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690 reviews in total 
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The Girl (2009)
An Absolutely Gorgeous Film, 2 January 2015

Very cool movie. "The Girl" (2009) should be required viewing for all film and video production students. Each shot is a creative tapestry of composition, light, and shadow. Fredrick Edfeldt's acting-for-the camera direction is inspired and Blanca Engstrom gives the perfect nuanced and underplayed performance needed to match the pace and tone of his film.

But the real star of this remarkable film is Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has since been the Director of Photography for "Interstellar" (2014). The film is worth a second watch just to appreciate each carefully composed shot. I've never seen anyone do it better, even breaking the 180 rule several times in the service of underscoring the girl's increasingly disoriented drift from reality.

It is not an entirely original story. There are many of the creepy elements from "Tideland" (2005) and some from "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" (1976), but "The Girl" is much more naturalistic and gentle than those two films. It could also be considered a placid "Alice In Wonderland", subtly off-kilter with Louis Carroll's illogic replaced by the mundane but equally disturbing logic of the modern adult world.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Sorry Daddy", 25 November 2014

"I dropped the pears ... sorry daddy" says the stunned child who will grow up to become the creator of Mary Poppins. The child (wonderfully underplayed by Annie Rose Buckley) has returned from the pear fetching errand to find that her long-suffering father has passed away from influenza during her brief absence. Thus begins a life of atonement for P.L. Travers, who will take her father's first name as her surname and adopt a rather strait-laced no-nonsense existence. The whimsical person she was to have become is instead incorporated into her creation, a character modeled on the physical characteristics of her Aunt Ellie (played by Rachel Griffiths) and the style of J. M. Barrie - who she admired. The film confirms this in the closing credits with two different drawings of Mary Poppins, the first one appears when Buckley is credited and the second one a little later when Griffiths is credited.

Buckley's is the key performance of the production as she must non-verbally sell the child's absolute and unqualified adoration of her father, if the parallel story of Travers' efforts at atonement for not saving him are to ring true. In this the young Australian actress is absolutely convincing and John Lee Hancock demonstrates his considerable acting-for-the-camera directing skills.

The film is an extremely well-crafted tale with two parallel time-lines, Travers' traumatic coming-of-age story and Walt Disney's ultimately successful efforts to secure the rights to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. Both proceed chronologically, with Travers recalling her childhood in sequenced flashbacks. More subtle is a third story, minimalist references to Disney's own childhood, which serve as a compare and contrast with Travers; with portions of both fathers blending into the 1964 film's version of Mr. Banks (played by David Tomlinson who appears at the center of that film's cast photo in the closing credits) . The film teasingly alludes to a similarity between these two creative people. Both brought a lot of childhood baggage with them into adulthood in the way of father issues. And for both these issues are reflected in the dichotomy of their adult lives. Early in the film they cut-away to the second floor window of Elias Disney's office on Disneyland's Main Street, Walt's tribute to the work ethic instilled in him by his father. Later Disney attributes the motivation behind his retreat into imagination to bitterness about a childhood which was anything but whimsical.

Those behind "Saving Mr. Banks" understood what it is like to still be wrestling with childhood demons throughout adulthood and they knew how to make the viewer feel the struggle.

On the other hand the saving of Mr. Banks premise is a non-factor in the Mary Poppins books (the original and the sequels). The film would be more accurately named "Saving Mr. (Elias) Disney". Apparently Travers was appalled before, during, and after the screening of the dumbed down film adaptation of her books. And by all accounts she carried her litany of objections to her grave, never permitting a sequel. For 50 years avid readers have been mystified by the adaptation's unrecognizable theme and its peculiar areas of emphasis. The adaptation did not include Travers' best chapter (Mary Popping's birthday party at the zoo among the animals) nor her best character (the star Maia from the Pleiades cluster of the Taurus constellation - who Jane and Michael help in her human form to pick out Christmas gifts for her six sisters). Instead they fabricated additional scenes for the horribly miscast Dick Van Dyke - whose casting even "Saving Mr. Banks" acknowledges as being entirely for commercial purposes.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Lucy (2014/I)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
"Hit Girl" meets "The Incredible Shrinking Man", 6 September 2014

"We've codified our existence to bring it down to human size, to make it comprehensible, we've created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale" says Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) by way of summation of the insights she has achieved under an accidental overdose of a new and powerful synthetic drug.

"Lucy" is a philosophical film being marketed as science fiction - action adventure. Since it worked for "2001: A Space Odyssey" back in 1968 I guess they thought it would work here. But the mismatch has caused "Lucy" to miss much of Luc Besson's intended audience and to disappoint those looking for Scarlett Johansson doing a "Leon" inspired "Kick-Ass" number in tight shiny "Black Widow" latex.

The mismatch between the film and its promotional campaign is my only major criticism. A minor criticism is the poor quality of the digital effects (the car chase doesn't hold a candle to the old fashion way, insert 1998's "Ronin" here). Given the budget limitations, the POV, and the transforming mental condition of title character; the film would have been far better served had Beeson substituted expressionism for realism. Cinema greatness was there for the taking.

As in "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and "2001: A Space Odyssey", the existential theme is not anti-God (or pro Übermensch) but anti-ego. With a character slowly losing their connection with humanity, finally connecting with the infinite at the moment they become infinitesimal.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

"Sometimes a Great Notion" meets "The Waltons", 22 August 2014

Whenever I see "Spencer's Mountain" (1963) I can't help doing a compare and contrast with "Sometimes a Great Notion" (1970). There is the obvious Henry Fonda patriarch connection; Clay Spencer and Henry Stamper being essentially the same character with much the same "never give an inch" relationship to their respective environments. Clay Spencer is a bit more bending and a bit less self-involved than Henry Stamper, but Fonda did not have to stretch much for the role replication. And there is the obvious parallel between the logging accidents. And the showcasing of dazzling wilderness beauty.

But just as Earl Hamner Jr. was no Ken Kesey, "Spencer's Mountain" is no "Sometimes a Great Notion"; if for no other reason than the differing energy levels of the two films. One could accurately describe it as what "Sometimes a Great Notion" would be if Kesey had heavily sedated himself on an overdose of "The Waltons". Interestingly the novels were released in 1961 and 1964 respectively so it is at least possible that Hamner influenced Kesey.

And both novels and films strip down to stories about the collision between the traditional and the modern, the past and the present. Although Kesey's story is far more gritty and far more ambitious, they are more similar in theme and style than they appear at first glance (I suspect that both authors would be horrified by this notion).

The film version of Spencer's Mountain" suffers in any comparison by the relative weakness of its cast. Fonda is a constant and Veronica Cartwright (as Becky Spencer) makes you wish she had a bigger part, but the rest of the cast is borderline embarrassing; saved only by the one-dimensional nature of their parts. Kym Karath's "Pattie-Cake Spencer" manages to recapture, 20+ years later, the most irritating qualities of Phronsie Pepper. In fairness to James MacArthur, he manages to portray the mega earnest Clayboy Spencer accurately, but this early version of John-Boy Walton is truly cringe-worthy. MacArthur's scenes with 18 year-old ingénue Mimsy Farmer, however, play on a much higher level and nicely illustrate that it was possible in conservative days to create a smoking sexual tension without anything even remotely explicit.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Bunny Rabbit as a Frustrated Vegetarian, 16 July 2014

Carl Lindbergh is back with "The Bunnyman Massacre" (2014), his second entry in his "Bunnyman" franchise; and I understand that a third one is in the works. This one is a low budget fusion of "Motel Hell" (1980) and "Kiss & Tell" (1997); and yet another homage to the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974). Unfortunately, none of the female cast is remotely in the sexploitation class of "Motel Hell's" Monique St. Pierre or "Kiss & Tells" Heather Graham – in other words no viewer will be at the edge of his seat hoping to see any of them take off their tops.

Unlike Pamela Gidley's murderous "Beta Carotene" character in "Kiss & Tell", this bunny is (once again) in an actual rabbit costume with a happy face, the kind of costume commonly seen at a community Easter Egg Hunt. The incongruity gives Lindbergh tons of visual juxtapostioning opportunities, the inspiration and entire basis for the "Bunnyman" franchise.

Lindbergh seems to have taken some time to write a very humorous 26-minute black comedy segment, pitched it to some financial backers, and then shot the first one fourth of his film. During this segment the title character breaks movie conventions by attacking a school bus of children on a rural road and then eats dinner with his associate Joe. We learn (during a Mad Hatter inspired dinner scene) that Bunnyman's rage comes from his frustration at being required to stay a vegetarian, because bunnies don't eat meat.

After 26 minutes you are convinced that Lindbergh has a winner here, with it shaping up into the most original black comedy treatment the genre has ever seen. All he has to do is maintain the tension and suspense, which he could easily do by alternating quick kills and unexpected escapes, using a little misdirection to make it impossible for viewers to sort out targets from non-targets.

But by the 30 minute mark you realize that he has already shot his bolt in the initial segments and has simply cobbled together and tacked on sixty minutes of listless moronic filler to get his film up to feature length. The only exception being an inspired sequence of barrel rolling – the best of which involves emptying the barrel for reuse.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Zapped (2014) (TV)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Dancing Queen "Bee", 12 July 2014

Ill-conceived and poorly executed Disney movie, probably the worst since "Princess Protection Program". The tone is "I Love Lucy" slapstick, arguably dumbed-down several notches even from that.

Zendaya is not a dramatic actor (actress), nor are most of the cast members. She does a good comic monologue at the start of the movie and then the wheels fall off. She would make an excellent news commentator, game show host, or comedy club performer, but her dramatic acting is borderline embarrassing. Oh for the days of Kay Panabaker or Amanda Bynes, who could have brought something (audience identification or actual comedy - respectively) to this role.

The strength of the production is Emilia McCarthy, who shows an unexpected range in the role of bad girl queen bee, nicely overplayed. It's extremely unusual to find a young actor with this much versatility. Like Juno Temple, McCarthy could believably play anything from an extreme airhead to an over-the-top queen bee like this one. And her physical appearance is the sort than adapts to sell a variety of personality types.

Although McCarthy helps attract boy viewers (who otherwise would despise this thing), she is the kiss of death for the rest of the cast because her scenes with them expose the staggering talent disparity for all to see.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child..

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
It's Time To Go Cray-Cray, 9 July 2014

The dah-dah-licious treat of this episode is not the brain freeze story but Dove Cameron's "Froyo Yolo" pop music video about frozen yogurt. It appears that all the creative energy for a year of the series was withheld and then unleashed to create this two-minute parody segment. The music video is a surreal blend of Britney's "Oops", Tom Petty's "Alice In Wonderland" homage "Don't Come Around Here No More", and Gwar's "Saddam A Go-Go" bit from "Empire Records".

It has already gone viral on U-Tube, with over a million hits on Disney's official version, perhaps attracted by the prospect of watching Cameron sing while flanked by an ostrich and two Emily Osment lookalikes in "Hit Girl" wigs.

Even more amazing is the decision to edit in assorted reaction shots of the Rooney family's horrified first viewing of the video. Thus providing a bizarre commentary on their own lameness. The first time I watched I thought these reaction shots took away from the spectacle, but after repeated viewings I've come to appreciate the irony that the characters of such a formulaic series are horrified by the idea that originality and creatively have somehow leaked into the production. If you tire of the reaction shots there is regular version that the Disney Channel is currently using as a promo for the series.

The episode contradicts its own theme, as the creative parody represents selling out to commercial influences and the vapid bubble gum song at the end represents being true to artistic integrity.

A quality segment such as this music video (in such a sea of Liv & Maddie mediocrity) supports the idea that the series is a huge inside joke; with aggressively dumbed-down scripts in the service of a wider audience but with the cast and crew using their creative energies to inject a deliberate lameness into the characters. Broken any codes lately Claudette?

I love froyo, uh-uh-oh Its so yolo, uh-uh-oh Frozen yoghurt is my favorite treat Sweet and yummy froyo's all I eat 'Cause you only live once

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Worthy of "State of Grace", 3 July 2014

First there was "Laverne & Shirley", then there was "Sam & Cat", and now there is "Maya & Riley" - although Disney calls it "Girl Meets World". If the first episode is any indication, the Middle School version of this old formula is several notches above its adult predecessors (as well as most recent Disney productions).

Sabrina Carpenter (Maya) and Rowan Blanchard (Riley) are fierce in-your-face talents and the director confidently closes the distance between them and viewers with tight close-ups and frequent reaction shots. Carpenter and Blanchard have great chemistry and nicely help each other to sell their characters - their scenes together play on a significantly higher level than anything else in the series. It reminded me of the connection between (Grace) Mae Whitman and (Hannah) Alla Shawkat on the Fox Family series "State of Grace" back in 2001-02.

From the repeated use of the friendship dynamic between two very disparate girls, it must strike a cord with a lot of people. Here as with "State of Grace", it gets a relatively serious treatment where neither girl is a thug or an airhead; and where the comedy is more screwball cerebral than "I Love Lucy" slapstick.

One particularly inspired segment has Maya performing a 20-second monologue in a subway car, tracing her imagined relationship with the new boy in their class from chance meeting to break-up. The script gives Carpenter a lot to work with and she demonstrates that she is worthy of being entrusted with this kind of high quality material.

Especially high marks should go to the Costume and Wardrobe Department, as real creative attention is paid to Maya and Riley's outfits. As in "The Clique" (2008), an especially good costume designer decorates each scene with a creativity that transforms a teen series into a visual treat.

The glaring casting error is Peyton Meyer as resident hunk Lucus, as Meyer is almost 16 and destroys all credibility in attempting to play a 13-year old boy. 7th grade boys do not tower over the girls in their class - 7th and 8th grade are the years when the girls are taller than boys. This rings false enough to require considerable suspension of disbelief energy from all but the most clueless viewer.

The series is essentially a spin-off of Disney's 90's show "Boy Meets World", with Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel from the earlier show now playing Riley's parents. Instead of Squiggy, viewers get Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis), the son of "Boy Meets World's" Stuart Minkus, but played like a younger version of Charles "Upchuck" Ruttheimer from "Daria". Farkle appears to be destined to be a bigger factor in the series than his father and this has the potential to be the kiss of death. Farkle's moronic and unfunny "on-the-make" line of patter is degrading to any female character who does not show him 100% disdain. Given the targeted demographic of their new show the writers need to review those old "Daria" scripts before the damage becomes terminal. Hint: Jane and Daria would never have permitted such an oily and repellent character to actually "touch" them.

If they can minimize the slapstick and keep the main focus squarely on the Maya & Riley friendship, the series will be another "State of Grace" and that would be a very good thing.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Roofies?, 26 March 2014

Imaginative but poorly written film noir style farce about Los Angeles detectives attempting to solve murders with multiple references to small mammals in the family "Leporidae" of the order "Lagomorpha" (insert "rabbits" here). It's not "Brewster McCloud" or the Coen Brothers, but it would loosely fit into their genre or at least it appears to have been so intended. Unfortunately the farce qualities fall victim to the flat cheapness of its "Legend of Billie Jean" (1985) production style.

The editing is perhaps the worst you will ever find although that could simply be a reflection of the limitations of the footage the editor had to assemble.

My guess is that the Arquette family talked someone into giving them $300,000 in exchange for being allowed close access to an assortment of hot actresses during the filming. The actresses appear to have been sedated for this purpose, drifting between the producer's trailer and the filming like a bunch of freshman girls who have been sampling the roofie-laced punch at their first fraternity party. I doubt if the cast was paid as nobody takes off their top.

A young Rose McGowan looks great in tight red leather pants (see poster) but appears on the verge of falling asleep at any moment. Heather Graham is equally sleepy but dully costumed. Pamela Gidley has a great time playing a character named Beta Carotene; she appears to be the only one fully awake, perhaps high on Vitamin A. The Arquettes listlessly interact with these three name actresses along with an assortment of aspiring actresses whose careers were obviously not advanced by this production.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Detention (2011)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Welcome Back Ned, 4 February 2014

If you were thinking that expanding the Nickelodeon series "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" into an R-Rated feature length film would be a very bad idea, then you should check out "Detention" (2011) for solid confirmation. Ned, Mose, and Bitsy are back and on an extremely painful-to-view "Heathers" does "Airplane" homage thing. But Devon Werkheiser and Lindsey Shaw have been replaced by Josh Hutcherson (who seems to have skipped the same acting lessons as namesake Josh Hartnett) and Shanley Caswell, and Bitsy has changed her name to Ione. It could be that Shaw has changed her name to Caswell but nobody is saying.

Spencer Locke is allowed to carry her Bitsy characterization to new levels and is really good in this, or maybe it is just that she is the most effortlessly erotic actress in history and I can't be remotely objective. Whatever, she is the main reason to watch and you will most likely spend a lot of the viewing wishing she had more screen time and that there were more extreme close-ups of her expressive face.

You hate to say innovative about something this derivative, but it is a fair assessment of "Detention". From the "Girls Just Want to have Fun" opening sequence (the same 1985 spoiled girl bedroom scene - here Alison Woods channels Holly Gagnier) to the "Breakfast Club" (1985) detention to the "Freaky Friday" "Back to the Future" plot devices; this is a teen movie tribute without the obvious title of "Not Another Teen Movie 2". Unfortunately scotch taping this stuff together without a higher wattage script means that the whole is a lot less than the sum of its parts.

"Detention" would greatly benefit from having actual humor in place of its endless failed attempts at humor, although at least the continually failed humor provides a kind of unity to the film. Forty-something directors writing dialog for teenagers is generally a bad idea, Joseph Kahn grew up in the 80's and his homages are lost on most target audience viewers. This disconnect can occasionally work in films, when it fuses into a Coan Brothers style poke at movie conventions; but that requires a movie where the absurdity is subtle and not one where the audience is repeatedly bludgeoned with the absurdity sledgehammer. "Detention" constantly seeks your attention, like a psychedelic one-trick pony mad for a carrot. If it had been made two years later it could serve as a posthumous tribute to Tony Scott, the master of ignoring any reality checks when moving his self-delusions to the screen.

On the other hand you have to admire a film that makes absolutely no effort to connect with its target audience, that doesn't happen often because feature films are supposed to have at least a faint hope of a financial payback.

It does have a fun commentary featuring most of the cast and crew. You won't miss much by simply watching it the first time with the commentary on and that will save you from a life wasting second viewing.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

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