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Shanghai Express (1932)
A double header...
Trains intrigue me and my hobby is photography. This is a train movie. It also is a fantastic body of superb photography. This was done in 1932, an era of slow emulsions and balky cameras. Yet it outshines most of what is done today and also illustrates that black and white can indeed outdo colour photography. Some of the shots are reminiscent of Karsh, Eisenstadt and Ansel Adams. Filling the water tank of a locomotive is hardly a glamorous business. But here it has been turned into mysterious, shadowy artistry. There are angles and techniques seventy years ahead of their time.
This is not a memorable story. Yet the cast creates an interesting bunch of characters and although shot in an American rail station, captures a very believable oriental atmosphere with throngs of extras and unrelenting background sound. This indeed is a museum piece. But so is the Mona Lisa.
First They Killed My Father (2017)
A splendid if somewhat overly long film. It has captured the horrors of the Cambodian nightmare and pointed an accusing finger at the United States and Richard Nixon. The truly stunning aspect of this film is the superb cast of child actors, especially when you consider they are from a culture with little cinematic background or culture and one where young children are more likely to become workers rather than actors. There also is superb film work with wonderful light and shadows, effective lines and patterns and unique aerial shots that look straight down from perhaps a thousand feet on the chequerboard of violence and death with no camera motion. Drones??? Helicopter? It's a unique and effective technique. A well done chronicle of a grim and gory piece of history!
The Sense of an Ending (2017)
When the BBC logo flashes on the screen, you know you're in for a great evening of movie watching. This is a rather odd title for a rather odd, but excellent , movie.
Its all very British: the plot, the settings, the actors. Essentially its the story of a sixtyish man recapping his life as a student. Its very well done with frequent and cleverly done flashbacks. Yet, unlike many films with flashbacks, there is no choppiness or confusion. Its very British. Many Americans may just not get it. But I found it made a provocative, interesting, compelling evening.
Left Behind (2014)
A rare film indeed
This film joins the exclusive list of movies --- only five or ten of 'em --- that are so incredibly bad that they're actually quite good. It is so enjoyable to watch one stupid scene cascade into the next; to express amazement that people actually allowed their names to be used in the credits. Again, it meets the important criterion of providing a hearty debate over coffee the next morning, pondering questions such as What was it all about? Where did all the people go? How can a jet collide with another yet survive? What dramatic purpose did the midget serve? Did it set a record for the number of errors in one scene? Does the "born again" movement really believe that such ludicrous nonsense promotes its cause. Indeed, if hell exists, it's probably a place where every theatre and every television station shows "Left Behind" over and over again for eternity. That concept is so intimidating , even the worst sinner will shout fervent Hallelujahs in an effort to evade such a ghastly fate. God's ways are indeed strange.
If the motion picture academy had an Oscar for "Worst Movie", this would be the overwhelming winner for 2014. Likewise "Stupidest Film." It obviously will never be shown as an in flight movie. Airlines don't want passengers using the escape hatch in flight.
Born to Be Blue (2015)
This was an excellent production, well done, well acted and well produced with some creative cine-shots. But it is disturbingly dark. Lady Sings The Blues was similar but it didn't have the dark undercurrent of this piece. I never knew much about Chet Baker so I can't comment on its accuracy.(Judging from other reviews here, it is much more fiction than fact.) There is very effective intercutting of black and white (the past) and colour (the present.) The F-word is over used and the sex scenes are a bit too graphic, too long and too frequent.
I was interested in the Canadian credits and to find out here much was shot in Sudbury and Espanola Ontario, hardly Hollywood North. Overall, it's a worthwhile watch. But expect a downer
The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017)
Puzzled by the number of bad reviews and one star ratings! This film gets one of my not too frequent tens. Where do we start? The superb performances, especially the incomparable Ben Kingsley... The stunningly beautiful photography... The fascinating locations...
The effective dialogue... The realistic recreation of 1914 in both the US and Turkey...There also is an intriguing plot with an unconventional love triangle... It's a war movie, a love story, an historical drama and a travelogue all wrapped to-gether in one very nice package.
This is a gripping, powerful, original, magnificent film with a fist in the gut ending. I would rate it 12 or 15 if such were possible. Beautifully written, filmed, produced and acted with the incomparable and superb Christopher Plummer.
It is unlike any holocaust film I have ever seen. There are so many bad movies out there it is a rare joy to experience a masterpiece like this!
Playing for Time (1980)
A long downer
Auschwitz was not a fun place. But this film is too graphic, too long and too much of a downer. It starts well with brutally grim and realistic scenes. But at almost three hours it's just too lengthy. Although the first half is compelling (if depressing), it gets a little silly and loses its credibility in the second half. I can't be specific without creating spoilers. Let's just say all the characters ---the good guys (gals?) and the bad guys both become somewhat ridiculous. The story, apparently based on reality, is about a group of female inmate musicians who form an orchestra for the pleasure of the camp officials including an unconvincing Josef Mengele. But their performances are dreadful. Never has Beethoven's fifth symphony been played so badly nor Puccini's Madama Butterfly sung so hopelessly. And in bad English at that. They might have taken a little cinematic license and given us enjoyable musical performances. From a production viewpoint, occasional interludes of great music, well played, would have provided brief relief from the unrelenting horror of this endless film.
A United Kingdom (2016)
I'd give it a 15 if I could!
A wonderful beautiful, dramatic, compelling and sensitive film. It is a romance, a political drama, and an historical documentary all in one. The acting is superb. The cinematography both in sunny, scenic Africa and foggy, wet London is masterful. There are a couple of minor discrepancies. For example the word "black" is repeated many times but in 1947, the usual term was "negro" or "coloured." A few other discrepancies turn up in the "goofs" section. But they don't really matter nor do they detract from what in all respects is a cinematic masterpiece. It goes on my top five list!
The Revenant (2015)
Machismo in the mountains
We watched this film on the basis of several rave reviews when it first came out. I fail to see why it rated so well. There is spectacular scenery and dramatic camera work. (Although splatters of artificial blood on the camera lens during one of the many violent scenes seem surprisingly sloppy. Nor did the frequent appearance of lens flair serve any artistic purpose as it sometimes can. This was simply careless cinematography.) The whole movie is relentless machismo, one disturbingly violent scene after another and frequent, gratuitous use of the "F word" which was not even in the thesaurus of early nineteenth century profanity. If you're intent on watching this appallingly violent, lengthy, sexist and pointless film, turn the sound down and enjoy the scenery. It is the only positive aspect of a very disappointing movie.
A Cure for Wellness (2016)
One eerie, evil movie
From the Netflix summary, I didn't know whether I'd be watching a drama or a comedy. It turned out to be a very weird and scary horror film. The settings are both dramatic and scenic. The camera work and effects are excellent.But the key quality is the lurking, implied evil that runs under even the most common, social scenes. Indeed the bad guys are well mannered and charming. But you still know they are up to no good. Negatives? There is a beautifully done train sequence at the beginning of the film but it has no connection to the plot. This is a horror picture, not a travelogue. At one point I was thinking 'well,at least there is no humping scene.." Fifteen seconds later, there was the mandatory humping scene, complete with kinky overtones. The film runs well over two hours. It's good but it's too long. And the producers run a little wild with an overly long and excessively dramatic ending sprinkled with elaborate special effects, which again clash with the understated menace and evil that are so effective in the first ninety minutes. It's all very well done but, for example, plush, formal ballroom dancing with hundreds of people you haven't seen until now, seems at odds with the low key horror in most of the film. Sometimes less is more. It's different, effective and crammed with the stuff of bad dreams. Worth a couple of hours of your time even if, like me, you're not really into horror flicks.
Los Inocentes (2015)
It was Halloween and we wanted a horror movie. This is not a horror film despite being billed as such.But it is a wonderfully dark and morbid drama that implies rather than depicts horror. The characters are intensely real, whether the self absorbed "master" or the fearful slaves. There is a brooding undercurrent of evil and tension. The dark mood is enhanced by creative lighting and artistic camera work. It also is the antithesis of Hollywood film culture, achieving its dark impact by suggestion rather than depiction. Something a little different and perhaps not to everyone's taste. But I considered it a masterpiece of cinema art. And the ending... Well, I don't do spoilers and I sure wouldn't want to spoil this one.
Gerald's Game (2017)
Disturbing and dreadful
Gerald's Game offers kinky sex, incest, gore and a liberal sprinkling of the F Word. All the ingredients of good box office! I stuck with it only to see if it could get much worse. (It did!) My vote of 2 is generous, based mainly on some good effects and effective cinematography. But the story is confusing and the characters improbable. This is a tense and disturbing film which is difficult to watch and impossible to enjoy. Horror films can be fun. This one, the product of a dissolute Hollywood and an amoral society is not!
The English Teacher (2013)
Cute and cheeky
This is a pleasant, low budget, entertaining film. The story is built around a high school production of a play written by a former student of the school. But there are complications galore. It's funny. It's clever. It's original. There are a lot of laughs but also some serious moments, a bit of rumpy-pumpy and a few profanities, tied to-gether with a humorous, British accented voice over commentary and occasional, bluntly worded on screen titles. It's a happy combination of good writing, interesting characters, original ideas and snappy production, all done on a low budget.
Le Week-End (2013)
We can identify!
My wife and are seniors. We find most comedies meaningless because they are crafted for a 35-40 year old audience. But this is a film a senior can relate to and enjoy. A senior couple from Birmingham takes the Eurostar to Paris for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary. Like my wife and me, they are in love and dependent on each other. But they still argue, bicker and disagree. I'm not sure if it's a comedy, a drama, a senior skin flick or an adventure film. There's a little bit of each. But it goes in some original directions and takes some unique twists. If you are 20 years old, you will neither enjoy nor understand this film. If you're, say, past your 25th. wedding anniversary, you're sure to find situations in the story that you and your spouse have experienced in your own marriage. It's a bit different but interesting, informative and entertaining. My only criticism is the frequent and unnecessary use of the F-word, all the more unlikely since the husband here is a cultured academic.
This film is poetry on celluloid. Beautiful, lyrical, powerful, thoughtful, artistic. I could go on... In essence it is a very complex love story set in Germany and France in 1919,the horrors of the Great War still very vivid, very recent and very painful. Complex it may be. But you can follow the story line with no problem, despite its many misleading twists and turns. Much of the plot has to do with well intentioned lies. But that is an over simplification. The story is tender and lovely with moments of both joy and sadness. The film is mostly black and white, done with the rich depth and shading that are so effective when handled by a master. Some scenes are in colour however. They're effective and nicely done but I'm puzzled about their purpose. No matter! This is one beautiful, unique and memorable film.
The Netflix summary sounded like it might be a good movie so we brought it up. It is a SUPERB movie that captures the atmosphere of world war II with powerful staging and creative cinematography. Basically it is the story of a Canadian-British spy who falls in love with his French partner in espionage who might just be a double agent. (I'll never tell whether she was.) I was dismayed to see the long list of errors on the IMDb page, such things as non-contemporary door locks, misplaced deserts and inappropriate salutes. Usually I'm a stickler for such things. But this movie is so great, they don't really matter. You'll be riveted to your chair for its two hour plus running time. The plot is almost operatic. They have captured wartime London, the blitz and the flexible wartime morality of the forties brilliantly. A| winner and a keeper!
Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont (2016)
A wonderful Movie.Funny.Sad.Inspiring. Honest.Not only is the (true) story intriguing, the scenes are compelling and the casting superb. It is essentially the story of a black doctor from the Congo who had been educated in France who accepts a position as the town doctor in a small farm community north of Paris but is himself not accepted by the locals, most of whom have never even seen a black person. It is very well put to-gether and the end product is a film that entices and entertains. In addition to the principals, there is a superb cast of the local characters, some of whom are indeed characters. It will tug your heart, tickle your funny bone and stimulate your mind.
The Walk (2015)
Not for acrophobiacs
This is a splendid film in all respects. The acting has a highly effective subdued quality. There is much creative photography, for example some of the early shots of Petit riding his bicycle that have colour highlighted on a black and white scene. There is comedy, drama, suspense and interestingly drawn characters. It captures the essence of both Paris and New York. Of course the scenes from the top of the World Trade Centre are spectacularly good. I was amazed to read here that it was shot in Imax 3D. I'm thankful I didn't see it that way because even on my flat screen TV, the shots from the top of the tower were so gut wrenching that I had to turn away. (I'm a bit of an acrophobiac myself.) I was disappointed that there were no details on the IMDb on how the World Trade Centre was recreated so impressively. This was shot 14 years after it was destroyed on 9/11.Also curious how they put Petit at the very top of the Statue of Liberty for his narration. It must have been a set but it was hugely effective. There also must have been a great deal of computer generated effects. A really impressive film!
Shimmer Lake (2017)
It starts out pretty well as you settle down for 90 minutes of what promises to be action, excitement and drama.But the clarity is soon engulfed in clouds of confusion and downpours of bad taste. I don't know if anyone has actually clocked the number of times the "F" word was used including to and by a child. There is also graphic, gay sex which I found repulsive. But by the end --- in fact by the middle --- you are totally confused as to who these people are and why they're all shooting each other dead. I give it a big "A". For AWFUL!
Deadly Hope (2012)
Torn two ways
This is a very neat nail-biter, very well done with a dandy surprise ending. Writing, acting, cinematography...all first rate This is a very watchable movie. But it is a Canadian production, shot in and around Montreal and SUBSIDIZED BY THE Canadian AND QUEBEC GOVERNMENTS AND PRODUCED FOR Canadian MOVIE CHANNELS!!! Why then is it set in Washington DC??? This is far better than most of the dross shot under these circumstances.It's a gripping story about blackmail, revenge and murder stemming from the death of a patient at a fertility clinic. But why could it not have been set in Montreal or Toronto or some other Canadian city? But no. It's Washington, even dupliciously inserting some stock footage of the Washington skyline to prop up the counterfeit credentials. While most countries use their film industries to tell their stories, Canada grovels and grinds out pseudo American films, not having the courage to tell Canadian stories set in Canadian places to Canadian viewers. This craven and contemptible practice may create jobs in the US dominated Canadian film industry for the hacks who have not yet fled to Hollywood. But what does it say to Canadians? ...that we are timid butt kissers who believe everything in the United States is far superior to anything in Canada? Fine movie this time instead of the usual pallid products. But it is a fluke, one diamond in a pile of shoddy broken glass.
Lída Baarová (2016)
This is a powerful, superbly done, compelling film, produced with that wonderful "European" quality that Hollywood never has been quite able to replicate. It's apparently a true story although, even being a war history buff, I had never heard of it. I suspect it may have been tarted up a bit for dramatic effect. If so, fine! It is a great and captivating couple of hours with brilliant cinematography and wonderful sets that capture the flamboyant Nazi pageantry of pre-war Germany. Most of the characters look real: Pavel Kriz as Hitler, Jan Lepsik as Himmler. But the key character, Joseph Goebbels, played by Viktar Preiss, looks nothing like the man. An intriguing snip of history most effectively converted to an engrossing movie.
The Peacemaker (1997)
This is not a great film, a powerful drama or a meaningful social commentary. However it is a damn good action film with good acting, impressive effects and never a dull moment. Things explode, get shot, crash, collide and plummet to doom and disaster almost from the opening scene. But although the violence is excessive, it's violence of the James Bond/Bugs Bunny variety: so fast paced and excessive it's inoffensive and entertaining. This is a 20 year old movie yet the effects are as impressive as anything done today, including a nuclear explosion. And if you are a rail buff, the first thirty minutes or so are a real treat. It's flat out escapism. But that's not always a bad thing. Just the thing for a rainy Monday night!
The Accidental Husband (2008)
A nice change
Not either a great or a memorable film but a pleasant piece of fluff after a week of "heavy" movies and a day where just about everything went wrong. I wasn't in the mood for murders, stabbings, graphic sex, Nazis or natural disasters. This was a needed change with some interesting characters, a silly plot and a few chuckles. There is nothing particularly good about this film. The acting, writing and cinematography are adequate if unexceptional. It's humorous without being hilarious. But neither is there any violence, profanity or message. It fit the bill on a Saturday night when I didn't want to think too much.
Tokyo Trial (2016)
With so much mindless fluff on television, how great it is to see a serious and superbly done docudrama. Tokyo Trial covers the legal and political battles that were bitterly fought behind closed doors for two years after the Japanese surrender. The tribunal wrestled with the issue of whether Japanese leaders could be punished for aggression when there really was no law against aggression and whether the Japanese incursion into China was really any different from the British in India or the Americans' genocide of their native population. We are privy to some superb behind the scenes legal discussions. The series exudes honesty and accuracy. It uses one very effective technique. The scenes in the courtroom are shown in newsreel style black and white while the dialogue is heard in the tinny, halting voice of the translator. Most effective! The various judges are brilliantly drawn. Each is a unique personality. The clothing, the accents, even the body language, are all carefully presented and give the series a genuine " slice of the past" quality that few films achieve. I sometimes despair that we use our amazing video technology for trivialities and trash. This series shows what television can accomplish but so seldom does.