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14 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
An Acceptable Loss is a somewhat cliched, humorless movie. Almost every scene is dark regardless of the time of day. The movie is already muted enough without this visual effect, though. Overall the characters are less than colorful. Jamie Lee Curtis's performance is powerful, but never subtle. Some of the smaller roles add some interest.

At first a gradual and unclear unfolding of events after the fact creates mystery, but this continues too long before the true nature of things emerges. From that point on any flashbacks are easily understood, but going forward what remains is a typical drama. A consistent way of storytelling throughout would have worked better.

Despite it's faults the movie isn't terrible because the story, though fragmented, is decent. What really took the movie down a grade for me was the sense that the movie makers are trying to make a statement rather than entertain. An exceedingly morose version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the end credit music embodies this feeling.

For a movie to successfully convey a message or make a moral statement, it requires a careful treatment that's not forced or preachy, and that was lacking here. The movie seems to be loosely based on true events, with comparisons that are a little too obvious.

Those who tend to sympathize with victimization might like the movie. Those sometimes offended by what they consider less than patriotic might be disapproving. But the movie is neither a brilliant political thriller nor liberal propaganda, just a mediocre movie based on a good premise that suffers from too much complexity and a heavy-handed effort to lead the viewer to a particular conclusion.
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Bel Canto (I) (2018)
Couldn't Be Much Worse
25 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Unfocused, ill-written, miscast, implausible, pointless, tedious, pretentious, and just bad. That generally describes Bel Canto. It's hard to say more. What did I just watch?

It's different, that's for sure. But making up a new language doesn't mean you have something to say.

Bel Canto starts off as a normal but somewhat dull movie. Then it degenerates into a meandering dream, and not an interesting one.

The movie can easily be summarized, as little happens. At a concert a South American rebel group take hostage a famous opera singer, members of her traveling party, and the guests. The movie is about the time they spend together. Except at the outset, the rebels don't act like rebels, and the hostages don't act like hostages and people who have been subjected to brutality including the killing of one of the artists.

Instead a bizarre rapport develops between the adversaries. If the point is we're really all the same, it's made clumsily. And we're not all the same. That's why some people liked this movie.

The images of Julianne Moore singing don't fit with the voice. Ignoring that she is unconvincing as an opera singer, though sometimes OK overall.

The movie is based on a novel. It's hard to imagine the book being readable, but it would be unfair to jump to conclusions based on this movie.

I added one star because some parts were well-acted.
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Warning Shot (2018)
At least it is short.
27 January 2019
Mercifully it is only 87 minutes long.

Poorly written, poorly directed, unevenly acted, and generally implausible despite being based on a true story, the movie is alternately painful to watch, boring, and insulting to the viewer.

There are a few decent performances. Bruce Dern, James Earle Jones, and one or two others are OK, and Onata Aprile as the little girl did a very good job. Beyond that the acting is shallow and weak. In a movie with almost no story where people are being senselessly terrorized the viewer needs some depth of meaning or character to make the terror watchable. None here.

The movie doesn't ring true, as if the creators are from another planet and have no real sense of how people actually behave. The movie did inspire me to learn about the actual case in order to try to understand what may have actually happened.

The movie makers repeatedly commit two unforgivable sins too often found in action and horror films. One, when give the chance to thwart the aggressors and gain control the victims are inept. Lacking imagination, the movie makers simply hope the viewer will not notice.

Second, villains and criminals, even dumb ones, generally act in a way that will minimize the possible consequences of their actions and achieve their goals with the least risk and effort. Not here.

The ending was slightly satisfying, so I added an additional star to my rating.
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The Neighbor (I) (2018)
Good if it suits your taste
12 April 2018
I am reviewing this movie movie in response to it's low rating on IMDb.

I am guessing that the movie was improperly promoted and distributed, which probably led to frequent viewer disappointment.

If you are looking for car chases, prolonged shoot-outs, stunning special effects, or an edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride this movie is not for you. If want you a movie that is heartfelt, groundbreaking, clever, or poignant, you might want to skip it too.

If on other hand if you like realistic if not necessarily colorful characters and skillful storytelling involving ordinary events you might enjoy The Neighbor.

It is slow, but the suspense grows steadily. Enough is revealed about the characters to create empathy or dislike, but much remains hidden, leaving their actions unpredictable. Unpleasant events are understated and presented with restraint. The viewer is given just enough. The movie could have easily become tedious and excessively painful to watch, but rather it achieves emotional depth without resorting to melodrama.

The performances, locations, designs, and music all work together within the unity of the whole. Nothing stands out or draws attention to itself. I am reminded of a few Hitchcock movies. Much is shown by the camera rather than explained in dialog, and all the dialog seems to have purpose. In the lead role, William Fichtner is able to express much with limited words and actions, as do the other actors to a lesser extent.

The Neighbor doesn't have any modern special effects. I watch and enjoy many movies that benefit from techniques developed in the last few decades, but I am happy to see that moviemakers still have the interest and opportunity to make movies of a more classical nature.

For movies like The Neighbor to continue to be made, promoters and distributors need to do a good job of finding the right audiences.
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Shadowman (2017)
A Well Done Portrait
2 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Shadowman is a movie about the life of the artist Richard Hambleton, 1952-2017, and his art.

The moviemakers do a great job of bringing the viewer into the artists world, showing his work, and providing an understanding of his relationship to the art world, which at first is puzzling but later emerges as understandable.

The movie is well-balanced, with a nice mix of background on the artists work, views of the art itself, and comments by various people associated with the artist. There is much footage of Hambleton's interactions with others, mostly pertaining to business. These sequences may be the most interesting ones in the movie, and the ones that provide the most insight into the man.

The art itself is very alive in the movie, with scenes of Hambleton actually working, footage of gallery showings, and a good general survey of his styles, which differ significantly from time to time. It's interesting to see him progress from his early street art period which is kinetic and energized by rapidity to a more classical style surprising in it's depth and beauty in comparison to the earlier work, though not necessarily superior. That these two styles were part of the same artist's work is shocking. At that point I knew I was learning about an extraordinary artist. Going forward Hambleton then seemed to return to many elements of his earlier style.

Like many artists, the man was a troubled and pained individual, suffering through events and conditions that were sometimes his own doing and sometimes not. His devotion to his work was everything, and seemed to preempt all other goals in life. Financial gain, his own well-being, and his acceptance by the art world seemed to mean nothing to him.

As the movie proceeds, it portrays a man who seems hopelessly self-destructive, sabotaging every possible success. He doesn't care about money, relationships, acclaim, health, or anything except working. He only cares about maintaining his ability to work as he wants, unaffected by the outside world. Despite all, he is able to continue creating at a high level until his death.

His work speaks for itself. I am no expert, but I feel that as time passes Hambleton's stature will grow. I am guessing that compared to the other artists he is associated with eventually he will become the most highly regarded.
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Mother! (2017)
Violent and Gross Failure!
10 March 2018
There's the good Darren Aronofsky, and there's the bad Darren Aronofsky. I should have checked first. It's easy to do. A minute or two on IMDB would have told me what I needed to know. A careful examination of the DVD box would have been a tip-off. I committed two hours of my time based on 5 seconds of observation and paid for it. I thought with Javier Bardem and Ed Harris in the movie it would be OK.

Darren Aronofsky has made some fine movies, and he'll probably make others. You can add Mother to his list of stinkers.

I can hardly bring myself to comment further, other than to say that if you like to drown in self-pity and celebrate all things lost, desperate and hopeless, Mother is probably for you. Maybe the movie is meant to be a black deadpan comedy. The same joke over and over again gets tired, though.

If you look at Mother as a standard horror movie it's long, morose, and not scary. It's just violent and gross.

It's sad to see top professionals taking themselves seriously in a miserable, ridiculous movie. I'll take a bad low-budget horror movie where there's some fun anytime.

P.S. After watching the movie and eating a late dinner, I wrote this and went to bed. I had the sickest dream. It was sicker than Aronofsky's movie and a lot funnier.
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In his own words
3 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The Art Life is not a movie about David Lynch. It is David Lynch, and it's terrific.

The filmmakers have done such an such outstanding job I can't imagine a better portrait of David Lynch ever being done.

I love the scope of the movie because it focuses on the man himself, his early life and work, and his painting. There is nothing about Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, The Elephant Man, or any David Lynch movie except Eraserhead.

I prefer to watch David Lynch movies without coloration from commentary or analysis, even if it were from he himself. He would likely not comment anyway, and what he says about Eraserhead is of a general nature.

The Art Life is largely David Lynch. There are no interviews with friends, family, or movie people. The voice of the movie literally and figuratively is David Lynch, and it is a pleasure. The man's very words are poetry. The movie is beautifully made and filled with his words and art. What more could you ask for?

Other images such as places where David Lynch lived or worked and family photos blend in well. The sound design, including some of David Lynch's own music, is never obtrusive and enhances the overall mood.

There is a nice feature interview with filmmaker (one of three) Jon Nguyen on the Criterion Collection DVD. He shows his deep respect for and curiosity about David Lynch, and that feeling comes across in the movie.

No more needs to be said. If you are a David Lynch fan who hasn't seen The Art Life, see it. You are in for a treat.
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The Founder (2016)
What is it really about?
3 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man behind the success of McDonalds. Or is it?

I don't know how accurately Ray Kroc is portrayed in the movie, or how factual it is. It's based on a true story, but is not a documentary. A filmmaker's goal is to make an entertaining and profitable movie. Whatever literal truth comes out is a bonus, but a deeper truth is what counts. Founder highly succeeds on this level. It is engaging, entertaining, and sharply portrays a person that is both fascinating and scary. It would benefit anyone to be able to recognize this type of person when they are encountered.

The movie is beautifully clear and unsentimental. The story is presented in a straight-forward way rarely seen in movies today, and it's a breath of fresh air. There are no fancy transitions, flashbacks, or time shifts, and there is no dramatic music. The movie is full of visual appeal, bright and attractive. The designs of the buildings, cars, and costumes are fantastic, including the exteriors and inner workings of the McDonalds restaurants. The dialog and action are both uncomplicated, and there is no mumbling and very little beneath the surface.

There was one piece of visual symbolism that is artfully done. Look for it in the scene where Ray Kroc is speaking on the phone, seen through the window panes of his door. I would guess there are more moments like this. It's a movie I'll watch again, so I'll look for them.

The acting is strong throughout, for parts large and small. Many of the small parts add a great deal. I can't remember a single event or bit of dialog that wasn't believable. The movie is joyful and polite, like movies used to be, but never phony or insipid. There is a complete absence of melodrama.

I had a free pass and no expectations so the movie was a pleasant surprise. It was absorbing from beginning to end. A chatty audience wouldn't settle down at the beginning, and people were shushing and yelling "Quiet, quiet!" The noise didn't last long, though, and there wasn't a peep until after the movie finished. Then a woman loudly exclaimed, "What a bastard!"

I am not going to judge Ray Kroc based on this movie, or assume that I learned the true story of McDonalds. It has inspired me to search for books and documentaries on the subject.

The truth of the movie is beyond question. There are people among us who are charming, passionate, likable, driven to succeed, and inspiring, and yet worthy of contempt.

A small amount of well-placed voice-over in the movie breaks it down. Success doesn't depend on talent or education. "The world is full of educated fools." Determination is key.

But does material success sometimes (often?) come at a price? Does it require the sale of your soul? The Ray Kroc in Founder is a down-to-earth, tirelessly hardworking man who will not accept defeat. He values excellence. But he is also a man who will look you in the eye and make a promise he has no intention of keeping. He is a man who wouldn't bother to stab you in the back if it would serve him equally to stab you in the front. He says, "If my competitor were drowning, I'd stick a hose in his mouth."

Founder was released on January 20, 2017.
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Rememory (2017)
Dark and Gloomy
5 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Rememory has many positive aspects. It is sincere, well-made, and attractive visually. It is atmospheric and uncluttered, and there is a stillness that I liked. The premise is interesting, and generally the acting is good. The lead actor, Peter Dinklage, gives a strong performance - subtle and understated. The characters are believable, though some of performances seem forced or melodramatic at times. On the minus side the movie is morose and humorless, which left me unengaged.

The movie is so full of pain that I felt desensitized. There's a one-dimensional feeling emotionally and a sameness to the characters - all tortured and self-pitying throughout. The music and production design are continually dark and and echo the emotional states of the characters. The movie would have been greatly improved with the inclusion of some comic relief, or more lightness in terms of characters and events.

The story is OK, but lacked suspense and depth. The inclusion of science relating to the movie's premise would have helped. What is offered seems cartoonish and superficial. Slap on a headphone-like device, hit record, and a person's memories are transferred onto a glass storage medium. The memories can then be accessed in order to verify events from the person's life. Just press playback and find out what you need to know. But how can an entire lifetime be processed so quickly and easily?

Rememory is probably not for anyone who likes to be entertained or amused - or engaged by a clever plot. On the other hand, if you want immersion into a gloomy world of amplified pain, confusion, and regret, it might be just right for you.
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I Was Shocked
30 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
What could have been a decent movie is so horribly flawed by a major defect that it plays like a B movie with big-budget production. Most of the first hour is so laughable that nothing that happens subsequently can save it.

The flaw is that behavior of the mission's captain and crew are are completely implausible. On a whim, the original mission is put on hold when a potential new destination for colonization presents itself. Because the planet has a breathable atmosphere the crew lands to investigate it without any concerns whatsoever for possible hazards, biological or otherwise. At that point, I reached for DVD box to double-check. Did Ridley Scott really direct this foolishness? Unbelievable. All I could think was "Dumb and Dumber" in space.

Even without this fatal defect, the movie is nothing special. With the exception of Michael Fassbender, the acting is weak. The characters are shallow, and unlikable, and there is no thematic development whatsoever. It's just another action movie in space.

The movie goes from bad to just plain annoying - particularly the demonization of the creatures as some kind of pathological deviants. Unlike the humans the creatures behave exactly as they are supposed to, according to their design. World-class scientists would have some appreciation for this, even as they try to destroy the aliens.

But there is no sense of awe - only cries of "Let's get this motherf-----." By the end of the movie I was rooting for the aliens.

The usual big-budget production is impressive, but so what? No food for thought. Not even any artful suspense. Too bad.
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Patriots Day (2016)
See It
3 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
See It

If, like me, you have been reluctant to watch this movie fearing that it would amount to a long victim impact statement you can relax. The filmmakers did a good job of showing the extreme horror of the events - the images of the injured are realistic and graphic - without over-emphasizing the pain and suffering caused by the perpetrators of the crime. The actual victims could probably best decide this,but I think the average viewer would feel that the violence was realistic but not over-done.

The story, writing, and acting were all strong, but not spectacular. The tone of the movie worked for me. Though fairly long, it moves along well and is somewhat suspenseful - difficult to do when everyone knows the ending. Some reviewers objected, but I enjoyed the documentary-style production. The movie is never slick and sometimes used shaky or grainy images that look like news footage. For me, this enhanced the realism of the film and did not distract. As someone who is familiar with the actual locations I think they got them right. The music - if there was much music - was not melodramatic or obtrusive. I didn't like the ending credit music much, though.

The film was well cast and the performances by Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, and others were good to see.

The biggest criticism I have is that the film is ordinary and typical of most crime dramas. The characters are believable but not particularly colorful. Mark Walberg's character and the other authorities behave predictably. There are no surprises, and it seems like the filmmakers were not interested in uncovering any new or unusual aspects of the events. Possibly this is due to respect for the gravity of the material. The pressure to not offend anyone must have been substantial.

A scene that I especially liked was the interview of the criminal's wife by the authorities, where a Muslim-speaking woman with a head- scarf conducted the interview. I wish there had been more of these two actors in the movie. I also enjoyed the actor whose character was kidnapped by the two fugitives. He was very believable as a regular guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The murder of the police officer was also realistic and disturbing.

I thought the scene of the actual bombing was handled well - neither too much nor too little.

I feel that shoot-out with local police was overdone, though, and seemed out of place in the movie. It's as if the filmmakers felt compelled to include an obligatory big action scene. Maybe they were. The scene dragged on and at the same time I think they missed the opportunity to make more of the running-over the older brother with the car. The injuries to the bombing victims were depicted very graphically, so why was it not likewise for the death of one of the perpetrators? It would have been good to see the reaction of the younger brother when he realized he killed his brother.

Overall I think the filmmakers did a good job, especially given the sensitive nature of the material and the potential to offend. Perhaps after some time has passed other filmmakers will feel less constrained and be able to go deeper creatively. For now though, this seems about right.
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Art and Craft (2014)
Art Exposed ...
9 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Art and Craft is an excellent documentary film. In a similar approach sometimes used by Errol Morris, the the filmmakers simply get out of the way and let the main character and other real participants tell the story. There is no expert analysis or moralizing.

Mark copies artworks and then donates the forgeries to various museums, passing them off as the originals. He truly believes he is doing nothing wrong or illegal.

The story is a somewhat sad one. Mark has talent, but he never has had the guidance to help him reach his potential. Mark also has good social skills. He is polite and sells his product convincingly. He has some mental health issues, but most of his treatment seems to have been medication.

Mark's belief that he is doing nothing wrong is interesting. While no one seems to condone his actions, no one seems willing to deeply condemn him either. His actions aren't extremely vicious or hurtful, but there is a violation against society taking place. the violation itself is provocative, and causes people to examine the relationship between art and the viewer. That kind of discussion is often said to be one of the purposes of art.

Though the story is somewhat sad, there is something redemptive as well. When Mark is given the opportunity to exhibit the forgeries he agrees to participate, and things go well.

Another interesting character in the movie is Matthew, who is a museum curator duped by Mark. At first his is extremely angry at the deception. He becomes somewhat obsessed with Mark and works on his own time to locate and expose as many of Mark's donated forgeries as he can. Ultimately Matthew is able to turn the experience into something positive. Instead of being vengeful, he sees it as a learning experience. The face-to-face interaction between him and Mark is amusing rather than painful to watch.

Did Mark really hurt anyone - or only their pride? Do the forgeries succeed as art on some level? When we look at a Monet or Picasso do we see the work or do we see a work by Monet or Picasso? If so, is that perception as false as Mark's forgeries?
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Only Scratches the Surface ...
26 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Subject matter of extraordinary significance should help to create a movie of extraordinary insight, depth and detail. This movie is somewhat mundane, one-sided, and nearly lacking in science. It adds little new to the discussion of toxic chemicals, but mostly presents material that should be obvious to most reasonably intelligent people.

We already know that man-made chemicals that enter the body tend to be harmful. We know that industry is motivated by profit, and that the people in charge tend to be of low or questionable morality. We know that corrupt politicians are bought by corporations. We know that disease has a negative impact on people's lives, and that people want good health for their children.

Sometimes documentary filmmakers can't avoid having an opinion. But if the filmmakers are trying to make a point they need to also present the best possible opposing points, not just views they can easily dismiss.

I challenge the filmmakers to go deeper. Make another movie which includes more science, some credible opposing views, and less victim impact material. A small amount of that does help to humanize the issue, but in this case it was overdone.

There needed to be more discussion of risk versus reward, of relative safety, and a path towards better science. The movie is too much about the problem rather than the solution.

One redeeming aspect, however, was placing greater responsibility with the consumer. Corporations are not going to stop being immoral and greedy any more than politicians are going to start telling the truth. Educate yourself and stop buying harmful products in order to encourage the production of safer ones.

Additionally, support politicians who have a good record on consumer product safety, environmental issues, food safety, and a record of standing up to toxic corporations and to government agencies when those agencies fail to protect.
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Cymbeline (2014)
The Strangest Movie I Have Never Seen …
14 November 2015
This movie is a big disappointment, not because it didn't meet my expectations, but because I couldn't even watch it.

Ed Harris is one of my favorite actors, and the description of the movie on the DVD box sounded pretty good. It didn't say though that "a modern retelling of Shakespeare's timeless tragedy" meant that the dialog would be Shakespeare's original Early Modern English used in a modern setting.

Of course not. Otherwise, who in their right mind would want to watch it? What were the people who made this movie thinking? I still respect the actors who appeared in this feature. I'll call it temporary insanity.

When I first heard the Early Modern English, I thought "this has got to be for effect at the start of the movie – surely it will switch over to regular dialog any moment." When it didn't, I jumped to the next chapter, and the next chapter, and the next chapter …

You have got to be kidding me! It seems many viewers feel the same based on the low user rating.

I'm so grateful that I didn't go to see this movie in a theater. If I had, I might have been compelled to stick it out. Come to think of it, it would have been the ultimate experience for a first date. You would probably get married and have something to laugh about for the rest of your lives together! I'm not going to rate or comment further on a movie I didn't watch. By the way, I almost never bail on a movie – about one in every 500 or so.

I could not endure to watch it. Maybe thou can.
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The Gallows (2015)
Bad Amateur Hour ...
12 November 2015
I like the Blair Witch Project. I like the Paranormal Activity movies. Unfortunately, though, those movies inspired a succession of non-talents to simply recruit a few annoying non-actors, get a cheap camera, record some BS, and call it a movie. They then find a distributor who will be complicit in attempting to scam the public.

I'm writing this as the movie is still playing just in case anything interesting happens. It's almost over - and still nothing but total garbage. I'll wait for the ending.

Here's comes the ending – no, nothing there either.

I won't even dignify this non-movie by making any specific comments. I'll only say that it achieves the highest level of suckitude possible. If you watch it all you will see is an extremely boring and irritating improvisation. The end credits are truly the highpoint.

Of course when I checked out the other user reviews for this movie I found some glowing and highly suspicious 10-star reviews. The scam wouldn't be complete without them.

People – if you have no talent, no imagination, and no principles, please stay out of the business! Redbox - I want my $1.59 back!
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Unfriended (2014)
Flat-Out Stupid!
12 November 2015
I like the Blair Witch Project. I like the Paranormal Activity movies. Unfortunately, though, those movies inspired a succession of non-talents to simply recruit a few annoying non-actors, get a cheap camera, record some BS, and call it a movie. They then find a distributor who will be complicit in attempting to scam the public.

I won't even dignify this non-movie by making any specific comments. If you watch it you will be bored and irritated by a stupid story, bad video, and group of annoying wanna-be actors whose only talent is that they can scream and carry on like imbeciles for 90 minutes.

Of course when I checked out the other user reviews for this movie I found some glowing and highly suspicious 10-star reviews. The scam wouldn't be complete without them.

If you have no talent, no imagination, and no principles, please don't make a movie!
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12 November 2015
This is a movie about nothing. That's fine for a half-hour episode of Seinfeld, because it's amusing and entertaining. This movie is neither. It's humorless, tedious and somewhat painful to watch.

I like slice-of life movies. I don't need action. I don't need anything to really happen as long as I experience something I normally wouldn't experience in everyday life. This movie is anyone's very ordinary everyday life with some amount of coincidence and absurdity added. Rather than creating interest, though, these devices only prevent anything genuine from emerging.

Only one of the two main characters is believable, and both lack color and depth. That's a serious flaw in a movie where almost nothing happens. A transformation of sorts does take place, but it feels contrived. The events leading up to the transformation don't in any way suggest that it should occur, or why.

I'm giving the movie 4 out of 10 because someone might get something from it, and because there are a few brief moments that I liked. Also, the acting is at least adequate.The movie is inferior, but not horrible. Observing everyday life on a long walk would be a better way to spend 90 minutes, though.
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Runoff (2014)
Nothing Special ...
7 August 2015
I like slice of life films where not much happens, but this one is pretty weak. The acting unspectacular. The audio is bad, and they obviously couldn't afford a dialect coach. There is no real insight into any of the character's lives, and none of the characters are the least bit colorful. The portrayal of the local environment that usually makes this kind of movie interesting is almost nonexistent. There is no real drama. There is only occasional visual interest.

I wasn't planning on reviewing this movie, but after seeing all the ten star reviews I had to object. I wish IMDb could do something about this. I realize it's hard if not impossible to control this activity. Anyone can easily see what's going on. Still, it is annoying.

I wish a six month period of membership were required before someone could write a review, but this wouldn't be fair to IMDb or to impartial reviewers.

At least the reviewer should have to check off a box saying they are unbiased and have no affiliation with the movie's production or distribution.

This kind of activity is all over IMDb and detracts from a really great site. THESE REVIEWERS SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES!

The critics got it right. The movie is at best mediocre.
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Trance (I) (2013)
Tedious and Boring ...
21 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film is dreamlike, atmospheric, and subjective. Events are not seen to have taken place in the usual way. There is a story, but it is told through impressionistic images which are sometimes repeated and may be non-sequential. For this reason, I think some people will find the film interesting or appealing.

The "story" centers around the hypnosis of one of the characters who, under duress, is being made to try to remember where he put a stolen painting before a blow to the head caused amnesia. The "action" is a blur between reality and various states of mind – memories, false memories, delusions, etc.

Many good films don't use conventional storytelling, but this one is boring and tedious. By two-thirds of the way through I just wanted it to end. It's a typical 101 minutes long but seemed to drag on and on. There is a reveal at the end, but by that time I was too numb for the plot twist to matter.

I often like films that are slow and static, because they capture something genuine – a reality that is appealing. To me this film felt contrived and self-indulgent. It was probably of greater interest to the people making the film than it is to the viewer.

I found the "hypnotist" character in the film to be especially dull, both as written and performed. For some reason she "narrates" most of her part in a slow and pretentious tone. Frequently pausing after almost every word, she seems only to take a long time to say something of little interest.

In general the acting is not the problem with the film, though. The main problems are the writing and overall working out of the concept.

Most films include a variety of characters – some good, some bad, some flawed with redeeming qualities, etc. Lacking this variety, a film can still be good if the characters' portrayal is insightful and realistic. These characters as written are not admirable, likable, or especially believable – they are all the same in that respect. Why should the viewer care what happens to them?
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Blackfish (2013)
Disturbing ...
27 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film tells the story orca whales in captivity at SeaWorld. There many interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, and footage from SeaWorld shows and training sessions including some whale attacks on humans.

The documentary is well made – maybe not spectacular, but concise, well-edited, and balanced considering the subject matter. I don't doubt that the filmmakers have a particular point of view, but I wouldn't call the film biased or narrow in scope. Even though the interviews reflect general agreement, there is still lot of variety due to different personalities and experiences.

The film is filled with anecdotes and detailed information about operations at SeaWorld, with some material about SeaWorld's predecessor "Sealand" and a few other places. All the interviewees are articulate and believable. The interviews and footage relating to the capture of whales - though not a major part of the film - are particularly interesting.

I'm sure this film will be labeled one-sided by some. There is no editorializing in the film - all the opinions expressed are those of the people being interviewed. The filmmakers state that SeaWorld repeatedly refused to be interviewed, and I believe them. Experts seem to agree that orca whales don't do well in captivity. It seems a lose-lose situation for the filmmakers - either be accused of bias or be accused of diminishing opposing viewpoints by presenting individuals who are unqualified or ridiculous.

I don't think SeaWorld is the devil. Many human activities are harmful to animals. But I think this film is the truth. I believe it shows SeaWorld for what it is – a somewhat unholy place, and just wrong.

Everyone considering a trip to SeaWorld should watch this film first. Maybe it will convince you to try a whale watch instead.
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Passion (2012)
Too Bad ...
20 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There's a lot to like about this movie – and some things not to like.

The film is very strong visually. For this reason alone I would watch it again despite a number of flaws. I liked the mood and pacing of the movie. The story moves forward nicely – even though the writing has problems. Also, I found the music to be melodramatic and too present in places.

Overall the acting was very strong - though Rachel McAdams is not on the same level as the other main actors. Her role demanded a stronger performance. She is not the actor that Noomi Rapace is – but few are.

DePalma probably tried to do too much. I'm sure the film would have been stronger if he had collaborated with another writer. Possibly he is a victim of his stature as a filmmaker. Without limitations maybe his work doesn't reach its full potential. Still, I look forward to his future efforts, as that stature is well deserved based on his body of work.

Somewhat puzzling is a long ballet sequence included in the film. It was pleasant to watch but seemed superfluous. It's too bad it couldn't have been made essential to the story.

I felt that the "twin" aspect of the story was also puzzling and not adequately explained.

The conclusion was unsatisfying from the standpoint of clarity. I felt the ending was ambiguous and though I liked the effect I wanted a more literal explanation of what had happened. I'm looking forward to watching the film on which this film was based, hoping that it will add to my understanding of this film.
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Shame (2011)
Very Weak Film ...
1 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
You might like this movie if you typically like tedious, painful to watch, humorless movies without a single likable character.

The film main character is a conflicted porn addict who is miserable because he can't have real relationships. He tries and fails. He is cruel to his sister, who is also an emotional wreck. We never find out how they got this way. At least the filmmakers spared us from that.

Nothing really happens. The guy starts out miserable and remains miserable. No transformation – no insights – nothing. There is occasionally a glimmer of something good, such as an intriguing shift of the time line, or a slow observational shot outside the films usual perspective which is somewhat interesting visually. These shots fail though because there is little action to begin with – so no need for contrast. It's an opportunity for the viewer to reflect, but there's nothing to reflect upon except a series of events that document the guy's misery.

To make matters much worse the film just flat-out stinks – across the board. The music is terrible. The movie is one erratic, badly lit, washed-out shot after another. The viewer doesn't need to suffer through 90 min. of this mirroring of the guys inner life – an occasional effect would do. Well, maybe the good camera was broken. Most of the costumes look like they were bought at a yard sale. The editing and pace of the film are amateurish. It would work better if reduced to a 20 min. short.

The filmmakers do manage to accomplish one impressive feat – an amazing deception. Deprived of a timepiece, you will swear that this film is twice it's actual length. The last 15 minutes seem like an hour.

The movie was filmed with the support of the New York State Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development. I'm adding that to my "beware" list, one level above "Official Cannes Selection."
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Dogtooth (2009)
There's a difference between funny and stupid ...
26 October 2011
If I learned anything from reading viewer reviews on IMDb it is that no matter how good I think a film is someone is going to hate it, and vice versa. I've also learned that when a film has won an award at Cannes there's a good chance it's going to be awful. I've concluded that some people like certain films solely because they are "different." Even when there is no story, no humor, or no action a film can still have some value if it has one essential element - truth. This film has absolutely nothing. The "characters" portrayed are no-shows. There are no reasons for their actions - they have no "reality." That's okay for a comedy, but this film isn't the least bit funny.

The film is sometimes visually appealing – but so what? Some images are nicely composed, but even completely random use of a camera will eventually yield something. As an alternative to watching this I'd recommend simply walking around or sitting on a park bench for 90 minutes. That would be just as visually appealing and more interesting than watching this dog of a film.
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127 Hours (2010)
A Missed Opportunity
28 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Part of the problem is that the subject matter raises the standard for a film such as this. The story would seem to require a tone and a style that's driven by some essential truth – not necessarily a literal dramatization, but something fundamental and permanent for the viewer to discover or reflect upon. If that's not in Danny Boyle's bag of tricks – fine. I just wish he had left the story for someone else.

The film is noisy and cluttered. It's like a person with little to say that never stops talking for fear of a lull in the conversation. The music is abrasive and usually feels like an intrusion. There seems to be little effort by the filmmakers to create a mood that conveys what the experience must have been like. There is no passage of time – only images of a watch. Whenever something genuine seems ready to emerge it's preempted by some montage of remote events, as if the viewer constantly needs to be reminded that life goes on somewhere else.

Visually, you would think that it would be hard for a film like this to miss. There are some great shots, but the effect is never sustained. It's always undermined by some subsequent material, as if the filmmakers have an unconscious need to negate anything beautiful in their own work.

John Franco gives a decent performance, but many of the character's actions don't seem plausible in the given situations, due to the writing. The film's biggest flaw is that it's simply not believable.

If you haven't already read the book, you'll want to after seeing 127 Hours. The film simply doesn't ring true. Hopefully other filmmakers who have a greater affinity for the subject will take it on at some point in the future – either as a documentary or a dramatization. It's a story that deserves to be told well.
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Black Swan (2010)
A New Low for Aronofsky ...
1 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Is it possible for a filmmaker to make a good movie followed by a exceptional movie followed by a poor movie followed by a very good movie followed by an complete dud which earns the lead actress an Oscar? It is if the filmmaker is Darren Aronofsky.

Black Swan is so bad it could be "funny bad" - but it's such a weak attempt by a good director that it seems sad to laugh a it. The movie has little to offer. The story is slow and unclear. The characters are shallow and not one is the least bit likable, so even if it were possible to understand what is happening - which it isn't - why would anyone care?

The usually good Vincent Cassel presents us with a lifeless cliché of a character – little more than a cardboard cutout with movable lips. Same for Barbara Hersey. Mila Kunis gives a passable performance – a stand-out relative to the others. Natalie Portman recycles the same three facial expressions for the entire film. Is that all it takes to win an Oscar?

The viewer can't know if events in the film are real or imagined. That's not a problem if the events can be understood in terms of the characters' inner lives. That can't happen in Black Swan, so the events become arbitrary and meaningless nonsense. The feel of the whole thing is phony – slick, artsy, and without substance.

The film is badly paced and visually unattractive. The music is relentlessly bombastic and headache-inducing, and the dancing is terrible. The film is boring and lacks humor. With the exception of a very brief segment which depicts a drug-induced experience Black Swan is completely devoid of anything resembling art.

I never quit on a film. I consider it a badge of honor to have endured the worst of the worst. I must have asked myself "How much longer?" a record number of times during Black Swan, even though the film is only 108 minutes long. It seemed like 308 minutes.
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