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Mortal Engines (2018)
Millenials don't have the context
I find many of the reviews moderately amusing as they say more about the reviewer than the film. Many choose to compare the film to cultural artifacts that postdate the film and therefore are quite irrelevant.
Taken in it's place, which is the evolving Steampunk era as it was evolving at the beginning of the 21st Century, this is an engaging, well paced, tale of greed for power and it's destructive force, not unlike our 45th President.
Have love stories evolved much from Romeo and Juliet? Not really. Is anything truly original, not a lot. So taken on its merits is the story enjoyable and the characters engaging? I think very much so. Is this Ingmar Bergman as his prime, no, but that's not what I'm expecting.
Is it film made for an age of heroines rather than heroes, very much so. That may be what pisses off the fan boys who are more interested in macho posturing.
If you've enjoyed the many recent heroine movies, I'd suggest giving this a go.
Song Lang (2018)
Touching, somewhat melodramatic with beautiful music
The heart of this story is the cai-luong theatrical style which is a Vietnamese style of folk opera very similar to Chinese opera in the 12 tone scale. The singer/actors have gone to great lengths to provide a perfect as possible recreation of the sound and story of the opera.
The surrounding story is also operatic in nature, with two young men who have similar backgrounds but have taken different paths meeting and getting to know each other through coincidental meetings with each helping the other in some fashion.
Linh, the singer, believes in time travel which is the core of the surrounding story as each character revisits particular moments in the path that shaped their future direction.
Hot Summer Nights (2017)
Not your usual coming of age story
Daniel is bright but probably not given enough work to keep him interested in school. Summer's about to start and his mother decides to send him to live with her sister on the coast. He falls in with a crowd that isn't that ambitious and decides to raise the level of play, so to speak.
Tim Chalamet as Daniel brings a sweetness and innocence to the story that makes it very believable. Daniel has no idea what he's gotten himself into and how very nasty that world can be. A girl who would normally be out of his league flirts with him as a joke, which he takes seriously having no real social experiences, and this leads to more trouble.
It's good to know, and hard to learn, what parts of life can be taken lightly and when things need to be taken seriously.
Los héroes del mal (2015)
A sad boy's dilemma
Aritz is troubled. He takes abuse and tells stories to explain his behavior. He's expansively nihilistic. Estaban is the nice guy who tries to keep Aritz from getting beat up. Estaban falls for the sadness of Aritz and at first there is also a lot of likability. They connect with Sara who has a streak of wildness and is attracted to Estaban, but is pretty unstable in her own way. As the story progresses Aritz spins more and more out of control and Estaban tries to rein him in. Aritz is needy and can't find love anywhere. He keeps asking Estaban and Sara if they love him but can't believe that anyone would or could. I found this story well put together and believable for the most part. Aritz is a charismatic sort who can draw you in.
The Gambler (2014)
A succinct performance
Mr. Wahlberg is very impressive as a college professor of hobbled literary talent moonlighting as high stakes gambler. His MO is "I'm all in." And this is true of both his professorial as well as his gambling persona's. His classroom manner is as derisive as Robin Williams, in Dead Poets Society, was upbeat, an interesting contrast in teaching methods.
His character, Jim Bennett, walks, and sometimes runs, a fine line between suicidal and self-preservation tendencies. It's often hard to tell where his focus lies. Going up against a troika of mob money men who will feed you cash 'til you crash, he's constantly on the edge of being rubbed out.
Can his student/maybe protégé, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson), provide enough spark to motivate him towards self-preservation. Will his basketball prodigy student help pull him out of the clutches of his need to gamble? There's plenty of well written existential musings along the way which make this a film well worth watching.
Going Down in LA-LA Land (2011)
Going to LA to find an acting career may lead in another direction
This is Casper's best effort to date. The film is beautifully shot and directed. While there may be a misstep here or there, they are easily ignored given the level of acting.
Candy (Allison Lane) and Adam (Matthew Ludwinski) make a warmly klutzy pair of friends who met in film school and have eventually landed in Hollywood. Candy has an apartment, paid for by her boy friend, with a room Adam can crash in until he's got a job.
While some the story is cliché, much of it is original, based on Andy Zeffer's semi-autobiographical novel. Again, while some of the plot points about getting involved in the porn industry aren't particularly new, the tale of a love affair gone awry, with the hope of redemption, rings true.
I found the connection between Adam and John quite convincing. Judy Tenuta as Zinnea, an old friend of John's with secrets of her own, is particularly comical, if over the top in Judy's trademarked manner.
This is not a heavily dramatic story, but is sufficiently entertaining that I heartily recommend it. Having Bruce Vilanch pop in for a cameo was an inspired bit of casting.
Judas Kiss (2011)
Can a broken life be mended
Sometimes we wait too long before we get serious about our careers. Sometimes we start with everything and fall into a hole. What if that happened to you and you had the opportunity to go back and change something in the past that would alter your future?
While some people seem thrown by the premise, this is a fantasy and so it has it own rules which it follows scrupulously, if you watch closely enough to discover what they are.
Zack returns to his Alma Mater to judge a film festival when his close friend Topher is unable to attend. There's a shimmer on the invitation when he opens the envelope that is barely noticeable. As he pulls onto campus he looks up and the clock tower shimmers for a moment.
After settling into his digs for the weekend, a dorm room, he goes out to find the towns gay bar where he's attacked by a really cute boy, who sneaks out of his room in the morning. Later that day he is confronted by the same boy in the interview session for the film makers who are vying for this years prize.
The actors are very convincing, particularly the two young film makers, Danny and Chris, as they explore a potential romance. Chris, portrayed by Sean Paul Lockhart, is especially convincing as a former innocent who doesn't want to get involved in a possible triangle.
The underlying tension that revolves around who might win the festival and what will happen to Danny's film is particularly engaging. As the story develops we grow more concerned about the decisions Zach will have to make.
This film has been enjoyed by many audiences across the country at this point, receiving a resounding ovation at the screening I attended.
The LuLu Sessions (2011)
LuLu is quirky and charming
Lulu, Louise Nutter, is a PHD Oncologist who has control of 50% of the NIH funding for cancer. She's a tenured professor and for over 20 years has devoted her life to finding a cure for breast cancer.
Her very close friend Casper Wong swings by on her way to a wedding in California as Lulu is about to receive a diagnosis on a biopsy done on her breast. She insists that Casper film the phone call. This is the beginning of her battle against the disease she has spent her life fighting.
She has just finished inventing a new therapy which received a patent in 2010. Casper follows her during the remaining months of her life. The most painful part of the story is how their relationship, which has been on again off again over the years, deepens through dealing with the issues of the disease. But this film can be hilariously funny as well and, in the end, is genuinely touching.
a howl at an unfeeling uninterested universe
In 1955 Allan Ginsberg sat in a cafe in Berkeley California and wrote a poem. He was asked to perform the poem at a reading and at first refused, but changed his mind after completing a rough draft of Howl. The poem was published and confiscated when it went through customs after being printed in London. A trial of the publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti ensued. What should we make of the poem, and of the trial? The film intertwines the poem with the trial in a most illuminating fashion. It shows us Ginsberg's milieu using a mix of archival footage and enactments. Much of the trial, and the judges final comments make it clear that is indeed the milieu and the language used to express that milieu which make the poem great.
The film has a heavy weight Hollywood cast and is very well dramatized. The use of graphics helps illuminate the poem and keeps us engaged during the readings, particularly given the difficulty of the imagery.
War Stories (2009)
Timely, engaging, suspenseful
This work goes in no direction you expect. Poor Tim wants to write about his war hero father who died in the Gulf War. It's his school final history project. The teacher calls him into his office and tells him he needs to provide an obituary if he wants to write about his father. This leads Tim on a most unexpected journey.
The suspenseful music right from the beginning leads us to question what might be coming. The director manages to engage us immediately and keeps us engaged through the zigs and zags of the story. With a minimum budget for special effects he still manages to convey distinctions in time and place.
I recommend this film highly, as I'm hoping it will be either the opener or centerpiece film for the festival I've just screened it for.
Comme les autres (2008)
When a gay man in Paris wants to be a father
This is a thoroughly French film. It has a light dry wit running through it with many little surprises along the way. Both humorous and painfully touching at times, it's never less than attentive to its main characters and their plights.
When Manu leans on his partner Phillipe to adopt a child their partnership goes awry. A gay man is not allowed to adopt in France and only married couples are allowed to have children via artificial insemination. This makes things very difficult. To be legal, Manu must marry.
Given the French way with a story this could have turned into farce but the director hues to the narrow path and tells the story without getting silly. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.
A conversation with a friend
It's really wonderful when you begin to feel that your sitting next to a new found friend in a bar sharing a beer and he's telling you his stories. That's pretty much what it's like to watch this film. Samuel Delaney has nothing to hide and does an excellent job of revealing himself.
Samuel Delaney is one of the more brilliant writers of the 20th century and has the awards to prove it. Beyond that he's wonderful to listen, probably one reason he's got tenure at Temple University.
Don't miss this wondrous explication of the history of post WWII America with a distinctly gay twist.
Prayers for Bobby (2009)
Will it reach them?
It would be so wonderful if the people that this piece is about actually watched it and understood what kind of hell they're putting their kids in for no particularly good reason.
It should be required viewing in every Baptist church on the planet. And there are a few other evangelical organizations with strange ideas about human beings who might learn something.
I will be surprised if Sigourney Weaver doesn't get at least an Emmy nomination, particularly given the speech she gives to the city council, both well written and well delivered.
Ryan Kelly also delivers a believable performance as Bobby, regardless of some of the cutting required to get the film into a two hour programming window.
10,000 BC (2008)
It's about Myth making stupid
It's a shame how few people appear to have listened to the opening narration of the film. And someone was carping about stuff being copied from elsewhere. I guess that person doesn't realize that most works are copied from bits of others, if you want to look at it that way. Even Shakespeare copied, to rather good effect.
I thought this film did a great job of considering what things might have have lead to the creation of a myth, using some of our favorite mythic elements in the process.
It also doesn't do it with a super duper heroic dude. Instead it starts with a schlub who can't get out of his own way who manages more by accident than by plan, and with a certain singularity of purpose, to produce a significant societal change.
Frankly I thought the exercise made a lot more sense than Troy and works better than Apocolypto.
A butcher job, as much as I wanted to like it.
It's really sad when something with as much promise as this had is given to a hack writer with less imagination than the writer's of the old 60's Batman series.
I wonder if anyone noticed during the dragon battle scene that clearly, at one point, there had been thoughts of creating Tronheim as described in the book, rather than the pitiful dirt pile shown in the rest of the sequence.
As a very young author Chris turned out a book with a great deal of insight. Unfortunately little of it was carried over to the screen play. I think with a little more plotting there would have been a clearer presentation presentation of what got young Eragon from being a young farmer to a magic wielding dragon rider.
The story clearly was rushed towards the end with no time to explain who any of the characters were. THe changes made to the story line will, as mentioned elsewhere, make it impossible to produce another film, unless this one is flat out ignored, which would not be a bad thing.
I understand many of the impulses that led to this typical Hollywood disaster flic, it's a shame they were unable to reign them in.
Go Tarzan....at least there was a monkey
Having watched quite a few Johnny Weismuller Tarzan films in my early years, I have to say this beats the heck out of them. It's got phenomenal color and beautiful jungle locations, and that's about the extent of the veracity, after you get past the original village scenes. The only thing missing was our hero swinging from vines from tree to tree.
Makeup was superb, the costumes were excellent, the acting was really quite good for a B movie, but, in the end, that's what it is, a glorified, over-the-top B movie. It would have been a double feature back in the day.
Is it tremendously entertaining? You betcha! Is it anywhere near Oscar worthy? Not a chance. Should it be seen on the big screen? Absolutely! The special affects are quite seamless and the camera work is truly amazing. It's a shame that there's no story, at least not one that's particularly compelling. It's got all the oomph of the ball rolling after Indiana Jones, on and on and on...and that's pretty much the story line.
So, if you're looking for a Saturday afternoon film that will get your Adrenalin pumping, I can highly recommend it, but even Pirates of the Caribean has more complexity in its story line.
Blood Diamond (2006)
Oscar worthy DiCaprio, Oscar worthy film
Having just looked at the numbers for this weekend at the box office, it's a bit saddening to see a popcorn film at the top of the list over an intelligently made action/adventure film of much higher caliber and quality.
I've been waiting for Mr. DiCaprio to pull off something as original as Jack Dawson in the Titanic, and I think that here he's managed to do just that. And now he's got real action hero chops, knocking people around and knocking off the bad guys with a power rifle while dodging bullets and bodies.
In general, it seems, the American public pays virtually no attention to the horrors of Africa, and why should we when we can simply change the channel and not look. Watching the fleeing white Surban with O.J. Simpson on CNN was much easier on the digestive system, and that lasted nearly as long as a good movie.
While I doubt this movie will have that kind of lasting affect, I certainly hope people will go to see it at least for the thrilling yarn that it spins. It's completely captivating and not to be missed.
putting away the hanky
I was probably 14 when I saw this film, back in the early 60's and I know I cried. I hadn't seen it since, although it was never far out of my memory, 'til I got the DVD recently and took the time to watch it again. It still brought a tear to my eye.
Time can play tricks on your memory, but this case it was as good a film as I recalled. It doesn't have any jump cuts, the camera work is simple and steady. The acting however is superb, bringing a genuine life to this mostly true story of a dog's faithfulness to it's departed master.
My family always had dogs, and I watched plenty of Lassie on TV and read the novels of Albert Payson Terhune, so I have always had a close relationship with dogs, my most recent being a 16 year old miniature dachshund.
If you can get your family to sit through it, I suggest it as a great alternative to what's on TV today.
My Friend Flicka (1943)
From the eyes of a 7 year old
I was about that, in a much quieter age, when I first saw Flicka. I was enthralled by the brave young hero and it left a very strong mark on me. Being young, and unsophisticated, I didn't have LOTR or Star Wars or any of today's high tech films to compare it to. I had Hoppalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers, amongst other cowboy heroes. And then along comes this kid whose not a lot older than I was at the time being brave and honorable and fighting for what's right. I haven't seen it again since, and I'm not sure what my adult reaction to it would be. I'm sure the kids of today would be too sophisticated for the pleasures that I drew from it. So it goes....
Stage Beauty (2004)
I've seen Billy Crudup on stage, and he can be very good. I'd say that here he's brilliant.
I seem to have missed this when it played in New York, and I don't know how. One might quibble over some of the....uh....eccentricities, but over all this is quite amazing.
There was a recent Chinese film about a boy who plays women on stage, and his lover. It covered a lot of the growing up part of how a boy gets to play a woman on stage. This neatly skips that part and deals in a truly fascinating way with the aftermath.
Claire Danes is a revelation. She makes you completely believe in what you're seeing. Her reaction to her environment and the fact that she is also hiding who she really is give her a realistic ability to understand the man that Crudup plays.
Billy Crudup delivers a truly indelible performance as a man with the 'wrong' kind of up bringing. A pretty boy who's identified as a potential player of women's roles, his entire education is built around learning the art of being a woman. He learns the part well enough to perform the role both on and off the stage, and becomes very close to a member of the King's staff.
I'm surprised this didn't get some academy buzz, but with the gay subplot, that might be understood. Richard Griffiths is a particularly smarmy but amazingly understanding Lord of the Manor. The cast gives a great rendition of life in the 1600's. They even step in what's found in the street from time to time for some good verisimilitude.
The historical event that provides the focus for this story is England's King Charles ruling that women would replace men in all women's roles on the stages of England. Nell Gwynn clearly had some influence on this event. Given the times in which the events occurred and the nature of the participants, Hogarths depictions of the world may well have given some impetus to the depiction of events as they are portrayed here.
While parts of this are a rollicking good time, there are some dramatic moments that are quite overpowering, scary even. Portrayed as the reality of events, the personal behaviors are entirely believable. I couldn't find a sour note in the entire story.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Fairy tales aren't good for children!
The worst problem with Terry Gilliam films is that they're too intellectual. For the audience that's not paying attention, the joke, as well as many of the references, go sailing overhead.
With this one, the audience needs to be at least moderately well versed in the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Do parents read this stuff to their kids these days? Have they done so for the last ten years? It may only be those lucky children who have seen Steven Sondheim's (who?) musical, "Into the Woods", which has been broadcast on PBS - another channel not high on the list of the MTV or whatever generation, who will have enough information to get what's happening.
So when yards of white hair are lowered from the inaccessible castle, who's going to get the reference? How old do you have to be these days? I've seen a number of critics complain about the plot. OK. Sorry. It's not straight from A to B, it's only revealed in bits. But there are significant clues all along the way, so if you were paying attention (Terry doesn't waste screen time, if it's in front of you, pay attention, it's important to the story) then you'll have a fair idea what's going on the second time you get to the village.
The village is a marvel! It's pure brothers Grimm. At one point we see Hans and Greta (lost the l's?) in the forest dropping breadcrumbs and getting lost. Again, Gilliam has created a marvelously twisted version of the standard Grimm oeuvre, but kept many of the characters intact, just occupying slightly different territory.
Oh, back to the plot for a moment...why are the children, girls, going missing? What is the terrible fate awaiting them? What is the engine below the surface that's driving this tale? All I can say is that not all the pieces are revealed in the first hour and a half, you have to stick around a might longer. The great news here is that you don't notice the time. I wasn't tempted to yawn once.
As to Jonathan Price being annoying, I thought that was part of being a villain. And, given the storybook nature of the tale, some events are preordained (at least a little). 'Nuff said.
So go see it. I'm going to see it again!
(PS: I must congratulate the Weinstein's on not cutting out the prelude, which may have been a temptation, but would have seriously destroyed the continuity.)
The Closer (2005)
let's deGauss - for a good laugh
One of the funniest moments on recent TV was the moment Kyra hit the switch.
As the lead investigator, she enters a People search site for some people looking for sex. A person is stopped from pushing a red button as the cops rush in. One of the officers explains that the switch would probably kill all the data on the system by turning on a magnetic field.
Kyra gathers all the evidence, after being threatened with various legal actions, and told by the owner that it's her job to prevent rapes, not his.
As she leaves she says that it's a good thing she knows how to do her job and hits the switch, killing the service.
I laughed hysterically at one of the best written moments I've seen in ages, and I didn't even see it coming.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
I must first relate what happened at the end of the film.
The young man in front of me, around 19 years old, broke down at the end of the film and cried through the credits. I followed as he exited the theater and watched in some consternation as he ran for nearly two blocks, before he finally resumed a normal walking speed. Out of some concern I followed, well behind, for a number of blocks, before I went my way when he seemed to have regained his composure.
That being said, it is clear that this film can have an extremely powerful effect on a person.
I read the book when it came out and was curious as to how Mr. Arakis would handle the delicate issue that is the core of the film. I must say it was done in a fashion that would not have a direct effect on some of the participants, yet remains wholly believable.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls out all the stops without going over the top in making his character believable. Mr. Arakis, at this point a veteran film maker, knows how to keep the story moving in both senses of the word. You become thoroughly entangled in the tale of these characters as they search for meaning in their lives.
I can't recommend this film highly enough. Another book that deals with similar territory is "The Perks of being a Wallflower."
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It gets better
OK. So you've got to followup on one of the biggest blockbusters of the last few years. Your working with one of the most highly regarded Super Heros in comics. Can you possibly do it better?
Like they say, it will make you laugh and it will make you cry. I guess you could say it follows the nature of the genre. It also carefully delivers the angst of Peter Parker. In another era we would speak of Zeitgeist. Today it's probably enough to say that it delivers it's emotional punches very well.
There are a few moments that one might quibble about, were one in the mood, but I think that would essentially be sour grapes. There's one punch I knew was coming and I still jumped in my seat.
I guess I can't wait for the next one, currently in production.
Small spoiler follows *** The only time I had to laugh 'outside' the movie was the moment Peter enters the theater and the name over the door is Lyric. I'll say no more. End spoiler ***
Jing Ke ci Qin Wang (1998)
Astounding acting, photography, story
I've read some grumbles about the court scenes. These people betray their ignorance. This production went to simply amazing lengths to recreate all aspects of the period in which the story occurred. Courtly manners are something few people outside the court ever see. While the acting may appear highly stylized, it is, in fact, as close a replication as possible of the behavior of individuals in their particular stations as the director could create. The actor's facial expressions are a marvel, particularly the duplicitous Marquis Changxin and the King's mother.
There are, of course, reflections of both Greek and Shakespearian tragedy in the relationship between the king, his parents and his love. The juxtaposition of the king transforming from good to bad and the assassin from bad to good provides much food for thought on the evolution of an individual's nature. This movie would provide much to ponder in a college course on the humanities.
At the same time, it almost rushes along, even in the slowest scenes heading towards an inexorable denouement. One suspects the involvement of large portions of the troop movements, which were quite awesome. It makes The Lord of the Rings battle scenes pale by comparison. Few directors have the ability to literally field thousands of humans on the field of battle just for art's sake. I recall one scene in which at least 30,000 troops can be seen moving across a huge plain. The logistics for such a shot would have been staggering.
I could go on... but simply, I can't recommend this film highly enough.