, and design team, who were all passionate about making a film that depicts not only a repressive regime at one moment in time in 1979, but for all forms of tyranny that refuse to honor reverence for life. Tragically, this story is all too familiar well into the twenty-first century.

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