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Devil (2010)
7/10
Shyamalan's Best Movie In Many Years
19 May 2018
I liked "Devil." The involvement of M. Night Shyamalan had me wondering if I wanted to watch it (because, let's face it, after some really good movies Shyamalan's recent work has left a lot to be desired) but in the end I'm glad I did. The plot is very simple. Five people with some questionable pasts get stuck on an elevator. That in itself could have led to a decent enough movie - a study of group dynamics as strangers in close quarters have to deal with a stressful situation. In fact, to be honest, I'd almost have preferred to have seen it made that way. It could have turned into a sort of "Twelve Angry Men" environment as those on the elevator started turning on each other. But M. Night Shyamalan was involved. So there had to be something of a supernatural element added on to the story. And it turned out to be the presence of the devil himself. Apparently, according to a story that one of the building security guards used to be told as a child (strange choice of bedtime stories, but ...) the devil sometimes takes on human form and embeds himself with a group of sinful people. So, someone on this elevator is the devil himself. What's the end result going to be?

This is probably Shyamalan's best movie in some time. In fact, the last movie of his that I actually liked was probably "Signs" - and that was over 15 years ago. The cast wasn't especially well known, and the sets weren't fancy - but they didn't have to be since the whole thing was basically set in an elevator - but the story was interesting and there were definitely some "shock" moments embedded throughout. Enjoyable enough. (7/10)
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Grizzly (1976)
5/10
Decent, Low Budget And Appropriately Cheesy Monster Movie
11 May 2018
"Grizzly" is kind of cheesy, but it's all right. It's quite watchable and has a few exciting moments. It's the story of a huge, 18 foot tall grizzly bear roaming a state park that has started to feast on campers. The bear is explained to be some sort of evolutionary holdout - so, in a way, it's kind of a sasquatch-type movie as well. When I first came across it I had the impression that it was one of those made for TV movies that were all the rage in the 1970's, but it's far too graphic and the language is too harsh for that. It was, though, made on a show string budget of $750,000, which sometimes does show through. In particular, some of the more graphic aspects of the bear attacks do seem cheap. They're graphic - limbs and heads are torn off of victims - but somehow the limbs and heads always looked to me like something off a mannequin. But that can be forgiven on a low budget movie.

The performances were all right. The biggest name (for me anyway) was Richard Jaeckel, and somehow he seemed totally miscast as the big name bear hunter. It just didn't seem to be a part that worked for him.

This movie is often considered a bit of a rip off of "Jaws," and there are similarities - the authorities refuse to close the park, just as they refused to close the beach in Jaws. But even if it was a rip-off of Jaws - well, it wasn't the only rip-off of the basic themes of "Jaws." Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. "Jaws" worked, so of course others tried to copy the format. For a low budget movie, this was OK. (5/10)
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Come Sunday (2018)
6/10
Some Interesting Theology In This Otherwise Unexciting Biography Of Carlton Pearson
21 April 2018
I suspect that most people will evaluate this movie based on their personal belief systems. Fundamentalist Christians will hate it because it portrays a high profile Christian leader moving away from fundamentalism and into a universalist theological perspective. More progressive types will likely rate it higher for that same reason. The theology contained within it (such as Hollywood can really portray theology) is interesting. Certainly, the point gets made that the Bible can be used to defend either a fundamentalist (salvation through Jesus alone) perspective or a universalist (God saves everyone regardless of what they believe) perspective. I'll choose not to wade into the theological debate. Suffice to say that as a pastor I am neither fundamentalist nor universalist; I believe both perspectives (which make determinations about a person's eternal destiny) defy Jesus' instructions not to judge. I believe the gospel is intended to provide assurance in Christ without judgement on those outside Christ. I'll leave it at that.

As for the movie itself, it's the story of the faith journey of Carlton Pearson (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.) A protege of Oral Roberts (Martin Sheen), Pearson was ordained by the Church of God in Christ (a fundamentalist, pentecostal-type denomination) and eventually became pastor of a mega-church of more than 5000 members in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But over the course of his ministry there, his theology began to change and he started to struggle with the concept of hell and divine punishment, eventually becoming a believer in universalism (or, universal reconciliation.) That led to a major split in his church and ultimately his being declared a heretic by the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops.

I disagree with where Pearson's theology took him, but I can nevertheless admire his willingness to stand for what he believed in the face of the incredible pressure that was brought to bear on him to recant. It certainly showed how difficult both theologically and personally it would be for a pastor to radically change his or her views. It not only caused problems within the church and had repercussions for Pearson's career, it also ended relationships and turned friends into enemies. It's interesting to trace Pearson's theological journey, but there's no real "excitement" to the story. It's simply biographical. If I were to hazard a guess I would say that the perspective of those who made the movie (it's a Netflix production) is sympathetic to Pearson, although the portrayal of Oral Roberts was, I thought fair and balanced.

This will probably be of most interest to those who have a theological interest in universalism. (6/10)
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8/10
A Good Introduction To A Part Of World War II That's Not Well Known
21 April 2018
In the western world we are conditioned to believe that World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Our images of the Second World War are of the Holocaust, Blitzkrieg, the Battle of Britain, D-Day, etc. This documentary does a very good job of introducing viewers to what the title itself calls "The Forgotten War" - the war between Japan and China that start in 1937, more than two years before war broke out in Europe, and that became a de facto part of World War II once Japan attacked the British and American possessions in Asia and the Pacific.

I knew about the Sino-Japanese war, but my knowledge of it was limited. I was aware of Japan's occupation of Manchuria, the "Rape of Nanjing" and the co-operation between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese (led by Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung respectively) in the face of the common enemy. But there was a lot of information here that I wasn't aware of that made this very interesting.

I would say that it skims the surface rather than going into depth - which is understandable - but it will likely encourage viewers to go more deeply on their own. I didn't like the cartoonish graphics that were used to illustrate various scenes from the war. That somehow seemed to lessen the importance of the events being described. I also thought that there should have been more depth given to the co-operation between the Nationalists and Communists. But those quibbles aside, this was a very good introduction to this piece of history.

It was narrated by Oxford University Professor Rana Mitter, who was down to earth enough to keep me watching, but academic enough to help me learn - which isn't always an easy balancing act. Overall, this was very well done. (8/10)
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Dante's Peak (1997)
5/10
It's OK As Disaster Movies Go - No More Than That
16 April 2018
What you get from "Dante's Peak" is a pretty typical disaster movie that adds little to that broad "genre." Dante's Peak is a little town in the state of Washington that's nestled against a mountain. It's celebrating the fact that it's been named the "Second Best Place to Live In The United States With A Population Under 20,000." They'll need a huge plaque for the town hall just to get all the words on it. Well, actually they won't. Because there's not going to be a town hall - or a town - for much longer. It turns out that the mountain is a volcano that's getting ready to blow its top.

The main characters are Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) - a geologist with the US Geological Survey who realizes that the mountains about to explode - and Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton) - the mayor of the town. The big question is whether to prepare the town for evacuation. There's just been a company that's made a huge investment, and evacuating because of a potential volcanic eruption won't look very good. Profits before safety, you know - kind of like "Jaws" and other movies. The movie pushes the typical buttons. Rachel has a couple of kids who do something stupid and have to be saved and an ornery mother in law who won't take advice and there's a cute dog too. I was actually more worried about poor Roughy than anyone else in this.

Special effects were OK. Performances were OK. Story was typical for a disaster film, although it seemed a little bit long. It's not better or worse than most of them. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to watch it, but it works if you have some time to kill. (5/10)
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7/10
I Appreciate A Movie That Sheds Light On A Little Known But Important Story
16 April 2018
My first reaction to this movie is that I really appreciate a movie that actually teaches me something. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the US Civil War and the history of slavery and reconstruction - but I have to confess that this movie was my first introduction to the story of Mississippi farmer Newton Knight and his rebellion against the Confederacy. And it is a fascinating story. The movie seems from what I've read since watching it to be reasonably faithful to the real story of Newton Knight. A few things are embellished or glossed over and some composite characters are created - but the movie seems to offer a reasonable feel for the man and what he experienced and accomplished. For that reason alone, I'd say its well worth watching.

It's also worth watching for the performance from Matthew McConaughey as Newton. I'm not a huge fan of McConaughey. But I thought he did a superb job with this role. Again, he made the character seem real. It was a gritty performance, as opposed to the general "smoothness" that often seems to accompany the characters he plays - and that often grates on me for some reason. There were other good performances in the movie - in fact, it would be hard to identify a bad performance - but McConaughey really carried this, and did well doing so.

Knight came across as a complex man. His motivations weren't entirely clear. The movie does, however, make an incredibly valid historical point - poor farmers were being asked to fight for rich plantation owners. The "20 slave rule" was highlighted (if you owned 20 slaves you were exempt from Confederate military service - and for every 20 more you owned, your sons from oldest down were exempted.) In Jones County, where the events took place, this was a huge issue, as it had the smallest slave population of any MIssissippi county. Confederate raids on poor southern farms - taking wheat, hogs and pretty much anything else of value - was also shown as a sore point to many southerners and led to the rebellion. I wasn't clear on Knight's attachment to the Union. At first he told his followers (both poor whites and escaped slaves) that they weren't fighting for the Union, they were just fighting against the Confederacy. Then, suddenly, he's hoisting the stars and stripes over the Jones County courthouse. When the Union became the cause was unclear to me. Knight's personal life was even more complex. Married to a Serena - a white woman (played by Keri Russell) - and the father of her child, after they separate he takes up with Rachel - a black woman, and becomes the father of several of her children. Then Serena returns, and the three of them did co-habit apparently for many years. Knight and his group were ostracized after the War because of the bi-racial nature of their community and there was apparently a lot of intermarriage. This becomes the focus of a bit of side story revolving around Davis Knight -Newton's great-grandson. His story is interspersed throughout. He married his white sweetheart, but was considered black under Mississippi miscengenation laws and was arrested and put on trial because of the marriage. The movie circles back to Davis's story from time to time to show us how that worked out - and it was a reminder that the Civil War wasn't the end of America's racial problems.

I really enjoyed "Free State of Jones." It's not a non-stop action type of movie. Instead, it does spend a fair bit of time exploring Knight's character and motivation and the racial issues involved. And it is a good introduction to a story that isn't very well known. (7/10)
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4/10
Lots Of Action But A Really Silly Story
15 April 2018
Gerard Butler was called back into service as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, in this sequel to the movie "Olympus Has Fallen." It's much the same story - Banning has to protect the US president from a bunch of bad guys. In this case it's stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorists who are the villains. To state the positive first - if the only thing you care about in a movie is action, then "London Has Fallen" works. Once the terrorist attack (or attacks) start - this doesn't lose steam. It just keeps going and going and going like its on steroids. But personally I like even an action story to be at least semi-coherent; a little bit logical; to have a bit of a believable story. On those points, this one fails big time - and it all fails because of what I can only interpret as American jingoism on the part of the movie makers.

The basic story revolves around a trip by the US President (again played by Aaron Echkart, as in "Olympus ...") to London at attend the funeral of the British Prime Minister. Banning - who wants to take time off because of the impending birth of his first child - gets drafted to accompany him. What could go wrong on a trip to London anyway? As it turns out - a lot, and here's where it falls apart. The British - MI6, Scotland Yard and pretty much everybody else - come across as dunces. Seriously - they have leaders from all over the world in their city and we're expected to believe that this could happen? There wasn't only a terrorist attack - there were multiple terrorist attacks, killing leaders and taking down iconic landmarks in the city. It was 9/11 times 10. And then we were supposed to believe that somehow the terrorists had so completely infiltrated the British police that there wasn't only a mole near the top - even many if not most of the officers on the ground were a part of this attack. And then we're expected to believe that on British soil the British military is going to start looking helplessly to Mike Banning for instructions on what to do and how to handle this. Seriously? I mean - seriously?

On the seriousness scale, this movie falls completely apart. Lots of good action - and lots of excitement - but I just couldn't buy into most of what I saw happening on screen. (4/10)
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Dracula (1974 TV Movie)
6/10
Decent Enough Made For TV Version Of The Story With Jack Palance In The Title Role
13 April 2018
Perhaps strangely, I can't say that I've ever found the story of Dracula (Bram Stoker's novel, Bela Lugosi's movie or any other "serious" adaptation of the story to be either particularly exciting or especially frightening. In that regard this movie (which is a reasonably good adaptation of the story) is no different. It has its moments, but it isn't really a "horror" movie in the way that we usually think of that term. The story of Dracula, to work, really depends on atmosphere and mood. Does it pull you into the story? Do you believe that you're there, experiencing this with the characters? All in all, this movie is fairly successful at that. This was a made for TV movie, as opposed to a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, so expectations have to be adjusted accordingly, but the sets are good and director Dan Curtis does get the "feel" of the story right. And Jack Palance (mostly known for westerns) actually pulled off the role of the monstrous count quite well. Mind you, this is an "adaptation" of the story. Mostly, the difference is in the fact that this version actually does equate Count Dracula with Vlad the Impaler of the Middle Ages, which Stoker did not. That's actually a fairly significant part of the storyline, as Palance's Dracula sets his sights on a young Englishwoman who is the spitting image of his old love from the 15th century, when he was actually alive, hoping to pull her into the world of the undead as his companion.

This was OK. I wouldn't call it great, but it had a certain nostalgic quality for me. I think I watched this when it was on TV. I would have been 11 years old at the time. I certainly saw it - whether it was the original broadcast or a repeat I'm not sure - but it was the first version of the Dracula story that I can remember being exposed to. It holds up reasonable well all these years later. The supporting performances were good. The story at times did seem a bit rushed to me. There are a few mistakes. One that stands out for me came at the very end. As Van Helsing finally kills Dracula by plunging a wooden stake through his heart, blood spurts out of his chest - and turns his black suit a bright red in that spot. Huh? Blood on a black suit wouldn't be bright red. It would just be a wet spot. It seriously looked like someone had put wet red paint on the suit. So, yes, there are a few glitches. Overall, though, it's a decent version of the story. (6/10)
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Switchback (1997)
7/10
Searching For A Serial Killer
7 April 2018
"Switchback" opens with a tense scene that ultimately shocks the viewer and definitely catches your attention. A young child is being cared for by a babysitter. A creepy guy comes to the door and she turns him away - but somehow someone else got into the house, and he murders the babysitter and kidnaps the child. Really, from that point on you're not going to turn away from this because you have to find out how everything fits together. That isn't always easy. There are times when the connection isn't all that clear. In the first half hour or so, for example, it seems as if there are two completely separate stories going on, and frankly neither of the stories seems connected to that opening scene. In Amarillo, Texas, the local sheriff of Potter Country (R. Lee Emery) is being challenged for sheriff in an upcoming election by the chief of the Amarillo Police Department (William Fichtner) and both are hoping to gain votes by solving a couple of murders that took place in a local motel room. That seemed rather out of place when compared to the opening, as did what seemed to be shaping up as a "road trip" story featuring Lane (Jared Leto) and Bob (Danny Glover.) The movie seemed disconnected - but somehow it holds you, because you know that eventually everything has to get back to that opening, and you stick with this in spite of some confusion to find out how it does. In fact, it turns out to be a pretty good ride.

The key to the whole movie is FBI Agent Frank LaCrosse (Dennis Quaid.) LaCrosse is hunting a serial killer who's murdered 18 people, and he's convinced that the recent killings in Amarillo were committed by the same killer. He's passionate about this investigation. As he says to the sheriff, he "knows" this killer. And finally, the connection is made. As the relationship between LaCrosse and the sheriff grows closer, LaCrosse tells the sheriff that his son had been kidnapped by this serial killer (AHA! - The connection to the opening scene!) and he was desperately searching for him to save his son. The killer is now playing a sort of cat and mouse game with LaCrosse. Eventually, the movie gives away who the killer is with quite a while to go, but even with that riddle solved, you keep watching. What about the LaCrosse's son?

It's a pretty good ride. As an action movie, it starts slow but picks up speed, and there end up being a lot of pretty exciting scenes - especially on the train as the movie approaches its climax. As a suspense thriller, it's a pretty tense story. But there were two great weaknesses that detracted from this a little bit. The killer (I won't give away who it was) wasn't sufficiently developed. He came across as a nice guy with a pretty normal life, but the movie never really explained to us why the killer was playing the cat and mouse game with LaCrosse. Or why he was a killer in the first place. Why did he kidnap young Andy? Was it just to make sure LaCrosse would keep searching for him? Was it to get into Frank's head and even into his soul? The killer's motivation could have been explored a little better, although in a way the mystery about him and his apparent normalcy actually makes him a pretty scary psychopath. And, in the end, after some real excitement on the train, I thought the story kind of fizzled out. The eventual reunion between Frank and his son seemed anti-climactic. Still, even with a few weaknesses, this was a good story. (7/10)
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Duplicity (2009)
3/10
A Corporate Espionage Muddle
7 April 2018
Claire (Julia Roberts) works for the CIA and Ray (Clive Owen) works for MI6. Originally hooking up at a party at the American Embassy in Dubai, the pair develop a sort of love/hate relationship with each other and finally realize that government work doesn't pay very well. So, to provide for their future (together or apart) they choose to join the cutthroat world of corporate espionage - which turns out to be at least as dangerous (and possibly more) as working for their former agencies. As much as I'm sorry to say it - that description makes this sound better than it actually is.

To be fair, it wasn't awful. But it was a problem that in addition to the corporate espionage angle, the movie was a sort of romantic comedy - a problem because I just didn't feel that Roberts and Owen had much connection. I will confess right off that I've never been a big fan of Julia Roberts. Others think she's great. She doesn't really do a whole lot for me. She's OK - but here there was no spark between her and Owen; no chemistry. Their relationship was less than believable. The structure of the movie didn't appeal to me. That opening in Dubai took place five years before the main setting of the movie, and from that point on the movie jumps back and forth from the present to the past, unfolding the background of the story bit by bit. But even as it was all unfolded, I found myself increasingly confused. I like a good mystery, and some twists and turns, but trying to keep track of everything here was difficult. Who was working for whom? Who was working with whom? Or against whom? Or? I suppose if I had found the basic story more interesting I'd have been more inclined to put effort into keeping everything straight, but I didn't find it interesting. I was actually surprised to check and discover that there was still almost an hour left in the movie, when I thought it was reaching its end.

There are a few humourous points in the movie - mostly revolving around the whole corporate espionage angle. ("Is it a cream or a lotion? Which is it?" Garsik demands as a report on a competitor's product is given to him.) To be honest, I found a lot of that believable in an exaggerated sort of way. But the movie as a whole just didn't appeal to me. (3/10)
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First Kill (I) (2017)
2/10
You Expect Suspense. You Don't Get It. Instead, You Get Bored.
2 April 2018
The weirdest thing about this movie is that the only guy you end up really feeling any sympathy for is Levi - strangely, because Levi is one of the bank robbers and the guy who kidnapped Danny. But, overall, he seemed to be a pretty decent guy. Otherwise, Danny's dad decides to make him a man by making him kill a deer, you have corrupt cops around every corner and a story that really doesn't seem to make very much sense. And the worst part of it is that for the most part there's very little suspense involved. Most of the movie deals with Will (Danny's dad) trying to get Danny back after Levi kidnaps him. But Danny's not in any danger. He and Levi spend most of their time playing video games together and you never get the feeling - not even once - that Levi is even remotely interested in hurting the kid. So there's no suspense. You just watch, hoping that it's going to somehow redeem itself as the story goes on. But it really doesn't. It drags on and on, and then when it ends, strangely it ends far too fast. After everything that happens Danny and his mom and dad just get in their vehicle and drive back home. Seriously?

Aside from Bruce Willis and Hayden Christensen there's no particularly wee known names in this, and Willis and Christensen didn't really seem to bring their "A" game either. It's really not worth the time to watch it. (2/10)
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9/10
A Truly Spectacular Production All Round
2 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I wondered how "Jesus Christ Superstar" would work on live television - and, like many others, I will say that I was surprised by the volume of commercial interruptions. I realize that someone has to pay for such a production and the sponsors have to get the chance to hawk their wares so to speak (kind of like the vendors at the temple) but there were definitely too many commercial interruptions. They really did detract from the flow of the story. However - that would be pretty much my only criticism of this presentation, and quite frankly it's somewhat tempered by the fact that I was very impressed that NBC chose to put this together and get it on the air on regular television. I suppose it could have been done as a pay per view experience without commercials - but at least this was accessible to anyone who wanted to watch it. From a technical perspective, the sets were fantastic, although the vocals were sometimes hard to hear. But basically, for those who did watch it - what a show it was!

The performances almost all the way around were spectacular. Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas had the lead role, since the story of Jesus in "Superstar" is largely told through the eyes of Judas, who is depicted as concerned that Jesus has allowed his growing fame to go to his head a bit, so that he has become more important than his message. Dixon's performance was the best of a series of superb performances, and John Legend wasn't too far behind with his take on Jesus - a very human Jesus, confused by his growing fame and increasingly disturbed by where his fame was taking him. In scenes they shared, the two worked together brilliantly. As Mary Magdalene, Sara Bareilles (my favourite singer!) had a somewhat lesser role - often on the fringes as she followed Jesus, and also increasingly troubled by what was happening. But her musical performances were great, which I expected, and she and John Legend had a real chemistry as Mary comforted Jesus repeatedly. As an actress, she did a good job of allowing her facial expressions to reflect the emotions that Mary herself would have been feeling in the circumstances. Add in Ben Daniels as Pilate and Norm Lewis as Caiaphas - in still lesser roles, but with good performances. I was not entirely taken with Alice Cooper's turn (in just one scene) as King Herod, although he proved himself to be quite the showman.

And so we travel through the last part of Jesus' life, awe-struck by the story (albeit certainly from a different perspective than the Gospels) being put to music. My biggest criticism of "Superstar" (as with its contemporary "Godspell") has always been the lack of a specific resurrection scene. Leaving Jesus dead seems to detract from the story. However, I liked the way Jesus' death was handled in this. First, the scenes from the point at which Jesus was beaten before being crucified and then the scenes of Jesus on the cross were very moving. But what really appealed to me was the way - after Jesus dies - the cross (with him on it) just gradually receded from sight and was replaced by a brilliant light. A sign, perhaps, that Jesus had been taken to God? And the last bow of the evening went to John Legend for his performance as Jesus. I will, personally, choose to interpret John Legend racing back on to centre stage to take his bow as a depiction of the resurrection.
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Risen (2016)
8/10
A Worthy Addition To Anyone's List Of Easter Movies To Watch
2 April 2018
I really liked the perspective of this movie. It's told largely through the eyes of a Roman tribune, Clavius - played by Joseph Fiennes. As the movie opens, Clavius is leading Roman soldiers in battle against a group of Jewish zealots led by Barabbas. Immediately after, he's sent by Pilate to oversee Jesus' crucifixion and then, after the body disappears and rumours of Jesus' resurrection begin to spread, Clavius is sent to find out the truth- specifically, to find Jesus' dead body to put an end to this nonsensical story that has the potential to be a real nuisance to the Romans. This was a different kind of take on the Easter story. It's told through skeptical eyes rather than through eyes of faith. It's mostly believable. It makes sense to me that the Romans would want to investigate these claims of resurrection. From a Christian perspective it's a stark reminder of how small and seemingly weak the original Jesus movement was - scattered, frightened disciples under constant threat, but increasingly emboldened by the growing realization of what had happened. Fiennes was very good as Clavius - a Roman who obviously doesn't believe in Jesus as the Messiah or in his resurrection but who finally has a dramatic experience when he discovers the disciples in the upper room. It was interesting to have Clavius form a sort of partnership with the disciples - sharing their journey to Galilee and experiencing the risen Christ along the way, to the point at which you'd have to say that he was converted. Jesus (or Yeshua as he was called in the movie) was played by Cliff Curtis. Yeshua's dialogue was somewhat limited (what was important in this context was not his words, but others' experience of him) but I did like Curtis' take on Yeshua. Yeshua came across as jovial and good natured; humble and compassionate. Strangely in a movie about the Easter event, Yeshua wasn't central enough to the story for Curtis' performance to rank among some of the fine actors who've played Jesus over the years, but given the limitations of the role in this movie I thought he did well.

The basic concept (inserting a Roman tribune among the disciples) means that there were several liberties taken with the biblical story. There was, for example, a healing miracle performed by the risen Jesus - but there's no record of such a healing in the New Testament. The movie also (and unnecessarily) buys into the wholly inaccurate portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. I saw no reason for that except perhaps that it gave an opportunity to insert some humour when Clavius burst into an establishment and asks the men inside "who knows Mary Magdalene?" - to which all the men put up their hands. OK. A quick laugh perhaps, but hardly worth perpetuating the false portrayal in my opinion. For the most part, though, the basics of the biblical Easter story were maintained, and the crucifixion story - while not as graphic as in, say, The Passion Of The Christ, was respectfully shown and appropriately difficult to watch.

Two other scenes that stood out to me as especially dramatic were one of the guards at the tomb explaining to Clavius what happened at the moment of resurrection with a mixture of shock, terror and wonder, and also the moment that Clavius burst through the door of the upper room to find the disciples but also coming face to face with the risen Yeshua - whom he knew was dead.

I liked the setting of the movie. It seemed very authentic to the time period and geography. Overall, this was a very well done movie, and for those who have a play list of sorts of movies they like to watch at Easter, this is probably deserving of a place on that list. (8/10)
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The Iceman (2012)
6/10
An Interesting But Ultimately Unsatisfying Story
31 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I was completely unfamiliar with the story of Richard Kuklinski, but was attracted to the movie by the compelling true story that served as the description of the movie. In "The Iceman, we're given a look at Kuklinski's life. Played here by Michael Shannon, Kuklinksi was an ice cold (thus, along with freezing his victims, his nickname and the name of the film) contract killer who over the course of his life murdered perhaps as many as 200 people - possibly even more. The movie gives us a taste of his "career" as a serial killer, along with a look at his home life with his wife (played by Winona Ryder) and two daughters. The most interesting part of the movie (and the real story of his life) is the way he essentially compartmentalized the two parts of his life, to the extent that his family (while they may have had some suspicions that he was involved in crime) never knew that he was a contract killer. It was interesting watching that aspect of his life, interspersed with some of his experiences with various mob figures. And I'd say that the performances of both Shannon and Ryder were pretty good. But I felt that the movie itself could have been better; could have accomplished more; could have given us more of a feel for Kuklinski's life. Instead, it seemed rushed and disjointed. There wasn't enough depth given to Kuklinski, and the result was that the movie, while interesting, was also at times confusing. It was hard to make the connections from one scene to the next. Sometimes it seemed as if years had elapsed between scenes. At times, this seemed more like a series of vignettes of Kuklinski's life rather than a well developed account of how he became who he was. I certainly wanted to see it through to the end - there was never any sense that I had wasted my time by watching it. But it wasn't entirely satisfying, either.

And having researched a bit about Kuklinski I wondered why they makers of the movie felt the need to take such great liberties with the "family" side of the story. I can understand why they would change the names of his wife and daughters - but a lot was off in the timing. I do't remember any mention of him having been married before. In the movie there were only two daughters - but there was also a son. And the movie strangely claimed that after he was finally arrested and sent to prison, he never saw his family again - which wasn't true. There were phone calls, and there were some visits (and in fact his wife and one daughter visited him in the prison hospital shortly before he died.) Was there a feeling that the made up story would make this a more interesting movie? It didn't. Once I found out the truth, it just seemed like a strange decision.

It was a decent movie, and it inspired me to want to find out more about Kuklinski's story. So it deserves some credit for that. (6/10)
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Benji (2018)
5/10
Much Darker And More Serious Than The Original
16 March 2018
I only found out that there was a 2018 version of this movie when I looked up the 1974 version of the story on Netflix. This new version is a Netflix production, and you can't help avoid the tendency to compare it to the original version so it's very hard to let it stand on its own. Compared to the 1974 movie, this "Benji" is a much darker movie from the beginning. Where the '74 version opened with the wonderful theme song "I Feel Love" - sung by Charlie Rich - this one opens with a menacing animal control truck rounding up strays to take them to the pound. Where the '74 version spent a lot of time letting us follow Benji, learning his daily routine and even getting a sense of fun as we learned about all the various relationships that Benji had developed with various people, this one seems rushed - giving us very little about Benji's life, but pushing us very quickly into the kidnapping narrative.

Yes. That part's the same . Benji gets befriended by a young brother and sister, whose parent (a single mother this time rather than a single father) refuses to let them keep him. The kids get kidnapped and it's up to Benji to convince mom to follow him so that he can make sure they get home safe.

I watched the '74 version with my daughter (who's 13) a few days ago. Today, the day of its release on Netflix, we watched this one. We both agreed that this movie lacks the fun of the original; the charm. Her assessment was that this Benji (the dog, not the movie) didn't have as much "personality" as the old Benji. That's not a bad way of summing it up. He's certainly cute - and the ending is classic "tug at your heartstrings" stuff that only a cute dog can bring out in you. And I would say that the human performances are better in this one than in the '74 movie. But I'm still not convinced that remaking it was a good idea on Netflix's part. And, to be honest, one of the best things about the '74 movie was "I Feel Love." Here, we get a truncated version of that song at the very end before they cut it off and return to some song whose words and title I can't even remember that was written for this, I guess. That was one of the biggest disappointments of all.

If I were asked, I'd definitely recommend the '74 original over this one any day. (5/10)
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Oculus (I) (2013)
8/10
It Raised Question From The Start
16 March 2018
I appreciate a movie that isn't entirely straightforward, and that has me questioning what's happening almost from the beginning. "Oculus" managed to do that. Was any of this real, or was it a figment of someone's (presumably Kaylie's) imagination? Was there anything supernatural about what happened, or was it just a family tragedy? Did the whole family go insane, or was it only one or two of them? I wondered about all of those questions as the movie went on, and in the end there didn't seem to be any specific answer given to those questions.

The movie begins with Tim (Brenton Thwaites) being released from a mental institution. He's met by his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan). The two share a bond that goes beyond just being brother and sister. They both experienced something horrific. It's made clear pretty early that dad killed mom, and then Tim killed dad. But why? What happened that turned a normal and apparently loving family so bloody? Kaylie can't accept the possibility that it's just a case of straighforward killing. Instead, she's convinced that it's because of an antique mirror that had been in the family home. She's traced its history - there have been other similar incidents. She believes there's an evil, supernatural presence in the mirror and she wants Tim to help her kill it once he's out. Tim on the other hand is convinced after his years in therapy that there was nothing supernatural about what happened. Dad killed mom and he killed dad. It was that simple. And then we watch as Kaylie's carefully planned experiment sets out to prove that the mirror is haunted - or something.

Thwaites and Gillan were good in this, as were Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff as their parents. The movie switches back and forth from the present to the past - and while such a format can sometimes be difficult to follow, I thought it worked very well here. It allowed the story to unfold methodically. Everything that Kaylie was planning in the present seemed to have some relationship to the past, so letting the past out bit by bit was an effective way of moving the story forward. There are the kinds of shocking things you would expect in this kind of movie, but it's not an especially blood and gore kind of thriller. It is thoughtful and it does make you wonder - and it leaves you wondering. Was this mirror haunted or not, or was this just Kaylie not being able to accept the brutal reality of what actually happened? It's left to the viewer to decide. (8/10)
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The Babadook (2014)
9/10
I'm Not At All Sure What Actually Happened - But I Liked It!
15 March 2018
The first thing that comes to mind looking back on this movie after watching it is that every time Bugsy appeared on the screen I winced. Bugsy was the family pet. A cute dog. And this is a horror movie. And you know what happens to cute dogs in horror movies. Anyway ...

What a well crafted story this was. A young mother and her young son (Amelia and Samuel, played by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman) are dealing with his upcoming birthday, I say "dealing with" because it's not a happy day for them. Samuel's father died on the very day Samuel was born, in a car crash getting his mother to the hospital. What becomes clear in the movie is that the father's death continues to torment both of them. As the movie starts, Samuel is a troubled child - unreasonably afraid of monsters (under the bed, in the closet and everywhere else) and with massive behavioural problems that make him unwelcome at school, unwelcome even by his aunt, friendless. He throws tantrums at the drop of a hat. And Amelia can't control him. One night he asks Amelia to read him a bed time story, and he picks a book called "The Babadook." Amelia doesn't know where it came from. It's bloody violent and graphic. And it unleashes something.

That much I understood, but from that point on I became confused about what exactly was happening. But even if confused, I was admiring this movie. It's one of the better horror movies I've seen in recent years. It leaves a great deal to the imagination. It ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, letting the viewer interpret this in pretty much whatever way the viewer chooses. Was the Babadook real? Was it a figment of Amelia's imagination? I really don't know. What I do know is that this is a creepy and scary movie. What I also know is that Davis and Wiseman handled their roles very well, indeed. I especially appreciated the way they seemed to "flip" about halfway through - with Samuel increasingly controlled and Amelia increasingly out of control. And in the midst of the horror" - you feel sympathy for both Amelia and Samuel, because of the husband/father's death, and how that affects how they feel about themselves and how they feel about each other and how others look at them and treat them. Regardless of whether the Babadook is real or not, they both obviously have their monsters to deal with, buried deep within them and coming out every year I would think as the "birthday" approaches.

I give credit to the writers and to director Jennifer Kent. Kent set a great tone and atmosphere throughout the movie, and the writers avoided making this any sort of graphic, slasher-type horror movie and instead focused on Amelia and Samuel and how they dealt with this terrifying situation. This is truly a fine addition to the horror genre. (9/10)
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Suffragette (2015)
7/10
The Fight For Women's Rights Has Not Received The Attention It Deserves
15 March 2018
For some unfortunate reason, when we think of the great civil rights movements of the past we tend to overlook the fight for women's rights. I have to confess - with some embarrassment - that I'm not especially familiar with the history of the suffragette movement on either side of the Atlantic, so I embraced this movie as a learning opportunity, and from that perspective it does not disappointment. It is the true story of the suffragette movement in England in the early 20th century, told largely through the experience of Maud Watts, one of its leaders. Watts worked in a laundry, was a wife and mother and had little interest in the fight for women's votes. But she gets introduced to the movement by Edith Ellyn (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and becomes more and more involved in it - eventually losing almost everything that had given her life meaning in the process. Watts was very well portrayed by Carey Mulligan. The piece of the movement portrayed here is a somewhat more "activist" group. They plant mail box bombs, the cut telegraph lines, they even blow up Lloyd George's house - being as careful as possible to ensure that no one gets hurt by their actions. They're hunted by the police, they're subjected to ridicule by the public and abuse by both their husbands and the authorities. But they continue on, fighting for the cause. The authorities here are largely represented by Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) - who recognizes the difficult task he faces. He has to get the situation under control, and yet he has to avoid creating martyrs - because a martyr would ensure the movement's ultimate success.

It's not particularly a fast paced movie. There are snippets of excitement in the first hour or so, but it isn't a movie that grabs you and pulls you out of your seat. It offers some background into the movement and the women involved in it. it's at about the hour mark, though, that the movie picks up speed, when it becomes clear how much Maud has lost by being a part of the movement. The movie picks up its pace at that point, and it leads us up to the climax of the movie - the thing that Steed had feared above all else: the creation of a martyr, in a shocking fashion that - being unfamiliar with the history of the movement - I was not expecting, although from what I've read since seeing the movie, the true motives of Emily Davison - whether she actually planned to become a martyr or not - aren't really known. The point is that she did, and her martyrdom lent impetus to the movement that eventually resulted in women receiving the right to vote.

It's a very different world we're introduced to in this movie, where women have few rights and are basically the property of their husbands. At the same time, in the light of the #metoo movement of recent months, this movie also seems to have a social relevance. It's generally well done, and offers a look at the fight for women's rights in England. (7/10)
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The Encounter (I) (2015)
6/10
Its Creepiness Makes Up For Its Weaknesses
15 March 2018
So, strangely perhaps, I actually liked this movie. It's yet another in the genre of people with a camera, lost footage found, etc., etc. so it isn't entirely original. In fact that's becoming so cliche these days that it's tempting to just forget about it and turn to something else. And admittedly this takes the genre to a somewhat ridiculous extreme. Everybody has cameras! Everybody seems to be documenting everything they do - which is certainly handy when you encounter aliens and terrifying creatures out in the woods! And, yes, it's a sign of a movie being made on a bare bones budget, and it has all the challenges involved - shaky cameras, blurry footage - which kind of makes sense, but doesn't necessarily make for a really good movie. And yet ...

Something here worked for me. I rather liked this. Everything revolves around a spot in the woods in Arizona where several otherwise unconnected people independently find themselves, but experience the same terrifying thing. It begins with a US Air Force base noting that "something" is falling - but they don't know what it is. A meteor perhaps? The next day it's found by a park ranger, who discovers that it's an alien ship of some kind and that there's some strange fungus like material growing around it. She gets bitten by something - which starts a day of terror for everybody in the area.

It may be cliche. It may be low budget. It may have a virtually unknown cast. Fair enough - it may not be that good. But there was enough going on that was good that I liked it. First, it was a very creepy movie. The mystery was strange; the events were strange; the creatures were - well - weird. That all worked. And I thought that Robert Conway (who directed it) made some really good use of the woods environment and of the darkness to often give us just glimpses ... glimpses of whatever it was, but without enough detail to really know what it was. For all its weaknesses, it worked well, I thought - up to the end, which was actually rather disappointing. Nothing was cleared up. Nothing was really answered. The only survivor (Collin - played by Clint James) is a psychological mess after his night of sheer terror. He says enough to make us think that this was an "accident" of sorts - that whatever happened, the aliens didn't mean it, but we really don't find out very much. A little bit more closure would have been nice.

Still, in my opinion, if you like movies that are effectively creepy, this is short and worth taking in. I rather liked it. (6/10)
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Leap Year (2010)
5/10
Amy Adams Is Adorable As Always In A Very Sweet Movie
14 March 2018
The story of "Leap Year" is entirely predictable, so whether the movie makes the grade or not depends on the journey: how do the main characters actually get to where you know they're going to end up, almost from the very beginning?

As Anna Brady, Amy Adams is a real estate "stager" (she basically pretties up properties by bringing nice and fancy stuff into the places to make them look better for owners trying to sell) from Boston. She's in a long-term relationship with boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) and she has reason to believe that he's bought her an engagement ring and is going to propose. Instead, she gets ear-rings and he flies off to Dublin on business. Not one to give up easily, Anna travels to Ireland to find him and ask him to marry her, in keeping with an old Irish tradition that the woman can propose to the man on Leap Day - February 29. But weather throws her plans into chaos, and she teams up to travel with with smooth talking local pub owner Declan (Matthew Goode), who's going to help her get to Dublin by the deadline.

You get the point. Obviously, Anna and Declan are going to fall for each other. But how's the journey that gets them to that point? It's quite pleasant actually. It's not outrageously funny, although it has some humorous moments. It's very innocent - nothing "improper" ever happens between the two of them. And as the viewer you get some really nice shots of Irish scenery along the way. And Anna herself says to Declan at one point that people tell her that her legs are her best quality - and, indeed, there's a fair amount of focus on Amy Adams' legs most of the way through. But it's always very innocent.

It's a sweet movie, as opposed to a great movie. Unlike some I didn't personally feel the incredible chemistry between Adams and Goode, but they worked well enough together that I really wanted their characters to end up together. And with Amy Adams being her usual adorable self (I admit I've been a bit smitten with her ever since seeing her in "Enchanted") this can't really take a wrong turn. It may not be a great movie - but, yes, it's a sweet romance; a very pleasant movie to watch. I'm only going to rate it as a 5 - but I'd say it's a 5+. Not quite a 6, but a 5+.
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Rise (IX) (2014)
5/10
It's About Christian Conversion More Than Surviving Prison
14 March 2018
It's worth mentioning to start that this is a Christian movie. Now, I'm a Christian - I have no problem with Christian movies. Some I like, some I don't - but Christians have a right to make movies that promote Christian faith and spiritual transformation. But I was a bit taken aback to discover that this was a Christian movie - because there's nothing in its description that would make you think it's a Christian movie. Actually, you have to pretty much wait for the closing credits to discover that one organization that appears to have been highly involved in putting this together was a church (whose name I just can't remember) that appears to be an Australian evangelical church. Which, again, is perfectly fair. I just wish it had been stated outright. The story - based apparently on an actual case - that is described sounds interesting. A young man (played by an Australian actor named Nathan Wilson) is falsely accused and convicted of rape and has to find a way to survive in prison while awaiting his appeal. That actually sounds pretty interesting - and it's not at all a bad movie - but once you get into it you discover that it's much more a movie about Christian conversion than surviving prison (not that the two aren't related in this case.) At times, the religious element comes across as a bit forced and unnatural - and there's a weird scene of what seemed to be a kind of forced baptism of another inmate that somehow magically converts him! (If it were that simple we Christians should just go out on the streets with buckets of water and splash unsuspecting people on the head!) So, while I'm all in favour of Christian movies and evangelism, I was just a bit put off by how it was all handled.

The story itself seemed a little bit choppy. It starts very abruptly. We learn that Will (Wilson) is a nurse - a pretty good one apparently - who hooks up with a girl at a bar, has sex with her and then has her accuse him of rape. It apparently had something to do with her wanting to get her boyfriend jealous or something. I didn't think the incident was well portrayed or sufficiently explained. But we do know that Will gets convicted and sent to prison. The prison story to me remained choppy and poorly put together. It gave us a taste of what life must be like inside a prison in Australia (and, presumably, most Western countries) but it was only a taste. Will develops relationships with several prisoners who guide him through the experience. To be honest, although he clearly wanted out, it didn't seem as if he had that hard a time on the inside. There was a good performance (maybe the best in the movie) from Martin Sacks as Jimmy Cove - a tough, veteran inmate who befriends Will. Otherwise, the performances were OK, but not spectacular in my opinion.

Most of the movie, basically, is the tension of waiting to find out if Will's appeal is going to be successful and he's going to be released. I have to say that this doesn't present a particularly flattering portrayal of the Australian justice system. If the movie is accurate, the evidence against Will was flimsy at best, there was a lot of reason for reasonable doubt and yet still the Crown also appeals the verdict to get his sentence INCREASED. Which means that, knowing that he's innocent, you feel a lot of sympathy for Will, and you want him to get out. So, for that reason alone, the movie does hold your attention. (5/10)
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Benji (1974)
9/10
The Cutest Dog Ever Starring In The Best Family Movie Ever
13 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
My daughter is 13. She wants to get a dog. We were talking about that tonight, and somehow the conversation got around to what we would name the dog if we got one. And the name "Benji" came up in the discussion. I told her about the movie of the same name and looked up the theme song on You Tube and played it for her. Then - a brainstorm. I bet the movie is on Netflix! Sure enough it was. Did she want to watch it? Yes! So my wife and daughter and I sat down and watched "Benji." What a nostalgia trip!

I saw this movie way back when it came out. There has never been a cuter dog in the movies than Benji, and there has never been a better family movie than "Benji." It's funny (and just plain fun), it's heartwarming, it's romantic in a weird sort of way - after Benji meets Tiffany, it's kind of sad. It's all of that and jumbled together and it ends exactly as you know it's going to end. It's a great movie.

Benji, of course, is a stray. His story (of how he became a stray) does finally come out in a flashback during the movie. He lives in an abandoned house, and every day he travels around the neighbourhood, meeting up with a variety of people he's made friends with - including two little kids who have a dad who doesn't want a dog. Suffice to say that ultimately the two little kids get kidnapped and it's Benji who has to come to the rescue, with happy results all around.

It's sometimes a bit too sappy, and the acting (from the humans) isn't that great - but there truly has never been a better family movie made, and it includes a theme song (the wonderfully feel-good "I Feel Love," by Charlie Rich) that will not leave your head for days after you hear it. Watching this brought back only the best memories of my own childhood. I saw it at a time when I desperately wanted a dog but couldn't have one. Now I've come full circle. My daughter wants a dog. After watching this I think we're one step closer to getting one. (9/10)
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Freedom (II) (2014)
6/10
Telling Two Stories In One Relatively Short Movie Is A Weakness
12 March 2018
"Freedom" is about an important subject - the Underground Railroad, which helped thousands of slaves escape from the American South to freedom in Canada. However, it's also about another subject - it traces the story of John Newton, the writer of the famous hymn "Amazing Grace," and it provides some background to the story of his religious conversion after his start as a slaveship captain. The story begins with the escape of a slave family from a Virginia plantation, and follows them on their arduous and dangerous journey north. But that story is chopped up by interspersing the Newton story, with the two stories being somewhat awkwardly held together by a Bible that Newton supposedly gave to a young boy he delivered into slavery in Charleston and that gets passed down eventually to his grandson (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) - who is the one leading his family to freedom more than a hundred years later. The problem with telling the story this way is that neither the story of the Underground Railroad or the story of Newton's conversion is told in the depth that it probably deserves - especially given that the movie is only about 90 minutes in length and so doesn't have a great deal of time to tell even one of the stories had it focused on just one) and so both stories are somewhat choppy.

So the blending of the stories is, as I said, awkward. At times this has a very heavy religious tone with a lot of religious themes (forgiveness, grace, heaven, etc.) That's appropriate in that black slaves really were inspired by Christian faith and that shouldn't be denied, but it seemed a bit too forced at times. There are a lot of hymns and spirituals used in this movie - to the point at which it sometimes seemed as if this was trying to be a musical of some sort. The emphasis on hymns led to at least one anachronism in the movie. With some knowledge of Christian hymnody I was puzzled by the fact that Newton's fiance was singing "It Is Well With My Soul" in church in 1748. That didn't seem right to me, so I quickly researched and, indeed, discovered that the hymn wasn't written until 1876. Somebody really should have checked that out. With so many songs there may have been other musical anachronisms, but that's the one that leaped out at me. I also thought the ending - while perhaps heartwarming - was a bit too far-fetched to be believable.

For all that, I liked the movie. It was very watchable and, as I said, it deals with important topics. It makes the point early on of slavery's brutality as a slave that helped the family escape is brutally beaten while the other slaves are forced to watch. This seems - from the closing captions - to be an attempt to link the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement of the 19th century with the problem of modern day slavery of various kinds. Those captions note that there are 29 million people (I'm not sure where that number came from, and I've actually seen estimates of close to 50 million) held in various kinds of slavery in the world today and encourages viewers to help eradicate it. By all means we should be doing what we can to achieve that, and if "Freedom" helps to shine some light on that problem, then it's serving a noble purpose. (6/10)
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5/10
I Loved The Connections With The Ape Canyon Incident Of 1924
12 March 2018
You have to make sure that you have appropriate expectations if you sit down to watch this. Seriously - it's a movie about Bigfoot! It's not going to win any Academy Awards. It's not even trying to win any Academy Awards. So you don't come in to this looking for a great movie that's destined to become a classic. You come into this hoping to find a kind of cheesy, low budget, B-Movie at best. And if you come into this with that expectation, you can sit back and enjoy it - because that's basically what you get. It is low budget, it is cheesy and it features basically an entirely unknown cast whose performances are less than outstanding. It features an unfortunate stereotype of the sole Mexican character as a druggie, and it inexplicably includes a flirting scene at the start of the move as young Michael flirts with a girl in town. She gets credited in spite of the fact that she's on screen for probably less than a minute and is given absolutely no lines. She smiles and waves at Michael. That's it. The actress is named Jordan Neslund, it's apparently the only film she's ever been in and for the rest of her life she can rent this and show it to her friends as proof that she was once in a movie. Good for her. The movie accomplished at least that.

Otherwise the story revolves around four guys (a father-son, their brother/uncle, and the aforementioned Mexican Sergio) who find themselves staying at a run down cabin in the woods and then go on a camping trip to hunt. And, of course, they encounter Sasquatch - several actually, and not a particularly friendly bunch!

There were things I liked about this. Aside from the lifelong memory for Jordan Neslund, even though the performances were unspectacular, I liked the characters. The four guys were all very different from one another, which set up a lot of believable tension between them. That helped move things along. And somebody somewhere had done some actual Sasquatch research. I love Sasquatch stories (don't believe in the big hairy guy, but love the stories) and I appreciated the relationship between this movie and the "Ape Canyon incident" of 1924, when several miners in a cabin reportedly were attacked by several "ape-men." Actually, that story was even told around the campfire as a way to scare Sergio after he had the first encounter with "something" that nobody else believed was a Sasquatch. I would say that this was probably very loosely based on the stories of that incident - and to be honest, I'd really prefer if somebody actually made a serious movie about that incident - whether attributing it to "ape-men" or to local youths (which is the prevailing theory.) That could actually be a decent movie.

As for this one - just sit back, set your expectations accordingly, and watch this. It's not going to be the best movie you've ever seen. But it's not a bad way to pass some free time. (5/10)
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Churchill (2017)
7/10
An Alternative If Inaccurate Portrayal Of Winston Churchill
12 March 2018
Was Winston Churchill the the greatest Briton who ever lived? That's the claim of the closing credits of the movie. It's hard to say. That's a lot of history and a lot of historical figures to go through. And I'm aware of his shortcomings. And I'm aware that many today want to tear down the memory of historical figures of the past by looking at them through today's eyes and judging them by today's standards - and many of them, by our current sense of morality, don't stand up well. I understand all that. But, as far as Winston Churchill is concerned, even acknowledging all his shortcomings, one also has to acknowledge that in many ways he did save Britain. Taking office as Prime Minister at one of the darkest times in Britain's history, he inspired the British people. With defeat facing Britain squarely in the face, he inspired the British people to believe that they could beat the Nazis. "We shall fight them ... We will never surrender."

That was in 1940. This movie picks up four years later. Britain has not surrendered. Britain has fought on. And now it's June of 1944, just a few days from D-Day, the Allied invasion of France. The once confident Churchill who said "we will never surrender" is now beset with doubts. He's tormented by memories of Gallipoli in the First World War - a bloody Allied defeat that he took the blame for. He believes D-Day will be another Gallipoli. He's hesitant; even afraid. He opposes the plan. He argues with Montgomery, he argues with Eisenhower, he lashes out at all around him who want him to basically mind his own business, do the work of a politician and let the generals handle the military decisions. He feels pushed aside; marginalized. Frankly, he feels sorry for himself. It's a very interesting take on a very complicated man.

Brian Cox's performance as Churchill grew on me over the course of the movie. When it opened, I wasn't really taken with him in the role. By the time it ended, I thought his performance had been very good. I'd make the same observation about John Slattery's work as Eisenhower. Julian Wadham impressed me as Field Marshall Montgomery, while John Purefoy didn't strike home with me at all as King George VI. But the one who really impressed me was Miranda Richardson as Churchill's wife Clementine. She did seem to capture the role of Churchill's long-suffering wife. She loves him, but she's also very aware of his weaknesses and she's the only one who really seems able to get him under control.

One thing that intrigued me in the movie was the very prominent role it suggested for South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, who was based in London during the war and sat in on meetings of the Cabinet. The movie portrays Smuts as a very close and intimate advisor to Churchill. Whether he was as influential over Churchill as portrayed I'm not sure. I do know that many have criticized the movie's accuracy - especially the primary point of the whole thing: Churchill's opposition to Operation Overlord. Many reputable historians who have studied World War II dismiss that as nonsense, and while in the end the movie does hold Churchill up (making that claim that he is the greatest Briton who ever lived) it at times does seem to do its best to tear him down, and not always accurately.

Historical problems aside, this is a worthwhile movie, if only because it does present an alternative view of Churchill. (7/10)
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