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All Saints (2017)
7/10
A Solid And Inspiratonal Movie
13 September 2019
In spite of the fact that I, myself, am a pastor, I'm not generally enamoured of Christian movies. They're too formulaic and entirely predictable to be truly interesting. But this movie did pique my curiosity. First, because it was a true story about a real church and a real pastor facing a real challenge that's so familiar to many churches today. Second, because it didn't sound as if it was a hard-sell evangelical type of story (it is, after all, about an Episcopalian Church - hardly a hotbed of fundamentalism) but was rather about the real journey of one congregation to redefine its purpose. All Saints was a small and struggling Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee that was slated to close because it could no longer afford its mortgage. Then, suddenly, a large group of refugees from Myanmar - who happened to be Anglican - moved to the community and started attending the church. Together with the pastor, Michael Spurlock (who was newly ordained and had been assigned to All Saints for the sole purpose of guiding them to their end - a sort of pastoral palliative care for a dying congregation), the newcomers transform the church by creating a farm on its property, and using the produce to both feed the refugee population and to produce income for the church, giving the congregation new life and convincing the ecclesiastical powers that be to keep it open as a mission church.

The story isn't exactly an "exciting" one - but it's very faithful and faith-filled. Not in a fundamentalist sense, but in the sense of a diverse group of faithful Christians who work together to find a way to make a difference, and who feel themselves led by God to a new way of being "church." It's a pleasant and inspiring movie to watch. It's not hard-sell Christian. Among those who contribute to the farm are Buddhists and even "nothings" (presumably atheists) along with long time congregational members and members of a presumably evangelical mega-church nearby. But this particular church and its mission drew together all of these folk who in the normal course of things might never have known each other or worked together.

I thought the cast - particularly John Corbett and Cara Buono as Pastor Michael Surlock and his wife Aimee and also Nelson Lee as Ye Win (who was the leader of the refugee population) - were strong, and the story resonated with me and should resonate with anyone concerned about the plight of the church in so many places today and who are looking for a sign that the faith still matters and the church still makes a difference. This movie accomplished that. Well done. 7/10
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Kenau (2014)
6/10
Knowing Some Of The History Would Be Helpful To A Viewer
10 September 2019
I'd say right off that in order to really appreciate this movie a person needs to have more familiarity with the Eighty Years War and the Battle of Haarlem that the movie depicts than I have. The battle of Haarlem was a siege of that Dutch city by the Spaniards in the winter-spring 1572-1573, with the events of the Protestant Reformation and the accompanying religious tensions very much in the picture. The movie is really a celebration of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, a widow who arganized the women of Haarlem into a fighting force to battle the Spanish troops. In the movie, Kenau was played by a Dutch actress named Monic Hendrickx, who was convincing enough in the role. The sets were authentic and the battle scenes were quite convincing. But being entirely unfamiliar with Dutch history, much of the historical material admittedly went over my head. And I was surprised to discover, in doing some reading about Kenau after watching this, that there are some who even doubt that she ever existed and believe her entire life to be the stuff of mythology.

It's a well done movie - but having some background in Dutch history and the historical setting of the story would be helpful to a viewer. (6/10)
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6/10
Interesting But Not Really Engrossing
2 September 2019
I'd have to call this movie intriguing rather than engrossing. The story is reasonably interesting. It focuses on the investigation into a series of Jack the Ripper-style murders in Victorian London in the 1880's committed by a killer who was known as The Limestone Golem. Alongside that investigation is the story (and trial) of a young woman and music hall actress named Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) accused of poisoning her husband. Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard (played by Bill Nighy) is assigned to investigate the Golem murders and also becomes involved with Elizabeth's case as he begins to think that her deceased husband might have been the Golem.

What I found most intriguing about this movie was the way in which actual historical figures of the time were woven into the plot. Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) was in fact a very famous British actor of the day; George Gissing (Margan Watkins) was a British novelist of the day and Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) really did live in London at the time. Leno, Gissing and Marx all became suspects in the Golem murders. I thought the fictional story managed to incorporate them into the plot very well and very believably. The performances were good. The setting of the movie seemed authentic. There was a Victorian feel to this movie in both the sets and the dialogue, and it was interesting to get a bit of the taste of what it migt have been like behind the scenes of a London music hall of that era. All that was well done.

The story, however, seemed somewhat choppy to me. I wasn't taken with the flow of the movie; it seemed inconsistent from beginning to end. At times it also seemed as if a little bit too much effort was being put in to trying to keep the viewer guessing, but the end result (for me) was times of confusion over the story more than anything. The "twist" in the plot as the murderer was finally revealed took me by surprise (which I appreciated) but then the movie went on for a little bit too long. Once the twist was revealed I was ready for the story itself to come to an end, and I thought the last few scenes (once the identity of the Golem had been revealed) were superfluous.

It was an interesting movie, even if it was a little bit uneven. Overall, I'd say it deserves a 6/10.
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Dahmer (2002)
3/10
It Lacks Any Real Depth
1 September 2019
I want to say first that I thought that Jeremy Renner (who played serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer) was very good in the role. He had the right "feel" to him. He captured the always difficult portrayal of someone who seems fairly normal in every day life (Dahmer had a job in a chocolate factory) but who underneath it all is a monster. Renner made this movie worth watching. And yet, Renner's good performance aside, this was still a disappointing movie.

To me, it lacked any real coherence. There was no structure to the plot. I could appreciate Renner's performance while at the same time realizing that I learned surprisingly little of importance about the character he was playing. A movie about a serial killer becomes exploitative unless there's some real attempt to understand the serial killer; to get inside his mind; to comprehend how the serial killer ended up being a serial killer. "Dahmer" lacked any of that. It focussed, as I recall, on Dahmer's interactions with three of his victims. But that was it. We didn't really get a sense of the breadth of his crimes; we didn't really get a sense of who he really was. There's a sense of him leading a troubled home life with his parents; a hint at a religious upbringing that seemed to have a major and negative impact on him. But there was no real depth to any of this. I appreciated that it wasn't especially graphic. But I would have liked to have learned a lot more about Dahmer and what made him tick. Any of that was sadly missing. (3/10)
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8/10
Great Cast And A Solid Story
31 August 2019
IN one sense "Terms Of Endearment" is a typical melodrama that revolves around family dynamics - mostly disfunctional family dynamics - that turns into a bit of a tear jerker in its closing scenes. It revolves mostly around the relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and Emma (Debra Winger) - a mother and daughter with a sometimes tense but always loving relationship characterized from the beginning of the film (when Emma was shown as a baby) by Aurora's over-protectiveness of her daughter. That over-protectiveness hangs over Emma throughout her life, extending finally into her own marriage. MacLaine and Winger both put on superb performances. And whle the story is melodramatic, it's better than your typical soapy movie. The characters are interesting. It really is fascinating to watch Aurora's evolution after she falls for her astronaut neighbour (played by Jack Nicholson) and suddenly starts to find some fun in her life, and some meaning beyond simply being Emma's mother. The supporting cast (with people like Jeff Daniels and Danny DeVito and John Lithgow) are strong, and the transformation of the movie into a tear jerker toward the end is actually handled very well and is very moving.

What I most liked about this picture was that, in its own way, it was a believable movie. I found that I could relate to the characters and situations. This was a multiple Oscar winner - for Best Picture and for James Brooks as Best Director, as well as wins for MacLain and Nicholson for their performances. They were all well deserved. (8/10)
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7/10
Graphic And Tense; A Good Depiction Of A War Zone
30 August 2019
It's hard to find the right words to describe this film. Gritty. Realistic. Sombre. Tense. All of them fit as a good description. The strength of this movie is that it seems to offer a very accurate portrayal of life in a war zone. The story is about a British unit who find themselves hopelessly stuck in a mine field in Afghanistan in 2006. Several are wounded (the wounds are graphically depicted) and they have no way of knowing where the rest of the mines are or how many there are Theyre stuck; they can't move. All they can do is wait for a helicopter evacuation that seems to take an eternity to arrive. The tension of the mine field is easily felt, and it's a superb contrast to the opening of the movie, that deals with a great deal of character development and seems t make the point that, for the most part, life in a war zone is pretty boring. There's really nothing much happening for this unit; there's really very little for them to do. That probably sums up an average day in many or most war zones. But the sudden shift into a crisis was startling and well presented. As the wounded soldiers lie on the ground, tended by an overwhelmed medic, we listen as they prepare to die - asking for final words to be passed on to their families and coming to terms with the end approaching.

Everything in this is very well portrayed. War is certainly not glorified in this. It's either dull or nauseatingly bloody. I've never been to war, but I've had the chance in my life to know a lot of veterans, and I think they'd probably agree with the way war is presented here. It's quite a well done account of a true story, although it's probably not for those who are squeamish about the sight of blood or severed limbs - of which there are many. (7/10)
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4/10
Some Interesting Reflections But A Weak Story And A Cheap Look
29 August 2019
There are some things (more philosophical points than anything having to do with the actual production of the movie) that I liked about this film. The opening scenes were thought-provoking and disturbing. They depicted a group of arms merchants sitting around a table lamenting that with the end of the America Civil War their profits were down. This calm and matter of fact and very practical approach to warfare strikes me as something arms manufacturers of every place and age would share. The group was gathered to hear a proposal from industrialist/scientist Victor Barbicane (Joseph Cotten) about a new type of explosive he had invented and a proposal that the explosive could be used to launch a rocket to the moon - in 1868! Since there was potential profit involved (and because countries all over the world would want to buy the explosive to protect themselves from each other) they all signed on to the project. That, of course, was a prophetic reference to the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) - a phrase which was coined several years after this movie's release. And Barbicane's new explosive is obviously intended to remind people of the atomic bomb. So there's a combination of typical 50's sci-fi with the paranoia that existed at the time about the bomb. There was some interesting enough material to reflect on.

Unfortunately ... yes, there's an "unfortunately." The actual story is about as dry as can be. It plods along with very little happening that's really all that interesting. The special effects are virtually non-existent - which is especially noticeable once the rocket takes off with Barbicane and some associates aboard. Somehow the rocket has gravity and the shots of the rocket are cheap looking - as is the very bare bones interior of the ship. I also wondered why they were worried that the rocket would heat up and burn as it landed on the moon? There's no atmosphere on the moon. There's nothing to heat it up? The ending of the story was very abrupt and seemed to leave an awful lot hanging. And there was one historical anomaly that puzzled me. As I understand the story it's set in 1868. But when Barbicane is asked to meet with the president, it's obvious that the president is Ulysses Grant. But Grant became president in 1869. In 1868 the president was Andrew Johnson. Although I don't recall a specific date being mentioned in the movie - but most of what I've read about the movie says that it's set in 1868. That puzzled me.

Personally, I thought that even as 50's sci-fi (which is full of cheap and cheesy movies) goes, this was one of the weaker examples I've seen. (4/10)
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22 July (2018)
10/10
Absolutely Superb
26 August 2019
Mass shootings in the United States are fairly common now, to the point at which we're almost innoculated against being shocked by them. But when they happen elsewhere - especially in a normally peaceful country like Norway - there is a shock value, and I can remember the shock felt on July 22, 2011 when Anders Breivik murdered 77 people and injured over 200 with a combination of a bomb blast outside government buildings in Oslo and then a shooting rampage on an island that killed dozens of teenagers on a youth retreat. Breivik was a far-right extremist, violently opposed to non-white immigration and refugees and multiculturalism. He didn't snap. He carefully and meticulously planned the attacks and then methodically carried them out. The movie combines his story with the stories of the victims (and one victim - Viljar and his family - in particular) and focuses mostly on Brieivik's trial for the crime.

The actual attacks are not the focus of the movie. They're fairly quickly portrayed in the first half hour or so of the movie. But be warned - although the attacks are portrayed fairly quickly, they're quite graphic and it is truly disturbing to see this young man coldly hunting down teenagers to kill. The legal proceedings were interesting. Not being Norwegian, it was a good introduction to how the system works in Norway. Like in any other country, there's the immedoate angst about the fact that even the most heinous perpetrators of crime have rights that have to be granted, often to the discomfort of the victims. The performances were superb. Jonas Strand Gravli portrayed Viljas, as he struggles to recover from his trauma - which was both mental and physical, and Anders Danielsen Len was eerily good as Breivik. An actor named Ola Furuseth played the Norwegian prime minister. It wasn't a huge role, but it was a good portrayal of a leader trying to determine why something like this would have happened on his watch.

This is both a disturbing movie (as it depicts the attacks) and a hopeful movie, as the victims start to overcome their trauma and eventually as Viljas confronts Breivik in the courtroom. Its rating here is - to me - surprisingly low. I started writing this thinking I would give it an 8 or maybe a 9, and the more I reflect on it the more I realize that I can't really come up with anything of substance that would cause me to mark it down at all. Which leaves me with - 10/10!
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5/10
A Solid Enough Performance From Tom Hanks In One Of His Weaker Movies
25 August 2019
Basically what this movie offers is exactly what you're expecting to get when you decide to watch it: a very solid performance from Tom Hanks, who always offers a very solid performance. What doesn't get offered in this movie, though, is any truly compelling story. Hanks plays salesman Alan Clay. Clay is down on his luck. His career is going nowhere fast, except possibly downhill, and his personal life is a mess. He gets a chance to right himself when he's asked to go to Saudi Arabia by his company to sell some sort of holographic teleconferencing system to the Kingdom in a new city being built by the king as an economic hub.

This is meant, I think, to be a comedy. And at times it is mildly amusing. Clay has to deal with the culture shock that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with a whole lot of insane bureaucratic red tape and various Saudi officials who don't really seem all that interested in doing anything for him or even meeting with him. Meanwhile, Clay's accompanied by his driver Yousef, who also manages to inject a little bit of humour. But there's not enough humour, and it's interspersed with a lot of pretty heavy stuff - a growth Clay has on his back, the related medical problem, the ongoing drama of his troubled relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, his declining career. It's as if every now and then, just as the story is starting to feel just a little bit light and fun, a decision was made to not let it be too much fun. The introduction of the romance between Clay and the female Saudi doctor also seemed off to me; it really didn't fit the story at all. It was awkward. And regardless of Hanks' solid performance, I felt nothing for his character. How this would ultimately turn out for Clay really didn't interest me - and since that's really what the story is all about, it was a major weakness.

It's a decent enough performance from Hanks - and it provides a glimpse of Saudi culture and a sense of what it must be like as a westerner to travel there (but unlike some movies set in foreign countries it gave me no desire whatsoever to actually visit Saudi Arabia.) But at the same time I'd have to say that it's one of Hanks' weaker movies. (5/10)
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Winchester (2018)
3/10
A Political Statement Masquerading As A Ghost Story
25 August 2019
To say that this movie is "inspired by actual events" - as the opening caption claims - is, of course, something of a stretch. It takes the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (makers of the Winchester Rifle and other arms) and the lifestory of Sarah Winchester, who inherited the company upon the death of her husband, and builds a tall tale of supernatural events revolving around the house that Sarah really did build in California - a huge mansion full of winding staircases and confusing hallways. I always take the claim "inspired by actual events" with a huge grain of salt. And when what you're watching is a ghost story, the grain of salt is even larger. The so-called "Winchester Mystery House" is real, and it was built by Sarah Winchester, and it is huge and confusing. It's a tourist attraction, open to the public (it might be interesting to visit) and of course there are stories of it being haunted - all the better to pull the toursists in to see it. Many of the claims about Sarah and the house (and even its history) are believed to have been invented by its post-Winchester owners. For what purpose?Probably to make a buck off tourists wanting to visit a haunted house!

In the movie, Sarah believes the Winchester family is cursed by their involvement in the arms manufacturing business, and the cast of characters is a collection of people who have all experienced some sort of trauma in their lives around the deaths of loved ones - deaths generally associated in some way with a Winchester rifle. And so, the supernatural element of the story has it that the spirits of those killed by Winchesters come to this house, where Sarah tries to lock them away until they can find peace. Helen Mirren was in the lead role as Sarah, and I thought she was good in the part (although it's a bit baffling why such a high profile and well regarded actor would take on a role in such a weak movie), with Jason Clarke playing a doctor called in by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to determine whether Sarah was sane enough to remain in control of the company. Again, Clarke was all right in the role, and Dr. Price had his own demons to deal with. The movie offers the standard kind of "jumps" that you expect to find in a ghost story, but to be perfectly honest it fails to ever be truly frightening and in the end I'm not sure (I'm truly not sure) that anything in the story was ever really resolved.

If anything, the movie seems to be a political statement as much or more than a horror movie or ghost story. It's an Australian production (it likely couldn't have been made in the USA because the very powerful NRA would have immediately moved to try to stop it) but it seems tailor made to fit into some of the political debates in the United States around gun control. It makes the point of how many people die through the use of guns, and it seems to be almost pleading for arms manufacturers (represented by those characters who in the movie control the Winchester Repeating Arms Company) to be stricken with guilt over what their product facilitates. It may be a valid point, and it's certainly a valid political debate with credible people on both sides of the gun control issue, but the political agenda of the movie became clear pretty early on and seemed a bit too heavy handed to allow this movie to really be enjoyed.

There have been far better ghost stories produced. (3/10)
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Key Largo (1948)
7/10
Interesting Movie With Some Still Relevant Social Commentary
24 August 2019
World War II has been over for a couple of years, and Maj. Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) has become basically a drifter. No home address; no real home. Although it may not have been the focus of the movie, I thought the point was made that adjusting to civilian life after the war was difficult for many vetarans, and continues to be a challenge for many veterans up to the present day. I thought that there was a certain sadness to McCloud that Bogart captured quite well - an uncertainty about who he was and confusion over what his place in society was now that he's no longer in the army, no longer a Major, no longer in command. McCloud was an interesting character who intrigued me right from the start of the movie.

McCloud drifts in to Key Largo, Florida - apparently planning to briefly drop in on the father and widow of a soldier (James and Nora, played by Lionel Barrymore and Lauren Bacall) who was killed under his command in the Italian campaign. They run a hotel in the Key and McCloud discovers that it's been "rented" by a suspicious cast of characters. Invited by James and Nora to extend his stay, he quickly discovers that the hotel is occupied by a group of mobsters headed by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson, in a pretty cliche role for him.) The bulk of the movie is about Frank and the Temples trying to co-exist with the mobsters until they move on - something complicated by a major hurricane that strikes.

The movie is driven by Bogart and Robinson. Both of them were very good in their parts. I was surprised to discover that Claire Trevor won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gaye - Rocco's girl. She was fine, but I honestly wouldn't have thought of her performance as Oscar-worthy. Bacall's role was somewhat limited; she was quite overshadowed by Bogie and Robinson. Generally "Key Largo" is an interesting enough film noir type of movie.

It's quintessentially of the 1940's. People get shot and not only is there no blood - mysteriously, not even holes appear in their clothing. There was even an interesting (and somewhat progressive) reflection on the role and status of Indians and how they've been treated historically, a reflection largely pushed forward by Barrymore's character of James Temple, reflecting on his relationship with a local Seminole tribe. "Key Largo" was the last film Bogie and Bacall starred in together. It's a decent movie with some interesting characters and a little bit of social commentary that remains relevant to this day. (7/10)
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The Discovery (I) (2017)
4/10
This Movie Just Didn't Connect With Me
23 August 2019
I have to admit that this story intrigued me, but ultimately never really connected with me. I start this by saying that I am a person of faith. I believe that there is more to this life than the relatively few years we live on this earth. I believe that somehow and in some form our consciousness transcends this material world. But it's at the level of belief; of faith. Although I was intrigued by the idea of a scientist who manages to prove the existence of an afterlife, once I started watching this I realized that I don't want anyone to ever be able to do that. The frantic search for "proof" seems misplaced when investigating such a concept, which is probably why I have little interest in things like Near death Experiences or ghost stories or the like. An "afterlife" exists as a belief or as a hope. I neither need nor want the mystery surrounding the possibility to be revealed. So once this movie started I began (quickly) processing all that and I realized that the story just didn't connect with me on any truly meaningful level.

Setting aside my philosophical or religious views, though, what did I think about the actual movie. Scientist Thomas Harbor has "proved" the existence of an afterlife and the reaction to his discovery is a rash of suicides as people become desperate to experience it. His son Will (Jason Segel) is a neurosurgeon who disapproves of his father's work but who visits his father's home, connecting with Isla (Rooney Mara) on the way and taking her with him and reconnecting with his brother Tobi (Jesse Plemons) at the estate where his father is continuing his experiments and has gathered a sort of cult-like following around him. Thomas, having proven that an afterlife exists, has now become obsessed with trying to prove what it's like and what happens. More or less, that's the story.

It's a sci-fi sort of plot with a little bit of potential. I thought the performances were a bit uninspired and uneven. Redford was fine, although to me he seemed a bit lacking in passion for a scientist who seemed to have achieved the goal of his life's work. Segel's Will confused me. For a guy who was supposedly opposed to his father's research he certainly threw himself into it. Mara's Isla intrigued me a bit. I wanted to know her story. What I didn't really care for (although I fully expected it) was the romantic relationship that evolved between them. It seemed forced. It just didn't work for me. The "twist" in the last few scenes surprised me as the movie took on a sort of "Groundhog Day" angle, so I'll give the story credit for that. But overall it just wasn't a movie that established a big connection with me. (4/10)
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Stripes (1981)
5/10
Starts Off Well, But Just Becomes Silly As It Goes On
22 August 2019
You look at the cast and you have to be impressed. Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy - throw in John Larroquette and Judge Reinhold and a couple of others. It's a good cast of SNL veterans and others who would become fairly well known. You look at the plot and you realize it's nothing particularly original. It's about a group of misfits in the Army. There are lots of similar type stories. But the cast draws you in, because you expect a fair bit from them. And for the first half of the movie they deliver reasonably well. The story revolves around John and Russell (played by Murray and Ramis) - who both find themselves in dead end jobs, going nowhere and decide that the Army looks like an easy gig. So they join up. And it turns out to be not so easy. That's one surprising thing about that fairly good first half - it's funny at times, but it also has its moments of seriousness and John and Russell discover that the Army isn't all fun and games. It was decent enough. But then came the second half of the movie. Something happens at the point of the platoon graduating from the military academy - especially when this joke of a platoon ends up being given responsibility for a top secret new military weapon. After that I thought "Stripes" descended into silliness and started to take on almost a slapstick quality that just didn't appeal to me as much. It's not so much that I didn't find it believable - really, none of it is believable - but that it wasn't interesting and it stopped being fun.

The female characters in this are mostly there for window dressing. Even the female leads (PJ Soles and Sean Young) don't have a lot to do and really can't be taken seriously - they play cute MPs who end up as playthings for John and Russell, although Young gets to do a wee bit more serious stuff in the latter stages of the film. But most of the women you see in this are for eye candy more than anything - there's a lot of toplessness but little substance.

It's a middling sort of movie. I give it a 5/10.
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Tentacles (1977)
2/10
Excruciatingly Bad - But I Cold Appreciate That The Heores Turned Out To Be Cetaceans!
20 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Jaws" came out in 1975. In the years following there were all sorts of rip-off movies that stole the theme and tried to recreate the story, with varying levels of success. "Tentacles" - in my experience at least - is the worst of the rip-off stories. It is a truly terrible movie. You kind of expect it to be bad, but then you look at the cast and you see John Huston and Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda and you ask yourself - well, how bad could it really be with those actors in it? And the answer is really bad. This is perhaps proof that there are a lot of similarities between aging actors and aging athletes. They keep going even when they're past their prime. And - honestly - Shelley Winters struck me as a little bit too old to be playing the mother of what appeared to be an under 10 year old son. She would have been 57 when this was made. It's possible, but it really wasn't credible.

So the parts of this movie that feature the main American stars are in English. Most of the scenes that don't feature the major American stars are in some other language (Italian I presume) and are dubbed (poorly) into English. There's a giant octopus who substitutes for the great white shark of "Jaws" and there's an oceanographer who figures it out and there's a big community thing going on that has lots of people on the water - in this case, a children's yacht race. What this is lacking (and what "Jaws" had in abundance) was excitement and scares. This is mostly just boring. The movie starts with a baby in a baby carriage on water's edge being stolen by the octi-tentacled menace after its mother had inexplicably abandoned it there to run across a busy road to say "hey" to her girlfriend who was passing by. It goes downhill from there. The shots of the giant octopus are really just extreme closeups of a normal octopus, until we see the creature chasing down one of the yachts (belonging to Winters' "son") In that scene the creature looked like a plastic toy being dragged through the water - which it may well have been. There's a subplot around a company that's built some giant tunnel. I never really understood that but it seemed to have something to do with the octopus - and there are killer whales in this. Two of them! Darn cute ones! In fact, the killer whales turn out to be the heroes of the whole thing - which is about the best thing I can say about the film. When orcas are the heroes you can at least cheer. This movie certainly didn't deserve a human hero. That would be giving too much credit to the species that actually put this on film.

The movie was poorly directed, the editing was bad, the effects are bad. Killer whales aside - this really was truly bad. (2/10)
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Jungle (I) (2017)
7/10
Pretty Good Survival Epic
20 August 2019
Daniel Radcliffe has come a long way since Harry Potter. In "Jungle" he stars as Yossi Ghinsberg in a true story about survival in the South American jungle. Yossi - along with two friends and a guide - sets off on an adventure, and along the way gets separated from everyone else and has to fight for survival for three weeks, battling wild animals, fire ants, the weather, quicksand and pretty much anything else the jungle could be expected to throw at him. Radcliffe's performance was very good. There are long portions of this that are essentially a one man show, and if Radcliffe had been less than excellent the movie would have suffered. But he pulled it off, and he pulled it off well.

The first hour or so of the movie I thought was a little bit lacklustre. It recounts how the four guys meet and then follows them on the start of the trek. To be honest this was little more than four guys hiking through the jungle. It had a bit of a light-hearted, almost "yarn-ish" feel to it at times. There was nothing especially dramatic or exciting involved. But when the four split into two groups, and then Yossi finds himself alone, the movie really takes off. It becomes a survival epic, full of drama and at times seemingly hopeless for Yossi, who falls into hallucinations and hunger.

You do spend some time wondering why any of these guys decided to make this journey in the first place. They seemed woefully ill prepared for a long journey through the jungle. In fact, their lack of preparedness would probably make this story quite unbelievable - except for the fact that this is based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, and from what I've read of what happened to him, this seems to be a pretty accurate telling of his experience. (7/10)
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6/10
It Overcomes A Slow and Confusing Start And Becomes A Solid Movie By The End
19 August 2019
To say the least, "The Girl On The Train" is a very dark movie. Unsettling. Confusing. Even baffling. There's an uneasy feel to this from the start. Something's off. Something's not right. Is this even reality, or is it a fantasy taking place inside the mind of a very disturbed woman? The disturbed woman in this case is Rachel (Emily Blunt.) She's an alcoholic and rides the same train every day, past the house where she used to live with her ex-husband. She sees their neighbours, and wonders about them and about their relationship. The female neighbour is the nanny to her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby. The movie mixes the story of all three (Rachel, Anna - the new wife, and Megan - the nanny) together. What drives it forward is that Megan has gone missing, and the question is what happened to her and who was responsible.

For a while I found this an unpleasant movie to watch. To be honest, I had to turn it off at about the half hour mark. It wasn't hitting home with me. But there was something about it that drew me back; I needed to see how this was going to turn out. In the end I was glad that I did. It overcomes the bleakness of the first half hour and although it still seems to walk the line uneasily between fantasy and reality, the mystery involved gets more and more engrossing, and the plot twist (you knew something had to be coming) happens with about a half hour to go - and it was, to me at least, completely unexpected. Not all is as it seems to be. The inter-twining of the stories of Rachel, Anna and Megan leads up to a sobering finish.

In the end I was surprised to discover that I was actually quite awakened from the slumber-inducing first half hour or so and really wanted to see how this was going to end. Emily Blunt's portrayal of Rachel was strong. The supporting cast was all right - I didn't think there were any outstanding performances aside from Blunt's, but it was Blunt's movie, and she pulled it off. It has to overcome that slow and bewildering first half hour, and it won't appeal to those who want a straightforward plot or who are put off by a movie with overtly dark tones. But by the time this was over I could honestly say that I was glad I watched it. (6/10)
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7/10
Some Interesting Philosophical Content
18 August 2019
Basically, I liked the story and found this movie interesting to watch. A serial killer (who has murdered five young women and is suspected in the disappearance of many others) demands a live television interview with a network news program in exchange for revealing the whereabouts of the undiscovered victims. Frankly, I thought that was implausible - that either a network would agree to such an interview or that the authorities would alloow it to happen, although that was dealt with by having one of the missing women be the daughter of a senator who had strings to pull. The bulk of the movie is set in the interview room as the killer and the reporter square off against each other. It's a simple setting, and aside from the implausibility was pretty well done. I liked Douglas M. Griffin as the killer and James Kyson as the reporter. Both were believable in their roles, and Griffin brought the right feel to the character, who over the course of the movie morphs from a simple serial killer into a philosophical and charismatic quasi-religious figure who's selling his own brand of spirituality mixed with nihilism - Gardener (the killer) sums up his beliefs in classically nihilistic terms - ultimately the meaning of life is that there's no meaning to life.

As the interview unfolds we don't learn a great deal about the killer, but we do learn about the reality of network television. Clearly, this interview was not granted as a public service but merely as a ratings grabber - and the reporter was under pressure to speed it up and get to the good stuff from pretty early on. It was interesting to watch as Gardener turned the interveiw around and made it about Lawrence (the reporter.)

The weakest part of this movie is its ending. It leads up to nowhere. Lots of questions are left unanswered and there's no real resolution to anything. So this ended on a down note for me. But the bulk of the movie was interesting as a sort of psychological drama. It's not an exciting movie. The basic setting of a one on one interview worked against there being any sustained action, but it had a philosophical foundation that I found interesting to watch. (7/10)
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5/10
Good Use Of The Setting To Create An Appropriate Atmosphere
18 August 2019
On the positive side, I thought that director Nick Szostakiwskyj made very good use of the Canadian northern wilderness as a setting. It was bleak and snowbound and foreboding. It leant the proper atmosphere to the movie - there was a tension to this almost from the very beginning. The story revolves around a team of archaeologists who discover an unusual structure of some sort buried underground and under the snow. It's mysterious. It's very old and there are items discovered that don't belong anywhere near this area. And after the discovery, strange things begin to happen, starting with the pet cat of one of the team being discovered killed. Then the rest of the movie shows a slow descent into what appears to be madness and violence among the team.

The atmosphere was effective; the story - to me - less so. The basic question once the madness began was whether this was a form of cabin fever - madness caused by the isolation the team was facing - or whether there was a supernatural element involved in all of this; something to do with this strange structure that the team uncovered. I'd lean toward the latter, but it wasn't entirely clear and the possibility of mass hysteria was certainly present.

The story is set over a period of about six weeks. i will confess that at times the story seemed to bog down and drag a little bit, so that the six weeks started to feel a bit literal at some points. But overall the movie was mildly interesting and the performances from the cast were decent enough, although I'm not sure I'd give this many marks for originality. It was - at best - OK. Nothing special, but not bad. (5/10)
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5/10
Not Great, But Star Trek Fans Will Enjoy Seeing A Very Early Piece Of Work By Deforest Kelley
12 August 2019
"Fear In The NIght" is a fairly low budget film noir type of movie. It's grainy, and there's nothing particularly fancy about it. It has a story that's mildly interesting, although you can figure the whole thing out by the halfway point. There are a lot of better movies out there. But it has one thing that shuld pull in a certain segment of viewers: "Star Trek" fans will be intrigued by it because the star of the movie is none other than DeForest kelley, who would become famous 20 years later as Dr. McCoy on the original "Star Trek" TV series. This was his introduction to movie-making, and Kelley's performance was all right, although nothing spectacular - but neither did I ever think that he was the best actor among the "Star Trek" cast. As Vince Grayson in this movie, he's certainly earnest.

The movie starts with a somewhat bewildering scene in which a man is murdered - bewildering because the viewer has no knowledge at all of what's happening. Then, Grayson wakes up in the morning convinced that he's committed a murder, then slowly starts to believe that it was all a dream - except there's evidence. He's confused and takes the day off work to consult his brother in law (Paul Kelly) - who's a police detective. Together, they try to figure out just what in reality has actually happened. One amusing scene (at least I found it amusing) was when Vince and his brother in law (and their girlfriend and wife, respectively) get caught in a rainstorm and simply decide to let themselves into someone's house to take shelter. Strange choice I thought.

This is a passable movie - nothing great about it, but it will be a curiosity to "Star Trek" fans who want to see a very early piece of work by one of their favourite actors. (5/10)
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Maleficent (2014)
4/10
An Unnecessary Fairy Tale About A Fairy Tale
10 August 2019
Some years ago my daughter watcehd this movie and has always spoken of how good it was. I didn't watch it with her at the time but decided to check it out this morning with some free time that had fallen into my hands. I have to be honest and say that I was disappointed. Everything you would expect Disney to do right Disney did right. The CGI and the animation was quite good. The basic story was creative. The problem was that the story failed to pull me in. It's a fairy tale about a fairy tale. This is obviously based on "Sleeping Beauty" and seems to be trying to fill in the story of the evil fairy godmother who cast the spell on the Beauty. It explains what happened to Maleficent (the "godmother") and why she responded the way she did. Personally, I've never felt the need for backstories on the evil characters we sometimes come across. I think they're far more fun when they're just delightfully and wickedly evil. Telling us all about Maleficent's past was ike the movie version telling us why the Grinch was such a grinch. To me, it was unnecessary. Creative, yes. As I said - credit for that. But still unnecessary, for me at least. I have to confess that this was one of the few movies I've watched that I didn't make it through to the end with. After the first half hour or so my attention was wandering, and I actually turned it off with about 15 minutes to go. I wasn't even interested enough to see how it all turned out. (4/10)
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8/10
Quentin Tarantino Managed To Pull This Together
9 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I have to be honest and say that at about the halfway point of this movie I was truly wondering what all the hype was about. It was mildly to moderately interesting to watch the story of "Rick Dalton" play out. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Dalton was a fading star in late 1960's Hollywood. He'd been a mega-TV star of one of television's ubiquitous western series of the time, but then made the mistake of trying to venture into movies, resulting in the cancellation of his series and him being reduced to guest appearances on various TV shows and, ultimately, to spaghetti westerns. His story - along with that of his stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt) - was interesting (and even somewhat sad) but wasn't really that enthralling. DiCaprio and Pitt both did good jobs in their respective roles, but I wasn't understanding the hype. Although, right from the start there was an angle; a hook. It turned out that Dalton's next door neighbours were Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate - and this movie was set in 1969. So you knew there had to be some connection coming to the Manson family murders. That angle really was what held my attention. I wanted to see how the stories were going to intertwine - and the movie starts to take a more ominous turn when Cliff finally encounters the Manson family after picking up a hitch-hiker who was a member.

It's really at that point that Tarantino's unique touch takes over the movie, and what had been a relatively sedate and somewhat sad reflection on what appeared to be the closing chapter's of Dalton's acting career became a wild ride to the finish. The connection to the Manson family murders comes in the last 20-25 minutes of the movie - but not in the way you expect. This movie constructs an alternate history. The Manson family invades not the Polanski-Tate house, but Dalton's house - and Cliff, Rick and Cliff's faithful dog take them on and do away with them in a violent and bloody fashion that - for all its violence and bloodiness - actually had me laughing out loud at those last few scenes, especially when Rick torches one of them with the flame thrower he had kept as a souvenir from one of his movies. It was indeed a wild ride, closing with Rick being invited to hang out with Sharon tate and her friends after they found out what had happened. It was really a fascinating piece of alternative history, well crafted by Tarantino and there's no possible way that you as a viewer can take your eyes off the screen for those last 20 minutes as the confrontation between the Manson family and Dalton's group escalates in a weirdly hilarious fashion.

But perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay to this movie is that while the first half or so wasn't particularly exciting, there was always enough going on to hold my attention. Whle there were times that I found myself wondering where this was going, it never got boring to me, and I was actually shocked to discover - when I checked the time after it ended - that this movie was close to three hours long. It didn't feel it. So it was extremely well paced and it built very deliberately to that unforgettable conclusion. It's very well done. I've had mixed responses to tarantino's films. Some I've liked very much, others have left me cold. But I'd say that "Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood" is the best Tarantino film I've seen. (8/10)
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Gutland (2017)
2/10
Confusing And Bland, But I Did Make It All The Way Through Just To Learn The Mystery About Jens
8 August 2019
A German drifter arrives in a village in Luxembourg looking for work on a farm. He finds work. He works hard. He meets a girl. They have sex. Several times. He meets a dog too. Thankfully, he doesn't have sex with the dog. For half of the run time of this movie - that's the story. That's it. For a movie that bills itself as a "thriller" - there are no thrills in that first half of the movie. Literally none. I'll concede that there's some mystery. Who is this drifter? Why is he there? Really? There's more to this than him looking for work. That mystery gets cleared up at about the halfway point when we learn who Jens is and why he's in the village. And the village itself it a strange one with strange people who apparently shoot amateur porn on the side when they're not harvesting corn.

At that halfway point the movie does begin to take a bit of a darker turn, and as it progresses you begin to wonder what the mix is between fantasy and reality - and I confess I was left wondering whether the whole thing was a fantasy played out in Jens' head. The last scenes of the movie seemed ambiguous; confusing. I was left with a sense that there was no real closure involved with this and questioning what was "real."

It's rated highly. I have to give it that. Sometimes, though, I really do believe that people have a tendency to rate foreign language films highly because they're foreign language films - almost as if it's a sign of being cultured. And, of course, you start to see reviewers talking about the "great cinematography" - because what else are you going to talk about to justify rating it so highly? And there was some great cinematography here - some beautiful shots of rural Luxembourg. But it really didn't make up for a confusing and rather bland story. (2/10)
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8/10
Very Good Depiction Of Mental Illness
3 August 2019
23 year old Nancy Eaton was a member of the prominent Eaton family, most famous for Timothy Eaton - the 19th century merchant who founded the Eaton's Department store chain that dominated Canadian retail for a century. In 1985 she was raped and murdered by a friend - Andrew Leyshon-Hughes, the son of another prominent Canadian family who had become like a little brother to Nancy. The movie depicts the lives of both - as Nancy starts to claim some independence after the break up of her parent's marriage when she was a child and as Andrew descends farther and farther into mental illness. The version of the movie I saw was called "Deadly Friends." I think that's a more appropriate title than "The Death And Life of Nancy eaton," because the story was as much if not more about Leyshon-Hughes than it was about Nancy. Andrew was essentially a psychopath, often out of control and violent even toward his own parents, who became afraid of him and kicked him out. Nancy became one of the few people who didn't shut him out. Doctors disagreed about Andrew's diagnosis and about how he should be treated. He spent periods of time in various institutions - all to no avail, and always, finally, coming back to Nancy, his only lifeline. This was a very interesting look at mental illness and how the system can fail, and it also offered a glimpse of life inside two prominent families, so there was a little bit of a voyeuristic tinge to this.

Nancy's rape and murder was very violent and very bloody. She was stabbed 21 times by Andrew before he raped her and left her to die, and to the credit of those who made the movie none of this was graphically depicted. The movie really was more about Andrew's illness than Andrew's crime. The last scenes of the movie were powerful. In almost a dream sequence Andrew finally confronts what he did to Nancy, and there's also a bit of the story of Nancy's mother and how she tried to cope with her daughter's death. I thought the performances throughout this movie were quite good and believable - especially from Brendan Fletcher as the troubled Andrew . I was a little baffled when the movie on occasion used some very primitive animation as background - especially during scenes that depicted the Eaton and Leyshon-Hughes families spending time at neighbouring summer homes in the Muskoka Region - and I wasn't really sure what wa sbeing accomplished with that device or what the point of it was.

But that's a relatively minor quibble. Overall, this was a very good movie - probably one of the better made for TV Canadian movies I've come across - and there's not a great deal in it that could be criticized. (8/10)
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Curve (2015)
6/10
Decent And Sometimes Suspenseful Even If It's Full Of Cliches
3 August 2019
Surprisingly in some ways, "Curve" wasn't that bad. In fact, it was more than not bad. It was a pretty decent movie. Calling it a thriller or a horror movie is a bit of an exaggeration. It's reasonably suspenseful all the way through but there are a lot of pretty dry periods where nothing much happens. In fact, the bulk of the movie really focuses on Mallory's fight for survival. She (played by Julianne Hough) has given a ride to Christian (Teddy Sears) - a stranger who turns out to be a psychopath. No surprise there, of course. It's what moves the story forward. But after a struggle between the two Mallory's car crashes, ejecting Christian but pinning Mallory by her leg in the car, upside down. Once that happens the movie settles into Mallory fighting to survive this impossible situation. There are flashes of "127 Hours" to this - but turned into a "thriller" by Christian, who's always menacingly nearby. The story becomes a bit creepier by not really establishing what Christian's motivation was. Why was he doing this? What was he hoping to gain? Maybe that's part of the horror - this guy, who can come across as completely normal, has no real agenda except that he likes to torment and torture innocent victims. Well, of course, eventually Mallory gets free from her predicament. The story then becomes quite unbelievable. Mallory moves around surprisingly well for someone whose leg has been pinned upside down for quite some time, and discovering that Christian has taken a family hostage inside their nearby cabin, Mallory seeks her revenge on him.

It's a simple story. I thought Hough and Sears (who are the only cast members of note in this) were fine in the roles. The story has the required cringe-inducing moments, but it is full of cliches and you pretty much know where the story is going long before it gets there. All things considered, though, it was easy to watch. I'd give it 6/10.
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Otherhood (2019)
4/10
Good Performances In A Mediocre Story
2 August 2019
The story's a pretty simple one. Three moms (played by Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette) with disfunctional lives who have been lifelong friends feel ignored on Mother's Day when none of their grown sons who have equally disfunctional lives (played by Sinqua Walls, Jake Lacy and Jake Hoffman) call them. So they jump in a car and travel to New York City unannounced to visit their respective boys - who are none to happy with the surprise. That's the story.

The performances from the cast were fine. I had no complaints there. But the story is weak. It really doesn't have much of a point to it, to be honest. It's described as a comedy, but to be perfectly honest I found the movie rather dark - and not as in a dark comedy. Just dark and largely humourless to be honest. Even a dark comedy has to have some wry, sardonic humour to qualify it as a comedy. This really didn't. It wasn't a pleasant movie and I really didn't feel much sympathy for any of the characters. The story really doesn't have that much of a point to it except showing us the various disfunctional relationships, but - of course - implausibly it all leads up to the required happy ending as everything works out perfectly for everyone.

It's not a horrible movie. It's just very mediocre. The good performances from the cast get it a 4/10 from me.
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