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Mediocre movie with amazing cinematography
19 April 2018
This isn't a very good movie, but James Wong Howe's brilliant cinematography makes it look like one. This is the sort of movie worth watching just to see how spectacular Howe was.

Outside of that, it's a little dull. The flashback within a flashback within an etc. doesn't work that well, mainly because the movie fails to make any of its threads or characters all that interesting.

Designed as war propaganda, the movie is often ostentatiously obvious, most notably in the rah-rah score and in things like the little French boy screaming Viva le France! Much of this was probably very stirring at the time, but it doesn't age well.

The film also has a lot of typical Hollywood nonsense, like the way a movie in which everyone is French has major characters speak English while minor characters speak French and accents are whatever the actors walked in with. It's not that unusual for the time but I found it distracting. It might have been better if everyone spoke French, since the dialogue is often wretched (although, as with the characters, it is stylistically inconsistent, shifting from straightforward conversation to ornate, flower speeches).

I do like this movie better than the first time I saw it when I was in college (in the 1980s), though I still don't like it much. But my god, what cinematography!
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Likable movie that feels a little unfinished
19 April 2018
This is one of those charming British comedies about oddballs in a small town. In this case a young couple inherits a decrepit theater with three decrepit employees and attempts to run it in hopes of convincing another theater it's worth buying out to close down.

It's a cute premise, even though the setup doesn't totally make sense (if the reason the competing theater wants the place is so they can have more parking, they would need it just as desperately, and be just as eager to negotiate, regardless of the theater's status).

The movie is at its best when it shows the chaotic nature of the theater. There's a great scene where an elevated train situated nearby rumbles over the track and shakes the theater just as a train rumbles through the movie, thrilling the crowd. The staff is amusing and the couple is likable.

At the same time, the movie has a sketched-out quality. The writers had a few ideas for gags and wanted a movie to put them in, so it gives you the gags in a haphazard way and then wraps it all up suddenly and rather oddly.

Still, it's fun.
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Static, tedious, and wrong-headed.
17 April 2018
There are two ways to view this movie. You can consider it as an antebellum romance, and talk about the scenery and Clark Gable, or you can consider how it deals with the whole slavery thing.

Looked at in purely cinematic terms, it's pretty terrible. At least the first hour is; I couldn't wade through more than that. The dialogue is absolutely atrocious. The movie is slow and tedious, most of the characters uninteresting. As is often the case with latter-day movies by great directors, it has an archaic feel, as though the directory knows he can't make movies just like the ones he made 20 years ago yet can't quite get the hang of modern film-making.

The unfortunate thing is I wanted to see this movie for Sydney Poitier but he comes in on the late side and by the time he arrived I'd reached the point where I couldn't take any more.

Then there's the slavery thing. Some people feel it's unfair to make political judgments on a movie from long ago, and that is in part true. There are things you really couldn't do in the 50s. If you'd cast a black actress in the Yvonne De Carlo role then kissing Gable would have got the movie banned in most of the country.

At the same time, people weren't idiots in the 1950s. There were movies earlier than 1957 that showed a greater understanding of race dynamics and were able to treat black characters in more interesting ways, because there were people, even white people, who understood these things. In fact, I suspect the book this movie was based on was far more nuanced (one would hope).

So things like the well-dressed slaves, the benevolent slave-owners, the happy singing black folk, they're not "the best that could be done at the time." They are examples of lazy, thoughtless filmmaking. And the way black folks taunt Yvonne for being one of them, as though being one of them is disgusting; well, I doubt slaves commonly treated one another that way.

But I'm not going to say more about the politics, because I haven't seen the whole movie and because the reviewer here who wrote a review titled "Twisted, Grotesque Artifact of White Denial" sums up the issues with this movie very well.

And as I say, I don't need to worry about being fair to this movie for its political shortcomings, because as art and entertainment it's just awful.
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Watch it for the ladies
17 April 2018
This procedural is notable for a focus on forensics before that was a thing and for a solid script. But mainly it's notable for its women. The always-fascinating Elsa Lanchester is absolutely wonderful as a scheming landlady. Jan Sterling does well as a brassy bleached blonde while Sally Forrest, as sweet, unfortunate wife, has a terrific scene in which she blows up, in a defeated desperate way, at a cop.

The men are a bit less interesting. While I like Marshal Thompson as Sally's hubby, the other main men strike me as a bit too generic in that way that was common in the 1960s. Still, Montalban's scene being talked down to by a privileged blue blood is pretty terrific.

The story is generally solid, although the action in the last third feels a bit forced.

A must-see for Lanchester fans, and worth watching for anyone who likes detective movies.
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Terrific stars, terrible mystery
16 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Edna May Oliver and James Gleason were perpetual supporting players teamed as leads in a series of mysteries. Oliver is wonderful as a vinegary schoolteacher with a nose for murder, and her banter with detective Gleason is terrific.

The problem with this film is that it's two strong leads and some good dialogue in a story that makes less and less sense.

The beginning is solid, as a man is murdered on an airplane, resulting in a small pool of murder suspects. Oliver looks for clues and makes deductions while Gleason pretty much arbitrarily suspects people and then is embarrassed when proof comes he was on the wrong track.

Unfortunately Gleason's random suspect shtick gets wearying, and the solution to the crime is convoluted and unlikely, with some notable loose ends.

It's still worth watching just for Oliver, but it's not really a very good movie overall.
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Super-Sleuth (1937)
Oakie is good, but it's not much of a movie
14 April 2018
Super-Sleuth stars Jack Oakie as a detective-playing actor who taunts the police for failing to catch a criminal that then targets him. This isn't a mystery - we know who the killer is early on. The only real mystery of the movie is the killer's motive, but don't expect an answer to that.

Oakie is an amusing guy who plays his idiocy well, breezing down the street with - to quote a t-shirt - all the confidence of a mediocre white man.

Edgar Kennedy does his usual schtick well, and Ann Sothern is likable even though she and Oakie have absolutely no degree of chemistry.

The worst thing in the movie is a black servant who is a particularly egregious example of the way Hollywood turned African Americans into idiot children. It is painful to watch.

I wouldn't go so far as to recommend this film, but Oakie does make it watchable.
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Rush Hour (1998)
Very fun, very dumb
14 April 2018
This is a really fun, completely idiotic buddy action flick. Jackie Chan does a bunch of his terrific, Buster Keaton-ish fights, cleverly using props and unexpected moves. Chris Tucker plays his unwilling partner, who is an absolute idiot. I find Tucker a bit problematic, in that I found him annoying - he reads every line like a stand-up comic trying to wake up a 3 a.m. crowd - but I also found him really funny.

A lot of what happens in the movie is really, really stupid, particularly in the way the movie gets Chan into fights that includes his inexplicably picking a fight with the FBI and a bunch of barflies making the unlikely choice to attack the weird guy at the bar who clearly had no idea what he was doing.

A better script would have been nice, but the great action and frequent laughs make this an excellent bit of popcorn filmmaking.
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Galaxy Quest (1999)
Just adorable
14 April 2018
This genial Star Trek spoof follows the cast of an old, Star-Trek-inspired sci-fi series as they go from dealing with nerdy fans at sci-fi conventions to, much to their surprise, going on a real-life sci-fi adventure.

The idea is very clever, the cast is excellent, and the movie does a great job of tweaking its inspiration and action movies in general (I loved when Sigourney Weaver goes off on a particularly improbable obstacle).

While this is a comedy, it takes the action-sci-fi parts, offering a nifty rock monster and some decent space fighting.

Very funny and highly recommended.
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The Terror (2018– )
I don't get the love; starts sslllooowwwww
10 April 2018
The Terror reminds me of reading an 18th or 19th century book, where you have to struggle with the ornate, dense language of the times. I found myself having trouble following conversations, which were stiff and quaintly phrased.

I'm not sure how much that mattered though, because not much of anything happened in the first episode. It was just this meandering, serious thing.

Episode 2 was, honestly, a bit more eventful, but by then the series had lost me, and I just couldn't see myself slogging through any more of it.

But man, people really love this series. And in many cases this is not people saying, the pace is glacial at first but it picks up; it's people loving it from the getgo. So I have to conclude that they just really like the atmosphere in the way I love the atmosphere of something like Fortitude (although that has actual events mixed in).

The series is, as they would say in the 19th century, handsomely mounted, but my god is it ever boring!
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Krypton (2018– )
I just don't see the point in this
8 April 2018
I'll be honest; I watched this already not understanding the point of making it. It just seemed like an attempt to milk the Superman franchise with characters I never even considered existed nor cared about.

I watched the pilot anyway, because I like a lot of superhero stuff and I figured what with being on another planet it would be sci-fi-ish.

The pilot isn't really superhero-ish or sci-fi-ish. It's more like Game of Thrones, with a medieval quality and an evil king and various machinations. Only with blander characters and a less intriguing story.

If you're a GoT fan (I'm not) looking for something similar-ish, maybe you'll like this? I won't watch again.
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8 April 2018
I liked the first Angela Jolie Tomb Raider movie, but this ... this was awful. The dialogue was ludicrous, much of the acting was awful, and the whole thing just overwhelmed me with tedium.

I watched the first 25 minutes, which had one muddled action scene and a nonsense plot. Since some of the negative reviews here said there were some good stunts I did fast forward and found an action scene around the mid-point but it wasn't any good either, so I gave up on the thing.

This isn't uncommon in Hollywood, where a sequel is often approached as a quick cash grab in which all the money goes to the bankable star leaving little left for the actual movie, which has the overall quality of action TV series from the '80s.

Don't bother.
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6 April 2018
I used to sing along with the JCS album all the time as a kid. It was funny, and sharp, and tuneful, and shook off the stodgy holiness that marred most portrayals of Jesus. I used to picture how I would make it were I a film director; I would set it all in Washington D.C., with the pharisees in power suits.

I was hugely disappointed by the 1973 movie, which seemed determined to squeeze back in a lot of the religious-picture stodginess.

But this TV production gives me a JCS that captures the raw essence of the original album. There is an electric joyousness as the orchestra musicians play as they march across the stage. The show embraces diversity not just in ethnicity but in body shape; some of the dancers are far larger than what you normally see. The production is intense and electric and full of intense life.

There are some terrific performances. Brandon Victor Dixon is wonderful as Judas, who is really more than star of the show than Jesus. And Ben Daniels is utterly amazing as Pontius Pilate.

John Legend is quite good as Jesus, although as he arrives onstage he looks a bit more like a genial dad standing on the porch in his bathroom watching his kids than the incarnation of God on earth. Legend would probably make more sense as a pleasant Godspell-style Jesus, but ultimately I thought he was quite effective.

I don't know if this is a version of the Broadway show or if this is an entirely knew production just for TV, but if the latter, I'm really impressed by how well thought-out it is, and if the former, well, that must be a hell of a show.

I vote the people behind this do a TV production of one of my other loved-the-album-hated-the-movie shows, Hair. Come on, NBC, don't let me down!

(Note: I watched this on DVR so didn't have to deal with the plethora of commercials that apparently ruined this for a lot of people.)
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Darkest Hour (2017)
A rather stodgy bit of history
6 April 2018
Darkest Hour makes me think of 2012's Lincoln, in that it appears aimed more at schoolchildren looking to learn history than in moviegoers looking to be moved and entertained.

Gary Oldman is quite good as a Churchill. Rather than the sharp, sure, rather loud Churchill one often sees, Oldman offers a man torn between his beliefs and the possibility that he's about to make a horrible mistake.

Apparently the movie does take some liberties with the historical facts, and unfortunately the movie seems to find it easier to make the false stuff, like a conspiracy to take Churchill down or an engaging subway ride, more entertaining than the real stuff.

I'm torn between giving this a 6 and a 7. It's pretty decent, and Oldman is quite good, but it feels overall rather slight.
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The Post (2017)
Interesting newspaper story
6 April 2018
Some people have expressed puzzlement that a movie about the Pentagon Papers centers around the Washington Post's attempt to catch up to the New York Times rather than the Times own coverage. But the thing to understand is that, unlike All the Presidents Men, this isn't a reporting story.

Instead, the movie is partly about the need to face down powerful forces, and part a characters study of a smart, capable woman, Katherine Graham, whose live in a pre-feminist world leaves her uncomfortable with showing people how smart and capable she is.

Streep is wonderfully subtle as Graham. In an early scene she speaks knowledgeably about an issue, yet in a big meeting she finds herself ignored and seems unwilling or incapable of changing the dynamic. The movie watches her move, inch by inch, into her inherited power. But even at the end, she never loses that softness of a woman who doesn't want to scare men anymore than she has to.

The story itself is engrossing and the cast is quite good. The movie starts rather slowly, and Spielberg's direction is competent (of course) but rather subdued, but by the end I was very taken with the film.
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Fun bit of nonsense
5 April 2018
I saw this movie on an airplane, so my expectations were low. I just watched it because I haven't seen many movies with Karen Gillan, who I liked from Doctor Who.

The premise seems to have come when someone watched the original Jumanji back-to-back with The Breakfast Club. Four teenagers in detention find a mysterious game console and find themselves sucked into a strange world where they are in the body of avatars and must complete the game to return to the real world.

The cast is quite good. I particularly like Jack Black's take on a teenage girl. Gillan gets a little blown out by her castmate's star power; it probably would have been better to cast the role with a strong comedic actor like Amy Schumer or Tiffany Hadish or even with a strong action star like Daisy Ridley. Still, I like her flirt-fail scene.

It's very silly and very forgetable but it's fun and funny and does a fairly decent job of emulating a video game structure, although one in which everyone would fight for one avatar, which is bad design. If you have a chance to catch it on an airplane ride, I'd say go for it.
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Everything everyone says about this movie is right
5 April 2018
I was very curious about Last Jedi due to the weirdly polarized reactions. Some described it as just more of the same, some as brilliantly subversive, some as a betrayal. All of these views are legitimate.

The beginning is very Star Wars-ish. A cocky young guy ignores his commanders and takes initiative to take down a prize target. It is a thrilling scene, and the movie soon raises the possibility that going half-cocked is, in fact, a bad thing, thus contradicting pretty much the entire history of action films, particularly those in the Star Wars family.

And so it goes, big exciting set pieces interspersed with moments that muddy the clean, black-and-white morality that has been a hallmark of the series. At times, Last Jedi is pure Star Wars, and at time it is almost a bitter satire of movies like Star Wars.

As someone who really likes moral complexity and is often put off by movies that celebrate macho postering, I really like all this, but I understand it's a little off brand.

I've seen some reviews say that while they appreciate some of the directorial decisions, ultimately the movie didn't connect with them emotionally. I feel the same way about a lot of the criticism of this film; I can't argue that it's wrong - there are plot holes, unlikely changes to the underlying mythos, unlikely side quests, the cavalier dropping of threads - but viscerally most of the objections don't connect with me.

I really like this movie, because it is dark, and questions the series' precepts, and offers some really jolting surprises. And I'm not enough of a fan of the series to have spent the last two years theorizing on questions that don't get answered here.

The criticism I most object to is the idea that the movie is too jokey. Yes, some of the humor is a little more Guardians of the Galaxy than what one expects from Star Wars, but it's always been pretty silly. If Last Jedi is too jokey, why isn't the banter between C3PO and R2D2 too jokey?

I really enjoyed the previous movie, The Force Awakens, but it felt a bit too much like a retread. I appreciate that this movie avoids that, even while giving me a lot of what I have enjoyed about the best Star Wars films. But if you disagree, you're probably right.
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Visually stunning
1 April 2018
Loving Vincent is the sort of thing you would expect to come out as a 15-minute short, and its extraordinary that the filmmakers set themselves the daunting task of creating a full movie based on Van Gogh's painting. The result is a visually unique film.

The film follows a postman's son as he tries to deliver Van Gogh's last letter to his brother and finds himself investigating the artist's death. The murder-mystery approach is interesting and more successful than not, but it's really the art rather than the story that puts this over the top.

While impressive, the purist in me was bothered that the animators cheated a little (as I see it). Some characters, particularly the protagonist, are far more detailed than anyone has ever been in a Van Gogh painting. This is especially true for the black and white flashbacks, which bear little to no resemblance to Van Gogh's rough black and white sketches. But it still looks great.

With its solid cast, engaging story, and beautiful visual style, Loving Vincent is an enjoyable experience.
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Dunkirk (2017)
War as survival
1 April 2018
Most war movies are about fighting the enemy, but this is a movie about escaping overwhelming forces. Many of the soldiers are desperate, broken men who just want to live.

The movie follows a number of people, including a soldier constantly scrambling to escape the beach, a ship owner determined to do his part, and some fighter pilots. We don't learn much about these people; while many horror movies celebrate the individual, Dunkirk looks at its characters more as representative types of a massive group.

The filmmaking is extraordinary from the first, striking scene of soldiers under a hail of leaflets. The score, low and droning, expresses the constant edgy, suspenseful feel of war.

This movie is also unafraid of the quiet moments in war. The times pilots aren't in a firefight, or soldiers are simply waiting for the next crisis.

I'm not especially into war movies, and I was disappointed when I heard Christopher Nolan's latest fell into that overworked genre, but it's still a very impressive film.
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Roseanne (2018– )
mildly amusing in places
1 April 2018
Roseanne put some liberals in a quandary, because they thought the series was funny but didn't want to watch a show helmed by a rabid conspiracy theorist who believes lizard men rule the world.

So I was relieved when I watched the first episode of the reboot and though, meh.

As with the original series, Roseanne, who can't act and isn't all that funny, is supported by a talented cast to make up for her deficiencies. Unfortunately, only Goodman manages to capture what made the original series so good; everything he says is funny or though-provoking, but even other hugely talented people like Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert don't seem to be able to recapture their characters. Perhaps they're just out of practice.

The writing is weak. The back and forth between Jackie and Roseanne is shrill and uncomfortable but not actually funny.

Roseanne is very old-school, which tends to put me off. The only really retro old-school series I watch is One Day at a Time, which is much funnier, and even though I don't care for it as much as modern sitcoms like Kimmie Schmidt and Corporate.

It's not as bad as the final years of Roseanne, but it's not nearly good enough for me to bother with.
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The X-Files: Rm9sbG93ZXJz (2018)
Season 11, Episode 7
Even if you don't like the X-Files you still need to watch this.
29 March 2018
This futuristic satire is not so much an X-File as it is a short film feature David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. This bothers some people, but I clever outliers have always been a feature of TV series, as you know if you've seen the musical version of Xena or the Blossom Truth or Dare parody or, to go way back, Name of the Game one-offs that included a futuristic environmental parable and a slapstick Italian farce.

The idea of a machine uprising is ancient - Woody Allen once had a joke where a talking elevator beat him up for mistreating his toaster - but technological advances have made that less fantastical. This episode is disturbing, in spite of the abundant humor, because it's convincing. Excepting the ending, this all feels like it could really happen, precisely because much of it - the constant harassment from apps, the lack of human interaction with businesses - is happening now.

Funny, clever, and thought-provoking, this is every bit as good as Darin Morgan's handful of episodes.
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The X-Files: The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat (2018)
Season 11, Episode 4
Darin Morgan is God
27 March 2018
For me, those rare Darin Morgan episodes are the jewels in the X-Files crown. He has written all of my favorite episodes, and once again he has created something hilarious and strange and sharp.

This time around Morgan combines The Mandela Effect with Trumpian "alternative facts" to look at a world where none of our memories can be trusted. The story is ridiculous, yet in this modern age it's hard to write off anything, no matter how improbable, as an impossibility, and Morgan once again offers a whirlwind of questions with no clearcut answers.

Every time I see something created by Morgan I wonder why there's not more. Why someone this creative and funny so rarely writes anything. This man should be making movies!
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Alone Together (2018– )
likably awful people riff on stuff
27 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This rather shapeless sitcom is essentially two narcissistic goofballs making fun of stuff. How well that works for you will depend on how you respond to the characters; Difficult People was the same basic formula and I found it hugely annoying.

I like the characters of Alone together. They're awful but funny, and unlike the leads of Difficult People they never come across as trying too hard to be mean. They're not trying too hard to be anything at all, they're just being.

The show is often quite funny. It's also got an amazing number of bit parts for really attractive women, which seem to be there so the woman can make jokes about being unattractive even though she's quite cute by real-world standards.

I wasn't sure about this one after an episode, but after several I'm pretty solidly digging it. It may deserve higher than a 7; if I decide it does, I"ll come back and change it someday.
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The X-Files: My Struggle III (2018)
Season 11, Episode 1
Even worse than the last episode of the previous season
24 March 2018
Why is Chris Carter so bad at his own show? Last mini-season had some very good non-Carter episodes but then he wrote the rest of the season into the ground. The terribleness of the last season finale becomes the terribleness of the next season's premiere. It's less an episode than a bunch of conversations that don't make a lot of sense. It's hugely annoying and boring.

I should probably stop watching; I probably shouldn't have started after last season. But the IMDB episode ratings go up after this, so if I can power through the next one, which sounds like it also has issues, maybe this will be fun as Carter pulls in his good writers.

But seriously, someone should check Carter for brain damage. He's just gibbering at this point.
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Pretty good, really
24 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Murder on the Orient Express is Kenneth Branaugh's comfortable but generally somewhat uninspired take on the traditional star-studded, handsomely-mounted Christie adaptation.

Some things are very good. I really like Branaugh's version of Poirot. While not quite as perfect as David Suchet, Branaugh is appealing and thoughtful, and it's wonderful that there is finally a Poirot with the sort of over-the-top mustache one always imagined from the book's descriptions. I prefer him to Albert Finney, who was never my concept of the character.

I also really liked the final reveal, which got a fair amount of drama out of the traditional detective-explains-it-all scene.

The cast was quite good, particulary Johnny Depp as something other than a cartoon character.

Some things put me off a bit. Giving Poirot some OCD seems both unnecessary and a rip-off of the TV series Monk. And putting Poirot in a couple of action scenes was just odd. These sorts of attempts to add flash to Christie rarely work out; the woman knew how to construct a story.

Overall, the movie was enjoyable but never quite riveting. I knew the solution, so for me it was about watching the way it was all done, and it felt generally a little muted. I was interested, but rarely fully engaged.

At the end of the movie there's a reference to the book that was used as a sequel to the last MOE. Are they going to try that one again? It didn't work out very well last time, and Christie has a lot of books to choose from, but I guess I'm okay with that.

I recall enjoying the 70s MOE more, although I don't know what I would think of it now. As recent Christie adaptations go, it's not as good as the minseries of And Then There Were Done but it's much better than the dreary Crooked House. I do hope they do a sequel, but I also hope they get a little more life into any future productions.
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Tedious slice-of-life
22 March 2018
Wow, people really like this movie about a sullen teenager who falls in lust with an arrogant adult. I mean, really love it!

For me, this is a very slow movie about a couple of bland, unengaging people. While I generally like coming of age films, I like them for the romance and the sense of changing and growing, but I felt there was little of any of that.

There's also very little in the way of plot or conflict. It's basically a slow-moving lust-mance. I am not a fan of slice-of-life film making; I like stories. There isn't one here.

I will admit that some of the issue might be I'm straight. I think it's easier to relate to a relationship movie if you understand the attraction, and I don't know why either of those two would want the other one. I mean, the older guy is generically attractive even if he's obnoxious, but is the teenager even attractive? He doesn't look like much to me, but he's also got a really hot girlfriend so maybe he's a very attractive young man? Who knows?

But I don't think the issue is *just* that I'm straight. I didn't *love* Moonlight, the critically-lauded film about a gay black guy, but I did find it generally interesting. But the only reason I watched this movie to the end was because my girlfriend really liked it, and I spent the last third reading twitter on my phone (apparently missing a couple of moving moments, but I'm okay with that because I just don't care if the characters live or die).

The most I can say for the movie is it's a great ad for Italy, very pretty and idyllic. And there's a good soundtrack.

My girlfriend, FWIW, found this movie moving and profound. It also made her desperate to visit Italy.
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