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7/10
Justice League gets DC back on track, finally
20 November 2017
It's a low bar to clear, but Justice League is way better than Batman v. Superman. It's funnier, it has more action, it has less brooding and darkness, and it's just plain much, much more fun to watch. Justice League is the kind of movie that should put DC back on the same sort of cinematic path that Marvel has been treading over the past decade.

The movie picks up where the aforementioned Batman v. Superman left off. Superman is gone, having sacrificed himself to save the world. Meanwhile, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begin to recruit an alliance of super-duper people (Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa)) to prepare for what appears to be another alien threat.

That alien threat is one Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), the nephew and second-in-command to the yet-unseen super big bad named Darkseid. Steppenwolf has arrived on Earth to collect three Mother boxes – objects that, when joined together, will grant immense power, etc., etc., etc. Steppenwolf is aided by thousands and thousands of Parademons, bug-like creatures who were once men.

Here's a brief list of what I liked about the movie. 1) Bruce Wayne has a wry, understated sense of humor that – get this – is also self-deprecating. 2) Jason Momoa kills as a manly-man king of the seas. 3) Gal Gadot is just as terrific as she was in her own movie and in BvS. 4) The Flash is hilarious! 5) There were plenty of tight action sequences that, despite being shown in IMAX, were easy to track. I could see who was fighting whom and with what!

The overall tone of the movie is more in line with what Marvel's doing – there's physical fighting, there are biting remarks, there are doubts (our heroes are human-ish, after all), there are touching moments. Everyone delivers, which isn't always the case in ensemble pictures, but Affleck in particular really stepped up his game as the Bat dude. A lot of people liked his performance in BvS, but I found him stiff and boring. That's just not true in Justice League. Bats still has a huge ego, still likes to run things, likes to work alone even among his team. And he's still kind of a jerk. But he's not a boring jerk; Affleck, finally, gives him a personality! And lo! DC was saved!
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5/10
Hopelessly dated, mildly racist
16 November 2017
In A Majority of One, Alec Guinness plays a Japanese businessman. I don't mean that he plays a British man masquerading as a Japanese man, I mean that he's supposed to be the Japanese man in the first place. Alec Guinness – spoiler alert – was not Japanese and didn't even look vaguely Asian, and yet there he was anyway. Guinness accomplished his portrayal by kind of squinting, something that I think most of us in 2017 would see as pretty racist. Were there no suitable Japanese actors in 1961? Or even actors with any Asian heritage? Using Caucasian actors to play Asian roles was certainly much more common at that time than it is now. The sentiment on the part of the movie studios was that American audiences wouldn't go to see a movie headlined by an Asian star. Sadly, they were probably right.

The movie itself is a culture clash in which widowed Mr. Asano (Guinness) and widowed Mrs. Jacoby (Rosalind Russell) meet on a ship traveling from the U.S. to Tokyo. Mrs. Jacoby is Jewish and hasn't even left New York, and yet there she is, on a transcontinental voyage with her daughter and her son in law, the latter of whom has received a diplomatic posting to Japan amid some tense trade negotiations. Mrs. Jacoby is not a fan of the Japanese, as her only son was killed in WW II, which would have been fresh in the minds of the audience, having occurred less than two decades earlier. Her wariness of Asians in general and Japanese in particular would have been relatable for 1961 audiences. Not so much for us today.

As Mrs. Jacoby and Mr. Asano become more acquainted, they develop a positive relationship – which, ironically enough, threatens to upend the son-in-law's negotiations with the Japanese government regarding their trade policies. This leads to misunderstandings that, like any good sitcom, are resolved in all good time. But not without some feelings being hurt and some minds being changed.

Guinness does his best to do the job he's given, but personally I couldn't look past the fact that this was a Caucasian man playing an Asian man (and not as a disguise, as Sean Connery's James Bond would do a few years later). Mr. Asano, as a result, feels like a caricature of what Hollywood must have felt Asians were like (or at least how Americans in general viewed Asians). To a lesser degree, Russell is also oddly cast – she, of Irish descent, playing an observing Jewish woman – but the stereotype isn't as stark as with Guinness's Asano. Russell, for her part, is entirely believable. (Look for Mae Questel as Jacoby's bigoted friend and George Takei as Asano's servant, too.) Finally, the movie is just too darn long. It's 2.5 hours! That's great for an action movie, maybe even a mystery, but not a romance drama that takes place in generally close quarters. The plot is simple enough, and the scenes set in Japan are exquisitely shot, but it's not enough to lift a movie that simply drags when it's not being outright offensive by modern standards.
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8/10
Delightful Marvel romp!
16 November 2017
Ragnarok, according to Norse mythology, is the destruction of the world. Armageddon! Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! In this movie, it's kind of like that, only it might also be a beginning. So zen. Whatever it means, Thor's third thrilling ride is a blast, with familiar and new characters zooming into view just long enough for us to pay a tiny bit of heed and move on. It's fast, not thickly plotted, and most importantly a lot of fun. More fun than The Dark World.

Part of the reason is that Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) smiles almost continuously throughout the movie. In previous Marvel films, Thor's been kind of serious, a more grounded counterweight to Tony Stark but not as angry as The Hulk. Here, he's both smart and giddy. And he has every reason to be giddy, because this is a fun movie, as so many Marvel films are.

Thor returns to Asgard with the horns of some demon who's kind of important to the story, but he discovers that Heimdel (Idris Elba) has been accused of treason and is in exile, that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is using his powers of trickery to run things (including staging plays telling his tales of bravery), and that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is actually on Midgard (aka Earth). Oh, and that Odin's actual eldest child, Hela (Cate Blanchett) has now escaped her own prison – where Odin placed her when she got particularly rambunctious – and wishes to initiate Ragnarok. Death to everyone! Thor's adventures in trying to save Asgard land him on a remote planet, though, imprisoned to fight as a gladiator at the pleasure of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who's equal parts hilarious and brutal. And who's the grand champion in the arena? Why, none other than The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)! Can Thor escape the Grandmaster, get back to Asgard, stop Ragnarok, defeat his older sister, and then drink some mead? Some of those, anyway! So why does this Thor work so well? Because it's HILARIOUS. It's less comic-book movie and more comedy. There's a buttload of comedy, which is a lot no matter how big of a butt we're talking about. Everyone is aces. Even Stan Lee (yes, of course he has a cameo). Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) essentially subverts the superhero film, taking on tropes, clichés, you name it. It's not that Thor acts like an anti-hero (like Iron Man), it's that he appears to have fun saving the universe. It's a nice switch. And Thor: Ragnarok gleefully (and gracefully) sets up the next movie(s) in the endless franchise, so it's a virtually seamless fit into the vaunted Marvel Universe.
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7/10
On film, in life, out of focus
16 November 2017
In the late 1980s, the Long Island town of Great Neck was rocked by multiple allegations of child molestation on the part of a well-liked pillar of the community, Arnold Friedman, and his son Jesse. This retelling of the events proved to be equal parts cringe-inducing and unsatisfying, although the use of home footage shot by the Friedman family itself is put to terrific use.

Arnold Friedman taught a computer class to local kids in his basement. He also taught piano and was considered a really good guy. He was married to Elaine Friedman, and they had three boys: David, Seth, and Jesse. At the time of the allegations, each son was a young adult. Jesse often assisted his father during the computer classes. But what tipped authorities off was that a magazine containing underage porn and addressed to Arnold Friedman, was intercepted as part of an ongoing operation. Investigators then delivered the magazine themselves (posing as postal employees) and showed up later in the day with a search warrant. Friedman thought they were after only the magazine, but the search warrant was for the entire house – and lo and behold, a huge trove of underage porn was discovered. This discovery led to officials interviewing various students from Arthur Friedman's computer classes, and their answers – and eventual testimony – led to charges being filed.

The film itself interviews the three sons and Elaine Friedman; Arnold Friedman died in prison. Other participants include psychologists, detectives, and even former students of Arnold Friedman. But what's most interesting is the interplay among the Friedman family members. While Arnold's (and Jesse's, as he too was swept up in the charges) court case was being played out and he was out on bail, his sons would argue at the dinner table about how best to combat the obviously false charges. But just as obvious was Elaine's silence – or at least the absence of her offering her own full-throated support. This was something that none of the sons appreciated, of course.

I found the documentary to be fascinating but still troubling. We are presented with a lot of evidence that Arnold was a pedophile. We are presented with conflicting evidence that the kids in the computer class were molested by Arnold and/or Jesse. Huge questions are raised regarding the guilt borne by the Friedmans. I wanted to know more. Documentaries don't need to show bias in order to present a possible outcome. In other words, if the makers of this film felt that it was pretty clear that the crimes had been committed, then that would be the thesis of the movie; conversely, if they felt that either Jesse or Arnold didn't get a fair shake, that would also be a thesis.

But the film takes no stance either way, and we're left with a lot of maybes that don't add up to much. Only the home video shot by the family is compelling, showing as it does the internal struggles between full support of a family member despite the accusation of a vile crime and the withholding of that support because of that accusation. It's just not clear who to believe; the movie just presents details, and not enough for anyone to come down strongly on one side or the other of the issue.
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Intruders (2015)
7/10
The house that fear built
16 November 2017
In Intruders, a severely agoraphobic young lady (Beth Riesgraf) is menaced by three baddies in search of cash somewhere in her home. But this isn't a standard home-invasion flick, and she's not the standard victim, either. This Intruders contains a devilish twist about midway through, and suddenly this isn't a movie about a damsel in distress but something wholly different – and much more interesting.

Anna (Riesgraf) lives in an old house with her brother Conrad, who's quickly dying of some disease. The two have lived in the house by themselves since their father passed away some ten years earlier, but Anna has developed a paralyzing fear of the outside. She can't even open the door without hyperventilating.

Conrad dies very early in the film. The only other person Anna has been in contact with over the past decade has been the faithful delivery boy from Meals on Wheels, Dan (Rory Culkin). A few days before Conrad's death, Dan and Anna discuss the possibility of either leaving their small town for bigger and better things. When Dan says he'd love to strike out on his own somewhere, Anna offers him a sackful of cash. Which Dan turns down.

A quick fast-forward to the days after Conrad's death. It's time for the funeral. Anna doesn't go, despite the pleadings of her brother's lawyer. And then, while she's at home doing pretty much nothing, a couple of vehicles pull up in her driveway and men enter the house. They don't know she's there. Because she's not supposed to be there.

Riesgraf's Anna is no shrinking violet. At the same time, the thugs aren't exactly one dimensional themselves, with each character carefully defined without being a stereotype. Perhaps this affair won't be as one sided as it initially appeared. After all, this is Anna's home turf.

I found Intruders to be fairly brilliant, with a neat twist on a standard plot that ultimately transforms the film from a pile of predictability to a tsunami of terror and guessing.
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Martyrs (2008)
3/10
Sometimes, they have nothing to do with religion....
16 November 2017
The synopsis for Martyrs on Netflix (where it is not yet available, even on DVD) indicates that the movie's about a young woman who enlists the aid of her longtime friend to exact revenge on the couple who imprisoned and tortured her when she was a kid. But that covers only about the first twenty minutes of this gory thriller. Then stuff gets weird.

First, a disclaimer. As I was watching this movie, I realized I really didn't like it. I just didn't get it. Didn't know why the plot was moving forward. Wasn't the revenge over? And then the third act finally arrived. And when I went to bed, I still didn't like it, but I was wavering. When I woke up the next morning, I had to admit to myself that it was a pretty good movie after all.

In a sense, the plot isn't quite linear. We first see the women getting the revenge. But then the focus shifts from the original victim, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), to her friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui), who herself becomes a victim of immeasurable suffering. It's like watching the events that probably happened to Lucie play out with Anna. I started to wonder what the point or the endgame was. Was this just for the sake of bloodletting? The answer lies in the title. I certainly can't tell you why, as that would spoil the surprise. But if you do take the time to watch this movie – and beware, it's in French, and the version I saw was dubbed, not subtitled – try to stick with it. It'll give you something to think about, if nothing else.
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The Beguiled (2017)
5/10
Arty but lacking drama, focus, or a point
16 November 2017
Sofia Coppola's remake of the '71 Clint Eastwood western The Beguiled didn't completely click for me. I guess I had it in my head that it would be more of a new-wave feminist take on the original plot, but I found the movie – despite strong performances – to be tedious and frustrating to watch. It's a shame; a lot of talent was wasted on both sides of the camera.

Nicole Kidman plays Miss Martha, the headmistress at a girls' school in Virginia in the middle of the Civil War. One of her charges, searching for mushrooms for dinner, comes across a Union soldier named Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), who's badly wounded. Miss Martha agrees to take in the Yankee – they're in the middle of Confederate territory – give him medical attention, and allow him to convalesce at the school. The young corporal is charming and graceful, and the ladies know that if they return him to the woods, he wouldn't last long. And if they waited until their own troops stopped by, they might want to take McBurney with them before his leg has healed.

It doesn't take long for McBurney to win the hearts and minds of the lasses, which include teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and student Alicia (Elle Fanning). Each lady has designs of some sort on their new guest, but who's playing whom? I haven't seen the Eastwood film, so I didn't know how this one was going to play out – until less than halfway through, when I got a pretty good idea. McBurney doesn't actively play each woman against the others, but his manipulations aren't exactly subtle, either. Farrell does a fine job, but it really feels like ages go by before anything beyond passing character interactions develops – and even then, the focus is mainly on Martha and Edwina. There's little action to speak of and even less suspense. The result is a movie that feels amorphous, even useless.
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May (2002)
7/10
Oh, sure, it's a mite gory, but it's also hillllarious
16 November 2017
May is a horror film that was released in 2002. I know this only because I looked it up. Prior to adding it to my Netflix queue a short while back, I had never heard of the movie. And I wish I had! It's gross, unsettling, weird, and funny. Those are all qualities I look for in a horror film.

The titular May (Angela Bettis) is an odd young lady who works as a veterinarian's assistant. She has a lazy eye that's mostly corrected by glasses and, later, contacts. And she also has an old doll in a glass case, a doll given to her by her mother when May was just a little girl who had just injured her subsequently lazy eye. That's quite a present, huh, a doll that you're not allowed to take out of the box.

But fret not, viewers, this isn't about a possessed doll. It's about May, who's just plain not all there. May's coworker at the vet clinic is Polly (Anna Faris), who has intentions of her own with May. Meanwhile, May spots a mechanic she'd like to get more familiar with, Adam (Jeremy Sisto). But, you know, she's socially awkward and has no concept of personal space. So when her brief relationship with Adam ends and she runs into trust issues with Polly and her family-heirloom doll (made by mom, by the way) is irreparably damaged, May turns to her sewing skills to make do. Blood is then spilled.

Love the acting. Bettis is essentially a grown-up Wednesday Addams (complete with an overabundance of forehead), and she embodies May with both innocence and a sort of civil evilness. Faris is stunning – and outstanding – as the promiscuous, amoral, and flighty Polly. Might be the best role Faris has ever had. And Sisto, looking a heck of a lot like a twentysomething John Travolta, also holds his own.

I kind of think that if you like movies such as Re-Animator and Dead Alive, you'll go for this one as well. Seems like it should be better known, but it was sure new to me.
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Revolver (2005)
3/10
I don't think so, Statham.
20 October 2017
Revolver is a Guy Ritchie movie, so I figured there'd be a lot of mayhem, with blazing gunfire, mumbled British dialog, and car chases. And Jason Statham is in it! But that's not really what I got. Instead, this is more of a psychological thriller, and that's not Ritchie's forte. There are more minds being blown than there are heads being blown off, that much I can tell you. Which made this movie a bit of a disappointment to me.

Statham plays Jake Green, a gambler just out of jail after seven years. Soon after his release, he's winning games of chance left and right. Which doesn't sit will with his nemesis, one Dorothy (!) Macha (Ray Liotta), who owns the casino where Jake's winning his winnings. When Macha's goons go after Jake, he receives some unexpected help from a couple of strangers – the suave Avi (Andre Benjamin) and the burly Zach (Vincent Pastore). They'll keep Macha's hounds at bay, for a price – all of Jake's money and his willing participation in their own loan-sharking racket.

This still sounds like a fun movie. And let's not forget, "revolver" is right there in the title, too. But as the story progresses, it becomes less and less about feuding and fussing and fighting than about mind games. Who are Zach and Avi? Is Macha insane? Why won't these people just shoot each other? The body count is way too low for this sort of genre thriller. Heck, after a while I began questioning my own eyes. Was Jake actually hallucinating the whole thing? Maybe Jake wasn't real, either. Maybe I was the one hallucinating! Maybe I'm in Purgatory, endlessly watching the same boring Guy Ritchie movie. It's not quite Hell – that'd be watching any Uwe Boll movie on a loop – but it feels just as tedious.

Revolver seems like a baffling foray into a theater of the absurd for a director who's not known for overly cerebral flourishes in his work. That's not to say that Ritchie's earlier films are for dummies only – they're fun, visceral treats, for the most part, and a lot of fun. But this one? This one was dull and inscrutable. The novelty of seeing Jason Statham with hair wore off rather quickly, although he's just as good in this movie as he is in almost any other movie (except maybe Spy, where he was hilariously good). Liotta is an unhinged menace, as he typically is. It was nice to see Vincent Pastore playing someone who's not a low-level organized-crime fall guy, though. And Andre Benjamin is smooth. But no, and I fully intend this pun, Revolver is a misfire.
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The Voices (2014)
5/10
Good thing your pets don't actually talk...
19 October 2017
Ryan Reynolds plays a warehouse worker who has conversations with his cat and his dog. Weird enough on its own, but in this case Reynolds' Jerry is seeing a shrink, is off his meds, and is told to do pretty horrible things by his pets.

Jerry a hard worker with a fine reputation, falls for a coworker named Fiona (Emma Arterton). When she stands him up for a date – sort of a miscommunication – tragedy ensues. And then when other coworkers (like Anna Kendrick) enter the mix, more tragedy ensues.

The movie's tone shifts an awful lot. Sometimes it's slapstick comedy – look, talking animals using profanity! – but other times it's a pretty serious, deadpan horror movie. I mean, there's a plethora of blood and guts. Think of this as a predecessor of sorts to TV's Dexter. Bodies are chopped up. Jerry's madness is at turns amusing and horrifying.

Fun fact: Reynolds himself does the voices of his cat (Mr. Whiskers) and his dog (Bosco) – and they don't sound much like Reynolds' normal voice. Mr. Whiskers appears to be Scottish, and Bosco has a Southern drawl. But as they're both aspects of Jerry's damaged psyche, so there's a little bit of him in there.

Jerry's descent into utter madness (juxtaposed with his endless smile and optimism) is fun to watch, and Reynolds does a fine job. He gets some able support from Arterton and Kendrick, too. But it all adds up to a movie that doesn't strike a consistent tone, thus just missing its mark.
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The Endless (I) (2017)
7/10
A must-see for fans of the warping of time and space
18 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Two grown brothers, who escaped a cult when they were kids, receive a video from same cult, enticing them to return. The older Justin (Justin Benson) has vivid and terrible memories of their time with the group, but younger Aaron (Aaron Moorhead)has just hazy memories of pleasant times. So, despite Justin's wishes, the two do in fact return to the compound they left a decade earlier. But why are they being summoned back? Are their lives (again) in danger? Or has the cult changed into just being another Northern California commune? When the brothers arrive in the middle of nowhere, they find the de facto leader Hal (Tate Ellington), who explains that the group has prospered in the years since Aaron and Justin left. Their primary source of income? Homemade beer. Very hipster. The members of the small commune/cult each have their own special skill, whether it's painting, knitting, magic tricks. The list is pretty finite, actually.

But it isn't too long before things get a little unsettling. No spoilers here; the cult believes there is an all-powerful deity who exists only for them – i.e., not a God from any other religion. This entity sends the group messages via cassette tapes and Polaroid photos. The group members pass this all off as normal; to be truthful, I found their happiness to be a bit unsettling. But Aaron, the younger/more impressionable of the brothers, wants to believe and is definitely looking for some structure in his life after a decade of menial jobs and no real direction. His wiser brother Justin, is strongly skeptical, but certain events do make him question his own sense of righteousness.

So this seems like a pretty straightforward story, doesn't it? Maybe there's something to the cult's thinking, maybe they're really just harmlessly living off the grid. But then a few somethings happen, and the movie switches from being about a crazed cult into being about, well, the neverending loop of reality. And that's when the movie really takes off. I'm talking about mindbending twists and some terrific special effects. Just like that, the plot zooms from just sort of floating about, intriguing but not enticing, and then it blasts into overdrive. And suddenly nothing makes sense, and everything makes sense. It's a huge trip.

For that reason, I really enjoyed this movie, the third I saw at this year's Spooky Movie International Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Endless was written by Benson and directed by Benson and Moorhead, and they score with all aspects of their work here. If you're looking for a distorted-reality movie, check out The Endless.
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The Bad Batch (2016)
5/10
Tainted, although sparkly in light
18 October 2017
The Bad Batch refers not to some brown acid but rather to a particular set of ex-convicts, those recently released from a prison in the southwestern US. Each inmate is tattooed with a serial number, which naturally precludes them from gainful, meaningful employment. Good thing that the vast desert right outside the prison's gates is uncharted territory, meaning it's not under the jurisdiction of either the US or Mexico. It just is.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is such an ex con. With nowhere else to go, she begins a-wandering across the desert with a jug of water. She finds a rusted-out car and – for some reason – begins to apply her eyeliner using the rear-view mirror. Then a couple of people roar up in a golf cart and abduct her. When she wakes up, she's chained to an airplane door. She gets injected with something – I'm gonna guess a sedative or painkiller – and her abductors lop off her right arm and left leg. And eat them.

None of that is a spoiler. It all happens in the first twenty minutes or so. Our heroine does quickly escape and finds a place called Comfort, which is basically a continuous rave. Comfort is run by The Dream (Keanu Reeves, delivering a particularly wooden performance), and everyone there is part of the Bad Batch themselves, the rejects of society.

Arlen is out for revenge, so back to the cannibals she goes. There's a lot of her ping-ponging back and forth between the two camps, for various uninteresting reasons. But this isn't a standard revenge movie – it's much more confounding and pointless. I can get behind a good old fashioned revenge flick, but this is just dopey nonsense. You know things are out of wack when you kind of root for the main cannibal (Jason Momoa). And when the best performance in the movie, by a long shot, is by Jim Carrey as a grizzled hermit – who never speaks a word.

The Bad Batch looks pretty and might even have a genesis for a cool movie within it somewhere, but it's a major dud. It's also very violent, so you have plenty of gore to look forward to. And lastly, Arlen's lopped-off limbs are on full display (not hiding behind bulky clothes), and apparently this was accomplished without resorting to digital erasure of her real arm and leg. So that's a positive. Not much else is.
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Twixt (2011)
6/10
Dreamy horror from Francis Coppola
18 October 2017
In Twixt, a "bargain-basement Stephen King" writer (Val Kilmer) visits a small town on a going-nowhere book tour only to find himself very much a part of a real mystery containing a haunted belfry, ghosts of dead children, and a corpse with a stake through its heart. It's a movie chock full of atmosphere and unease, and it's really well done. Good movie for this time of year.

Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore. He drinks a lot. I mean a lot. At a quiet book signing, the local sheriff Bobby Lagrange (played with absolute zeal by Bruce Dern) slyly mentions that he himself is a bit of a writer and would Mr. Baltimore care to collaborate? Why, Sheriff Bobby even has a story all ready to go. Has to do with missing and/or murdered kids, or maybe the aforementioned belfry (it's haunted!) and probably everything to do with those kids who live across the lake, the ones who look like they practice Satanism or some such.

Meanwhile, Baltimore has money woes. His wife (played by Kilmer's real-life ex, Joanne Whalley) pressures him to get another advance from his publisher (David Paymer) so that she can pay off their mounting debt, even threatening to sell his priceless copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. This is kind of what gets Baltimore to agree to a sort of collaboration with the sheriff.

One night, Baltimore has one heck of a dream. He wanders through a forest, where he is joined by an ethereal girl in braces (Elle Fanning). They converse, and their path leads them to an old hotel - one that's not open when Baltimore is awake. The girl refuses to go in; Baltimore does, and he learns some things about missing children and the secrets of the town. He wakes up. But was it a dream? Coppola strikes just the right tone with this movie, and the casting is superlative. Kilmer is fine - perhaps even better than usual - and Dern is terrific. Love that guy. Alden Ehrenreich (the new Han Solo, plus the guy from Beautiful Creatures) and Don Novello (yes, Father Guido Sarducci from SNL) are both a real treat. The ending both comes out of nowhere and makes all the sense in the world, just the kind of ending you want in a horror thriller.
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6/10
I'm not sure what result I expected, really
18 October 2017
The Belko Experiment is decent entertainment until the final ten minutes or so, with a too-soon ending that (oddly) could have used some more exposition. But overall, it's vicious in its profile of the human spirit and the evil that men do when confronted with a moral quandary that has no positive outcome.

The Belko Corporation is headquartered in a high rise outside of Bogota, Colombia. It's not clear what they do, but everyone dresses in business attire, so it must be something important. On this particular day, security seems to be even tighter than usual, with local soldiers asking employees for ID and with temporary workers being unexpectedly turned away.

We meet some of the staff. Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.), an exec; his love interest Leandra (Adria Arjona), the creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley), and the big boss, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), plus many others. Looks like a humdrum day for office drones. That is, until all of the windows - and door - are suddenly covered by thick metallic barriers, and a voice comes over the PA system. The voice tells staff that in thirty minutes, they - the staff - must kill two people, or else more will be killed. Some believe the incident to be one big joke, but about 30 minutes in, the backs of some people's heads explode. No, not snipers. You see, every employee at Belko has a chip in the back of their head. Because it's Colombia, you see, and there are always kidnappings (particularly of foreign nationals). Just a way for the fine folks at Belko to keep track of you, should you go missing. But, as you've probably guessed, those chips are actually explosives, and that's how we know the baddies are serious.

Chaos reigns for much of the rest of the film, as people realize there's no way out of their predicament. A couple of camps emerge, one that wants to kill fellow staff so that they themselves can live, and another that wants no part of the killing. Man versus fellow man. Who will prevail? Probably not man.

For the most part, this is a fine movie. Maybe not one you want to think about too much, but then again there's not much to think about. We know only enough about the characters to kind of care about their fates. And, for the most part, we don't know anything about the forces outside the building. True, the internal conflict is what drives the movie, but perhaps a little more about why this is the case would have been helpful. The performances are good, but not exceptional.
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Better Watch Out (II) (2016)
8/10
Quite the subversive thriller
18 October 2017
Well, it's time again for the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. Hard to believe this is the 12th year of the festival, which features a plethora of relatively new scary films each year – along with one or two older classics as well.

Opening the scares this year was Better Watch Out, directed by Chris Peckover and starring Olivia DeJonge (The Visit) as a babysitter watching a precocious 12-year-old named Luke (Levi Miller) while his parents (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) enjoy a night out of the house. Babysitter Ashley quickly finds herself in for more than just a night on the couch watching movies, as she has to deal with her young charge – who has long had a crush on his sitter – and then a home invasion.

But this ain't no ordinary home invasion. I can't tell you all more than that. I wish I could, but I really want you to watch this movie, and telling you more of the story would ruin the experience for you. There are a lot of surprises in this movie. Plenty of plausible but unpredictable twists. The movie is tightly plotted (by Peckover and Zack Kahn).

The performances are phenomenal, especially considering the ages and relative lack of experience of the leads. Miller, in particular, is a wonder to behold; his Luke shifts tone rather dramatically over the course of the movie, but his skills make the shift utterly believable and magical. There aren't many adult actors who could pull off the characterization that Levi Miller does in this film.

Come for the intrigue of a vulnerable babysitter protecting her young charge but stay when that trope is turned completely upside down.
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Replace (2017)
6/10
Skin should not be repealed, because we need it.
18 October 2017
Replace is about a young woman (Rebecca Forsythe) who suddenly develops a fast-spreading skin condition (it looks like she's peeling) and desperately looks for a cure. At least that one aspect of the story. The young woman also has short-term memory loss and slight moments of distorted reality. She meets strangers who say they've already met, including a skin specialist. Is she going nuts? Or is she already there? Let me back up. When we first meet Kira, she's heading to the apartment of a man she met at a bar. They laugh, they flirt, she spends the night. When she wakes up, he's gone, and the skin condition appears. She tries scratching it and picking at it, as one is wont to do, which only makes matters worse. She visits a dermatologist (Barbara Crampton) who prescribes some medication "for the pain." But Kira discovers something really wacked, and completely by accident. She learns that if she peels off some affected skin and then applies someone else's skin to that spot, the new skin will adhere immediately to her body. This contradicts known medicine, as skin grafts can be a very lengthy and painful process. Has she found a cure for her malady? Lest one think this is just about a woman and her need for some good lotion, there's a mindbending twist, a psychological smack in the head for the viewer. It's too wonderful to explicate here, but in the great tradition of these thrillers, not all is what it seems. In fact, little is.

The final twist is perfect. Enough pieces fall into place that Kira's situation makes some sense, although not every question is answered neatly. The script is well written (by Norbert Keil and Richard Stanley), and Forsythe, Crampton, and Lucie Aron (as Kira's neighbor) turn in strong performances. Well made all around.
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Trumbo (2015)
8/10
Bryan Cranston owns the screen
18 October 2017
All movie fans should recognize the name of Dalton Trumbo. Even if his heyday was a good half-century ago, his actions during one of Hollywood's very darkest periods still have tremendous impact even today. Especially today, for that matter.

Some quick background. You may recall that in World War II, the US and the Soviets were allies but that after the war we became distrustful adversaries. This time was known as the Cold War – since the two countries didn't fight one another – and really ended only in the late 1980s. Prior to the end of WW II, many Americans joined the Communist Party as a way to fight the rise of Fascism in Europe. After the war, current and former members of the Party were looked upon as pariahs of the highest order. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of these pariahs. It didn't help that he actively tried to rally technical workers on film sets (grips, lighting and sound technicians) to strike for higher pay. Unionizing was seen as a bad thing, despite the gains it had achieved for American workers earlier in the century.

Trumbo's membership in the Party wasn't a big deal at first, but then gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who wielded an enormous amount of power in Hollywood, took it as a personal affront and used her column (and weekly appearance in newsreels) to denounce Communism in general and Trumbo in particular. Kicking the whole scandal into high gear was a little-known congressional group – the House Un-American Activities Committee. These guys tried to rout out Commies from Hollywood (which it saw as holding a lot of sway over Americans, much more so than today) by calling a group of known or suspected Communists to Washington for sworn testimony. These men were known as the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo was one of them, and he refused to tell the committee the names of anyone else who was or who could be a Communist. He, like his fellow Ten members, was found in contempt. Later, someone not in the group did name Trumbo, and he was put in prison for a full year.

When he got out, no one would hire him (or any of the others in the Ten). Except for King Brothers Studio, which couldn't pay him much. But Trumbo worked fast as both a writer of original stuff and a fixer of existing scripts. The Kings loved him. So much so that the others in the Ten were offered jobs (for no credit, same as Trumbo) working as script doctors. During this time, Trumbo also got work from some friendly sorts in the business by selling them a script but not taking on-screen credit; the credit typically went to a fictitious person, or to a willing accomplice – known as a front. Through this method, Trumbo won two writing Oscars – although no one knew it at the time.

Dalton Trumbo fought for himself, his fellow writers, and for anyone for whom the Bill of Rights holds any meaning. He reasoned that if people could be silenced for political beliefs, then anyone could be silenced for any reason. This is, unfortunately, still true today. And although he didn't receive credit at the time, Trumbo was awarded his Oscars eventually (one posthumously). He's recognized as being one of the very greatest screenwriters the world has ever known. The movie does a terrific job describing Trumbo's struggles – and that of his family: his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his three doting children. The toll that his stance took on them was noticeable to everyone except for Trumbo himself.

Cranston turns in what was an Oscar-nominated performance, but his was not the only one of note. Lane is superb as his suffering, strong better half. Elle Fanning, as his eldest daughter, is also a standout, as are John Goodman (as Frank King) and Alan Tudyk (as writer Ian McLellan Hunter). Spellbinding from start to finish, and all screenwriters owe Trumbo a huge debt of gratitude for his long struggle on their behalf.
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Frozen (I) (2010)
6/10
Frozen: No, not that one. The one with the kids on the ski lift.
18 October 2017
What maketh a good horror movie? Find characters with whom your audience can identify (and hopefully root for) and put them in a situation that's plausible yet unique. We've all seen haunted-house movies, or possession movies. And now we have a chilling (HAHA) tale of three friends stranded atop a ski lift with no help in sight.

Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore), and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are pals. Dan and Parker are a couple; Joe and Dan are best friends. Joe and Dan do this ski trip every year, and now Dan's girlfriend Parker is along. Tension much? The trio doesn't have money for lift tickets, so their plan – a usual plan for Dan and Joe – is to bribe the person running the lift. $50, $100, it's still cheaper than lift tickets. In the past, this person has been a girl, and Dan and Joe have used their charms with much success. This time, it's a guy, so it's poor Parker who has to use her wiles (and Dan's money) to get them up the mountain. The plan works, and the trio spend the day zipping up and down the mountain on snowboards. Near the end of the day, they decide to make one more run (especially since they've been on bunny slopes, thanks to Parker's inexperience). They manage to get on the lift for the last trip up, but – thanks to a staff miscommunication – the lift is shut down while they're still on their way up. They're stuck in a small chair, many feet above the ground, and it's freezing out.

So there's your plausible situation. You can see this happening. The reason they're stuck up there isn't inconceivable. Their zest for another run isn't, either. And how many horror movies are set on a ski slope? Not too many.

Survival becomes key. For my money, though, it takes them far too long to realize that help's not on the way. With the temperature plummeting, every minute counts. And once they delay that decision, they become too cold to think clearly. This leads to a series of choices with tragic consequences.

I would have liked this movie a bit more if the characters hadn't been, well, jerks. Look, I get that they can't afford the pricey lift tickets, but I'd be more sympathetic if they were trying to get something they really needed, like food. It's skiing (or snowboarding). If they can't afford the activity, they probably shouldn't be doing it. Dan, in particular, comes off as pretentious and condescending and – worse of all – boring. Don't know if I can blame the actor for this entirely, but the performance wasn't one to write home about.

The film looks good, with some terrific shots of the mountain, the silent and deserted lift, and the terrifying wolves who linger below. There's plenty of tension. I'm just not sure that the cast was up to the task.

Frozen – with no musical interludes – is a mild disappointment.
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Poltergeist (2015)
6/10
Inoffensive fun for everyone but the kids
18 October 2017
This remake of the 1982 Tobe Hooper classic won't make you forget its famed predecessor, but it probably also won't elicit any outrage at the audacity of trying to improve on greatness. In other words, it's a satisfying horror movie as long as one doesn't hold it to the original's high standards.

If you haven't seen the original, here's how it breaks down. Family moves into a new house in suburbia, a mom (Rosemarie DeWitt), a dad (Sam Rockwell), teenage daughter, younger daughter, young son. Strange things begin to happen, as they do in these movies. The young daughter disappears, but she seems to be trapped in the television by malevolent spirits. The family contacts a specialist (the great Zelda Rubenstein in the original, Jared Harris here) to help them out.

This is not a shot-for-shot remake, and for that we should all be thankful. The parents aren't pot-smoking ne'er-do-wells; dad's just been laid off, and mom's a writer. (Which makes me wonder how they can afford the new house, but hey, I think maybe the fact that there are malevolent spirits has something to do with it.) Gone are scenes like the medium's assistant tearing his face off in the bathroom or all of the kitchen chairs suddenly appearing on top of the kitchen table. There's other, new stuff. It's kind of fun.

The movie doesn't break any new ground, though. 35 years have gone by here in the real world, and the effects – though frightening at times – aren't going to bowl you over. The acting is actually pretty good here, particularly by DeWitt, Harris, and Jane Adams. Even the kids are good, and of course the little darlin' who gets sucked into the other world is adorable as can be. Only Rockwell seems miscast. He's best at quirky, offbeat roles, not man-of-the-house roles. This was more of a role for a Greg Kinnear.

So while this Poltergeist remake didn't enthrall me, I found it tolerable for a rental. Kind of glad I did not see it in the theater, and the effects still looked good on my TV at home.
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Black Mass (2015)
7/10
Perhaps Johnny Depp's strongest performance
18 October 2017
James "Whitey" Bulger ran South Boston's crime scene with an iron fist in the 1970s and 1980s, but for a good part of his reign of terror he harbored quite a secret – he was actually an informant for the FBI. In particular, he was an informant for Agent John Connolly – although the usefulness of Bulger's intel was often in dispute – all the while continuing his violent rampage over the city against anyone who would stand in his way.

The ruthless Bulger is played in Black Mass by Johnny Depp, an actor not really among the first who come to mind when the character of a crime lord is brought up. Depp has long been known for looking the part in each of his disparate roles and avoiding typecasting. But in Black Mass, even though he doesn't look like an Irish mobster – he completely embodies one. It's really his finest work, and that's saying something.

The movie is told in flashback, as a member of Bulger's inner circle recounts the whole sordid deal to another FBI agent, including the involvement of Connolly (Joel Edgerton) as well as Bulger's brother, state senator Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch). The brutality of Bulger's day-to-day existence isn't tempered; men and women are killed or maimed or harassed for seemingly benign reasons. There seemed to be no middle ground for Bulger. He liked you, you lived. He didn't, you didn't. The movie covers his feud against his Italian rivals in Boston, the Angiulo family, as well as his foray into the high-stakes world of betting on jai-alai in Miami. And how did Bulger get away with so much? Mostly through the protection of Connolly, who used Bulger's (scant) information to further his own career. Crooks protecting crooks. The rabbit hole is deep indeed.

But man, is Depp ever great. I stopped thinking of him as Johnny Depp soon after the movie began. It's funny – to look at Bulger in this movie, you probably wouldn't take him for a mob guy. He's wiry, he's balding, he wears glasses. Nothing tough leaps out at you. But the ferocity of Depp's exceptional performance puts that notion to rest. Cumberbatch, as his brother and fellow Boston native, is also very good and with a surprisingly believable accent. Kevin Bacon shows up as an FBI guy; I think this was his third go-around as a Boston-based law-enforcement officer.
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8/10
LEGO builds better brains by being bold and beautiful
1 October 2017
LEGOs are a whole thing nowadays. Well, if I'm being honest, and I like to be honest, it's been a thing for quite a while now. There are annual conventions. There are subcultures devoted to building from a kit or building freeform fun or to particular collectible sets. It's a toy that's as attractive to adults as it is to kids, and it doesn't show signs of slowing down.

Now, when I was growing up, there weren't very many LEGO sets. The space one was considered a Big Deal around my house. The LEGO guy had an astronaut helmet! And there were all kinds of pieces you could use to build a wacky spaceship, directions be darned. In fact, I don't remember ever following directions for a LEGO set. We'd just pick up pieces and see what happened. Nowadays, though, there are thousands of themed sets, from Harry Potter and Star Wars to the old classics like pirate ships or the aforementioned astronauts. And with the huge success of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie, and the LEGO Ninjago Movie, it's hard to see the product's popularly dwindling anytime soon.

This documentary touches on everything LEGO, from its old-timey beginnings as an amusing pastime for the kiddies to the marketing behemoth it's become. We learn how LEGOs are used in a New Jersey school to help autistic children communicate. We learn that people have used LEGOs to make actual, usable, real life things like houses and cars. We learn that LEGO can even be used as an art medium. We learn, too, that the LEGO company itself evolved from being a typical create-from-within corporation to one that gladly welcomes the ideas and visions of its customers, even holding contests to get new ideas for LEGO products.

This Brickumentary is a fine film. There are plenty of human-interest stories, as one might expect, and more than one will jerk at the ol' heart strings. And, as noted above, there are also several real-world applications on display. When's the last time you saw a toy being used by adults to produce practical results? Probably half past never! Sure, it's a huge commercial. There aren't many warts on display, no disfigured minifigs. But that's okay – the universal appeal of the toy made me happy to learn more about it. If you're looking for a tell-all, keep walking. But if not… this film fits like, uh, two interlocking bricks, or something.
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Stanley (1972)
4/10
Something slimy this way comes
30 September 2017
Stanley is a snake, one of many, many snakes owned by American Indian Native American Tim Ochopee (Chris Robinson). Tim is a former soldier, hardened by his time in Vietnam, who lives deep in the Florida Everglades with his menagerie of slithery beings. He makes a little money for himself by loaning snakes to a dancer at the local burlesque joint, but mostly he keeps to himself. Then bad guys, led by Richard Thompkins (Alex Rocco), try to get Tim to join them in capturing as many snakes as they can – because Tim's a great snake tracker, of course – in order to turn them into belts and shoes. Ah, the 1970s! Tim will have none of that and prefers to watch over his pets instead. (He doesn't even want to return to his tribe's reservation for their big dance! He's committed to living the hermit life.) Stanley is a recent father, so there are some little snakelings shimmying about in Tim's shack. When the bad guy's goons come back and attack Tim, Stanley leaps (sort of!) to his defense! Truly, this is just a classic tale of a boy and his snakes. Lots and lots of snakes. It is not a spoiler to note that Tim uses Stanley (and other snakes) to take care of those who have wronged him in this movie, which is essentially every other human character. Stanley (the movie) was released not too long after Willard, the one about a boy and his rat. See the theme? Well, cashing in on the weird-pet craze didn't quite work out, but you got to give the filmmakers credit for giving it the old college try. At least Rocco's character is pretty well done – for once, the evil businessman doesn't underestimate his plucky foe, as Thompkins knows right away that Tim will be mighty hard to handle. Why, he knows the swamps and he knows his snakes. Go, Tim! Anyway, this nature-centric pic is pretty standard for the early 1970s, as an ecology craze was sweeping the nation's colleges. Still, it's not a good movie. Robinson's a little weak, the direction even weaker. Rocco is really the only standout, plus those snakes.
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7/10
It'll please the little tykes and meet with their approval
30 September 2017
Fresh off the success of The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie comes The LEGO Ninjago Movie, about an elite ninja force fighting an evil warlord by night and existing as unpopular high schoolers by day. The kids are sort of like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, in that each of them has a distinct color scheme and elemental theme going for them, like fire, water, ice(?), earth, and lightning(?).

The de facto leader of this young crew is Lloyd (Dave Franco), whose color is green and whose theme is…also green. (It's explained later.) Together, the team fights the ever-invading forces of Garmadon (Justin Theroux). The name of the city Garmadon wants to conquer is Ninjago, which looks like it should be pronounced like "Ninja Go!" but really is pronounced with the emphasis on the middle syllable: "NinJAgo." Anyway, the big secret that Lloyd and the gang hide, aside from their real-life identities as high school students, is that Green Ninja is – dun dun DUN – the son of Garmadon. Lloyd the teenager, on the other hand, is well known as the warlord's kid, and man does he bear the brunt of their ire. Kids sit on the opposite side of the bus from him. People boo him. He just has to deal, because it's what being a kid is all about, right? Now Lloyd, being a teenager, is just slightly resentful that he has had an absentee dad, so after one of the many battles with Garmadon, he takes things personal and unleashes holy heck on his nemesis. Oh, I should mention that although each of them calls himself a ninja, they're just kids in mech suits. Totally not ninja like at all. This leads to Garmadon coming back with a vengeance, and…well, I think you get the idea. Someone is going to learn a Very Important Lesson here.

And if that were all that was to this movie, I'd say let's leave it to the kids and never watch it, fellow grownups! But the movie does inherit a bit of the sly humor from its predecessors. Remember how, when guns were fired in The LEGO Movie, the characters would make "pew pew pew" sounds? During one long battle scene, Garmadon actually fires sharks from (presumably) a shark cannon, and each time a shark is shot one hears "dun dun dun" aka the theme from Jaws. Later on, a bigger enemy is revealed, one that dwarfs Garmadon in destructiveness – a tabby. As in a real cat. If you've ever wanted to see a cat demolish LEGOs that you didn't have to pick up, now's your chance.

I found a lot of The LEGO Ninjago Movie to be entertaining. What it lacks in creativity it makes up for in sincerity, as it never gets terribly maudlin. The characters are fun, and both Franco and Theroux really sell them well. Movie's good for kids. Rest of us can wait for home video, if at all.
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Joy (I) (2015)
6/10
Prime J-Law; shame the other characters are so awful
30 September 2017
Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, a beleaguered housewife/TSA agent who invents a self-wringing mop and successfully promotes it on the newly hatched QVC network. This success is despite the relentless stress of having divorced/estranged parents, an ex-husband, two children, and her grandmother all living under her roof and each with his or her own selfish peculiarities. Well, maybe not kindly grandma, who narrates the story.

See, first there's dad Rudy (Robert DeNiro), who's just been kicked out of his current wife's (or girlfriend's, not sure) house – "I'm done with him – you can have him back" – and who owns and operates a repair shop that happens to have a gun range. Rudy's the sort of guy who rubs just about everyone the wrong way, but of course Joy puts up with his shenanigans. Then there's mom Terry (an unrecognizable Virginia Madsen), who spends almost all of her time in her room watching her stories and flushing her hair down the toilet, which inevitably clogs. There's passionate ex Tony (Edgar Ramirez), who has a good heart if a lack of direction and who lives in the basement. And there's grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who seems to be the only sensible, nurturing person in the house. There's also Joy's half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who doesn't live on the premises but may as well – and she herself has sort of a passive-aggressive love-hate relationship with the ironically named Joy.

Aggravating family aside, Joy – a longtime lover of creating things – stumbles upon the need for the aforementioned mop. Up until then, mop heads were permanently attached to the mop handle and couldn't be cleaned without the user touching the nasty thing. Joy discovers that winding a single strand of wool hundreds of times around a base, the mop head not only becomes more absorbent it also becomes easily detached. One can put it in the washing machine! One won't need to buy a new mop every few months! This discovery leads to much success and with it the downsides of running a business – particularly when the business involves your quirky family as well as Dad's new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), who invests heavily in Joy's venture. Lot of people to please. Lot of potential for things to go wrong, too, when one is a novice in the world of business.

(I don't even want to get into Bradley Cooper's character, the head of programming at QVC. Cooper is a little too subtle in his role, almost the point of invisibility. Talk about underwhelming.) Okay, enough plot exposition. Lawrence is winning as always and, in fact, elevates her character with more sincerity and moxie than the script allows. But she's about the only actor who does a lot with flimsy material. DeNiro's character is overbearing and obnoxious; Rossellini's even more so. Joy's rotten half-sister comes off as devious, resentful, and despicable, but prior to Joy's success there was no hint of acrimony. I get it, she's jealous of the success, but there's nothing to back up the attitude. Those characters all feel like they should be in a much broader film, not a character study. In other words, the tone adopted by them is at odds with that adopted by Joy; the two types clash, rather than contrast.

Joy is a sufficiently entertaining movie, and it's almost entirely due to Lawrence's strong performance. Director David O. Russell, who also co-wrote the script, has done better.
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Begotten (1990)
5/10
A literal example of "gross religious symbolism"
30 September 2017
Begotten is one of those movies that's aimed at a very specific audience. It's not for people who are easily offended, or even mildly so. It's not for people who prefer easy-to-follow plots or who prefer clear, crisp cinematography. It's really for people who relish weird movies, particularly ones that Mean Something, the better to analyze endlessly. Me, I don't care so much for the over-analyzing bit, but I do like me some weirdness. And boy, does Begotten get weird. And gory.

Reasons you might not like this movie, reader: 1) It's in black and white. (I know!) 2) It has no dialogue. 3) It looks like it was shot on Super 8mm film, transferred to Betamax, copied over to cave drawings, and then digitally recorded. What I mean to say is that grainy is a word that applies here. It's kind of like the old days, when one might get a partial signal for a TV channel to which one had not subscribed. Except at no point is the signal clear in Begotten. Where was I? Oh, yeah. 4) Its religious undertones are overtones, and they're not exactly reverential. 5) There's plenty of blood and other fluids.

Now those of you who, according to the above paragraph, not like this movie should stop reading now. Are they gone? Okay, rest of you. Here's the basic plot. There are no twists – the appeal is visual, believe it or not – because there's almost no story. It begins with God killing himself through disembowelment, which somehow causes Mother Earth to be born, and then a few minutes later she gives birth to a fully formed Son of God, who's really nothing more than a shaking skeleton with some skin on him, and then they're beset by faceless cannibals, and then things get weird.

If you do watch Begotten, be sure to cleanse yourself with some wholesome Yo Gabba Gabba afterward.
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