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6/10
Vincent in Two Dimensions
2 February 2019
I should state right off that I'm a big Van Gogh fan and, perhaps, that's what made me expect more from this film.

The film, itself, is beautifully made. The scenes from real life support the paintings that Van Gogh made of them. You can see why the landscapes and people inspired his art. No, the visual elements were not the reason for my disappointment.

The problem I have is in the acting. I just didn't feel like I was getting a true insight into Van Gogh. I thought his eccentricities and psychological problems were soft-pedaled. I also found no sincerity in his interactions with Gauguin and others. The film lacked an emotional hook. Although I like much of what Dafoe does, I felt he was not the right actor for this part. Each actor seemed concerned with saying their lines and nothing more. Too bad.

I also felt that the film was disjointed with scenes jumping from one to another for no apparent reason. But if you like good scenery and looking at Van Gogh's paintings you'll probably be happy.
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8/10
The Front Runner Should Be But Won't Be
2 February 2019
I know what you're thinking. Why watch a movie about a failed presidential candidate from 30 years ago? Anyway, that's what held me back. But here's the thing. As you watch the film, you realize that it could be about the relationship between media and politics that is taking place today. In fact, you realize that the events depicted in the movie set the stage for a major change in journalism which can best be described as sensationalism's triumph over objectivity.

Now, you may have never heard of Gary Hart, but before him, the press had an understanding that they would not intrude into a candidate's or a president's personal life. JFK may have been a womanizer, but no one in the main stream media would report on it. It was considered to be unprofessional. Issues should be the focus, not personal flaws. This film clearly displays this battle. I thought that the producers may have had an agenda, like most films do these days, but, at least in my opinion, they presented both sides of the story without spin. I have to give them credit for that. In the end, you will have to decide who is right and who is wrong.

The acting is first rate and extends from Hugh Jackman to the minor roles. It is well put together. The interactions between the characters was believable and compelling.

I really feel more people should watch this movie, but they probably won't and it will pass away into oblivion, and that's too bad.
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Black Panther (2018)
5/10
Black Panther Lacks a Bite
18 February 2018
Let me get right to the point. Among the Marvel movies, Black Panther is one of the least successful productions. It's not so much that it lacks any of the major elements of other Marvel films. It has a superhero who kind of has special powers, it has special effects, and it has somewhat innovative fight scenes. No, the problem is in the acting and I'll put the blame for this on the supporting female characters. Their acting is of B-movie quality. It is wooden and stilted causing a lack of any believable emotional connection to other characters in the film. In an effort to make the female characters into powerful male-like warriors, they have sacrificed their humanity,

Most of the male acting is only slightly better. Chadwick Boseman is okay. Michael B. Jordan is a pretty good villain, and Daniel Kaluuya is believable and sincere. But when Sterling K. Brown appears in a cameo, we realize what real good acting consists of and we are suddenly forced to realize what the film is missing.

The plot is predictable, like most Marvel films. It seems to lack some underlying ideal, although it makes an attempt to do this in the conversation we see with Mr. Panther and his father, played very well by John Kani. In the conversation, his father advises him to surround himself with good people, which may serve as an indirect criticism of the corruption that so often appears in African governments. We also have the issue raised by Erik Killmonger (Jordan) who asserts that Wakanda should give its precious super- mineral, vibranium (give me a break), to oppressed black people so that they can fight their oppressors.

Much is made in the pre-release hype about the technologically-advanced, mythical African nation, Wakanda. To me, it looked like Oz's Emerald City without the emerald. There is also a lot of talk on how this film unites black people around the world. Maybe it does. It just seems to me there are so many other films that could do a better job at this and keep us entertained at the same time. In short, there is not much in this film that will keep the average viewer involved. There are some mildly interesting fight scenes and the obligatory car chase has some novel elements, but I would not recommend the film as a whole. Nonetheless, the momentum the film has received from the pre-release media storm will no doubt end up with it making some good box office returns: A triumph of marketing over quality.
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Risk (I) (2016)
6/10
The Risk May Be Worth It For Some
11 June 2017
The reviews for this documentary are all over the place. Reviewers who are firm advocates of WikiLeaks tend to over-exaggerate the film's virtues, while those who find the organization's actions reprehensible tend to hate it. I watched the film as an objective reviewer.

Some have called the film a sleeper and there are parts of the film that live up to that branding. These occur mainly at the beginning of the film when scenes shift quickly and conversations are somewhat baffling and vapid.

Assange emerges as an emotionally remote character who hides his true personality behind his dedication to WikiLeaks. He even states that what he does is more important than who he is. The only scene in which we get a glimpse into his repressed character is when he is interviewed by Lady Gaga, dressed in her Wicked-Witch-of-the West costume. Ms. Gaga, like most celebrities, tries to hide her insecurity behind false bravado and seemingly unfiltered, carefree questions which tell us more about her than Assange. In a clear case of projection, she asks about his relationship to his parents, wherein Assange claimed his father was "abstract".

We do get some glimpses into the life Assange lives within the Ecuadorean Embassy. We learn about his relationships with his team and find out a few ways that the organization keeps itself protected from government intrusion. This may hold some interest for some viewers.

The latter half of the film is more interesting, especially when he talks about the DNC hacking. I only wish this were expanded more as it is more timely. It is at this point in the film that Assange talks about the earth as so interconnected that any action must be considered a global action. It is an interesting an important viewpoint that should be considered. It is not simply "think globally, act locally". It is more that even a small local action may have global implications.

The film leaves many questions unanswered and, as a whole, doesn't flow very well. It could have been better made. There is nothing compelling in it, meaning that a viewer may be tempted to stop watching the film entirely at certain points. There is no hook that makes us want to see how it ends. There are no compelling relationships and some issues seem unresolved that could easily have been. Still, a few scenes are definitely worth seeing.

For those interested in the world of cyber security, political intrigue, and government surveillance, this documentary may be of interest. For the general public, however, it may simply be too dull.
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Brimstone (2016)
2/10
A Study of Degradation
23 April 2017
Unnecessarily violent and perverted. This is a study in degradation, pure and simple. Don't be fooled by those who claim this is an uplifting story of a brave woman. If that were true, it could have been done with far more subtlety and accomplished the same end. I have no idea what producers think the movie-going public want, but if they want this, as a society, we have fallen to a level that we would be wise not to reveal. This is a movie without any redeeming values. True, they try to make it so with a begging-for-forgiveness ending and heroic music, but I didn't buy it and you shouldn't either. The actors should apologize for participating in this travesty. Don't waste your time or your integrity.
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The Arroyo (2014)
6/10
The Good, The Bad, and The Mediocre
13 February 2017
OK, so this is a B movie. It lacks the textural depth of a first-rate Hollywood production, but it's watchable, which is more than I can say for a lot of B movies. Whether you like this movie or not will depend largely on which side of the political divide you stand on. It's unlikely that any lefties will choose to watch this movie, but if they do, it will probably only be to give it a negative review. In fact, it's somewhat refreshing to see more conservative values featured for a change. Hollywood would never do it.

As in most B movies, some actors perform better than others. For the most part, the acting is tolerable. The bad guy is bad and in the mold of the 'No Country for Old Men' villain. Some scenes are actually quite nicely directed.

I don't live on the border so I have little idea how true this story could be, but my guess it has some truth in it. For those seriously interested in this topic, I highly recommend the Oscar nominated documentary, Cartel Land, which is a real eye-opener. But The Arroyo will do as an introduction to the topic.
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Paterson (2016)
8/10
The Poetry of Everyday Life
10 February 2017
For those not familiar with Jim Jarmusch's work, you may find this movie puzzling. There will be no explosions, shoot outs, or car chases. Jarmusch doesn't just focus on a slice of life. He focuses on the crumbs of life. These crumbs are often organized around a simple, sometimes absurd, theme. This could be anything from driving to see Lake Erie (Stranger Than Paradise) to traveling to visit ex-girlfriends (Broken Flowers). The pace is non-existent. In Paterson, the earth spins around day after day but everyone still comes back to the same point in space. The theme is the poetry of everyday life.

As usual, Jarmusch comes up with a group of quirky, somewhat deadpan characters. The main characters are a husband and wife; a bus driver poet and a homemaker designer. They are perfectly suited to each other, but only to each other. Big tragedies occur over insignificant things that are not insignificant for those experiencing them. We don't learn much about either of the couple's past except for the photo of Paterson (Adam Driver) in a US Marine uniform which is placed beside his bed. His wife, Laura (expertly played by Golshifteh Farahani)is obsessed with incorporating black and white, and only black and white, into all of her designs. You can make what symbolism you want of this, but I'm surprised Jarmusch doesn't put some black and white scenes in the film. We do, however, see the couple watch an old black and white film.

Those who know Jarmusch will more than likely enjoy this film. It lives up to the standard that he has set for himself. It is a collection of mundane and oddball events that range from being poignant to amusing. The characters are well acted and realistic, without being exaggerated. There are lessons to be learned here, but, like the interpretation of a Pollock painting, you'll have to interpret these things for yourself.

Definitely not for everybody, but for those who want to experience someone else's daily routine and, in so doing, see the poetry that may be already present in their own lives.
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3/10
A Good Film for Viewers Contemplating Suicide
24 January 2017
This is the least uplifting movie of the year. It may even make the all-time top 10 of movies guaranteed to make you contemplate jumping from a bridge. Moody, depressed people have bad things happen to them which make them even moodier and more depressed. it is a very thick slice of life film that has grown moldy.

I'm not sure why Affleck is praised for his acting skills in this movie. He played much the same role in the film, Out of the Furnace, only that film was interesting. He seems to be type-cast as a perpetually, psychologically disturbed individual. In truth, I found none of the acting compelling. I was simply annoyed by the teenage Patrick played by Lucas Hedges. I really hoped Affleck would get as annoyed as I was at him and drive his depressing car into a psychologically disturbed tree. But, alas, we had to wait over 2 hours to watch everyone have bouts of depression and a variety of psychological breakdowns.

So, if you watch this film, make sure to carefully lock away all handguns and stay off of bridges for a couple of hours. On the other hand, if you are teaching a class on elementary psychology, this is the film for you. Academy Award material? I don't think so, but that probably means it will get several. Such is the credibility of the Academy committee these days.
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Snowden (2016)
8/10
Stone's Snowden is Rock Solid
24 January 2017
I was never interested in seeing this film. This may seem surprising as I spend much of my time investigating cybersecurity. However, I had my reasons for this. First of all, I had already watched Citizenfour, the documentary on the Snowden incident. I found it mildly interesting but not compelling. Why would I want to watch a Hollywood production on the same topic? Secondly, I was suspicious about a film created by Oliver Stone. Stone seems to have an agenda that is too visible in many of his films. He's not as bad as the pseudo-documentarian, Michael Moore, but I was worried that I would get too much of Stone and too little of Snowden. Finally, why would I want to watch a movie for which I already knew the ending? I call this the 'zen of movie watching". This is a movie you watch to enjoy the process rather than the conclusion. It can usually only be pulled off by a well-constructed movie. Death of a Salesman, for example, tells you the ending in the title. The play (or movie) shows you what events led to that final moment. Would I really be interested in seeing how Snowden ended up in Moscow, especially since I already knew the story? To get right to the point, my doubts were not justified. This was a good film. It is not simply the events shown in the documentary but more the story behind the story. The film's success largely rests on the performance of the lead actor's portrayal of Snowden. In this regard, the often under-rated, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, does a remarkable job. It has been reported that even Snowden's family praised the similarities between Gordon-Levitt's portrayal and Snowden, himself. Gordon-Levitt claimed that he repeatedly listened to Snowden's speech patterns in Citizenfour so as to get them correct. Whatever; he managed to bring the Snowden character to life.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the acting of Shailene Woodley, who played Snowden's romantic interest, Lindsay Mills. For the life of me, I could not fathom how Snowden could become so interested in such a two-dimensional woman. It was difficult to see any on-screen chemistry between the two and Woodley's stilted, robotic performance didn't help matters any. I kept hoping he would dump her and get on with his life, but, sadly, she kept interrupting the flow of the film. I can only assume that the real Lindsay Mills was much more charismatic.

In contrast, the relationships between Snowden and his superiors and colleagues is quite well done. This and Snowden's battle with his own conscience make for the most compelling elements of the film. Stone may have an agenda, but he also shows both sides of the security vs. privacy debate. If he did not, we would never fully understand the dilemma that Snowden was cast into. It is this, and not the romantic relationship, that kept me interested throughout the film.

For the average, cybersecurity-naiive viewer, much of what you see will be eye-opening. I'm sure many will not believe that what they see is true, but be assured it is. Most of all, this was an unexpectedly entertaining movie which I think most people will enjoy. I especially liked the extra touch at the end, which I will not reveal in this review.
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La La Land (I) (2016)
7/10
High School Musical Meets West Side Story
24 January 2017
Hmm, that was something different. This is kind of like two movies in one. The first half was surprisingly amateurish with respect to the singing and dancing. I give Ryan Gosling a pat-on-the-back award for trying both of these skills, but anyone who is expecting Fred Astaire or Gene Kelley will be sorely disappointed. I get it. I get the fact that the film inserts stylized re-enactments of old Hollywood movie scenes. That's nice, but it didn't sell me on the film. For the first half of the film, you will see performances that can be matched by performances at your local high school. What I don't get is Emma Stone. Sure, we all have our personal preferences but she seems completely unsuited for the role of Ryan Gosling's romantic obsessions. However, if they ever decide to film ET's Revenge, she has my vote.

Just as I was ready to write this film off completely, it turned around. This happened, it seems to me, during the observatory dance scene. That was creative. Around this time, the film begins to develop some angst and the relationship between the two characters suddenly becomes much more complex and intriguing. Some will like the ending, some won't, but, for me, it did seem a little forced. Still, the second half of the film brought into focus more serious points about relationships and life, in general, to save it.

Should you see it? Well, watch the opening scene. If you can take that, you can survive the film. Trust me it gets better. Should it receive a best picture award? Well, it's at least something different, reminiscent of the award winning, The Artist. Let's just say that if it wins, I will grudgingly accept the Academy's verdict.
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5/10
Batman vs. Superman vs. The Audience
8 October 2016
This is the first time I've ever blamed the failure of a film on the editing. The movie jumps randomly and disconnectedly from scene to scene leaving the viewer in a state of constant bewilderment.

First of all, you have to figure out why Batman has it in for Superman. Apparently, in a misguided attempt to save his unremarkable girlfriend, Lois Lane, Superman manages to inadvertently kill several hundred people. Well, mistakes happen. Unfortunately, among these victims is Batman's father. What are the odds! Then come a series of flashbacks interwoven with a number of story lines that try, and often succeed, in baffling the viewer. The actors themselves seem vaguely confused with their roles and look as if they're not sure what emotions are required in certain scenes.

The movie is, unsurprisingly, targeted at teens, so I watched it with my 14-year-old son. When he frequently asked me what was happening, I could only respond with the look of a dog having the principles of the door knob explained to him. I told him that artistic films frequently had no discernible plot. He didn't buy it.

When the audience is finally on the ropes, the filmmakers tighten the screws by concocting an unending series of false endings. It becomes a battle of wills between the audience and the filmmakers. Who will break first? The deathblow comes when the filmmakers have an ending that threatens the audience with Batman vs Superman 2.

If you want to watch this film, it might be best to try to re-edit it yourself. The good news is that no matter how you put the scenes together, you won't do worse than the original version. You may even produce Batman vs. Superman 2 in the process.
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Blood Father (2016)
8/10
Gritty Father
7 September 2016
Well, this was much better than I expected it to be. What did I expect? An action movie with numerous unbelievable action scenes strung together with a weak plot and supported by poor acting. I thought it would be a movie that Mel chose to act in because he needed money to pay his alimony.

Yes, it was an action movie, more or less, and maybe a few scenes stretched credulity. However, there was much more depth to the plot as Mel, the gritty, ex-con father of a troubled teen, tries to do what he can to get some redemption. I have to say one thing about Mel, the guy can act. I had my doubts after watching a few of his more recent flicks, but this character seemed perfectly written for him. The supporting cast was also good and gave the movie more depth than most action films. And, what we all want in such films, the bad guys were bad.

It's a compelling watch and a good way to spend an evening.
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5/10
See the trees. They'll be more interesting.
28 August 2016
I lived near Aokigahara when I taught at a private institution on Mt. Fuji. One day my friend and I hiked into it hoping to find adventure. We found no dead bodies, no skeletons, no signs of any humans having been there, and our compasses worked fine. Basically, it is an area of lava tubes, some partially collapsed leaving numerous holes of a variety of sizes. Our conclusion was that amateur hikers probably stepped in a hole and broke their legs and couldn't get out. It is geographically confusing as one tube looks more or less like another, but the place is not far from a highway and it would be nearly impossible to get lost there despite what the movie may make you believe.

Oh, yeah, the movie. Despite a rather good cast, the film simply falls flat. The actors basically go through the motions to pick up their paychecks. The best, or a least most believable, part is the relationship between the Matthew McConaughey character and his wife, played by Naomi Watts, and even that is inconsistent. It's a movie that tries to bring up deep themes but falls short. The adding of spiritual and religious elements just muddies the water even further. The movie suffers from the worst fate that can afflict a movie that attains to be philosophic - some parts are absolutely laughable.

I'm not sure I really cared about what happened to any of the characters. There was never any angst built by the plot and you will not be sitting on the edge of your seat. In fact, you'll miss nothing if you do the laundry while the film is playing. If this was a ploy for the local area to stimulate suicide tourism, it probably failed, though suicidal thoughts may have crossed the minds of some who were forced to watch the movie to its conclusion.

Although some scenes may produce unintentional humor, I would not recommend watching it. Too bad, because there really could be a good movie built around the place.
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8/10
Confirming the Value of The Confirmation
3 June 2016
This is one film where the synopsis does not do the film justice. If I had only read that, I doubt if I would have watched the film at all. Even though the summary is correct, it fails to elucidate the subtleties in the plot and the fine acting that underpins the storyline.

First of all, I hate films that feature kids. The kids are all stereotyped in most films. Either they are too cute or too cynical, spoiled, and arrogant to be compelling. You can be sure that 1) they will be the one that cause the problems or 2) they will be transformed into 'good kids' by the end of the film.

Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the main kid role, is believable. Clive Owen, who I think is often underrated as an actor, does his usual solid performance as a recovering alcoholic-father. But it is the supporting actors who bring this slice-of-life drama to perfection. The emotional fine points in the plot could not have come through without them.

After watching it myself, I decided to watch the film with my 13-year-old son. Normally, he likes the action movie, super hero, special effects-laden films, so this was a bit of a transition. The verdict? He could associate with a lot of the interactions that went on in the film from a kid's point of view and enjoyed watching it. Adults will like it for the insights into adult relationships.

It will not be for everyone. I would guess most kids will be waiting for the next exploding car or 15 minute fight scene, which will never happen, just as they never happen so frequently in real life.

I know this film will pass largely unnoticed, which is why I felt obliged to write a review of it. There are those filmgoers out there who still appreciate a good film in its purest form.
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6/10
Rational Irrational Man
14 January 2016
Basically, I'll watch any film that Woody Allen makes. That said, it doesn't mean I think all of his films are top rank. His best films blend comedy, psychology, and philosophy with a good storyline. His worse fall short in one of these areas. When I first started watching the film, I thought it had all the potential of some of his better films. A charismatic, somewhat famous, professor comes to a small college. His questionable reputation intrigues and titillates students and colleagues alike. The professor (Joaquin Phoenix )is in the throes of mid-life angst and burdened by the expectations others have of him. In an attempt to recharge his life, he heads down some questionable trails.

The psychological aspects of the plot evaporate into a crime drama. For a moment, the professor becomes a Raskolnikov-like character and I began to think the psychological aspect may once again come to the fore and make this an interesting movie. Instead, this potential plot twist is brushed aside and, sadly, the rest is more or less predictable.

The acting is good enough, though the romantic relationships among the characters are shallow and not well-developed, making them somewhat difficult to believe.

Woody Allen fans may find the film interesting enough, but don't expect another Midnight in Paris or a crime story as good as Manhattan Murder Mystery. If Irrational Man was more in keeping with its title, it would have been less predictable and more interesting.
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Before We Go (I) (2014)
8/10
Before Sunrise...in New York
13 November 2015
This is a film of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight genre. Two people meet by accident and spend the night getting to know each other. The characters' personalities and lives are slowly unveiled through stories about their pasts and their relationships. It is, like all such movies, heavily dialogue-dependent. This means that the dialogue must be clever enough and compelling enough to keep the viewer interested. In my opinion, it meets these standards.

The acting is good and the relationship between the two main characters (Chris Evans and Amy Eve)is believable. They really do seem to have some chemistry between them. If this wasn't present, the movie would have flopped. No one wants to watch a film about two people pretending they like each other. The relationship evolves logically and not like it would in a regular romcom. True, sometimes the dialogue is a little too good to be believable (they never talk about how tired they are even when it's 4am and they've been up all night), but at least it's witty and entertaining. You slowly learn that they are either in, or have been in, dysfunctional relationships, and they begin to build their own relationship around this shared core.

This movie will never be a blockbuster. It will not appeal to the usual movie viewing target, the 15-year-old male. There are no explosions, car chases, or shoot-outs appearing at the critical seven-minute-attention-span stage that these modern viewers are said to possess. You actually have to watch the movie to get involved in it. I would say that the movie targets the 25+ group or people that have already been through serious, but dysfunctional, relationships and are somehow trying to rebuild their lives without being jaded. For this reason, it is a good couple's movie, as it will offer plenty of topics to talk about after the film finishes. The movie neither favors the male nor female viewpoint. Male viewers generally don't enjoy romcoms and it's not because they are against films that focus on relationships. It's because they have seen enough of them to realize that the film's structure and ending are simply too predictable. Male viewers will not have this problem with this film. In fact, for some, the open-ended conclusion might be a let down. I may have wanted more resolution myself, but others may feel comfortable with it. I can't go into more detail here. In any event, it seemed to leave the door open for a sequel and, if that is as good as this film was, I would welcome that.
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Deep Web (2015)
8/10
The Deeper Web
7 June 2015
As I write about cybercrime and cyber security, I took a special interest in this film. It is far different from the usual fare. In the usual cybercrime movie, there is always the scene where the hacker-hero sits down at a keyboard, begins typing frantically away, then turns to his eagerly awaiting colleagues and says something like, "okay, we're into the Pentagon's computer network". If only life were so easy. The movie may be good in other aspects, but the hacking scenes don't usually hold up.

Documentaries on cybercrime are a bit different. Some of them are quite good, though they often come with an angle. By this I mean that they are not really trying to be objective, they are trying to make a case. In The Deep Web, it is clear early on that Alex Winter has an angle. The angle is that the deep web, the Silk Road, and Ross Ulbricht have provided a valid, honest service that does not undercut social values and, in fact, may have re-invigorated them. On the surface, this might seem like a difficult case to prove, but, to his credit, Winter does a remarkable job.

Winter portrays the deep web as a new cyber nation where anonymity, freedom, and relief from the burden of government surveillance can thrive. It is, or can be, the true libertarian utopia. Although the film is hyped as being narrated by Keanu Reeves, he actually has a limited role. This is more of a marketing ploy than anything. In fact, a significant part of the film is carried by "consultant producer" and Wired magazine writer, Andy Greenberg. Greenberg was the first person to actually interview Ulbricht when he was only known as Dread Pirate Roberts. He believes that Ulbricht was sincere in his libertarian philosophy and truly felt that an open drug market would reduce the violence that was connected to illegal drug use. You'll have to decide for yourself if Greenberg and Winter makes a good case for Ulbricht or not.

Winter does try to balance his pro-Ulbricht stance with interviews of various law enforcement officers connected to the case. There is some good and somewhat rare footage here of interviews with Ulbricht's lawyer, Joshua Dratal, Ulbricht's parents, and some of Ulbricht's friends and admirers. There are even some home movies of Ulbricht himself that show he was more than just a drug dealer looking to make quick money. The one interview lacking is the one of Ulbricht himself.

The crux of the film, at least for me, was the insinuation that Ulbricht received, to put it lightly, something less than a fair trial. He makes you wonder about two key points: the objectivity and competence of Judge Forrest and whether or not Ulbricht was railroaded. At times, Winter makes you wonder if there was not some sort of collusion between the prosecution and the judge; they just seemed to work so well together. Again, you can decide this for yourself.

If there is one weak point in this documentary, it is trying to portray Ulbricht in too positive a light. I have read his Tor chats, even the ones he released after his sentencing to show that he was not only concerned about making money. From these alone, you can see that Ulbricht is not the aw shucks, golly gee, kid next door that Winter makes him seem to be. In short, like everyone, he has his positive and negative characteristics. That said, this is a good documentary and one that should be watched.

I would recommend The Deep Web to everyone, even those who do not know much about the deep web, Ulbricht, or cybercrime. Winter makes the viewer consider the basic values that have created America and whether they have been dismantled to build something other than a free society. It could be that the Ulbricht trial was the crucible in which these fundamental American values were put to the test. Overall, The Deep Web is a first-rate documentary. Go see it. It will certainly give you a lot to think about.
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Amira & Sam (2014)
8/10
Surprisingly Better than I Expected
13 May 2015
The synopsis did not do this picture justice. I expected something with an 'embrace diversity' theme, which, to me, always seems to contradict the 'we're all equal as Americans' theme. In the end, what we end up with nowadays is the 'tolerate diversity' position. This pleasantly surprising film seems to make us look at some of the uncomfortable truths about American society through the eyes of two people who are somewhat dysfunctional within it.

Sam comes back from a long tour of duty overseas as a Marine and can't really understand the new moral standards being supported by his family and friends. Amira doesn't really fit into the American society within which she lives or the Moslem background she was raised in. As someone who has lived overseas for many years, I can attest to the fact that you can see your own society more clearly when you return to it and can be surprised by the behavior that those who live there have learned to accept as normal. The movie looks at the problems of growing class separation, the pursuit of money at all costs, and the growing acceptance of insincerity as a necessary evil.

That said, this is not a diatribe. There is no seizing of the moral high ground here. These viewpoints arise naturally and you don't ever feel like someone has an ax to grind. In fact, the characters themselves may cross, what some would consider, a moral boundary. I'm certain Amira's behavior would be frowned upon by most Moslem viewers and some Americans may question aspects of Sam's behavior. In short, both find solace in each others isolation within their own cultures. They embrace diversity at the individual level.

The acting is good and the relationships are believable, despite what the synopsis may make it seem. It is certainly a movie that will make you consider your views on culture, wealth, and honesty a little more closely. Although some scenes may be a bit contrived, for the most part, this is a film that deserves more attention and is well-worth watching.
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5/10
A Triumph of Form over Substance
22 February 2015
First of all, if you are expecting to see something along the lines of the first Matrix film, forget it. Consider this more like Matrix 4. The first Matrix film was heavy on new ideas, but, as the series developed, it became more Hollywood: Lots of action, more special effects, and a basic story line. This is how I saw Jupiter Ascending.

At the beginning, the film held some promise. I liked the absurdity of Jupiter Jones (give me a break), played by Mila Kunis, discovering that she played a key role in the history of the universe. This held promise as did Channing Tatum's deadpan character, Caine Wise (yeah, I know). There were also some intriguing scientific ideas that I thought would be explored and that could lead to some interesting conclusions. Unfortunately, the movie deteriorated into a series of action scenes rife with special effects designed for the 3D viewer. I saw the movie in 2D but, as anyone who's seen 3D movies knows, certain special effects work best in 3D (things flying at the camera). In fact, you start wondering if the movie wasn't made around the 3D effects.

The story is more or less predictable. I found it difficult to accept the love story aspect as believable. The only excuse Jupiter gives for her interest in Caine is that he's not good, I'm not sure if she was commenting on his acting or not. The acting is sub-par by all involved. The number of times Jupiter is saved from death at the last second by Caine is laughable.

So, basically, what you are left with are a string of loosely connected special effects, which, to be honest, are mainly good. I saw the movie with my 12-year-old son and he liked them as well as the numerous fight scenes. I have a feeling if I asked him about the plot, he could only give me a basic idea.

Maybe we're expecting too much from the Wachowskis. It's beginning to look as if the Matrix was a one-off. Maybe the temptation of making a Hollywood blockbuster is just too strong to resist. The film will make a lot of money, kids will like it, but if you really want substance in a film, you had better look elsewhere
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Interstellar (2014)
9/10
Love is a wormhole...
3 February 2015
...and that's a sentence that's probably never been written before.

Interstellar is not a movie for everyone. It is a long film and my guess is that many will be asleep by the end of the first hour. It is slow to develop and at times seems like a sequence of university physics lectures on black holes, cosmology, relativity, and quantum physics. Indeed, in order to proceed with the story, it is sometimes necessary to inform the viewer of why what will happen next makes some scientific sense. These lessons are shoehorned in at various points. Scientists themselves may argue over the fine points of some of the physics in the film, but, with a few exceptions, the science is good enough.

Now, from what I've just written above, you may think that I would not recommend this picture to anyone. In fact, I would recommend it to everyone. This is because Interstellar is a masterpiece. That's a shaky limb to climb out on, I realize, but even for those who do not like science, there is a payoff. If you like science fiction, you will be satisfied. If you like special effects, you will get them, and, if you like love stories, this, in some ways, is one of the greatest love stories ever written. The idea of the timelessness of love, in all its forms, underpins all the science in this story…and we're back to the wormhole.

Despite the high quality of this film, it received no Academy Award nominations for best film and only one minor nomination for best production. This, I believe, shows the shallowness of those involved in selecting these films. Intelligent films have been frequently overlooked in the past. Great films like Inception, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Matrix, Lost in Translation, and even that perennial topper of best films lists, Citizen Kane, never won best picture awards. And remember, Alfred Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for best director.

The acting is better than average, but you will not be discussing the quality of the acting when you finish the film. Actually, what you should do is to watch the film again before you reach any conclusions. Anyway, that's what I did. The second time confirmed what I thought. If you look under the scientific veneer of this film, you will see something that will make this, like all great films, timeless. That's just relativity.
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7/10
Birdman: The Dark Night
10 January 2015
There'a a lot to like about this movie and I understand why it has received so much attention at various film festivals. Basically, it's about a group of dysfunctional people who try to work together to put on a play. The main problem with the film is that sometimes the plot is lost in the clouds of their dysfunction. In other words, dysfunction sometimes takes center stage. On the other hand, it has some thoughtful dialogue much of which revolves around what it means to be successful. What is the true measure of success or of living a successful life? Is it that many people like you? Is it that you are praised by critics? Or is it something more ethereal, such as being loved by people we value? These and other darker, existential questions are addressed by the movie with varying degrees of success.

Although predominantly a drama there are a number of darkly (and not so darkly) humorous moments. The clash of generations, the vapid and transient nature of modern measures of fame, interpersonal relationships, and the clash of fragile egos all supply ammunition for comic relief. Towards the end of the film, people begin to appear more as symbols than as real people, which is not necessarily bad. Much in the entertainment industry is criticized and ridiculed, such as the arrogance of critics who think they can control this world with their reviews. In an attempt to show their power, they will value personal motives over the true artistic merit of a work. It seems like the writers and producers of Birdman are taking their own satiric revenge at times.

The acting throughout the film is tight and flawless. I would not be disappointed if the actors or the film win academy awards. The film addresses some big questions, which makes it more thoughtful than most films and, considering the modern zest for easily approachable box office films (something this film criticizes), may limit its appreciation by some movie-goers.

Keaton's character occasionally lapses into inner dialogues and fantasies which, though interesting in their own right, interrupt the flow of the film at times. There were also moments when I thought the film was trying too hard to appeal to modern expectations or to younger audiences, perhaps as a box office ploy. This was too bad because I thought that the film had a retro feel to it overall. That said, these shortcomings were minor.

In the end, I found it an entertaining and amusing film. So if you want a movie that's meatier than most of what's out there today, you should not be disappointed in watching Birdman.
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The Interview (II) (2014)
3/10
Dumb and Dumber do The Interview
25 December 2014
For the sake of film criticism, I will pretend that I watched the film without the political maelstrom that has raised it to a level of interest that it would otherwise never have attained.

This is the typical mass produced, lowbrow, comedy that Hollywood cranks out to appeal to 15-year-old boys. There are a few slapstick laughs in the tradition of the Three Stooges that break the monotony. I would not elevate the film to the level of a satire as that would imply that there was some intelligent thought behind it. There is not. All the humor, both physical and verbal, is completely obvious. It will not go down in history as one of the great comedies, which is probably what upset Kim Jung Un the most.

The attempts to make political observations are all based on time-worn points (people are starving, Kim is not a god). The sections that imply Kim has psychological problems may be more irritating to the regime. Most of the attempted humor deals with Kim fighting his homophobia and dealing with a father who gave him little support.

There is no need to comment on the acting as there really is none. No one will win an Oscar nomination here. The story is predictable: You can guess what will happen before you begin watching it. It's the kind of film you watch to see a few gags and, maybe, get a few laughs. They will be very few, indeed, unless you are 15 or under. However, knowing the media attention that this film has received, it is unlikely a poor review will stop anyone from watching it. Just remember, I warned you.
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Mr. Turner (2014)
4/10
An Attractive Dull and Plodding Spectacle
9 December 2014
The only thing wrong with this movie was that it had actors in it. Had this been shown without them, we would be treated to some beautifully arranged scenes and scenery. As it is, however, we see the rodent-like Timothy Spall grunting lifelessly along with no particular purpose for 2.5 hours. Even when he speaks, his dialect is so incomprehensible that the Americans I watched it with thought he was speaking Dutch. Indeed, if you are American, you will most definitely need English subtitles. But then again, the characters really had nothing important to say anyway, so why bother. It is one of those movies that you know the main character is eventually going to die, and you hope it happens as soon as possible, preferably, before you do.

Mike Leigh has made some great films, but this certainly isn't one of them. The problem for me is that Turner is one of my favorite artists. I had hoped to get some insights into his character. What I got were vignettes: short, loosely connected historic anecdotes pasted clumsily together in a hopeless effort to make a film. I really had little idea of what motivated Turner or why any women would have the least interest in him.

So if you want to spend 2.5 hours looking at some beautifully reconstructed scenes depicting life in the early 19th Century and see some of Turner's works, this might be for you. However, if you want to watch a movie, you'll have to go somewhere else.
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2/10
That Awkward Moment: Admitting I Actually Watched This Film
28 April 2014
Well, that was a waste of time, and I won't spend any more time than necessary writing a review of this poorly written, poorly produced, and poorly acted movie. My first question is: What ever happened to clever humor? Every so-called joke is sex-based. People cannot even have a conversation unless it is based on something sexual (Oh, sorry, there is also some bathroom humor to break the monotony). These are 12-year-olds in thirty-year-old bodies. For some reason that defies all explanation, girls are attracted to these losers...but, then again, likes often attract likes. What's worse is that, towards the end, the director has the audacity to expect us to suddenly take this nonsense seriously. But, by this time, the only thing the viewers are taking seriously is a suicide attempt. I watched this so you don't have to. Don't waste your time on this one. Work on your compost pile. It will be far more enjoyable.
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Labor Day (2013)
8/10
Labor Day Works
20 April 2014
The cynic in me can understand why some people may not like this film. There are just too many unbelievable coincidences. Besides, Josh Brolin's character is too much of a Christ figure. He seems to save everyone who comes into contact with him. But, despite all his positive qualities, he is ultimately crucified, disappears, and then is resurrected. And can romance really survive such an ordeal? Yet, putting cynicism aside, I have to say that I found the film enjoyable and even inspiring. The acting was good throughout. Normally, I have an aversion to child actors. They are either irritatingly cute or smart-mouthed. However, I must say that Gattlin Griffith did not produce this reaction in me. I think he played it pretty straight and was quite believable. Kate Winslet seems to have an affinity for these psychologically-damaged women roles and pulls it off as usual. Josh Brolin is steady.

At some point in any film, you have to suspend what you know about the real world, the evils of life, and the conniving ways of the people in it and trust in the possibility that there may be some good left in this battered world. You can choose either way to look at this film but I would suggest watching it without cynicism to see its real merits because, even in real life, good sometimes triumphs over evil.
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