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"The OA" (2016)
27 out of 55 people found the following review useful:
Anti-Science Mystic Afterlife Makes for a Weird Slow-Paced Drama, 19 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The OA is a fascinating, strange adventure that ventures into the truly, truly weird. If you don't believe how weird it is, just watch until you see the first "movements". Or google "weird movies" and try to compare with a David Lynch film.

It's a strongly anti-science movie that gets its facts wrong (e.g, Copernicus and the flat world which isn't true) and creates nonsense of nothing. It isn't science fiction but rather more closely resembles a slow-moving drama borderline fantasy.

It does have strengths: fairly strong acting and good editing. Some of the characters were fairly interesting too. But the script and story line is unclear and weird. It takes twists but painfully goes nowhere like the years in captivity. In reality, nothing would bring these characters together and the oddness of the movements weakens any credibility as OA loses her credibility in the last episode of the way through.

It draws in viewers who want to believe in angels and afterlife. But it is rather unconventional in its approach. It teases the audience into thinking something might happen but almost nothing really does. The original 8 episodes really could have been about 4-5 episodes since almost half the time nothing happens and useless dialogue wastes screen time. Some people call it character development but it's hardly that with the exception of Alfonso, Steve and BBA.

I don't think this series will have much success elsewhere since it is very middle America. And perhaps that is what attracts people with its references and scenes involving character-building scholarships, angels, broken families, scenes in a school cafeteria, wholesale stores or hotel breakfast room. It is an ordinary attempt to look extraordinary. Like selling broken glass as diamonds.

Real rating 5.6-5.9 due to the painful slow pace and loss of self.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Brilliantly Done Revisionist History, 30 November 2016

For those aware of history, politics and culture, we need to step back and see what our world really is. You will have both sides praising and condemning this series. Conservatives are angered by an unpatriotic view. Revisionists are pleased by a view but claim it is told and unoriginal.

Exactly what does untold mean? Some people scoff and say, well it has been told enough. But the definition of untold isn't "never told". Perhaps "Less So Stories" might come to mind. Less Told is the meaning in this case. If you were driving a car and met in an accident, of course, it's the other guy's fault. You don't tell the other driver's story. Thus, Stone offers instead an apologetic version of history.

In the world view, however, this film isn't really leftist or liberal, but probably slightly left to the center. Most Americans are on the right. Just like Saudi Arabia is on the right economically and socially, the US is far right economically and slightly left socially. Left socially and left economically are, for example, Scandinavian countries. Australia is socially on the left. China is economically right (like US, very capitalistic).

In the world view, this series is actually slightly left. Not much off the center, really. Most people in the world will see this as fairly accurate but it's hard for traditionalist Americans to swallow.

But it's also has some small lumps that make it sometimes hard to swallow. For one, Oliver Stone comments on a traditional political leadership history, not a social or economic history. For the most part, this series is quite truthful although just like any version of history, it represent opinion and conjecture. Some historians like to view history as a series of movements or struggles. Stone views history as shaped by powerful individuals. But often, it isn't single figures but movements that shape the world.

Another lump. Stone also uses his familiarity of movies as his comfort zone. Showing clips of films to depict history may not be the best way to suggest actual political course of events but how we interpret them. History and films, after all, are merely opinions and interpretations of events. Oliver, nice effects to show those clips, but they are movies. Give a few more facts to back up the argument.

I wish Stone took this one step towards understanding movements. He makes the case at times for that. Celebrating Wallace or JFK as a hero for the common person and for world peace. But what drove Truman or Reagan the other way? As Stone mentions, it's often who one listens to. Advisors and those closest to power often help shape history as presidents cannot entirely shape policies on their own.

Stone may well do one step better by focusing on the influence of movements. How the wealthy classes or hardliners/militarists shape American foreign policy. Noam Chomsky who was cited in this series, often depicts history as class struggles. At times, the common man seeks redress from oppressors and at other times, the wealthy classes dominate control. Historically, due to American capitalism and lack of upheaval, it has been the wealthy classes that control the nation's direction. The recent electoral victory of Trump over Clinton confirms the power of wealth. Stone's historical message is: those who are closest to power and wealth wield greater influence and will seek to protect their interest. Those who don't want change and stand to lose the most, will resist the changes sought by the middle and lower classes. Stone implies JFK made enough enemies and mysterious assassinations of the 1960s were instigated by those resisting change.

But Stone brings up excellent points of what truly is important: the welfare of ordinary people around the world. Therefore, he vilifies Nixon for getting more Americans killed than Johnson in Vietnam. He points out that Johnson dropped more bombs on Vietnam than the US did on Germany in WW2. Some estimates as many as 1.5 to 3 million civilians died in Vietnam. The same is true for the US invasion of Iraq by G.W. Bush were again, nearly a million were killed.

Do American presidents have their priorities wrong killing people in a third world country that cannot hurt the most powerful country? Is it really for the protection and security of America?

In summary: a brilliant, provocative, slightly flawed series worth seeing with an open mind.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Underrated, very good entry into sci-fi fantasy, 18 October 2016

OK...real rating is about 6.7-7.2. But the ratings here are notoriously and this film is better than that. So I am balancing the ratings. The critics reviews were actually fairly favorable compared to viewers. Some people trashed it (read other comments) saying this film is inferior to Transformers in depth and rips off Indiana Jones, Godzilla, etc.

First, I'm not sure what this film and Indiana Jones have much in comment. Not much except for an archaeological dig at the start. No Indy film dealt with monsters. Second, it has little to do with Godzilla other than old bones which suggest dinosaurs but there are no dinosaurs (or I though dragons at the start). And I have not seen another movie with red or blue bats. In fact, the scenes in the caves and mountains resembled more Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. I'm expecting Smaug to appear somewhere.

So what does it really rip off? Not much but probably the general Hollywood investigative conspiracy-type film where a government bureaucracy, in this case Bureau 749 is much like Area 51, Roswell or Project Bluebook. But no one got that. The other film is remotely resembles is actually Tremors where you have a group of people out in the desert surrounded by creatures. A bit different. We see mysterious characters like Mr Wang, the Professor and Bureau 749. Not sure which Hollywood film produces those types. But most people naturally stereotype, if it's Chinese, it must be copying some western film since Chinese are unoriginal. So old prejudices can affect how a film is rated.

One interesting thing about some recent Chinese films is the depiction of old-style communism. Films today are generally but loosely scrutinized by the government. It seems to depict the old communist lifestyle as "glorious" but that is a bit tongue-in-cheek since the main character Hu Bayi is overworked at the beginning. More the opening of the film is a social commentary on hard labor as a virtue of the 60s communism in China. One almost senses a labor camp where the government tries to cover up an accident.

Otherwise, it's really a interesting cross between a science fiction and a love story. The depth of the plot unwinds and is confusing halfway through. But that is because the main character Hu Bayi himself is confused. He doesn't know he's part of something greater until it's quite late. And we never really find out why the Professor and his daughter were on the archaeological dig until the end. It's a far more complex plot than Transformers. Really! For the person who thinks Transformers, a film made for kids (mostly young boys), is more sophisticated.

The opening scenes which are comparable to some as an Indiana Jones film, but I think any movie that deals with caves (a huge genre that started with Journey to the Center of the World) is fun and riveting. The library scenes are also mysterious and fascinating. One issue is that awkward introduction and explanation of the ghostly tribe. It didn't go down smoothly. And again, the complexity of the plot is hard for many to follow. Hence, some criticism is natural.

Regardless, the product really is a one-of-a-kind production that is entertaining but perhaps too deep in plot for many viewers who just want monsters or a simple action plot. So some say, it's great for action. But it gets bogged down with the plot (or the love story). But many Chinese action films do involve a love story somewhere. And gorgeous sets and cinematography. In that sense, this film does achieve all three. And it's well acted, all the leading roles were well done. And it does have great CGI (monsters were great!) which is rare outside Hollywood (and some French films).

Overall, this film far more complex than Godzilla or Transformers. I'm not sure how that comparison was made. Probably a bit too esoteric for an action-craving audience. Definitely worth renting.

Monsters (2010)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Ambiguous Human Relationship in a Future World, 26 July 2016

The strangest part is that it seems that more than a few people liked it. But I am struggling to really find what's truly likable about the film. The science fiction setting of monsters or rather let's say alien life forms propagating in the world almost has a non-role in this boy-girl drama.

Some fans comment on the fact that the "monsters" are revealed at the end. Well, that could be an interpretation but no, not really. It's takes the trite route that what we don't know, is what we fear. Rather, it's never quite clear.

And that's the fundamental problem with this film. At times, it's fairly well acted and has some intelligent lines. But for the most part, the film is rather aimless. It's more like going out on the city at night, hoping some action might happen, but nothing. Another boring night with maybe a coupe interesting moments.

It's definitely off-beat but there's isn't an outstanding moment except the acting is a above average and the script is quite uneven, although intelligent at times. The most interesting part was trying to get the ferry to the US and running into the character who wrangles a wad of money. The special effects or CGI are below average, the low-budget shows quite transparently throughout the film. Cinematography is weak. However, weak the plot/theme of the film, the directing efforts were above average as director Gareth Edwards does a fair job with a $500K budget.

One could say the film was about the relationship of the two leads, Kaulder and Sam. But the relationship never quite forms. In fact, it's thrown off from the start as Kaulder is supposed to help his boss's daughter Sam escape the infected zone. When Sam goes out on the night with Kaulder, she gets to like him but then, well, a girl gets between and his irresponsibility gets the situation more complex.

They are forced to take an unlikely journey back to the US from Mexico. Along their dangerous path, we see plenty of abandoned urban areas and destruction by unknown forces. Do we really know what has happened? Unfortunately, the movie never answers those questions. It rather teases you. There is a chance we think the bioluminescent aliens are wondrous perhaps like whales. Or maybe sharks, which have been greatly feared for centuries but recently, we have a mixed appreciation for the apex predators. But it's never quite clear in this film whether they are "monsters". Again, what we don't know, we can't judge. But that's the problem with the film, to spend 94 minutes trying to define the relationship between Sam and Kaulder or the behavior of the alien beings. But neither is that interesting of a story. Therefore, it's tough to compare or judge this film against good science fiction.

The best science fiction films are often social commentaries. The ambiguous relationship between the leads and the ambiguous dangers doesn't provide answer or any social commentary. At times, it seems the best commentary is the US-Mexican border problems. It could be used as a commentary on US predisposition to war (e.g, Middle East), undocumented workers, fear of illegal aliens, and the age-old class struggle between rich and poor. But it never takes those directions which most definitely would make it a superior film. It tries to be thoughtful but never quite makes it, although it is atmospheric. But that's empty space. Hence, its pretentiousness leads to a dead end, like exploring a dark alley, thinking you might be scared but in the end, it's just a walled up alley without anything truly interesting.

Sucker (2015/I)
Underrated Well-written Con Artist Coming of Age/Comedy, 16 July 2016

I'm not sure what most people are thinking. Even most critics are bizarrely off in reviewing this comedy. I'm not sure what they were watching but it might not have been this film. First, it's actually well-written and well-acted. Ben Chessell and Lawrence Leung came up with the screenplay and did a terrific job off of Leung's in-person stage act. Timothy Spall was a charm as The Professor. John Luc and Lily Sullivan were solid. The film is lively in its angles, replayed scenes and twists. There are plenty of comments that this is a oft-told story about scamming but in reality, this film is very original. I have seen maybe 6,000 films but nothing like this. Zengster's review (among users) is actually the most accurate (7/10).

So you have an original well-written film about an Asian Australian teenager who joins up with a father/daughter con-artist team. Some critics said there is nothing likable about the characters. Of course, if they were watching the movie, they might have noticed Sarah and The Professor both saying, they don't have friends. They are cheaters, scammers and more. But in the end, you realize, The Professor is a better person than we give credit for.

So the few reviews said it's unoriginal since it goes by every scam in the book. Really? I will bet 98% of the audience doesn't know these scams or names of the scams. But as the film says, we all lie. So the audience pretends to know the story. But that's the hook. And people don't get it. It's a small budget film that is about the coming-of-age of an innocent Asian Australian boy who falls for a girl. The story is that love takes us to doing things we don't expect. In the end, Lawrence is the man who pulls it off.

The real problem is that I think most people are uncomfortable with an Asian Australian kid running after a white Australian girl. Who ever heard of an Asian kid (John Luc who plays Lawrence) playing the lead role in an Australian film? It's not a box office draw, but a risky proposal. A second problem is that the humor is lightweight despite being quite clever. The screenplay is quite witty but most people probably don't understand the humor. Third, it's small-time stuff. People don't get excited about small time. People would rather see Ocean's 11 which is not as original, well-written or witty. Or see Catch Me if You Can which is more glamorous but lacks the writing depth. Sometimes it's better to have a crude film with lots of action or silliness and not play on cultural, sophisticated humor or wordplay. It's more sophisticated than people give it credit: such as the ending scene with Leung playing cards ("One queen and two jokers") or when Leung walks off with Luc.

In summary, this film is just ahead of its time; people are not ready for this film. It's a pleasant minor hidden gem which I would rate about 6.9-7.1 but I gave it 8 stars just to catch up in the ratings.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Excellent, Enjoyable Animated Film but..., 20 June 2016

I watch animated films once in a while and I watched this right after another foreign animated film, Hero Quest (on Netflix). In contrast to the muddled, flat, at times horrific Hero Quest (probably a 3.5 rating out of 10, 4.1 on IMDb), Monster Hunt is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It fits more with the animated humor of the Dreamworks genre (more so than Pixar). Not surprisingly, Raman Hui, who worked with Shrek and other Dreamworks productions takes his energy and infuses Monster Quest into a well-done tale.

Overall, it's one of the best foreign animated films but does fall a bit short of Pixar's and Dreamworks' top 10 films. So it has a bit of Monsters Inc or Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon but falls a bit short. Nevertheless, it should rank in the middle of the pack of the better CGI animated films of the last two decades. The strength of the film is actually(!) the human characters: the lead Boran Jing who plays the bumbling Tianyin. And Baihe Bai who plays Xiaolan, the Monster Hunter and Elaine Jin, the grandmother were the strengths of the film with comedic acting that's among the best anywhere. For that, the human comedy roles get a 9.5/10. And some of the gags were terrific humor such as when Tianyin plays hide-and-seek with the Wuba, the baby king, to lure him into the cage. The chemistry between Boran Jing and Baihe Bai is terrific, it rarely gets better.

However, the storyline gets a bit complicated and it's easy to lose track. Then the couple songs in the film just don't really make the grade. In addition, it's hard to really warm up to the monsters except maybe the Baby King (Radish). The monsters had faceless qualities and never really developed strong characters unlike Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, or Sulley or Mike Wazowski (from Monsters Inc). The CGI was fabulous but it had some blandness. It's like looking at some really beautiful and delicious pizza but when you bite in, it does really have a great flavor. Hence, it never really pulls out the emotional connection.

Still, the film is wonderful fun. It just doesn't make the top 15-20 animated film list. Yet, its uniqueness and wuxia antics make it a darling for fans of Chinese films. Hence, it deserves to be #1 in China. It's better than the 6.2 rating, surprisingly low, and should move up with time. I gave a 9 to balance the act but the real rating is 7.2-7.5.

One of the Greatest Horror Films, 16 June 2016

A classic. One of the greatest 3-4 horror films of all-time and should be in IMDb tops 150-200 films of all time. Many people either consider this the greatest horror film of all-time but a few claim it doesn't hold up to time. Most classics don't hold up to time either mostly because of taste. Just look at art and music, which even more radically changes taste over the centuries. So some criticism is undeserved since the claim is its subject isn't believable or it can't capture the shock value of more gory or twisting plots.

However, this film isn't really about twisting plots or simple gore. For its time, it carries a shock in the vulgar language spoken by the demon possessing Regan (Linda Blair). That's at a time when censorship was becoming more relaxed. It was a measure of the impact of the 60s to 70s transition in movies from Mary Poppins to Midnight Cowboy.

The movie hails in realism and more psycho-drama than simple horror. Our two central stars are Regan and Father Karras (Jason Miller) who is a modern priest trained in medicine (psychiatry) with doubts as to his place in the church. Max von Sydow plays Father Merrin, the expert in exorcism who maintains a semi-mysterious role. All three thespians were beyond excellent which adds to the value of a horror film. Lee J Cobb plays Kinderman, a police detective investigating a related possible murder, perhaps unevenly and unnecessarily. The weakest role is Ellen Burstyn's Chris McNeil who plays a histrionic mother. She overplays a somewhat spoiled actress who finds episodes of emotion rage unconvincingly. It's bizarre that Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for acting since it was far weaker than Blair, von Sydow or Miller. Nevertheless, the film is otherwise superbly acted.

The real strength of the film is really the directing and cinematography combination. Forever etched in cinema is the classic scene when the shadowy figure of Father Merrin arrives at the house at night emerging from the taxi and under the fog and lights of the house. The opening excavation scene was beautifully done. Or the underrated shot of Karras's mother on Regan's bed or the shadow of the howling Regan (is that a creature) with the demon shadow. That combination of the skills of cinematographer Owen Roizman and director William Friedkin were brilliant. I find those types of artistic statements have greater value than the head-turning of the cursing Regan.

I give this classic a 9.3 in reality but a 10 here to up the rather low 8.0 IMDb average which really should be more like a 8.2. It's embarrassing to see what's rated at 8.1-8.3: V for Vendetta, Pan's Labyrinth, Die Hard...some good and not-so-good movies, but not deserving to be among the top 150-200 films.

Uncle John (2015)
9 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Interesting intentions but doesn't have substance...zzzzzzz..., 10 January 2016

This actually won an award? Of course, (for cinematography?!) at a small film festival where there isn't much going on. This film is basically about not much. Something about a murder? Maybe. We assume it's a murder but there is no evidence since the film opens with an ambiguous scene. And perhaps the whole film is ambiguous. It's never clear if the opening was a murder, it's never clear to Danny if his brother was murdered. It appears more like Dutch, the town's bully, was depressed and wanted to atone for his misdeeds and doesn't happen upon Uncle John but commits suicide and Uncle John covers it up. The lake was dragged and nothing was discovered. The lead suspect was a dead end. Ben's relationship with Kate is ambiguous. Is it romance or friendship?

This film spends most of the movie in limbo, not going anywhere. Like a sailboat with no wind, in dead calm. Ambiguous relationship/romance, ambiguous murder/suicide, ambiguous uncle (he has a hidden side), ambiguous writing, and more. Makes for a below average movie. It's one redeeming quality is the fairly good acting. John Ashton does a solid job of acting (not award-winning but quietly understated) and the young Ben and Kate (Alex Moffat and Jenna Lyng) are charming and have good chemistry. It has interestingly good intentions but just doesn't cut it. It's like the protagonist of the film, the youthful Ben, who is unsure of many things. It lacks confidence and closure. But it tries.

Which for me is tragic, since I tend to favor independent and international films, rather than the standard Hollywood fare. But this admittedly does not come close to many good films out there. If you skip this movie, you wouldn't miss anything. Real rating? anywhere from 4.7-5.4.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Good Insomnia Cure...zzzz, 22 December 2015

I love movies and documentaries. This documentary covers the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Often documentaries are interesting, provocative or inspiring. This one isn't. As one critic points out, this documentary is uninteresting and forced. It relies on the narration of one man, Gordon Goody, one of the fifteen train robbers, was considered the mastermind and sentences for 30 years but released after 12 years. He was the fortunate one as most of the gang met bad luck and lost their share of the £2.6 million loot. Goody recovered his share after his sentence and presently lives in Spain.

Perhaps because Goody gives a flat, talky narration, the director was smart enough to provide for an extra: a youthful version of Goody as a young robber who also interjects and relives the robbery and scenes. That adds to drama and reenactment of scenes. A private investigator is set into work finding the missing and mysterious "Ulsterman" the unknown member of the gang.

The only other reviewer here gives a 10/10 but that person never saw the documentary. The CineVue critic (see critics) gives a more accurate review: uninteresting and forced. I concur and this film never really succeeds in capturing the drama. In addition, the mysterious "Ulsterman" is never brought up until halfway into the film and a good reenactment and description of the robbery never occurs. Instead we are relegated to listening to Gordon talk and talk and talk.

If the film is to improve, I would suggest reenacting the drama without narrative for about 30 minutes. Then flash forward to 50 years later and have Goody talk about what happened since and the search for the Ulsterman. Reliving the drama without interruption would properly set the stage for the present day. Instead, we hop back and forth and listen to zzzzzz. It's easy to lose interest in this film but it's great for background noise late at night if you want some sleep.

It's one of the weaker documentaries around. Just not worth watching. In fact, wikipedia's description of the robbery and what happened to the gang is far more interesting and informative. So just spend 10-15 minutes reading that and you are all set with the Great Train Robbery. Actual rating = 3.7-4.2 (or ranks among bottom 10% of documentaries) based on average of 5.5- 6.0

Charade (1963)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Delightful light comedy mystery with good chemistry by stars, 5 December 2015

Charade is an audience delightful film. A comedy caper. And a modest classic. Real rating = 7.7 (= maybe one of the 10 best films of 1963)

It really relies on a great storyline, script and sense of humor mostly with terrific twists. However, it is quite a goofy plot in many ways as Reggie (Audrey Hepburn) doesn't know her husband and falls in love with a liar and suspected killer. Shouldn't she stay clear? No! Danger is about and Reggie loves to stay in the middle. There are tons of twists, half of which is created by Cary Grant's nameless character. He's not the Man with No Name, but rather than Man with a Hundred Names. Despite the twists and Cary's changing names, it's as predictable as Cary's character answer to Audrey's "Is there a Mrs..." Cary: "divorced". So predictably: girl meets boy, the chase, the mystery solved, etc. It runs as smooth as a brand new Mercedes and Cary and Audrey had great chemistry.

The audience can get enamored by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn but it reality, it's one of their weaker performances. It doesn't showcase their talent but relies on their cliché, not much acting but more like (director:) Cary, you are supposed to be know for this, so do that. Same for Audrey. It is largely a star vehicle like Houseboat was for Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. The acting was quite mediocre. George Kennedy and James Coburn were even worst. However, the supporting casts including Jacques Marin ("Three men were killed in their pajamas") and Ned Glass was funnier and better fits.

Although this film is compared to Hitchcock, it rather is much more limited in director's artistic skills. Scenes are limited and routine, cinematography is plain (but I love the opening). It lacks the spectacular Hitchcock camera-work and scenes like Vertigo, Rear Window or North by Northwest. Still the lively pace, writing, suspense and twists keep moviegoers on their toes.

Although it falls short on merit, Charade might be one of the 60s most entertaining tangled comedy-mysteries.

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